Why Do Rich People Gamble?

From famous athlete sports bettors and celebrity poker players to high-rollers who are ushered like royalty along casino floors, America is inundated with images about the wealthy and their propensity for gambling. This has led many to ask; why do rich people gamble? Why does the “one percent club” need to risk anything to achieve something that they already have so much of?

Because it’s not about the money. It never has been. Below is a look at what may lead to, motivate, and/or cooccur with wealthy population gambling, which provides insight into what makes gambling risky business not just for them, but America as a whole.

6 Factors That May Contribute or be Connected to Habitual Gambling Amongst America’s Wealthy (and why you should care)

Personality Traits Among Wealthy Consistent with Gambling Behavior

Why Do Rich People Gamble

Research shows that people with comparatively higher incomes are more tolerant of risk, and more drawn to thrill seeking and risk-taking activities. Studies also find them to have a more optimistic outlook when it comes to predicting outcomes. This aligns with gambling behavior. These same personality traits are also found in athletes, who are also more likely to gamble than the general population.

Connection Between Dopamine and Greed

We’re not suggesting that wealthy people are innately greedy. However, data suggests that wealthier individuals are more likely to moralize greed and self-interest, and this has an impact on the mind:

“Greed begins in the neurochemistry of the brain. What fuels our greed is a hormone neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. The higher the dopamine levels in the brain, the more pleasure we experience.”

Harvard Business Review

The dopamine association with the drive to accumulate more wealth (often at any cost) runs concurrently with the connection between dopamine and gambling:

“Gambling and dopamine are closely connected, as both casino gaming and sports betting are known to raise dopamine levels. This can drive you to keep gambling even when you know that you should stop to collect your winnings or accept your losses. On that latter note, research finds that losing can trigger a release of dopamine to almost the same extent as winning. Over time, your brain and body become accustomed to this psychological and physiological response and habitual behavior is formed.”

Gambling + Dopamine | Kindbridge Behavioral Health

They’ve Been Marketed to From the Beginning

The image of a wealthy gambler has been put on a pedestal since the inception of movies and media. Hollywood and the press have romanticized the activity among the income elite, which gets rich people thinking that it’s part of being in the club. Whether it’s Robert Redford’s billionaire gambler in Indecent Proposal, Jamie Foxx and Vanessa Hudgens rubbing shoulders at mansion parties in sportsbook ads, or news of Drake dropping more than a $1 million on a Super Bowl wager, the wealthy are told that they are expected to gamble. While “old money” is less likely to be impacted by such images, the young or nouveau riche may be more vulnerable to caving to expectations, as they feel more anxiety about maintaining their status:

“Another aspect of attitudes to money is the personal value of money and its cognitive associations with success, power and prestige. This dimension is defined as associating money with better social influence and status, with social comparisons of wealth and seeing being rich as a personal life goal. People who see money as a sign of success are more prone to shop compulsively to raise their self-esteem. Similarly, gambling has also previously been described as a way to maintain self-esteem for some gamblers.”

National Library of Medicine

Peer Expectations

This carries over from above. If certain segments of America’s wealthy population have a propensity for gambling, peer pressure to gamble could be a causation factor. Research shows that the peer pressure is especially relevant to the young male demographic and sports betting. Look no further than what is happening among America’s elite athletes who have attained significant wealth. When NFL’s Detroit Lions suspended four players (with multi-million dollar contracts) and several staff members, is it not reasonable to suggest that some level of peer pressure was involved, and that each player did not act on their own accord? Whether an elite athlete, celebrity, socialite, or member of America’s most prestigious clubs, there is generally a peer expectation to participate in the same activities regardless of potential for harm. Gambling is one of them.

Deep Pockets Allow the Problem to Persist Longer

The longer a problem gambler continues with their habitual behavior, the harder it gets to break from its grip as they continue to chase the dopamine high. Given that rich people (namely those with seemingly unlimited funds) have the resources to keep playing longer before getting into debt, they hit their financial rock bottom later that the average gambler. As a result, they may not realize that it’s time seek help until it’s too late. View more on the dangers of waiting to hit gambling’s rock bottom.

Because They Are People with Mental/Behavioral Health Issues Too

It’s easy to pigeonhole rich people as being spoiled individuals who have nothing better to do with their wealth than gamble it away. However, they are people too. As such, a number of them have some of the very same vulnerabilities to gambling along with cooccurring conditions as people found in the general population, even if in some cases (i.e. depression) the proportions vary in their favor.

Mental and Behavioral Health Issues That May Increase Vulnerability to Compulsive Gambling:

  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

If a wealthy individual exhibits one of the above (view more) and then the other above-detailed factors are added to the equation, the mathematics certainly equate cause for concern.

What This Means for All of America

There are a couple of takeaways to consider. For one, while most of the factors above are more prevalent among the wealthy, they are not exclusive to the wealthy. Members of the general population share some the same vulnerabilities as the rich (even if in differing proportions) but the latter does not have the same access to resources for mental health support. Simply put – if rich people in America are in a world of trouble when it comes to problem gambling, what chance does the other 99% of the population have without large scale intervention at a federal level? Despite the wealthy diving deeper towards gambling disorder, their chances of recovery are much greater than those less fortunate.

Furthermore, we must draw attention to impressionable individuals (especially younger populations) who admire and subsequently emulate the behaviors of the wealthy. If movies, TV, and the media continue celebrate the gambling lifestyle amongst societies elite, it will continue to be a draw for the remainder of the population. Is it outlandish to suggest that gambling should be removed from certain types of programming in America (or better regulated) in the same manner as tobacco and pharmaceuticals?

In asking “Why do rich people gamble?” America can find answers that may benefit society as a whole. If problem gambling has already touched your life, or that of a loved one, reach out to Kindbridge today get affordable access to support.

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