The Effects Of Alcohol Consumption On Gambling And Vice Versa
The relationship between drinking and gambling is a subject that has been intensely researched and debated amongst several academic fields in recent years.
Gambling and drinking is something many people of all ages and demographics participate in from time to time, in particular younger adults in western societies. But are there any negative (or positive for that matter) effects on people’s ability to gamble responsibly when under the influence?
Do gambling companies (casinos - physical or online, bookmakers etc) seek to benefit from gamblers who are under the influence, or do they put protections in place to safeguard people against gambling too much while under the influence of alcohol?
One of the key issues to look at is the psychological factor behind peoples’ proclivity to gamble when they have consumed alcohol. There will also be a breakdown of what the effects of gambling while intoxicated have at in-person casinos versus online.
Relationship between drinking and gambling
Both the consumption of alcohol and participation in gambling are generally legal in most western societies, even though there are plenty of regulations surrounding both industries. It comes as no surprise therefore that engaging in both drinking and gambling simultaneously is a reasonably common occurrence in countries such as the UK and the USA.
Most people at some point in their adult life will have been in a scenario where they have had the opportunity to gamble while under the influence of alcohol. From a themed birthday party to a holiday abroad, or a day out to a casino, there are a wide variety of contexts in which you can mix the consumption of alcohol with a gambling session big or small.
Drinking alcohol is most synonymous with land based casinos but it can influence any type of gambling. Betting shops, for example, tend to be seen as day time activities and casinos as night time entertainment, but there are still many people who will go to a pub or bar and then go to a bookies. The rise of online betting also makes gambling more accessible when drinking, with people able to place bets or play games from pretty much anywhere.
Alcohol and our behaviour
In order to discuss the relationship between drinking alcohol and engaging in gambling, it is very important to first establish what affects the consumption of alcohol can have on our behaviour as humans.
Alcohol can have a wide variety of effects on the human body, and a lot of these effects will also affect the behaviours we exhibit, which in turn will affect our decision-making when it comes to gambling. It is also imperative to first outline that different individuals have different tolerance levels with regards to alcohol, and this is often determined by an individual’s demographic, physical build, diet, and the regularity with which they consume alcohol.
The most significant effect is losing your sense of perspective and/or ability to think rationally. This is something that starts as soon as you consume alcohol and takes effect slowly but surely and increases as you consume more alcohol. As you consume more and more alcohol, your inhibitions decrease or disappear, you become less aware of the consequences of the actions in which you engage in, and even if you are aware of the consequences you are less likely to care about them, and gambling is a prime example of one of these actions.
This loss of perspective can lead to many different changes in behaviour in relation to gambling, the first of which would be that people may choose to gamble when under the influence of alcohol in a situation where they would not have otherwise chosen to gamble.
On top of this, people may gamble erratically by significantly increasing their stakes. They do not contemplate the possibility of losing. It is well known that the consumption of alcohol leads to a sense of exuberance, euphoria, and to an extent invincibility. A mixture of these feelings would lead someone who is gambling having consumed a bit too much alcohol to think that they cannot lose a bet, whether they are gambling in person or online.
Likewise, when someone has lost a sense of perspective and is gambling wildly having consumed alcohol, there is an increased likelihood of them betting on less likely outcomes, or longer odds bets, which in turn makes it more likely that they will lose money.
Another way in which alcohol changes the way we behave is that our memory capacity is limited when we have consumed alcohol. This doesn’t necessarily happen as soon as you have one drink, but when an individual has had several drinks our capacity to remember events of the day/evening reduces.
This can have a consequence on gambling because it may mean that you struggle to keep track of how much you have won or lost, and as a result of this it can lead to irresponsible gambling whether you are winning or losing.
Does Gambling Make You More Likely To Drink?
It is well established by now that consuming alcohol can have an effect on gambling habits, however, it is a common occurrence for the results of gambling to affect your drinking habits. Various pieces of international research on the subject have identified a relationship between gambling and heavy drinking, as well as opting to drink in response to a win. This is easily relatable - many people across different cultures choose to celebrate many kinds of achievements by having a drink, it is something widely seen in different cultures, so this comes as no surprise.
Academic research consistently finds that extensive use of alcohol is a significant factor in contributing to problem gambling, so much so that it is often used as a risk predictor.
A study published in 2019 by affiliates of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge found that when individuals were gambling having consumed a moderate to excessive amount of alcohol, and they experienced losses, they chose to increase their bets in a way which resembled loss chasing. On the other hand, a focus group which had been given a placebo drink which was non-alcoholic did not differ in their bet sizes following losses.(1)
Another interesting thing to consider is that both the consumption of alcohol and engaging in taking risks via gambling releases a chemical called dopamine into our system, which makes us feel better about ourselves.
Effects at Land-Based Casinos
The most important thing to consider when it comes to the effects of drinking alcohol on gambling habits at in-person casinos is that it can very easily be monitored by the staff of the casino.
Whether it is the bar staff, the croupiers, or the pit boss, individuals in the casino can be tracked and their behaviour observed pretty much wherever they go in the building. This makes it relatively easy for casino staff to monitor how sober a person was upon entry to the building when they start consuming alcohol, exactly what type of alcohol they consume and the speed with which they consume it.
When it comes to casinos and the consumption of alcohol by their customers there is generally a slightly mixed approach by the casino: they want their customers to consume alcohol and enjoy doing so; but they do not want anyone on the premises who has consumed alcohol to the point that they are disruptive and potentially destructive. As a result, casinos encourage drinking but they closely monitor it where possible to prevent things from getting out of hand.
How casinos can regulate behaviour
It is important to bear in mind that casinos (like any other form of privately run service-based business) retain the right of refusal. This means they can refuse to let any individual play at the casino without disclosing a particular reason. Think of this as similar to a busy city-centre bar turning people away at its doors: many people over the years have been refused entry to popular nightlife establishments for either dubious or undisclosed reasons, but unfortunately it doesn’t matter what the reason given for the refusal is (as long as the reason does not breach anti-discrimination laws), the contingent fact is that the establishment has the right to refuse entry to anyone at any time.
A casino exercising the right of refusal can look like a few different things. If the house feels that an individual’s clothing is not up to the standards set in their dress code, they can refuse entry. If someone uses vulgar language, they can be kicked out. If someone turns up to the venue already drunk and/or disruptive or consumes too much alcohol once they are in the venue in the eyes of the casino staff, they can remove you from the venue.
It goes without saying that the casino will only remove you if they genuinely feel it is necessary, after all, they are a business and they want you to spend money with them wherever possible, but it is not unheard of for a casino to remove a customer due to the misuse of alcohol, and this is at least in part due to the reckless gambling which can ensue after consuming hefty amounts of drink.
Some of the consequences of the abuse of alcohol in casinos can include, but are not limited to: damage to persons or property, verbal abuse aimed at staff or fellow players, reckless and irresponsible gambling (which could potentially result in big losses for the casino should the player get lucky), and most likely of all a bad experience for the individual that is drunk and the people surrounding that individual. In their capacity as a customer-facing business, a casino will want to prevent negative experiences in their establishment wherever possible.
That being said, casinos will only remove an intoxicated individual from the venue if they have to, so it’s a very common occurrence for people to be gambling at casinos having consumed a few alcoholic beverages.
The possibility of being removed for unruly behaviour will, however, certainly provide customers with an incentive to be on their best behaviour while at a casino, and as such you will usually witness people consuming alcohol in a reasonable fashion in a casino, which will mitigate the chances of alcohol affecting their gambling activity in the most extreme fashion.
Direct impact of alcohol on betting
In terms of discussing the various effects alcohol can have on gambling at a destination casino then, it’s important to start with the surroundings you find yourself in. More times than not you will be surrounded by people and players whether it is at a roulette table, a blackjack table, or in a poker game.
You will find yourself interacting socially with people (especially if you are having a drink, which relaxes the nerves and makes you more likely to socialise with people you do not know) whether it is the people you are visiting the casino with, fellow players, or even the casino staff.
While this element of a trip to the casino is often the most enjoyable part of visiting, the constant social interaction can sometimes make it a bit harder to focus in a gambling environment - your focus is more likely to be enhanced on the interactions around you and less likely to be fixated on the game which you are playing.
This social distraction and consequent lack of focus, in conjunction with having consumed some alcohol (which reduces your concentration), can lead to mistakes in the game you are playing, and will more than likely contribute to difficulty in tracking how you are doing in terms of profit or loss.
This can either make it dangerous for yourself, gambling excessive amounts and potentially staking more money than you can afford to lose, or it could potentially have serious consequences for the casino if you get lucky.
If you have lost focus, have consumed a fair amount of alcohol, and are starting to gamble with high stakes on reckless, long-odds bets as a result, this would result in the house being liable to a big payout should you strike lucky.
If you were indeed to land a win or two with higher-than-usual stakes, then depending on how much you have had to drink the alcohol in your system may make you more likely to double down on reckless stakes in the hope of a bigger and better win, rather than to go and cash in your winnings.
The scientific evidence
There is clinical evidence to support the notion that the consumption of alcohol has a direct impact on an individual’s decisions with regards to gambling. A study that was published in the journal, ‘Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology’ looked at concurrent drinking and gambling.
In this study, 130 participants received alcohol or an identical placebo and were then invited to gamble on a machine that was programmed to produce one of three initial outcomes (win, breakeven, or loss) before gradually producing a progressive loss outcome.
The study found that alcohol consumption was associated with larger average bets and more rapid loss of all available funds’(3) but quite interestingly the study also found that the level of impulsivity in the gambling tendencies of the subjects who had been administered the placebo was actually higher than the participants who had been administered alcohol (4).
As a result, it is clear that despite evidence that sober gamblers display higher levels of impulsivity, the subjects who were gambling having actually consumed alcohol were betting heavier and losing faster than their sober counterparts.
How does the evidence relate to casinos?
It comes as no surprise therefore that destination casinos want their customers to be enjoying alcoholic beverages where possible. In UK casinos this is most commonly seen by casino bar staff offering table service - they will take drink orders at blackjack, roulette or poker tables and bring your drink to you, as well as handling payment at the table which you are playing.
This is all designed for your convenience on the surface, but in reality, it is so that you can keep playing (and therefore spending money with the casino) without having to go and get a drink.
If you were to look at casinos in the United States, however, in particular, the home of gambling Las Vegas, a lot of them endorse a policy of free beverages while you are playing at a table. Sometimes there will be a minimum stake in place before you are eligible for free drinks, such a $5 per hand - it depends on the individual casino - but the concept is in general use.
It is painstakingly obvious that complimentary drinks while gambling is a policy in place to increase the degree to which concurrent drinking and gambling is occurring. It is not too cynical to suggest that this policy in itself tells you that casinos profit more from people gambling while under the influence of alcohol as opposed to sober players.
Gambling Online When Intoxicated
The extent to which alcohol can affect gambling ventures into a new dynamic when said gambling occurs online at either a bookmaker/sportsbook or an online casino. Primarily, the casino or bookmaker has absolutely no reliable way of measuring your alcohol intake against your gambling patterns, be that qualitatively or quantitatively.
A very important point to keep in mind is that because online casinos and sportsbooks cannot measure your alcohol intake, there is little to no statistical information available on the effect of alcohol on gambling online simply because it is nigh on impossible to measure.
What can online operators do?
What an online gambling operator is able to do though is monitor your gambling activity online and compare it to your previous trends.
Having said that, if you have a few drinks at home and start gambling online, end up staking a lot more money than you initially intended, then the gambling company has absolutely no way of knowing what substances you have consumed in the privacy of your own home or how much of these you have had. They simply see what you are staking with them.
Online gambling operators have various provisions in place to uphold and enforce responsible gambling in accordance with their legal obligations. Common examples are that they offer customers the chance to set deposit limits, loss limits, regular reality checks where the player is reminded how long they have been playing in that session, and players can opt to self-exclude if they feel that their gambling is out of control.
It is important to note that these tools are there for the player to make use of at their own discretion and the gambling operator cannot force the player to use these. That being said, online gambling operators do retain the right of refusal in a very similar way to how in-person casinos do.
They can remove you from their platform and suspend you indefinitely or ban you for any reason they see fit (winning too much, misusing an offer or promotion, or even losing too much), but of course, they cannot remove you for being drunk in the way you can be removed from a casino for being drunk simply because the online casino cannot measure whether you have consumed alcohol, nor can they prove whether you have consumed alcohol.
The difference between ‘real’ money and ‘online’ money
Because of this, it is very easy to gamble online while under the influence of alcohol. It is also worth considering that there is a fundamental yet significant difference in what you use to gamble between online casinos and destination casinos.
At the latter, you are using hard cash which you have to hand over to a croupier or dealer in exchange for chips. Whereas at an online casino or sportsbook your balance is just displayed as a number, so you do not actually perform the act of handing over cash to the house. This makes it psychologically a lot easier to part with money online than it is in person, and this is exacerbated when you are drunk because in a lot of senses it does not feel like you are actually parting with real money.
Another part of gambling online that is exacerbated by having consumed alcohol is depositing. It is incredibly easy to deposit money with most major online casinos and sportsbooks - often it is literally just two clicks away.
You can save your preferred payment method, and many online platforms allow you to make a ‘quick deposit’ while in the middle of a game, whereas if you wanted more money for your bankroll at a land-based casino, you would have to physically leave the table you are playing at to go to the cash machine in the venue and there would also most likely be a charge for withdrawing your money.
It is generally considered an inconvenience to access your own money at land-based casinos, so online platforms are very clever in making it as convenient as possible for players to deposit money. It is one of those subtle ways in which the house encourages people to play, simply by facilitating the ease with which people can access funds.
The dangers of easily accessible money when intoxicated
This can make for very reckless gambling if you have consumed a few drinks. Tracking how much money you have spent whilst you are still playing relies solely on your capacity to remember exactly how much you have deposited and how many deposits you have made.
Online platforms are obliged by law to provide you with tools that allow you to monitor your spending, but these tools almost always require you to leave a game in order to find them - something you are unlikely to do if you have had a bit to drink and are wanting to deposit more.
For context, if you are wanting to deposit more money it is overwhelmingly likely that you are doing this on the back of a loss and that your balance is low. It can be deduced therefore that it is likely that making multiple deposits resembles loss-chasing behaviour.
The academic evidence suggests that players who have consumed alcohol exhibit loss-chasing tendencies. The ease with which you can deposit means that loss-chasing is effectively facilitated and often goes unchecked and unchallenged.
What this means for the effect that alcohol has on gambling is that it can be destructive. Simply put, the consumption of alcohol leads to chasing losses, which in turn requires you to deposit more, which the online platform makes it very easy to do, and the chances are you will continue to lose and continue to chase your losses.
This could mean that if you have not put in place some of the responsible gambling tools available online, then the very fact that you have had a few drinks when playing online could potentially be a recipe for disaster.
Famous alcohol-induced gambling stories and anecdotes
When it comes to instances of famous people having alcohol-induced gambling stories you need not look any further than the legendary NBA star Michael Jordan. While it is well documented that Michael Jordan had severe problems with gambling addiction, at the same time he has a few stories of gambling having consumed alcohol.
Michael Jordan is one of the richest (if not the richest) stars in the NBA’s history, and having such a ludicrous amount of money can mean that when you are gambling while under the influence of alcohol you will play as though you have an infinite amount of money at your disposal. This attitude can be a very slippery slope.
Jordan is said to have been playing a round of golf in 1992 with NHL player Jeremy Roenick and was down a few thousand dollars after the round, and suggested a ‘double or nothing’ for the next round of golf after having consumed about 10 beers, and then lost again when they came to play that round.
Another example that received wide coverage in the United States was businessman Mark Johnston who filed a lawsuit against a Las Vegas casino in which he lost $500,000 during an episode in which he claims to have been in a blackout due to being drunk.
He claims that the casino served him between 20 and 30 alcoholic drinks in order to encourage him to gamble more (for context: serving alcoholic drinks to encourage people to gamble more is not in itself illegal, but allowing an individual to gamble who is too drunk is against the law) and then failed to stop him from gambling when he was too intoxicated to gamble.
Johnston claimed that the casino kept bringing more and more drinks over to his table and that while he was responsible for getting himself intoxicated, that it was the casino’s fault for letting him gamble excessive amounts while drunk.
Arguably the most famous case of a footballer who fell victim to the effects of alcohol and gambling, to the point where things spiralled out of control. Often spending day after day in between betting shops and bars, the former England footballer once drunkenly gambled away £4,000 on football bets during a two day period. Having been in and out of rehabilitation centres ever since the end of his professional footballer career, his alcohol and gambling addiction has had severe effects on his health.
One particular instance saw him gamble £4,000 in a matter of hours in a Bournemouth Coral betting shop near his home, before quickly being ejected for drunken behaviour.
It also appeared that he was keen to try and stop with a close friend of his once quoted as saying: “He’s desperately trying to find something to do to keep his mind off the drink”.
Possible solutions for professional athletes
Although it is likely that most professional sports teams might do what they can to try and raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol and gambling, there perhaps needs to be more education available, especially for those at an early stage of their career. It also does not help that a vast majority of sports teams are sponsored by gambling companies, which means that players are surrounded by this every day.
Even running various workshops on a monthly basis warning against the consequences of gambling and drinking could help considerably as well as educational seminars on the best ways to put their salaries to use in order to help build a secure future for themselves beyond the end of their playing careers, which on average tend to last about 10 years.
Clubs could also insist on players ‘self-excluding’ themselves from every available gambling platform as part of their contracts. While this might seem like an extreme measure, it could certainly go some way to helping professional athletes who appear, on the face of it, to be in a ‘high risk’ category, based on the more often than not, vast resources that they have available to them.
Consuming alcohol directly causes a loss of focus, a loss of perspective, and an inability to apply self-discipline, all of which contribute to an individual being more likely to engage in reckless gambling either in person or online.
The most significant difference between gambling in person and gambling online is that the house is always observing you when you are gambling in person, and if you are clearly drunk and your betting is too reckless, they will often either prevent you from drinking and gambling anymore or simply remove you from the venue.
Online, however, there is no such monitoring of your alcohol intake and because of this the online platform cannot suspend you or remove you from the platform for being too drunk. While there are various responsible gambling tools in place online, these are currently optional under the gambling legislation which is in place and, as such it is down to your individual willpower to ensure that you gamble responsibly.
While enjoying a few drinks and having a go at the casino either in person or online can provide many people across the world with a great sense of enjoyment, the reality is that the consumption of alcohol in a gambling setting makes it more likely that you will lose money. You should therefore be extra careful to keep tabs on the extent to which you are gambling when having had a few drinks.
- Tobias-Webb, J., Limbrick-Oldfield, E. H., Vearncombe, S., Duka, T., & Clark, L. (2019). The effects of alcohol on sequential decision-making biases during gambling. Psychopharmacology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-019-05376-z
- Cronce, J. M., & Corbin, W. R. (2010). Effects of alcohol and initial gambling outcomes on within-session gambling behavior. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 18(2), 145–157. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019114
- Cronce, J. M., & Corbin, W. R. (2010). Effects of alcohol and initial gambling outcomes on within-session gambling behavior. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 18(2), 145–157. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019114