The obsessive gambler traditionally is a fellow with a "big ego," with an insatiable need to be conspicuous and in the spotlight. Generally he is impatient of all criticism and has a nagging hunger for praise. Money for him is a supercharged commodity; possession of it is the ultimate testimonial to his self-image.
In his famous book, The Psychology of Gambling, Dr. Edmund Bergler has outlined six basic traits of the habitual gambler. Bergler was one of the first doctors to seriously study the gambler's plight, and his book is till a classic today.
According to Bergler, the first trait of the addicted gambler is habitual chance-taking. The addictive gambler thrives only when the odds are against him. His real thrill is not in winning but in meeting an impossible challenge.
Second, gambling for the addict is his paramount interest. It is the sole preoccupation. When the habitual gambler is at the track or poker table nothing else exists for him. Gambling is his sole object of attention, and everything, his social life, his friendships, his conversation, ultimately centers on that next bet.
Third, the excessive gambler is ever the optimist and as corollary to this, the gambler never profits from experience, no matter how dismal it may be. "Every gambler gives the image of someone who has signed an agreement with destiny, indicating that hard work and perseverance must be rewarded. With that imaginary contract in his pocket, he is beyond the reach of all logical objection and argument.
Fourth, the gambler doesn't know when stop. Here is what divides the addict from the non-addict. The non-addict knows when to quit. The addict gets himself deeper and deeper when he is winning, sometimes to the point of doubling every bet. Sooner or later he must cease to be a winner.
Fifth, the gambler eventually risks too much. Motivated by a strange self-destructive urge, the plunger finally makes the stakes too high.
Lastly, the obsessive gambler receives a tangible "pleasurable-painful" tension during the game. While most people dislike uncertainty, the gambler is excited by it. The craving for this strange sensation, Bergler observes, frequently overshadows the desire to win.
The obsessive gambler is a man or woman who subconsciously wants to lose. Whether this defeatist attitude is motivated by guilt feelings, masochism, the death wish, or something else is hard to say. The fact remains that the gambler who does not know when to stop does not want to stop until he is ruined.
Such psychological mechanisms are far from being scientific fact. No one can ultimately make total value judgments on the act of obsessive gambling, simply because each person has his own special story. Still, we must ask ourselves the question: Do people gamble because they want to win or because they want to lose? It may be difficult to answer at once. As we have known, there are smart gamblers and dumb ones. Those who drop everything at the track or casino year after year without so much as a winning week must ask themselves at some point if in fact their attitude toward winning is correct. To gamble should be to win. Common sense tells us there is really no other meaningful reason for doing it. One plays to win. Period. And if one does not win, then one had better not gamble.