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The Primordial Popularity of Gambling

There is currently controversy shot through Greek politicians’ moves to regulate online gaming in ways favourable to the state, which is triggering warnings from the EU and the European Community. This brings up the question of how society not only deals with gambling, but more deeply how it feels about a thing believed to be a vice.

Online bingo, despite its roots in Britain in community-oriented brick-and-mortar halls after WWII, is lumped together in with ‘gambling’ games like poker, blackjack and even with lottery-like betting games like scratch cards.

The Unfortunate Connection Between Bingo and Gambling

To bingo players, any issues of ‘gambling’ may seem remote from what they are doing when playing online. Nevertheless, since bingo is classed as a kind of gambling, gambling is in fact an issue in the continued life of online bingo.

But of course what is most interesting is not necessarily the destiny of a particular game. A most intriguing aspect is why exactly bingo delivers a thrill: to what human interest does it appeal?

It appears that the history of humanity and perhaps also its prehistory can be defined in central ways as the remembrance of moments of risk. Risk, no wonder, has become perhaps the most successful trope or theme for adult games the world over. From monumental historic events to the things that happen in a family kitchen or in school sports or in business ventures, risk plays its important part in human decision making. Implicitly we understand, evidently, that there is something very rewarding about taking a risk that ‘pays off’.

Perhaps a criterion for ‘gambling’ might be whether or not someone’s risky behaviour involves money or valuables. The reason this might be the most impartial way to define it is simply the possibility that risk saturates our lives and arbitrates much more than just money. But gambling, therefore, as a form of risk, is also a symbolic object. Gambling concentrates the experience of risk for the human mind. Let us not forget that this concentrated form and its commercial products have proven mightily interesting to many people throughout history.

Why, Basically, is Gambling So Popular?

Bingo quite reasonably is to be distinguished from hallmark gambling games like poker, in that the risk element is not in the forefront of the experience. Also, in bingo the risk is not scalable (like increasing bets to stay in a poker round) because a player just buys their cards and plays them. Bingo cards, as vehicles of a game grouped with gambling, is more accurately described as the sale of a slightly risky game of chance, closer to a lottery. Bingo is basically a lottery that requires a little effort and concentration to follow, play and win. Many socio-cultural (folkloric) elements go into bingo that are non-gambling oriented (not associated with risking money).

Ironically, when bingo went online and gave the ability to play multiple cards, it also gained a chat window, which introduced the ‘auto daubing’ function (automatically scoring players’ cards to lighten their cognitive load for the chat conversation). The software version of bingo also sometimes empowers players with various sorting tools so that they can even manage their games semi-automatically. Thus online bingo took a turn away from the traditional game and did in fact move closer to gambling. The focus on bingo sites is overwhelmingly focused upon being able to deposit cash money to boost the player’s ability to ‘win’ lots of cash and prizes — be the one holding the big jackpot check outside their house for the official winner’s portrait.

Gambling is basically about staking something valuable (usually cash) to buy access to the chance of winning a much more valuable amount. It is the combination of two powerful symbolic cultural tropes (along with risk), since money itself carries a large array of connotations, including ‘limited resource’ or ‘freedom’, as well as negative ones. So gambling is a way to manipulate (to play with) certain problematic concepts that go to our primal roots as humans, we might want to say.

Furthermore, manipulating risk and money at the same time proves to be amusing, and for some, as powerful a rush as any highly addictive substance. Researchers of addiction point to the fact that there is no psychoactive substance in gambling addiction: it’s purely psychological (although somatic effects can certainly appear for highly addicted or excited gamblers).

Perhaps it is popular to gamble ¾ throwing in bingo here, too ¾ because it offers something that sociologists have documented as part of various cultures’ rituals for a carnival-type event, a social-venting ritual, whereupon people are allowed to relax their normal contractions concerning vices and taboos. This kind of social mechanism has proven effective for subduing humans’ urges to ‘go crazy’ by supplying some slack and shared revelry at regular intervals, like doses of frustration-relief. Gambling games, too, can be seen as doses of deviance, of flirting with loss, because doing so satisfies the human sense of risk as value in a controlled way.

Perhaps More of Our Social Life is a Gamble than We Realize?

A couple of comments following a news piece about the Greek debate on regulating online gambling crystallise what may be a rising consciousness about the resemblance between our financial system and a giant international game of chance.

The author of the article summarizes the positions of the affected parties of any fast-track legislation Greece passes governing and taxing online gambling (deep taxes, mind you) [1].

One commenter, adding more colour to the cool editorial style, adds, ‘here’s a perfect way out of many of [Greece’s] problems and the government’s just busy safeguarding its interests’. The next commenter, in disagreement, writes, ‘A perfect way out of an economic crisis in a country where people are not getting paid, and there are riots over austerity measure [sic] is to push for more gambling…are you nuts!’ This response is easy to visualize as something like disbelief that something like gambling could be directed for the public good, meant for someone in favour of online gambling as a fiscal tool of the state.

Where would we be if through a popular wave of awareness we were to acknowledge that the stock market is a legalized form of gambling, for an elite club, whereas consumer gambling is outlawed for the masses? More social guidance about the role of risk in our thinking may also improve the state of affairs regarding how manage this primordial concern, a kind of ‘essence urge’, centred around risking what we have to get something better.


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