Tuesday, April 12, 2005
First Aired: 
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

What Is It

Rolling the dice in a game you're rigged to lose sounds like a bad idea. So why is it so much fun? Is gambling an exciting pastime, or a vicious addiction? John and Ken take their chances with Will Barrett from the University of Melbourne, author of "Luck and Decision."

Listening Notes

What is gambling? All forms of gambling involve risk taking, but is risk taking a sufficient condition for gambling? Gambling involves luck, but is luck a coherent concept? John introduces the guest, Will Barrett, research fellow at the University of Melbourne, to help answer these questions. Could a non-addicted person rationally choose to gamble? Barrett thinks she could, depending on what she expects to get out of it. John asks if buying a weekly lottery ticket is reasonable given that he doesn't think he'll win. Ken says that he is a lucky guy and he will let that belief guide his poker playing in the future. John points out that belief in luck seems similar to the gambler's fallacy. Barrett says we need to distinguish between gambling that involves some sort of skill from gambling that only involves chance. If you are able to employ skills of some kind in a game, then you can rationally engage in gambling. Games in which there is no possibility of using skills cannot be rationally played. 

What is the difference between investing and gambling that makes one rational and the other not. Barrett says that risk taking is not a sufficient condition for gambling. Investment isn't a zero-sum game, that is, there does not have to be losers if there are winners. Barrett thinks that gambling is irrational if your aim is to improve your well-being by it. A caller asks if whether this whole discussion assumes that rational action is always best. Don't we do irrational things that benefit us all the time, such as having children? 

Should the state advertise gambling? Is there a conflict between the state promoting the general welfare and the state promoting gambling? Barrett thinks so. Barrett lists several ways in which casinos try to entice gamblers into gambling more. Gambling sometimes leads to addiction and has historically been involved with organized crime. Does this mean that the state should ban gambling? Barrett thinks not since a total ban would likely lead to an increase in organized crime. But, he does not think that the state should promote gambling. Casinos hurt two groups the most: those who can least afford gambling and those who are addicted. But, states can get a lot of money from taxing gambling, so isn't gambling good?

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 4:33): Amy Standen interviews a doctor that treats patients for addictive behavior like gambling. 
  • Conundrum (Seek to 47:07): School counselors are required by law to report certain kinds of abuse, but agencies do not have the funding to follow up on most reports of abuse. In that kind of situation, what moral duties does a counselor have to the kids they are supposed to protect?