The Psychology of Betting: Why People Make Certain Bets

Lifestyle | March 10, 2023, Friday // 07:23
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 Sports betting psychology is not something that gets a lot of attention, which is surprising given the rapid expansion of sports betting in the last few years.  

Understanding why people make the bets that they do is an important aspect of getting to the bottom of your own betting style, and in understanding why people sometimes become problem gamblers.  

Psychology in Betting  

Given the fact that gambling can be addictive, and that it is extremely hard for any sports bettor to make a long-term profit, it is no surprise to know that psychology is central to sports betting. Emotions and instincts drive so much of what we do and that is no different in sports betting, whether you are an experienced or inexperienced sports bettor. Even the tiny number of successful professional sports bettors struggle sometimes with the inevitable losing runs that betting brings.  

The Chasing Bet  

‘Never chase your losses’ is a well-known betting phrase, but harder to remember when you’re in the middle of a losing run. Bettors are particularly vulnerable to this type of bet if they feel that they have failed. Ending the day or the afternoon having made a loss may feel like a failure, even though it may not be, and this sometimes leads to bettors having bigger bets on ill-advised selections to wipe out their losses. Even if these chasing bets win, it is a bad habit to get into and can be extremely costly.  

The Casual Bet  

The casual bettor is someone who has perhaps a small stake on a football match or a horse race, perhaps once a twice a week or more frequently. Sometimes these bets are on events that the bettor will be attending or watching on television, and sometimes they are just because something caught the bettor’s eye when looking at the betting odds of online bookmakers like those listed at  

Casual bets that are made with small stakes are relatively harmless and reflect a realistic attitude: namely that it is tough to make a profit at sports betting. Casual bets involving larger sums of money, however, can indicate that a bettor’s gambling is out of control and should be immediately addressed.  

The Accumulator  

The accumulator bet is one in which several bets are joined in a series, with the idea that the winnings from the first bet roll over to become the stake for the second bet and so on.  

As you can imagine, this can lead to some big wins. At the same time, these types of bet are less likely to win than standard bets and in some cases, particularly with the bigger accumulators, involving eight or more bets, they have more in common with playing the lottery.  

Those who make accumulator bets often understand that their chances of making a profit through regular single bets are extremely small, whereas a small stakes bet on an accumulator offers the possibility of making a large amount of money in one go, without risking a significant stake.  

In some betting cultures, it is common for people to make accumulator bets around, for example, the big soccer games or a number of horse races on a particular day. Punters who make accumulator bets are not generally expecting to win, they just hope to get lucky and land a significant profit.

The Outsider  

Bettors who focus on selections at bigger odds have something in common with the accumulator punter, but in this case, the psychology involved can often indicate flawed thinking and unrealistic expectations.  

An occasional bet on an outsider in a big horse race, such as the Grand National, is similar to buying a scratchcard or playing the lottery: if it comes off, there is a nice prize, but the bettor is not expecting to win. However, there is sometimes a tendency for punters to focus on prices rather than chances and to think only of their potential winnings, rather than whether the price of the outsider is fair or not.  

This is the famous ‘favourite-longshot’ bias, an observed psychological phenomenon in both gambling and economics, in which an individual overestimates the chances of a longshot. It can be a sign of an unrealistic and potentially harmful approach to betting on sport.  

The Favourite  

While outsiders are often overvalued, this does not mean that you can make a profit by betting solely on the favourite in a market or the short-priced options.  

Bettors who bet on the shorter priced options in a market are no more likely to make a profit in the long term than those who favour outsiders, but they will back more winners, and from a psychological perspective, this can be an easier approach to maintain, even though it is not automatically profitable.


Psychology is very important in the world of betting. Taking the time to think about your own betting, how it makes you feel and why you make the bets that you do can help you to gain a deeper understanding of your own behaviour and can make it easier to stop gambling problems before they grow.


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