Luck and superstition are synonymous with gambling. While poker requires a level of skill to win, there’s still an ever-present element of chance — and this is even more true with bingo, craps, roulette and slot machines. So what does it take to win these games? Is it the alignment of lucky numbers or the force that guides lucky people?
What is luck?
It’s clear that when it comes to certain gambling games, there is no room for strategy, mathematics or even statistics. They’re simply games of chance: someone might win money with their first online scratchcard, while someone else, who has bought one every week for years, has never won. Whether winners of these games are lucky people or merely had lucky numbers is up for debate.
To understand what makes something or someone lucky, we first have to understand what luck is. The Merriam-Webster defines the noun “luck” as follows:
“1a: a force that brings good fortune or adversity
b: the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual.”
The concept of luck has been in existence for hundreds of years. The first known use of the word in English dates back to the 15th Century and was said to stem from the Dutch word ‘geluc’ which was shortened to ‘luc’. Unsurprisingly, it was first used as a gambling term.
Luck is a complex subject
Many view luck as an invisible, mystical force that has either blessed a number or person or hasn’t. Many believe that it’s possibly even preordained — that some people are born lucky and others aren’t. This belief can be seen in lucky colours, charms and numbers.
Numerous psychological studies, however, refute this idea entirely. These studies suggest that people, and more specifically, their thought patterns, their behaviour and their perception of any given situation (whether they approach it positively or negatively) can greatly influence the frequency of the good or bad luck that they experience. Some believe that it comes down to, quite simply, a person’s belief about whether or not they are lucky, whereas others, such as Brian Tracy, the successful Canadian-American author and motivational speaker, believe that “luck” is a product of hard work — he says, “Luck is predictable: the harder you work, the luckier you get”.
Many of these findings are echoed by psychologist Richard Wiseman, who spent ten years studying the “luck factor”. He also believes that lucky people share certain characteristics: they listen to their intuition, they know how to spot and take opportunities, are optimistic (they can see the good in every experience) and they tend to have more positive beliefs and expectations which often lead to positive outcomes. Unlucky people tend to be more anxious and more pessimistic overall.
People who believe they are lucky generally expect good outcomes, and because of this, may actually work harder than those who don’t think they’re lucky. This could signify that lucky people are potentially more confident. Luck can, in fact, appear to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: according to scientific research, we could be as lucky as we think we are.
This notion appeals to most of us. Humans don’t like to believe wholly in random things, we like to believe we have some control — especially when it comes to gambling.
The psychology behind lucky numbers is fascinating
As human beings, we also tend to attach meanings to our experiences. This then results in us thinking we are lucky or unlucky. We do the same when it comes to numbers.
The psychology behind what we perceive as unlucky and lucky numbers can stem from our personal experiences as well as our cultural beliefs. For example, in the Western world, there is a lot of superstition around the number 13, which is generally viewed as unlucky. So much so, that there’s a name for both the fear of the number 13 (Triskaidekaphobia) and the fear of Friday the 13th (Paraskevidekatriaphobia).
Movies have taken the “horror” of Friday the 13th even further and some people stay in bed all day when it occurs. When there is a common bias — such as that with Friday the 13th— it can skew our beliefs and we might even look for information to support them.
Similarly, constant reinforcements of numbers being good luck can also sway our views. The number 7 in Western society is commonly attached to positive things. The number 7 permeates our culture as a positive entity, so much so that we might not even realise the regularity with which it happens.
There are 7 days of the week; in the Bible, God rested on the 7th day; there is 7th heaven (said to be the abode of God in Islam, Hinduism and Judaism); there are 7 continents, 7 colours in the rainbow, 7 natural wonders of the world, the 7 seas, the fabled number 7 football jersey (made popular by Manchester United and their star player David Beckham), and even the winning spin of 777 on slot machines.
Again, if you won a game of bingo with a final number 7 or had a positive personal experience with the number in some way yourself, you’d probably view it as a lucky number. Interestingly, but given the above perhaps unsurprisingly, the number 7 also often comes up as the most chosen “favourite” number, especially when people were asked to choose between 1-10.
Lucky and unlucky numbers are not agreed upon globally
What’s fascinating about unlucky and lucky numbers is that not all cultures agree on them. While 13 and 7 hold specific meanings in the West, the East has different ideas. Visit places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, or China and you’ll quickly realise that the number 4 is missing from most hotels (hotel floors and room numbers), ID numbers, phone numbers and much more because it’s seen as bad luck.
Why? Because in many Asian languages, the word for the number 4 sounds much like the word for “death”. Similarly, the number 8 is seen as lucky because it sounds similar to the word for prosperity, which shows how significant the impact of cultural beliefs on “lucky” or “unlucky” numbers is.
Gambling and lucky numbers
Much like anything in psychology, once we create beliefs around something, life tends to mirror those ideas back to us. The good news is that many believe you have the power to change your circumstances. Consider yourself unlucky? Start noticing and being grateful for the luck that does present itself in your life, learn to be more confident about what you want and deserve, work hard, adopt an optimistic outlook and note whether your fortune changes.
Superstitious gamblers often keep lucky charms or some sort of object they believe will give them better chances on them when they play. What’s fascinating is that studies have shown that lucky charms may, in some instances, actually work. But it’s not because the object is, in fact, magical but because it seems to give people who use them more determination and confidence.
When it comes to gambling and luck, however, it’s vital to understand that, other than poker — which centres on a combination of skill, mathematics, the theory of probability and chance — most games rely heavily on luck. This includes online slots (or live versions), bingo (both live and online bingo) and scratchcards, to roulette and craps. Statistically, all numbers are the same. A 7 or 13 coming up in a bingo jackpot, for example, has the same chance as any other number.
Perhaps your luck in gambling is less about special numbers, superstitious talismans and lucky rituals and more about your psychological approach to the concept of luck itself; a number, like a person, can be lucky if that’s what you believe.
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