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How your emotions can affect how you bet


The profitability of sports bookies are proof that the house always wins, and they utilise clever tricks to appeal to our emotions to make sure that is always the case.

In an investigation into advertising during the 2014 World Cup, published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making, academic and former professional poker player Philip Newall found that bookies used advertising that appealed to people’s emotions to make more risky bets.

Over the course of the tournament, the average loss a punter would make varied from a low of 3% to a high of 30% depending on the type of bet they made. Accumulator bets, which combine odds across a number of matches, push these average losses even higher – but when such bets offer the possibility of a substantial windfall from very little outlay, they are popular amongst punters despite the poor odds.

Everyone hopes that it will be their unlikely £5 will will them enough to buy a house, like the lucky Suffolk man who placed a 20-team accumulator at odds of 41,548/1 last Christmas to win a staggering £223,145.51, but the odds are very slim.

Nevertheless, people are drawn to these complex bets, with much higher chances of loss. According to Newall:

“Many years of research in behavioural science has shown that people greatly overestimate the probabilities of “representative” complex events. This means that complex events can seem more probable than they really are if they trigger feelings or emotions of likelihood – that these events are representative of an average occurrence.”

So, during the World Cup, the in-match advertising was far more likely to promote the odds of events like the first goal scorer or the exact scoreline, than a simple win or loss – people are attracted to the significantly higher odds, and mentally downplay the increased chance of loss.

As the bookies have embraced the instantaneous nature of the internet and app-based sports betting apps to exploit our emotions, matched betting sites have emerged as a way for punters to hedge their bets and play the odds to their favour.

These sites and services let punters play the odds offered by one bookmaker off against another, reducing the possibility of loss. The cut-throat world of online betting has meant that most bookmakers offer attractive signup and first bet bonuses, and these match betting services help customers make the most of these bonuses to reduce the risks of losing as much of their own capital.

Bookmakers spend around £150m per year on television commercials, making up 4.1% of all television advertising, with much of that spend of half-time ads during high profile football matches. They are hoping that they can appeal to your emotions to get you to take greater risks, but matched betting offers a way for punters to improve their odds of ending up on top.

Photograph by Paul

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