You Love to Gamble? Blame your DNA!

Gambling— the act of wagering of money or material with the primary intent to win additional money or resources— has been a popular source of entertainment for centuries across a variety of cultures. In our country, the epic Mahabharata testifies to the popularity of gambling among ancient Indians. Interestingly, the Arthashastra too (4th century BC) recommends taxation and control of gambling. In fact, some speculative investments like options or futures that fall into the same bracket have been cleverly excluded to be perceived as different from gambling.

While most gamblers lose, they continue to risk their hard-earned money simply because it is basic human nature to feel excited while taking risks. Besides, the win creates a natural high, an adrenaline rush, anticipation of a possible which many of us seek while looking for further entertainment.

Gambling, which has always been portrayed as glamorous, stylish, sexy and fashionable, often creates an environment that one is tempted to escape into, leading a temporary phase of utopia.

Recent research has provided a deeper insight into the workings of the human mind with respect to gambling. Interestingly, our minds process ‘near misses’ (missing out on just one number on a lottery ticket) as wins, tempting us to try again and again, thus leading to addiction.

A new study has shown that gambling is more or less dependent on brain activity. It is well known that gambling releases endorphins that stimulate painless pleasure and strengthening the desire for continuous gambling. In recent studies, scientists have been able to isolate a specific gene that is commonly shared by all passionate gamblers. The gene is called the D-2 receptor, but is more commonly known as the ‘gambling gene’.

This discovery has opened new vistas in the treatment of gambling addicts who have lost fortunes and become bankrupt. Currently, attempts are being made to pioneer genetically engineered retrovirus gene therapy which will be able to re programme the existing DNA of the affected individual.

Biochemically, low levels of serotonin and high levels of dopamine and endorphins are considered to be the major DNA characteristics of pathological gamblers. The areas in the brain which light up on PET Scan imaging include those which deal with increased risk and rewards or those associated with emotional and motivational aspects of behaviour leading to short term happiness or chilling effect.

A clear paradox in gambling is that most people think of it as a low-risk high-yield proposition but in reality it is opposite, a high-risk low yield situation. The odds always favour the house. Despite that, the thought and excitement of hitting a casino jackpot are often too alluring regardless of its probability.

It’s best to try your luck occasionally for a hit rather than frequently, for the misses.