Binary Bias In Betting And Gambling

Binary Code Information StreamIt is human nature to want to see things as binary. Rather than accepting that a lot of things in life are nuanced and complicated, people want to be able to make a quick and easy decision.

When the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU was held, the British people were asked to make a simple Yes/No decision over something that was far more complex than that. Years after the vote, the country is still paying the price for treating a nuanced topic as if it was a simple thing that could be easily solved, such is our desire to make easy choices.

Given the fact that that is human nature, it is perhaps not all that surprising that many of us also want to face binary choices when we bet.

We think of ‘good bets’ and ‘bad bets’, but the reality is that placing wagers is much more complicated than that. ‘Good bets’ can still lose and ‘bad bets’ can still win, so it is important to take a wider view of our gambling habits and not make binary decisions if it can be avoided. Professional bettors work in percentages, rather than looking at things that they’re betting on as a simple, binary choice.

Binary Thinking Explained

think outside the boxIn pretty much every area of our lives, we are faced with choices that need to be made. They are usually complex, with several possible options open to us. The same is true of betting. There are usually a wealth of different choices that we can explore within a market, but most people refuse to acknowledge this and instead streamline things to make them as simple as possible.

Take a football match as an example. When you load up the options on a football match with your chosen bookmaker, the 1X2 market will be one that stands out to many.

This says that either the home team will win, the away team will claim victory or the match will end in a draw. For most bettors, the idea of a draw is any one to dismiss because they prefer the binary idea that the match will end with a result.

If one of the teams is favoured by the bookmakers in terms of odds, people will naturally lean towards that side when it comes to the bets that they will place. Few people consider the wider markets available on the market, meaning that the binary thinking that they engage in takes away options.

Rather than just betting on a team to win with the odds that the bookmakers often, for example, people could consider betting on the handicap market. This can see the favoured team need to score one goal just to get on level pegging with the underdog in the -1 market. The handicap added to the bet means that it is worth more money thanks to the longer odds than the straight bet on the Win. That is just one example of how binary thinking can impact what we bet on and how we bet, but it can lead to us losing money.

Another way in which binary thinking can be problematic when it comes to our betting habits is in how we decide to proceed after a bet has reached its conclusion.

Many of us will think ‘do I bet again or do I withdraw my winnings?’ There is another option, which is to allow our winnings to sit in our account and think about new bets to place at some time in the future. By setting ourselves options that are ‘Either A or B’, we can limit what we decide to do in a way that can prove to be detrimental to our overall betting habits.

The Grey Area

different shades of greyOften, the grey area between the binary options is where bets are won or lost. The best bettors will not think in such binary ways, but will instead be more inclined to consider things in terms of percentages. What percentage chance does team A have of winning over team B, for example. How does that percentage chance line up with the odds that the bookmaker is offering? Is there anything that can be done to move the percentages to make them more favourable? By thinking in binary terms, we can often place poor bets.

As an example, those engaging in binary thinking will assume that a winning bet is a good one and a losing bet is a bad one. In reality, those that have done their research and looked at the odds and the percentages will know that a bet that was a good one to place can still end up being a losing wager, whilst bets that are objectively bad can still end up winning.

This is because a lot of betting actually exists in the grey area, so no bet is ever all good or all bad, but rather is nuanced. Those that understand this can best cope with what happens to their bets.

Win In The Long Run

negative and positive thinking conceptBy abandoning binary thinking, we can put ourselves in a situation where we are instead able to focus on the percentage probability of a bet being a winning one. If you work out that a bet has an 84% chance of winning, say, then it still has a 16% chance of losing.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t place it, but it does mean that you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of process if it ends up not winning. The logic behind placing the bet was still solid, so remove any binary thinking before weighing it up as a bet.

As with life, bets that we place are filled with context. Imagine a scenario in which you’ve placed a bet on Manchester City to win in the fifth round of the FA Cup in 2018. Wigan were playing at home, shifting the odds slightly away from Man City, but the Premier League team were still significant favourites to overcome the League One side.

The bet on City that you placed before the match was a good one, but you couldn’t have known that Fabian Delph would be sent off in first-half stoppage time and Wigan would go on to win. The bet was good, but binary thinking means we equate a loss with ‘bad’.