Craps and the Illusion of Control

Is there a personality trait common among gamblers that leads them to discard known facts in favor of a belief system that can’t be supported by science and mathematics? The “facts” regarding the Illusion of Control may not surprise you – but they do make for an interesting read.

While researching a series of articles I was working on a few years back I discovered something psychologists refer to as the “illusion of control.” Illusion of control is defined as the tendency of humans to believe that they can control or at least influence outcomes that they have no control over. In the case of precision shooting at casino craps – it defines why some people are “believers” despite their poor overall results while others will always be “skeptics,” even when faced with the facts.

In controlled psychological tests, some participants became convinced that they could affect the outcome of a purely random coin toss. At first those subjects who guessed a series of coin tosses more successfully began to believe that they were actually better guessers. The more times they guessed correctly, the more this belief was reinforced – to the point that they believed they were influencing the outcome with their guesses. Coincidentally, these subjects believed that their performance would be less accurate if they were distracted, and often attributed wrong guesses to “bad luck.” This phenomenon is known as “cognitive bias.”

Interestingly, those guessers who suffered from clinical depression were much less likely to develop cognitive bias. Conversely, some psychologists have suggested that the psychologically healthy may be more prone to the effects cognitive bias and over-optimism. It has also been suggested that illusion of control may actually be psychologically healthy for you.

By the way, the same people who conducted the coin flip exercise also looked at a test group of “dice controllers,” analyzed their results, and came to similar conclusions. However, the dice controllers observed fell into what we would generally refer to as the “superstitious chicken feeder” category. Generally, they believed either:

1. If you throw the dice hard you will throw a high number, or . . .

2. If you throw the dice gently you will throw a low number, or . . .

3. If you set the dice on a low number you will toss a low number, or . . .

4. If you set the dice on a high number you will toss a high number.

Are there players out there who routinely discard the facts in favor of a flawed belief system? Absolutely. But when it comes to a topic like dice control – one man’s facts are another man’s science fiction. Are their people out there who think they can influence the dice – but really can’t? No doubt! Of the thousands of dice setters out there a good percentage do so purely for superstitious reasons and are nothing more than random rollers. Of those who have some fact-based knowledge of precision shooting, very few actually go to the trouble to practice regularly, track their rolls, extrapolate the numbers and determine if what they believe they are achieving is actually occurring. Then there are the two to three hundred players who practice their tosses everyday, faithfully record the results, analyze them either by manual calculation or in one of the many software programs we have available, and have all the proof THEY need to know what they believe is real.

Can you control the dice well enough to influence the outcome of the roll? Perhaps you can. But don’t take your own word for it. Put in your time at the practice tables, track your rolls objectively and know where you stand. Do it right, and you’ll find your “proof” in the chip rack.