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Basics of Gambling as a Competition

by Ron Kurtus (updated 28 May 2023)

Gambling is a competition where opponents try to predict the outcome of an event.

Competitions that provide a monetary prize to the winner, usually do it indirectly through entry fees, sponsorships and such. In gambling, each competitor directly wagers his or her own money.

When you gamble, you may be betting on your own ability to win a game or contest, you may bet on the outcome of some other competition based on your knowledge of the players, or you may bet on a game of chance.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Betting on your skill

When you bet money with your with your opponent or with bystanders that you will win a competition, it is considered a form of gambling. For example, if you are going to play a tennis match with a friend, you may place a bet on who will win the game. This can add to the competitive spirit of the game.

Friends will often bet on who gets the best score in golf, who can win in pool or any number of other hand-to-head competitions.

Card games

Although luck plays a large role in playing cards, there is enough skill required that it also fits in this category of gambling. Skill involved is being able to know the odds of winning from seeing what cards were dealt, as well as being able to read the body language of opponents to get an idea of what sort of hand they are holding.

Not condoned in sanctioned events

Betting that you will win or achieve some goal is not condoned in sanctioned competitions. Athletes who have bet on themselves or their teams have been punished by the school or league for gambling. Leagues want to make sure there are no questions concerning the outcome of an event. They believe that gambling--even on yourself--may open the door to criminal elements.


Some who like to bet on their ability to win will pick opponents who aren't very good. They will make believe they aren't very good in a game in order to set up their opponents and bystanders into making bets. Then the person will win a game and collect large winnings from the losers. These people are known has hustlers.

Pool is a common game for hustlers, although you can see hustlers in other sports such as tennis. (See Case Study of Gamesmanship: Riggs vs King Tennis Match for an example.)

Betting on someone else

Many people bet on the outcome of football, baseball, and basketball games. There are also many who bet on the outcome of horse or dog races. In fact, investing in the stock market is a form of betting on how well a company will do. In these cases, you are matching your skill in evaluating other players or organizations against that of your competitors.

Online betting

Online betting is very big for a variety of sports such as American football, soccer, baseball and basketball. The betting house takes a cut of the winnings. Although a person with more knowledge of the teams and their conditions has a better chance of winning, in general the betting house is the only winner in the long run.

Stock market

People consider the stock market as "investing" but many people are really placing bets and gambling according to their knowledge of the stock and some intuition or guesses on whether it will go up or down. The stockbroker makes a commission on the bets or investments are made.

Fixed outcomes

Although most competitions are honest, there have been many cases where criminals have "fixed" the outcome in order to gain large winnings. For years boxing was tainted with fixed fights. Recently, the stock market has suffered from company executives providing false information to "win" in betting on their companies.

Betting on chance

Most games of chance take little or no skill at all. Many people feel they have a 6th sense of being able to predict future events with no previous information on how things may go. Unfortunately, that sense or talent is not very predictable. (See Your 6th Sense and Beyond for more on that subject.)

Many games in casinos such as slot machines, craps and the roulette wheel are purely games of chance. The gambler gets a "lucky feeling" or tries to will the dice to roll in his or her favor.

Playing the slot machines is a competition of your luck against the casino. Slot machines are set to pay back anywhere from $0.70 to $0.90 on every dollar bet. In other words, although some people will win more than they bet, most will lose.

Card games such as poker and black jack require both skill and luck.


Gambling is when you try to predict the outcome of an event. Each competitor directly wagers his or her own money. You may be betting on your own ability to win a game or contest, you may bet on the outcome of some other competition based on your knowledge or you may bet on your ability to predict some future event based solely on chance.

Know the odds before you play

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