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We bet. But what is this activity that we engage in, exactly? Some call it a form of entertainment, but betting is often the opposite of entertaining.
Losing bets is frustrating, and it’s not just a matter of winning or losing bets, either. Money is at stake, money that we use to eat and drink, money that we use to afford a car, money that we use to live.
The involvement of money blurs the question of whether betting is a form of entertainment. Professional gamblers are those who make their living off betting at both retail and offshore sportsbooks, but when other gamblers engage in betting, their living is at stake.
This question of whether betting is a form of entertainment is difficult because there’s no clear line between amateur and professional betting: it is not clear how much of one’s living one has to earn from betting in order to be a professional.
We certainly don’t want the labels to be so tenuous that, if an amateur strikes a huge profit from a parlay, he’ll suddenly be considered a professional. Likewise, if a professional bettor fails to sustain himself from betting, it would be odd to consider himself simply an amateur.
For example, a doctor is still a doctor even if he doesn’t sustain himself through being a doctor. Just as a professional bettor should still be considered a professional bettor even if he stops betting, a doctor who doesn’t have patients is still a doctor.
How do we navigate these boundaries and determine what constitutes an amateur bettor?
Work or Entertainment?
If one is not betting for one’s living, then one would be doing it for fun, for one’s entertainment.
One might say that, well, professional gamblers enjoy their work, so doesn’t that make betting a form of entertainment for them, too? But again, let’s look at doctors: they might enjoy their job, but they wouldn’t call practicing medicine a form of entertainment.
Conversely, a four-year-old girl playing with plastic tools would be engaging in a form of entertainment if she were to play doctor.
Non-professional gamblers are not engaging in work – even if they are striving to become professional gamblers – but they are potentially engaging in a form of entertainment.
When Is It Not Entertainment?
I say “potentially” because sometimes we do things out of habit or some other form of compulsion.
While bettors who bet out of habit are not working – likewise, those who read or play video games out of habit are not working – they are responding to a need. They feel the need to bet, and so they bet. That is not entertainment, because entertainment is something voluntary that you enjoy.
Even watching a movie that you are forced to watch is not entertainment. It is an innocuous form of coercion. In addition to being something that cannot coexist with work, entertainment has to be voluntary.
Is Betting Entertaining?
Non-professional bettors who engage in betting voluntarily do so because, to them, betting is a form of entertainment. But one might say that they are still responding to needs. Maybe they perceive the need to bet, because they want to forget the stresses of their daily job.
But such needs do not negate their agency in the way that something like habit does, and voluntarily choosing to bet certainly can bring a lot of stress.
We’ve all had bad beats and suffered the frustration of a losing streak, but if you are being frustrated by betting, that doesn’t make betting any less entertaining, it only means that you are failing to take advantage of the fact that betting is a form of entertainment.
Sometimes we have to make changes to enjoy things that are enjoyable. Watching television remains a form of entertainment even if I am watching a boring channel or even if my television is so tiny that I can’t make out what is on the screen. I become a better television-watcher, so to speak, if I change to a better channel or buy a larger television.
Lose What You Can Afford
Likewise, I become better at enjoying sports betting by only risking amounts that I can afford to lose. Bad beats don’t bother me, because I wouldn’t gain much anyways. I laugh at bad beats. I laugh at losing streaks as a manifestation of an often absurd universe. But I do enjoy winning because winning is fun, so I am still ambitious even as I seek to minimize my frustration.
The activity itself is also fun. I do enjoy the rush, the action, of watching a game unfold and hoping that reality matches up with your anticipations. Betting is a fun thing to do, and we should strive to make it as fun as possible for ourselves.