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Is gambling a tax on stupidity?

Niko Suhonen, Jani Saastamoinen, David Forrest and Tuomo Kainulainen

No 202012, Working Papers from University of Liverpool, Department of Economics

Abstract: Gambling is often regarded as a lower form of pleasure with an elitist perception of gamblers as being either ignorant or exhibiting poor mathematical skills. Gambling also poses a challenge to the notion of rational decision-making because individuals take on wagers which are losing bets by expectation. From the paternalistic perspective, gambling may be attributed to poor decision-taking resulting from cognitive failures and biases. From the liberal perspective, however, it is possible to account for gambling within the framework of rational choice by appealing to risk preferences or by a utility of gambling itself. This paper examines how a person’s cognitive ability (IQ) predicts his betting behaviour. We combine three individual-level data sets from Finland, including online horse bets from the betting monopoly, cognitive ability test scores from the Finnish Defence Forces and administrative registry data on Finnish citizens. Our results show that intelligence is a positive predictor of participation, gambling consumption and success in gambling. Moreover, we find that gamblers are unlikely to exhibit poor mathematical skills because mathematical intelligence drives this result. Our results suggest that a one standard deviation increase in mathematical IQ from the mean increases the probability of participation in betting by more than a third, the bettor’s annual amount wagered by a half and his annual losses by 40%. Overall, our results are consistent with gambling being consumption of entertainment, which intelligent individuals enjoy. This is consistent with the liberal perspective on gambling.

Keywords: gambling; horse betting; intelligence; mathematical intelligence; consumption; performance (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D12 D91 G41 L83 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 51 pages
Date: 2020-04
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-gen, nep-neu and nep-upt
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