Gender Differences in Gambling Explained

Updated on May 18, 2015

As we touched on briefly in a previous piece, men and women gamble differently. Men are more likely to seek out games that require some skill to win, like poker and blackjack. Women, on the other hand, tend to prefer games that are more random in nature, like bingo and slot machines.


This comes from more than just anecdotal evidence. With data collected through the use of the Iowa Gambling Task, one of the most popular ways to gauge risk-taking preferences and patterns, researchers have been able to look more closely at the patterns men and women follow when playing luck-based games and determine not only which gender takes more risks, but which gender bets more per round and is more likely to stop playing after a winning or losing streak.

Who Gambles More?

Men. Gambling and other risk-taking behaviors are positively correlated with testosterone, which is far more prevalent in males than in females. This is likely why gambling was previously considered to be an all-male pastime and today, continues to be dominated by men. Men begin gambling earlier in life than women begin, the average man starting to gamble in his teens and the average woman starting in her mid to late twenties, and men tend to place larger bets when they play.

The Iowa Gambling Task

The Iowa Gambling Task is a gaming simulation that is used to measure participants’ decision-making processes and abilities.

The task shows participants four virtual decks of playing cards on a computer screen. Participants are told that every card they choose will win them money. However, some of the cards also cause the player to lose money, canceling out the monetary reward. Some decks are designed to have the participant draw a lot of these cards, losing money in the long run while others, the “winning decks,” have the participant come out ahead at the end of the exercise.

One of the main uses for this simulation is to determine problem gamblers, especially those who suffer from orbiofrontal cortex dysfunction, a condition that affects the ability to make rational decisions. Generally, individuals without this dysfunction quickly recognize the winning decks and continue to draw from them. Individuals with orbiofrontal cortex dysfunction or other conditions that lead to problem gambling do not, picking losing decks again and again with the hope that the next card drawn will be a big winner, making up for their previous losses.


But this task can also be used to measure the different choices that people in various groups tend to make, such as measuring how men gamble versus women, how older individuals gamble when compared to younger participants, and how individuals with low incomes play when compared with their higher-income peers.

The Gendered History of Gambling

Rat baiting, a popular bloodsport during the Victorian era

Traditionally, gambling was a male pastime, most likely because of men’s preference for risk-taking activities. One of the earliest examples of gambling in human culture is cockfighting in ancient Egypt. This was actually why the chicken was first domesticated – to entertain paying crowds in fights to the death, rather than as a food animal.

Later in history, gambling took the form of poker games and other games of chance in pubs. England’s pubs, the home of a wide variety of games from cribbage to rat baiting to darts, were a strictly male domain. Similarly, few women would visit early racetracks and put money on the horses, further cementing gambling as a men’s activity.

The Rise of the Female Gambler

It wasn’t until the advent of lotteries and casinos that women began to get in on the action. This is for a few reasons.

One of the main reasons is the rise of feminism and greater economic freedom for women in the twentieth century. Another was the type of games offered. As gambling moved out of the pubs and pool halls and into community venues and homes, women began to partake in greater and greater numbers. With the advent of online gambling, women have become even more likely to participate in games of chance. Today, women have more disposable income than they have at any previous point in America’s history and control more than 80% of household spending in the United States. Female gamblers are here and as their influence grows, gaming companies are adapting to their needs and preferences.


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