horses racing in snow
Horse racing is one of the most common subjects of betting activity worldwide.
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Men who bet on horses are generally smarter than those who don’t, study finds

The Finnish study also discovered that for every added point of IQ, gamblers spent around £800 more on horse racing.

A new study indicates that men who bet on horses are typically smarter than those who do not. The research, published in Journal of Behavioural Decision Making, assessed 15,500 male gamblers from Finland and found that horse racing enthusiasts had IQs that were higher than average.

Researchers Niko Suhonen, Tuomo Kainulainen, Jani Saastamoinen, and Professor David Forrest from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Liverpool focused on online horse racing, using all-male subjects from the Finnish military. They took IQ tests as part of their requirements before being admitted into the military.

The researchers combined the subjects’ online betting habits with other indicators such as education, income, and economic status.

The study concluded that subjects with higher IQ had a preference for skill-based gambling, such as poker and horse racing, instead of chance-based betting, such as lottery and slot machines. 

Earlier research has highlighted the relationship between horse racing and aristocracy, especially in 19th Century England. Members of the royal family and upper class used horse ownership and racing to enhance their social standing. Researcher John Pinfold said in a 2008 paper that for many aristocrats involved in horse racing, “heavy gambling was a key element in their involvement.”

However, the influx of the nouveau riche at the end of the century into horse racing diminished the influence of the aristocracy. But owning a racehorse is expensive, an endeavour still reserved for the rich. Betting on them is not an all-comers affair, which is usually seen in popular sports such as football or rugby, especially because of the “complex decisions” bettors in horse races need to make.

Moreover, wagering on horse races has varying degrees of complexity. In some races, betting may involve the accurate prediction of winners. In others, bettors may be required to not only pick winners but also second-placed horses in the right order.

Relationship between intelligence and gambling

One study performed in Nevada, Las Vegas in 2019 – also by the same researchers – noted that the link between intelligence and gambling is “not understood.” They, however, explained that “a high IQ is positively associated with betting participation and the expenditure on betting.”

A high IQ is positively associated with betting participation and the expenditure on betting.

Study co-authors Niko Suhonen, Tuomo Kainulainen, Jani Saastamoinen, and David Forrest

But an earlier research study published in 2014 noted that people who have lower IQ may be at risk of developing problem gambling (ludomania), a situation where an individual gambles repeatedly despite negative consequences.

But the University of Eastern Finland study discovered that this may not always be the case. They noted that people who bet on horses have a tendency to be more intelligent because, in contrast to other bets like lotteries or slot machines, they need to frequently make more complex betting decisions. “Compared to the average man in our sample, the average bettor has a higher IQ score,” noted corresponding author David Forrest.

The researchers argued that it is positively linked to a person’s decision to participate in and spend money on betting on horse races, with an affinity for betting activities that have complex formats. They noted that the numerical component of IQ is more responsible for this. 

“It is plausible that intelligent persons and those with numerical ability gain satisfaction from absorbing themselves in tasks involving “crunching numbers,” such as horse wagering. They enjoy the intellectual challenge,” the researchers said. 

It is plausible that intelligent persons and those with numerical ability gain satisfaction from absorbing themselves in tasks involving “crunching numbers,” such as horse wagering. They enjoy the intellectual challenge.

David Forrest, Professor of Economics at the University of Liverpool

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Higher IQ, bigger bets

The researchers further discovered that for every added point of IQ, gamblers spent around £800 more on horse racing – an increase of 21 percent.

The survey showed only 19 percent of participants with higher IQs prefer making basic bets, while more clever people prefer making more complicated wagers like accumulators. More than 19 out of 20 horse racing fans – including the late Queen Elizabeth who was a fervent supporter of the sport – placed bets. They spend around £4 billion annually at the bookies.

Queen Elizabeth, although not a renowned gambler or horse racing bettor, was reputed for owning a stable of winning thoroughbreds that helped her amass about £6.7 million over a period of 30 years beginning in 1988. In 2013, her racehorse, Estimate, won the prestigious Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

The researchers argue that bettors strive to match their betting choices with their IQ, however they cautioned that their study should not be used to make generalisations about other forms of gambling, especially chance gambling.

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Reference
Suhonen, N., Saastamoinen, J., Forrest, D., & Kainulainen, T. (2022). Does IQ predict engagement with skill‐based gambling? large‐scale evidence from Horserace Betting. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. https://doi.org/10.1002/bdm.2300

Chidirim Ndeche

Chidirim Ndeche is a reporter at Breakthrough.

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