The Epistemology of the Near Miss and Its Potential Contribution in the Prevention and Treatment of Problem-Gambling


The near-miss has been considered an important factor of reinforcement in gambling behavior, and previous research has focused more on its industry-related causes and effects and less on the gaming phenomenon itself. The near-miss has usually been associated with the games of slots and scratch cards, due to the special characteristics of these games, which include the possibility of pre-manipulation of award symbols in order to increase the frequency of these “engineered” near-misses. In this paper, we argue that starting from a basic mathematical description of the classical (by pure chance) near-miss, generalizable to any game, and focusing equally on the epistemology of its constitutive concepts and their mathematical description, we can identify more precisely the fallacious elements of the near-miss cognitive effects and the inadequate perception and representation of the observational–intentional “I was that close.” This approach further suggests a strategy of using non-standard mathematical knowledge of an epistemological type in problem-gambling prevention and cognitive therapies.

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  1. 1.

    See Griffiths (1991) for a well-organized brief of these early results.

  2. 2.

    According to frustration theory, failing to reach a goal (like winning) causes frustration, which fuels ongoing behavior toward that goal. According to cognitive-regret theory, the frustration caused by a near-miss induces a form of cognitive regret, which can be eliminated by playing again.

  3. 3.

    Skin conductance levels.

  4. 4.

    Sin conductance responses.

  5. 5.

    It is sometimes called “built-in near-miss”.

  6. 6.

    This distortion is different in nature from the classical gambling fallacies regarding probability, randomness, etc. It is actually a lack of information (of an ethical type) which prevents a distinction in nature for a gaming phenomenon.

  7. 7.

    For our purposes, the order of the elements or the direction in which they appear is not important.

  8. 8.

    The definition can be generalized further to have more than one partial outcome missed, or, better, to have a certain ratio between the number of missed items and the total size of W. In other words, we can gradualize the near-miss. For the purpose of simplicity and because the further arguments do not depend on such particularities of the near-miss, we shall retain the definition with one item missed.

  9. 9.

    Physical near-misses would also be specific to other wheel games or physical-skill games like those based on throwing objects at a target. However, the results of the current section do not apply to physical near-misses.

  10. 10.

    And unfolded down to show values and symbols.

  11. 11.

    That is, the probability of one does not or does depend on the probability of the other, respectively.

  12. 12.

    The sample space is the set of all possible outcomes as elementary events (combinations of the same size in our context). The probability field consists of a sample space, the set of all subsets of this sample space (called the field of events, which is a Boolean algebra) and a probability-function defined on the field of events. The information available when measuring a gaming event in probability is actually the sample space at that moment, consisting of the possible outcomes. These are determined by taking into account the items out of play (cards already dealt, symbols already having occurred, and so on).

  13. 13.

    The denotation of difference in the last factor is set-theoretic, that is, the elements that are in the first set and not in the second.

  14. 14.

    Note that time reference (occurrence, moment, after, right after, before) in this part of the section has a probabilistic nature and is thus conventional. It amounts to the available probability information and not to placement on a real timeline, although this may be the case in particular games and situations.

  15. 15.

    In a chronological sense.

  16. 16.

    This is also specific to the classical gambling fallacy of perceiving randomness and independence of the events.


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Correspondence to Cătălin Bărboianu.

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Bărboianu, C. The Epistemology of the Near Miss and Its Potential Contribution in the Prevention and Treatment of Problem-Gambling. J Gambl Stud 35, 1063–1078 (2019).

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  • Near-miss
  • Mathematical education
  • Gambling mathematics
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Epistemology of mathematics
  • Mathematical modeling