Turns out it doesn’t make you the sharp numbers guy you think it does

By Tim Nelson
Updated June 11, 2018
Credit: Mladen Zivkovic/Getty Images

If there’s anything I learned from watching the trailer for the 2011 Bradley Cooper movie Limitless, it’s that taking some form of magic stimulant is the key to making good, strategic gambling decisions. The next time you find yourself in a casino or thinking about placing a now-legal sports bet, however, you’d be better off skipping that serving of everyone’s favorite bean-based energy liquid. Because as it turns out, it’s probably not giving you the edge you need to beat the house.

A new study jointly conducted by the universities of Cambridge and Chicago found that those exposed to caffeine were more likely to make bad bets and take on greater risks. The study, published in the journal Addictive Behaviors and shared with UK publication The Sun, tracked the habits of 60 problem gamblers and their caffeine consumption. The results showed that those who got amped up caffeine exhibited a five percent greater likelihood of placing a bad bet.

The reason for this could be twofold. While we think of coffee and other energy-providing beverages as the opposite of brain-fogging alcohol, caffeine does in fact impact decision-making centers in the brain. There’s also possibly a bit of a weird placebo effect: if we think a cup of coffee sharpens the mind , it’s easier to be convinced that the betting strategies you’re considering is the right one.

“When you go to the casino, a lot of people feel alcohol consumption blunts their thinking. They worry they are not as sharp. They think caffeinated drinks like coffee or cola can help them stay focused and play a bit longer on the slots,” said Dr. Jon Grant, a researcher from the University of Chicago. “If you want to gamble, then it is best avoided. The more you consume, the worse your decision making.”

So the next time you’re slumped over a craps table, sucking down oxygen in a windowless room, don’t reach for coffee. It’ll only keep you losing money for longer. At least taking the casino up on some free booze will help soothe the pain of your inevitable losses.