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Apes are Natural Born Gamblers

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By Dr. Panayiotis Papadakis

Latest scientific research has shown that we have more similarities with our closest relatives than just mere physical appearances.

Chimp Gambling

Vinny (above) is a 12 year old chimpanzee from Kansas City (born in captivity, although his parents are originally form Uganda). While other chimps are stuck with the daily routines of pealing bananas, and while 30 million Americans are earning minimum wage, Vinny is making in excess of $80,000 per year gambling at cards and dice. And the best part is, the IRS has never passed any legislation for taxing income of chimps, so Vinny makes all his money tax free, in cash. How does Vinny do it?

Simple. Vinny is a natural born gambler. Actually, as latest scientific research shows, all primates are natural born gamblers. Gambling is in their DNA.

It all started one winter day in a small 4 by 4 cell at the KC Institute for Primate Studies, when young Vinny watched two biology students play a game of craps during a lunch break. It may have never made history had the two students not been playing for bananas, just as a joke. The bananas were what had gotten Vinny's attention in the first place.

Craps games tend to get pretty lively, with players jumping and screaming as their hearts are pounding. About fifteen minutes into the game the two students realized that Vinny was also jumping and screaming, and craving for some action. It was at that time that the two students realized that Vinny knew exactly what was going on. Vinny knew they were gambling, and he wanted in.


In the spring of 1999 the two students published a controversial scientific paper entitled Cognitive Behavioral Patterns of Apes Gambling at the Game of Blackjack. The research was hailed by some and trashed by others, as it relied solely on observation and (in the words of the opponents) "contained no concrete proof that apes actually knew what they were doing when given the opportunity to put down a wager." However, the research consisted od several findings that were hard to ignore.

In the early stages of the research the subjects were taught to press a red lit button to open a door that gave them access to a single banana. The same subjects were also taught that a green lit button would open the door to a box that was often empty, but other times contained several bananas The subjects quickly learned, when the button lights up, you press it and the door opens. Red button means one banana, green button means empty box or several bananas After months of teaching the chimps how these buttons worked the subjects were finally given the choice of both buttons lighting up at the same time. In all of the experiments, all the chimps always pressed the green button and completely ignored the red one. This lead to the conclusion that the chimps would rather take a chance with the green button, than going for the red one that would guarantee a single banana Therefore, the chimps definitely liked to gamble.

In consecutive experiments the chimps were taught numbers and simple additions. Scientists already knew that chimps used elaborate tools, in the wild, so they were hoping that the subjects would recognize playing cards as tools to earn bananas When motivated by the prospect of winning more bananas the scientists were dumbfounded when they realized at what speed the chimps were able to master the game of blackjack. So, the paper was published but they lacked concrete evidence to prove that chimps (and apes in general) were in fact natural born gamblers, as the paper claimed. The next step was the painstaking process of analyzing and gathering DNA data.

It took five years of research but The Institute finally isolated one gene that all the primates have in common. Apes share 98% of their DNA with humans and as it turns out, this particular gene is also found in human individuals that are more prone to gambling. The gene came to be known as the "gambling gene" and has since been accepted as the right genetic markup that makes a person a natural born gambler. The surprising result of the study shows that only a relatively small percentage of human babies are gifted with this gene but so far all the apes that have been tested for this gene show that they have it.

The only conclusion that could be made form this scientific discovery is that apes are natural born gamblers.


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