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Extreme Losers: On Excess and Profitless Expenditure in Male Gambler Practices

Marco Pedroni


The essay looks at male gambling by investigating it as a form of resistance to the utilitarian values which lie at the base of the market logic. Here the excess is viewed as a central notion in opposition to that of utility. Far from minimising the negative impact of excessive gambling on society and individuals, this contribution attempts to go beyond an analysis based on the categories of pathology and expenditure only. Through excess, the pathological gambler unveils the symbolic and arbitrary ideology of capitalism which sees economic success as a sign of election or a choice whereby money is used not as an investment or to access to goods and services, but “wasted”.

To address these issues, two complementary ethnographic methods are used: (1) a three-month ethnographic observation in 23 gambling locations in Milan’s metropolitan area; (2) 10 in-depth interviews with extreme male gamblers.

The article attempts to answer the following research question: How does excess take place in male gambling practices? Risk factors for extreme gambling are analysed, with a particular focus on the relationship between gambling and masculinity. In the effort to go beyond an analysis of gambling based on the categories of pathology and expenditure only, gambling is conncetd to the notion of excess. Gambling locations as facilitators of excess are studied, and the life stories of pathological gamblers discussed. The paradoxical ambivalence of gambling practices, on the one side a form of domination of the subordinate classe, on the other an opportunity to resist through an anti-utilitarian act, are highlighted.


Gambling, Extreme behaviour, Pathological gambling, Problem gambling, Value of money, Utilitarianism, Masculinity

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