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Options Trading vs Gambling: How to Tell Them Apart

By Dan Miller · November 13, 2022 · 4 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Options Trading vs Gambling: How to Tell Them Apart

Gambling is typically defined as risking something of value on an uncertain event. While common forms of gambling include the lottery, blackjack, or sports betting, the line between gambling and investing can be blurrier than you might think. Like some forms of gambling, binary options and other forms of options involve risking money for a possible reward.

However, there are some important differences between options trading and gambling, and it’s important to know what they are. That can help you decide whether your options trading behavior is investing or gambling.

What Is Options Trading?

Options trading is the trading of contracts that give a purchaser the right — but not always the obligation — to buy or sell a security, like a stock or exchange-traded fund (ETF), at a fixed price within a specific period of time. Since options contracts fluctuate in value, many traders can buy or sell the contracts before expiration for a profit or loss, just like they would trade a stock or bond.

Options are financial derivatives, meaning an option contract’s value is derived from the value of an underlying asset.

There are two main types of options: call and put options. A call option gives the holder the right — but not always the obligation — to buy an underlying asset. A put option gives the holder the right — but not always the obligation — to sell an underlying asset. In general, if you think the underlying asset price will go up, you would buy a call option. But if you believe the underlying asset price will go down, you would buy a put option.

You can buy and sell both call and put options, so no matter how you think the stock might perform, you can find an option strategy that suits you.

There are many strategies for trading options, depending on your outlook on the underlying asset. Options can be a way to hedge risk or increase leverage for a given investment.

💡 Recommended: Options Trading 101: An Introduction to Stock Options

Weekly Options

Most options contracts expire monthly, on the 3rd Friday of each month. However, many underlying securities also have options that expire weekly. These options are referred to as weekly options. Weekly options often have lower liquidity and higher volatility, since there is less time to smooth out the ups and downs of stock movement.

Is Options Trading Gambling?

There are many risks in playing the market, so investors should be cautious with their investments and have a risk mitigation plan in place before making any type of stock or option trade. While trading options is not generally considered gambling in and of itself, there are some risks associated with trading options like there are with gambling.

Are Weekly Options Gambling?

Weekly options — along with day trading — are another form of investing in the stock market that shares some characteristics with gambling. If you find yourself rapidly making trades in weekly options without a system in place, trading from social pressure, or because of excitement, you may be gambling rather than investing.

Mitigating Risk When Trading Options

Risk management is one of the most important parts of a solid investment strategy. If you are trading options, it’s crucial to have a plan for handling risk. One way that you can protect your capital and manage risk when trading options is through the use of protective collars. Protective collars can reduce your risk from larger-than-expected moves but also can reduce your overall gains.

How to Tell if You Are Investing or Gambling

There are no hard-and-fast rules to determine the difference between investing and gambling, but here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help tell the difference.

Trading Due to Social Pressure

If you find yourself trading options due to social pressure, that can signify that your activities are closer to gambling than investing. It can be common — especially in a bull market — for people to talk about investing with friends and co-workers. If you find that you are trading just because all of your friends are doing it, but you’re not in a financial position to bear the risk of trading, that may be a sign that you should reconsider trading stocks or options.

Trading Without a System

A good indicator that you are investing rather than gambling is that you have a system for how and when you trade. An investment system can include things like how to identify stocks to buy, technical and fundamental indicators, or a risk mitigation plan for what to do when a trade moves against you. If you are trading based on hunches and chance, that may indicate that you’re gambling and not investing.

Trading Because It Can Be Exciting

There’s no denying that excitement comes with making money, but if that excitement is the primary reason you’re trading, that is more akin to gambling than actual investing. It can be hard to separate emotions from rational thinking when making stock and option trades, which is another reason to have a trading strategy in place.

Investing With SoFi

There are no hard-and-fast rules that determine whether any particular trading behavior is investing or gambling. Instead, you might think about the reasons why you are investing. If you are trading options for the excitement, to fit in with others, or without a system, that may be a sign that your activity is closer to gambling than actual investing.

While you can’t currently trade options on the SoFi Invest® Active Investing platform, you can still start to build a portfolio to meet your financial goals based on whatever investment strategy is right for you. With a SoFi online brokerage account, you can trade stocks, ETFs, and fractional shares with no commissions for as little as $5.

Start investing with SoFi Invest today.

FAQ

What are the reasons to consider trading options?

For experienced investors, there are a lot of reasons to trade options. One reason can be to hedge an existing investment. Another possible reason is to get additional leverage; you can make (or lose) more money with a smaller investment using options.

What are the reasons to not trade options?

Options trading does carry some risk for investors, which can be one reason not to trade options. Options are also typically more volatile than their underlying stock, and some options strategies run the risk of losing your entire investment or even putting you in a position where you owe more than you have available. If you are just starting your investment journey, it might be a better idea to get practice by making less risky investments to gain experience.

Can you lose money from options trading?

Like nearly all investments, options trading carries the risk of losing money. Some options trading strategies run the risk of losing 100% of your investment. If you buy a call option and the stock closes at expiration below your strike price, your option will expire worthless. If you sell call options, you can even be in a position of losing a potentially unlimited amount.


Photo credit: iStock/fizkes

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The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Also, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
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Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.
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