Insurance contracts are often seen as a form of gambling. That is because they appear as a type of wager that takes place over the lifetime of the policy. Basically, the insurance company is willing to bet that you and your property will not suffer the loss insured against. In exchange for making this bet, and taking on the risk, they receive your premium. If they win the bet, they keep the premium, if they lose, they make the payout. In this sense, they are often compared to a type of long-term financial casino.
The difference between your premium amount, and the amount the insurance company will have to pay out if the loss occurs, is simply the odds the insurance company is getting for taking on the bet. It’s just like going to the horse races and betting on a horse that pays out 10 to 1.
This view of insurance has led to a number of people and religious communities disapproving of insurance because of its similarities to gambling. Among those groups that avoid insurance are the Amish and Muslim communities. What these people do instead is create a system of what is known as social insurance. What this means is that if there is a disaster and someone suffers a heavy loss, then the whole community will step forward and help them to deal with their loss and rebuild. While this system is very simple, it has the potential to be just as effective a safety net as insurance. However, it requires that the community actually does step forward and help those who suffer from disasters. This means that it is more successful in small closed and closely-knit communities than in large modern societies.
Social insurance systems, therefore, are not always effective. Often the community that is supposed to adopt it is not suitable. Also, in very large disasters the system can break down as a small community will not be able to rebuild itself completely without outside assistance. This is why larger modern insurance systems can be more robust. However, in extremely large disasters, modern insurance systems can also run into difficulties. This is witnessed by the fact that it is impossible to insure against certain risks such as floods and earthquakes. This is because the damage would be simply on too large a scale for the insurance companies to cope with.
There are other ways in which insurance doesn’t follow the gambling model. For instance, insurance companies seek to reduce the risk of the loss occurring constantly, for instance by requiring the installation of fire alarms, or by reducing the loss if the insured against event does occur, for example by providing rehabilitation to accident victims. Therefore insurance is like a gamble in the reward and risk elements, but other elements are different.