All year long, I write about games and strategies and share readers’ stories about their casino visits. Most of those stories are about big wins because, after all, they’re more fun to remember than the more frequent losses.
Once a year, though, I like to sound a cautionary note. For most of us, playing casino games is about entertainment, not any reliable way of earning money. A few card counters, dice controllers and video poker experts can get an edge on their games, but celebrating the wins while preparing for the losses is a more realistic approach for the vast majority.
So as 2013 morphs into 2014, I offer a few resolutions to help keep your bankroll intact whenever you visit the casinos:
Stay within your bankroll: Decide before you play how much you're willing to spend on the day's entertainment. Whether you’ve decided the amount you can lose is $50 or $500, slow down as you approach that figure. Take a timeout, get a snack, watch the roulette wheel for a while. If you hit your limit, quit. Period.
Keep part of your winnings: Don't go crazy after a big win just because you're playing with "their money." Remember, as soon as you've won it, it's not "theirs" anymore. It's YOUR money, and you don't have to give it back. You can buy yourself a treat, go out for an evening on the town, put a little away for the kids' or grandkids' educations, pay bills -- whatever you want.
The first time I ever hit a video poker royal flush for $1,000, my wife and I went Christmas shopping with $100 bills. It felt great not to pad any credit card statements that year. Stash away AT LEAST half of any good-size hit. When you spend it later, it feels just a little nicer to be using money you've taken from the casino.
Play only with money you can afford to lose: For most players, the house edge on casino games will inevitably grind down our bankrolls. We'll win sometimes but lose more often. When the losses come, make sure you don't have money earmarked for food, clothing, school, the rent or mortgage on the line. Play with money budgeted for entertainment, not for life's necessities.
Learn the games before you play: A little homework goes a long way in helping to cut the odds against you at casino games. Learn basic strategy in blackjack and for each video poker game you play and practice on the computer -- there’s software available for both games that will alert you to mistakes. Know the rules and best bets in craps. No matter your game of choice, buy a good book and read about the best methods of play.
Even for slot players, a little learning is a good thing. You might not be able to reduce the house edge, but you can learn to tell the games designed for extended play from the ones that offset jackpots with fast losses.
Never use credit card cash advances for gambling money: Think the house edge is high on some games? Try comparing it to credit card interest rates. The house edge added to interest on borrowed money and ATM fees -- that's a tough combination to overcome.
Never chase losses: What's worse than losing money? Losing even more in a desperate attempt to win it back. A woman who lost $8,000 on the same $5 slot machine once wanted me to investigate to see if there was something wrong with the machine. She thought she was due to win, so she kept betting and betting.
Casino games don't work that way. The same house edge that's at work during initial losses remains at work if you keep betting. You're never "due" to win, and wins and losses don't have to even out in the time we play. A losing streak means it's time to cut back or quit, not bet more.
Go easy on the alcohol: My casino beverage of choice is bottled water, but I'm no fanatic. If you want to have a drink while you play, that's up to you. But keep your intake moderate. There's money on the line and you don't want your judgment impaired. Relax and have a good time but keep a clear head, too.
Keep perspective and play for fun: Gambling in a casino is not a way to get rich. It's a way to have a good time. If we take a little extra home, so much the better.
Even a losing day can be fun if you keep your expectations realistic. Sometimes you'll win, but often, small winning streaks and a few near-misses will be the highlights of the day.
Here’s to a prosperous 2014. May your wins be frequent, losses small and bankroll intact.
Look for John Grochowski at www.casinoanswerman.com, on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).
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