11 Ways to Protect Yourself from Going Broke Gambling
There is no perfect way for you to prevent yourself from going broke through gambling, except to not gamble at all. At the end of the day it all comes down to your own self discipline and your ability to recognize that you may be risking too much. Before it goes that far, you can (and should) create some wiggle room so that you can enjoy the entertainment without having to constantly do a sanity check. Most of us won’t question what we are doing; in fact, it’s probably not normal to keep yourself in constant check.
What is good common sense, though, is to impose some limits on your self indulgence and to respect those boundaries. Most of us are easily capable of setting and staying inside personal boundaries. Whether you aspire to be a professional gambler or just want to have a good time every time you visit a casino, here are a few achievable things you can do to protect yourself from wandering into bad habits.
1. Create Your Own Private Gambling Fund
We always say, “don’t bet the rent check” when you go gambling. But what should you bet? Honestly, if you are planning for a weekend trip to Vegas you probably think about setting back a certain amount of money for hotel rooms, food, travel, gifts, and gambling. If you want to gamble more often than once a year then you should set up a dedicated gambling fund and only gamble with that money.
This can be as simple as an envelope you stuff with $20 bills once a week, or a bank account separate from where you keep your household checking account. There are some in-between options, too. The idea is to help you set aside a little bit of money each week that you choose to live without. In an emergency you can take money from this fund to help pay for unexpected expenses.
How much you set back is up to you, but it should be a modest amount. Paying your bills on time should come before saving money for anything else.
2. Prioritize Your Savings Plans
The old adage “don’t bite off more than you can chew” applies to managing your money as much as it does to eating dinner. Regardless of how old you are, you should have clear priorities about how to manage the money you have after you pay the monthly bills.
It doesn’t matter how much is left over, because saving only $1 a week is $52 in just a year. Don’t let how little discretionary cash you have each week or month discourage you from saving. Your first priority should always be to save something.
After that you need to think about savings in three tiers:
- Emergency fund
- Long-term savings
- Fun money
Personal finance experts usually recommend setting back 3 to 6 months’ income for an emergency fund. Although how quickly you accumulate that money is up to you. The sooner you reach that point the better, because then you can take that weekly or monthly emergency fund allocation and put it elsewhere until you have to replenish the fund.
Long-terms savings includes retirement, saving up for a down payment on a house, college funds, or any other big expense that requires 2 or more years of savings. You should always be putting money into this kind of savings.
“Fun money” is for everything else, from buying those cool $400 head phones you have been looking at in the store to a weekend in Vegas. If you create a dedicated gambling fund it should be funded out of this category of your savings plan.
As long as you live below your means you should always be able to save money. That is literally the secret to financial success: spend less than you earn. Good money management merely requires that you prioritize your savings plans, and saving for gambling should be the least important of your savings priorities.
3. Always Gamble On a Budget
Regardless of whether you set up a savings account for gambling expenses you should always plan ahead for how much money you are willing to spend on gambling. If you have $1000 in your discretionary funds and you can afford to lose $200 at the casino, set that as your budget.
But the neat thing about a budget is that it works both ways. Not only do you plan what goes out, but you also plan for what comes in. When you gamble — sometimes you win. What should you do with your winnings?
Most people will probably never get or stay very far ahead, and about 80% of us are okay with that. To us gambling is a form of entertainment similar to amusement parks, concerts, or spending a day at a ballpark. All of these things cost us money and we have good times spending that money, but we don’t come back laden with bags of riches.
Nonetheless, what should you do when you unexpectedly win a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars? Your budget should tell you where to put that money.
For example, prioritize the allocation of your winnings in (somewhat) reverse order:
- Pay back into your gambling fund
- Top off your emergency fund
- Pay into the rest of your “fun money” savings
- Invest the rest in your long-term savings
If your gambling can pay for itself for a while, let it do so. Take the money you would normally allocate to the gambling fund and put it into a more important fund, such as your emergency fund or long-term savings. But if you are trying to save up for some other entertainment expense such as a family vacation, then send your gambling winnings or regular allocation toward that goal.
It’s easier to maintain this kind of discipline when you keep your gambling money separate from everything else, even if it’s only sitting in an envelope in a shoe-box in the back of your closet.
4. Divide Your Evening Stake Into 3 to 5 Portions
When you are gambling online you usually transfer a certain amount of money from your casino account into your game account. Try not to put everything into the game account. You may play the game too long if you lose your money quickly and could easily deplete your full balance. The way you budget your monthly income across expenses and savings should be the way you want to budget your gambling stake across games.
If you visit land based casinos you should take a variety of cash denominations with you. For example, take 10 to 30 one dollar bills so that you can tip the casino staff in cash to thank them, especially servers who bring you drinks. Unless you have a lot of cash to burn it’s also best to start playing with $20 bills rather than $50 or $100 bills. This way you begin playing modestly and your cash will last longer.
If you are playing in a casino where you cash out of games with tickets that you can insert into other games then keep three tickets going at all times. Try to keep them about equal in value. If you play one ticket down to zero then either break up another ticket into two or start a new ticket with another $20 bill.
The fewer bills you pull out of your wallet the better. The less money you spend in the evening the better. You may lose everything no matter what you do but if you want to enjoy several hours at the casino then make sure your money lasts that long. When you leave you want to leave feeling satisfied with your entertainment experience rather than like a sucker who could have done something better with that money.
5. Set Win / Loss Limits On Every Game
Win and loss limits are important rules for gamblers and investors alike. Although gambling and investing really work in different ways you can learn from how savvy investors manage their money. When an investor wants to play in a stock or other commodity he strives to “buy low” and “sell high”. That is how he makes a profit. You aren’t buying anything other than a chance to win a prize when you gamble but the concept of win and loss limits works about the same way in both investing and gambling.
The loss limit is the cutoff point where you either walk away from the investment (sell your stake) or the game (take your money off the table or out of the machine). If you start gambling with $50 you might set a loss limit of $25. But this is only one way to set a limit. Many players assume they should lose no more than 40-60% of their stake on any game. This is a “soft loss limit”.
A “hard loss limit” stipulates you are willing to lose a fixed dollar amount and no more. That $25 could be what you are willing to lose off $50, $500, or $1000.
The win limits work in the other direction. Again, you can have “soft win limits” where you think in terms of “I will quit when I triple my money” or “hard win limits” where you think, “I will quit when I have won X dollars”.
Good judgment is required for setting any kind of limit. You cannot predict how much you will lose or win when you gamble. No game owes you any amount of prizes and you don’t owe the games any more than whatever you are willing to wager on a single round of play.
A realistic limit is one you can live with. Can you live with losing $25 on this game? Can you live with walking away with $100 profit from this game? Desperation may tarnish your judgment when you lose and greed may drive up your unrealistic expectations when you win.
Developing good habits is your best bet when it comes to setting and living within win and loss limits. Make modest choices at first and adjust them according to your experience. You might find that a $25 loss limit is unrealistically large if you only make 50 cent wagers; or it could be too small a limit if you make $5 wagers.
You cannot control how much you win, either. Although it’s not a good idea to bet on single numbers if you do that at roulette, you’ll be tempted to say “it doesn’t count toward my win limit” if that single number comes in. You may feel that way if you win a $1000 jackpot on a slot game, too. Although most of the time you will win modest prizes you reach your win limit as soon as you have exceeded that arbitrary number. Everything counts even if you win a jackpot on the first spin.
Stick to your budget and your money management principles.
6. Leave Your Credit Cards at Home
Every land based casino has at least one ATM machine. And you may be able to withdraw money from your credit cards through the cashier. Don’t do this.
Never borrow money to gamble with because regardless of whether you win or lose you have to pay that money back. Adding debt to your personal financial portfolio hurts your credit. Worse, it changes how you must allocate your personal financial budget. If you’re just barely putting anything back for gambling fun then borrowing money may result in your having to make minimum payments that are higher than what you could previously afford to set aside for gambling.
If you are going to make payments to anyone for gambling expenses then make them to yourself via a savings plan, even if it’s just putting $20 into an envelope in a shoebox in the back of your closet once a month.
By the same token don’t take out lines of credit at casinos or with personal finance companies. Signature loans are the gasoline you heap on the flames of bad money management. Your only creditor should be your self-financed gambling fund. Borrow from that and nothing else.
7. Only Take a Debit Card for a Dedicated Gambling Bank Account With You
You cannot use an envelope stuffed full of $20 bills to fund an online gambling account but you can use electronic funding options. You can load money into those payment processing accounts (or purchase Bitcoin) with a debit card. By the same token if you are willing to pay the ATM fees it’s okay to take a debit card for your dedicated gambling bank account to the casino with you.
As long as the money you pull out of the bank was only ever intended for gambling you can do what you please with it. Just don’t take your household account’s debit card into the casino with you. Don’t use that account to fund your online gambling.
You have to be disciplined about managing your money. As mentioned above, it all comes down to your self-discipline. You can circumvent all your self-imposed controls and safeguards but making it inconvenient and tedious to do so is a great way to protect yourself.
8. Only Play Low Limit Games
You may have dreams of being a high roller but before you reach that stage in life you should resign yourself to the realm of low limit games. Assuming you are good enough to roll your money up in poker, blackjack, or even slot games you should not jump into high stakes gambling just because you got lucky.
Professional gamblers may work with investors who fund their activities. Just because someone is a “pro” doesn’t mean he is living high on the hog from his winnings. For true lone wolf pro gamblers there will be times of feast and famine.
Most of us will do just fine by playing low limit games. We don’t plan to become professional gamblers and we don’t need to take on that kind of risk. Remember that every jackpot and big payoff is funded by other gamblers. And when you see someone win $500 at the high roller slot game, ask yourself how much money that prize cost them.
9. Be a Lion Among Mice, Not a Mouse Among Lions
If you want to play maximum bets then the best games to do that are the games with the lowest maximum bets. Most people now play the slots. Given a choice between two machines that offer the exact same game, but one has a maximum bet of $2 and one has a maximum bet of $20, you should play the $2 maximum bet.
There is a myth among slot players that the higher denomination machines pay better. Some of the programmers who design these games, and some of the casino executives to decide which games to offer their customers, have spoke about this myth on gambling forums and on social media sites like Quora. With very few exceptions these industry insiders say that there is no difference in the payback percentages between the high and low maximum machines running the same game.
There are several reasons why gamblers might draw the wrong conclusion about perceived advantages of higher maximum games. For example, you may be confusing two different versions of a game in the same series. The older game may be set for a lower denomination and a newer game may be set for a higher denomination. Many recent slot games do offer better payback percentages than older “classic” games.
10. Study the House Rules on Table Games
When you sit down at a blackjack table do you know what the table minimums, maximums, and special rules are? The casino displays them on a sign or card on the table. But many players, especially when they are tired or have had a little too much to drink, pay no attention to the house rules. You may be politely reminded by the dealer you are trying to play by the wrong rules.
Some casinos offer different rules for several tables they keep open at the same time. Some casinos also change the rules after 4PM in the afternoon and 2AM in the morning. Casinos may also close down tables for a while to keep the most possible players at the fewest possible tables.
Players may also have misconceptions about how games work. For example, if you have been told that single deck blackjack is the best version of the game you may not be able to find a single deck game that pays 3:2 odds; many casinos now pay 6:5 odds on single deck blackjack. Gamblers who don’t understand the difference between single zero (European) and double zero (American) roulette may assume the two versions of the game offer the same payback percentages.
In roulette you should look for European roulette tables that offer En Prison or La Partage rules. These are optional rules that reduce the house edge a little bit. Naturally, you may not find these rules at your local casino but you should look for them. Both rules are activated by a zero result on the wheel. Here is how they work:
The En Prison rule says that you, the player, can choose either to surrender half your bet or to leave it for the next spin in an all or nothing wager (even if the result is zero). The En Prison rule is only available on even money bets.
The La Partage rule requires that you lose half your bet when a zero result occurs.
11. Get Everything Free That You Possibly Can
Although some gambling advice articles go on about getting comps from the casinos the truth is that comps are usually only offered where the casinos hope to gain something in return. That may only be good will but it could be that they want to keep a player hanging around the casino.
The easiest comps and free incentives are those that are tied to participating in a casino’s member loyalty program. You can earn points toward discounts at the casino’s restaurants, stores, and bars. If you think you will spend any time and money in those places you should be using your loyalty card on every game. You should be able to use a loyalty card even on the table games, even though you won’t see the points when you insert the cards into slot machines. Ask the casino concierge how that works.
But there are other ways to get free things. If you are vacationing in Las Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City, or really any large metropolitan area with easy access to a lot of casinos you should be looking for the best deals on everything from where you stay to where you eat to the cost of gasoline. Is it less expensive to travel by taxi or should you drive? Do you need to rent a car? Can you travel by bus? Does your hotel have a free shuttle service?
The less money you spend outside the casino the more money you have to enjoy the basics of your vacation, including on other forms of entertainment such as entrance fees for state and national parks. In other words, when you take a gambling vacation you want to protect your money in every aspect of the trip, not just inside the casino.
A common mistake casual travelers make is to visit several multi-hotel travel sites to look for great deals and make reservations. You may stay in a nice hotel but a different chain every time you travel. By joining a hotel’s member loyalty program you may be able to earn points toward future stays. With some chains you’ll also have access to lists of upcoming “grand openings” for new hotel locations, and sometimes you’ll find great deals for the first month. How you book and arrange your hotel may have a great impact on everything you do on your vacation and future trips.
Other freebies to look for include food discounts and giveaways, free rides on attractions, and free access to museums and other community venues. You may want to purchase a city coupon book that allows you and your family to visit all the great tourist attractions at a discount. These books may pay for themselves with as few as three visits. And if the casino happens to be offering any discounts or free attraction tickets, you will only know for sure if you ask the concierge.
Get every freebie you can. You and your fellow gamblers and tourists are paying for them in ways you don’t realize.
Although gambling is fun like any other form of entertainment it has evolved into an industry where the primary goal of every business in the industry is to make a profit. There are no non-profit casinos and if there were they would still have to keep some of the players’ money just to pay their expenses. As long as you treat gambling like an expense and budget for that expense carefully you should be able to enjoy gambling for a lifetime without hurting your personal finances or risking your retirement.
The ideal gambling budget is the one you don’t need to accomplish your lifetime financial goals. If you win when you gamble you still need to manage that money. But the most important part of protecting yourself when you gamble is to set realistic expectations and limits you can live with. Do that and it won’t matter if you win or lose; all that will matter is how much you enjoy the experience.