7 Las Vegas Gambling Mistakes You’re Probably Making
I’m just an average guy who loves Las Vegas gambling. I’ve spent years visiting Sin City and playing casino games there. I’ve won and lost fortunes.
After gaining all that experience, I’ve realized that much of what’s written on the Internet about Las Vegas gambling causes mistakes—big mistakes that cost you more money than you probably realize.
Below I’ve listed and explained these 7 Las Vegas gambling mistakes that you’re probably making.
1. You’re Staying at the Wrong Casinos and Hotels
This mistake probably applies to everyone, but for different reasons. If you’re a luxury traveler who loves a specific resort in the city, you’re probably costing yourself money by not taking advantage of some of the specials available at the other resorts in town. On the other hand, you might be a budget traveler who only stays at fleabags, not realizing that you can get a better property for the same price.
You might be someone who only stays in Vegas on the weekend. That’s a big mistake, as the prices on the rooms skyrocket on Friday and Saturday nights.
But staying mid-week doesn’t guarantee you the best rate, either. You might be traveling during a convention, in which case the mid-week rates might even be higher than the typical weekend prices.
The mistake you’re making is not paying enough attention to detail and not putting enough effort into your planning.
The more flexible you can be with where and when you’re staying, the better value you’re going to see for your money.
This means spending a little more time in advance doing the planning, but it pays off, especially if you’re staying for 4 or 5 nights.
Shop around—not just for hotels, but also for dates.
You can find other interesting ways to save money on your hotel stay, too. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, you can buy other people’s unused hotel reservations and save up to 74% on your stay. You can find these deals on RoomerTravel.com.
2. You’re Spending Too Much Money on Airfare
Most people don’t put as much thought into their airline tickets as they do their casino/hotel stay.
But you can save a lot of money on airfare by just paying attention to a couple of tips:
According to Hopper.com, the optimal time for getting the best rate on your airline tickets is 14 days prior to your arrival. They claim that you can save $200 by booking at least 2 weeks in advance.
But, as it turns out, you don’t save much more money by booking further ahead than that.
Why do airline prices work this way?
It’s all about supply and demand. The longer you wait to book your tickets, the fewer tickets are available. The airline can charge more for those tickets.
Look at it this way:
Suppose you own the world’s smallest airline, and you only have a single airplane with 100 seats on it.
And let’s also suppose that, just for simplicity’s sake, that you only have one flight per day.
This means on any given day, you can sell anywhere from 0 to 100 tickets.
If it’s Friday, and you have a flight scheduled for Monday with 50 unsold tickets, you’re likely to reduce the prices for those tickets.
You want to fill those seats.
The cost of the flight for the airline is the same regardless of whether the seats are full.
The process of pricing these tickets is the same process the hotels use to price their rooms. Less availability means a higher price.
This is called revenue management.
You can also save money flying to Vegas on a Sunday and returning on a Tuesday. The same reasons apply—supply and demand. Most people have time off during the weekend, but even if they don’t, they’re not usually taking time off work at the beginning of the week.
This means that fewer people are traveling on those dates, so the rates are lower to stimulate more activity.
If you’re committed to getting the best price on your airfare, book your flights 2 weeks in advance, depart on a Sunday, return on a Tuesday, and travel in August or October.
3. You’re Spending Too Much Money on the Attractions
Some people go to Las Vegas just to gamble. Others like to gamble and drink. And there are degenerates who visit Sin City to gamble, drink, and visit strip clubs. (I don’t judge.)
But most people visiting Las Vegas are there to see some of the attractions, too.
As with airfare and hotel rooms, you can spend a lot of money on these attractions or just a little.
One of the easiest ways to save money on attractions in Las Vegas is to stick with the attractions that don’t cost much to begin with.
Vegas.com offers a list of 20 things you can see and do there for less than $20. Attractions on that list include the Mobster Museum, the Neon Graveyard, and Brooklyn Bowl.
But you can also find lists of free things to do in Las Vegas. Travel and Leisure has a list of over 30 free attractions in the city.
I suggest you bookmark that link.
That way if you lose all your money at the craps table, you can still find something to do during the rest of your vacation. Being broke in Vegas isn’t the same as being broke in other cities. You can still find plenty to do.
4. You’re Spending Too Much on Transportation
You don’t just have to get to Las Vegas and find a place to stay. You must also get to and from the airport.
And most places in Vegas, even those on the Strip, are too far to walk.
You can spend a fortune on cab fare.
But that’s not a requirement for getting around.
According to TripAdvisor, you can get a 24-hour pass to use the bus in Las Vegas for just $8.
And the bus system is Las Vegas is far more convenient and accessible than you probably think.
There are 2 bus routes on the Strip:
- The Deuce – This route runs 24 hours a day and shows up every 12 to 30 minutes at almost every hotel on the Strip.
- The Strip & Downtown Express – This route runs from 9am to half past midnight. It leaves every 12 to 15 minutes most of the time, although it runs less frequently early in the morning. You can use this bus to get to and from Downtown and the Strip.
Maybe the bus isn’t for you, but you can’t beat the price.
Another strategy for getting around is staying someplace that’s located walking distance from a lot of the things you want to do.
I like staying in Downtown. Everything in Glitter Gulch is walking distance.
The Strip, on the other hand, is far longer than you might imagine—especially during the summer.
But you can still find plenty of hotels and casinos that are centrally located to lots of things to do. I like Planet Hollywood for its location, in fact.
5. You’re Spending Too Much Money on Food
Las Vegas is one place where you don’t have to spend a lot of money eating. In fact, if you gamble even a little bit, you can get free meals at most casinos. It might just be breakfast in the coffee shop, but that’s a meal I never miss anyway.
Vegas Solo suggests that the best way to save money dining in Vegas is to stay out of the restaurants on the Strip. They even offer a list of some of the best meals in town for the budget conscious. Some of these include:
- Ellis Island is one of the classic Vegas budget meals. You can get a steak dinner there for $6.99 any time of day.
- The California’s Market Street Café is another example of a classic pennies-on-the-dollar meal in Las Vegas. You can get the prime rib special there for $7.95.
- Planet Hollywood’s Earl of Sandwich offers breakfast sandwiches for just $4.
Another strategy for saving money on food is to eat at happy hour. Yeah, most people think of happy hour as a time to get cheap drinks, but why worry about drink prices when you can drink for free just for sitting in front of a slot machine game?
No, happy hour is a great opportunity to get cheap food. A lot of the places offering food during happy hour have meals for $6 or $7. Vegas.com suggests Culinary Dropout from 3pm to 6pm Monday through Friday. You can get grilled cheese sliders and meat loaf sandwiches there for $6.
Diablo’s Cantina has tacos for $4, and their happy hour runs 7 days a week from 3pm to 7pm. Being a good Texas, I love tacos, and I don’t mind paying $4 for them, either.
6. You’re Wasting Money Gambling
You’ll find plenty of advice on the Internet about how to get the best odds when you’re gambling, but what most of these sites neglect to mention is that…
Clever gambling writers suggest that you should think of casino games as an entertainment expense, and there’s much to be said for that mindset. But most don’t go into enough detail about how to estimate what a given casino game is going to cost.
Here’s how to do that:
First, understand that in the long run, the house edge is a fair estimate of how much of each bet you’ll lose when playing your favorite casino games.
Roulette has a house edge of 5.26%. If you’re betting $100 per spin, you’re expected to lose an average of $5.26 per bet.
But that’s an average over a long period of time—hundreds, maybe thousands, of spins.
No one would play a gambling game where they bet $100 and won back $94.74 every time they placed a bet.
But play long enough, and that will be close to your outcome.
But in the short run, here’s what happens:
In the extreme short run (a single bet), you either lose your entire bet, or you win a multiple of that bet.
An Example Using Roulette
The easiest example is an even-money bet (red or black, odd or even, high or low). If you win, you win the amount of your bet.
If you play one spin and win, you win $100 on a $100 bet. But if you lose, then you lose your $100 bet. Neither of those cases come anywhere near the expectation of losing $5.26 on that bet.
But suppose you place 38 bets in a row, and you land on every slot on the wheel. How much will you win, and how much will you lose in that situation?
You have 38 slots on the wheel. 2 of them are green, 18 of them are red, and 18 of them are black. Let’s assume you always bet on black (as Wesley Snipes suggests). You’ll win your bet 18 times, and you’ll lose your bet 20 times.
You’ll win $1800 on the 18 winning bets. You’ll lose $2000 on the 20 losing bets. Your net loss is $200 ($2000 – $1800).
If you average that $200 by the total number of bets you made (38), you’ll see that you lost $5.26 per bet, on average.
Of course, even if you place 38 bets in a row, you won’t see mathematically perfect results. You’ll see the same number come up twice or three times. You’ll see some numbers not come up at all.
The Law of Large Numbers
This is where the law of large numbers comes in. The more you play, the closer your results eventually start to look like the mathematical expectation.
But just knowing how much you expect to lose per bet doesn’t tell you how expensive the entertainment is. You have to measure a couple of other factors.
One way to consider entertainment costs is by looking at how much time you’ve been entertained.
For example, if you buy a novel with 600 pages that takes 10 hours to read for $7.99, you’ve been entertained for about 80 cents per hour.
On the other hand, if you go to a 2 hour movie for $9, your entertainment cost is $4.50 per hour.
You can estimate the same calculation with a gambling game.
Casino Games’ Average Bets per Hour
You just need to know how many bets per hour you’re going to make on average.
This varies by game:
- Baccarat at a full table = 15 bets per hour
- Blackjack at a full table = 50 bets per hour
- Blackjack one-on-one with the dealer = 250 bets per hour
- Craps = 100 bets per hour
- Mini Baccarat one-on-one = 200 bets per hour
- Roulette = 40 bets per hour
- Slot machines or video poker = 600 bets per hour
Once you know how many bets per hour you’re making, you can multiply that by how much you’re betting per bet to find out how much money you’re putting into action each hour. Multiply that number by the house edge, and you know what your hourly expected loss is.
You’re playing blackjack one-on-one with a dealer at $100 per hand, and the house edge is 0.5%. 250 hands per hour multiplied by $100 is $25,000 in action per hour.
Your expected hourly loss is 0.5% of that, or $125 per hour.
On the other hand, let’s say you’re playing craps and betting the pass line only. The house edge on that bet is 1.41%. $100 per bet multiplied by 100 bets per hour is $10,000 in action per hour.
1.41% of that is $141 per hour.
Craps is only slightly more expensive than blackjack in this situation, but consider this, too:
Not everyone who thinks they’re good at basic blackjack strategy are good at it. That 0.5% assumes perfect basic strategy.
Let’s assume you’re not good at basic strategy, and you make enough mistakes that your house edge is 1%. That’s not uncommon at all, in fact.
Now your hourly expected loss at the one-on-one blackjack game is $250, which is a lot higher than at the craps table.
And the beauty of that craps bet is that it doesn’t take any kind of strategic thinking at all.
How does the hourly expected loss at these table games compare to slot machines?
Most people aren’t going to risk $100 on a single slot machine, but let’s assume that you’re willing to play for $5 a spin. At 600 spins per hour, that’s $3000 in hourly action.
But the house edge on slots varies. It’s probably at least 5%, but it’s more likely to be in the 7% range.
$3000 at 5% is $150 per hour, but at 7%, it’s $210 per hour.
Even though the size of your bet on the slot machine game is only 5% the size of your bet at those table games, your expected hourly loss is still in that $150 – $250 range.
Of course, you can reduce any of these factors to reduce your hourly expected loss.
For example, if you played that slot machine more slowly—at half the speed—you’d only lose $75 or $105 per hour.
If you take a 15-minute break at the blackjack table every hour, you’ll reduce the amount you lose per hour playing blackjack by $30 or so.
Or you could play blackjack at a full table and get fewer hands per hour that way.
You can also bet less, but reducing the size of your wagers decreases the excitement factor.
Think about it this way:
Suppose you’re playing roulette for a penny per spin, and you’re making single number bets. Those bets pay off at 35 to 1.
How excited are you going to bet at winning 35 cents?
Compare that to the excitement of winning $3500 on a $100 bet.
How do you know how much you should be betting?
I like a concept I read about in a book by John Vorhaus called Poker Night. He was writing about how to set the stakes for a poker game, but the concept applies equally well to casino games.
He suggests having a “gulp limit”.
The idea is that you buy in for an amount that would make you swallow hard if you had that much money in your wallet and lost it.
This amount varies based on your temperament and how much money you have.
Some people might swallow hard if they lose a wallet with $5 in it.
Other people might not bat an eye at losing a wallet with $500 in it.
The point is that gambling is meaningless unless you have a meaningful amount of money on the line.
I’d be bored silly playing penny slots for an hour.
But increase the amount I’m betting per spin to $5, and I’m a lot more interested.
Common sense applies, too.
If you’re struggling to make a $1000 a month rent payment, you have no business plopping down at the blackjack table and making $100 bets.
That’s not entertainment.
That’s just foolishness.
7. You’ve Joined the Players Club
If you pay attention to almost every other gambling writer in the world, you’ve read the advice that you’re supposed to always join the players club at the casino.
And yes, there are advantages to being a member of the players club.
You get a tiny percentage of your overall action back in the form of rebates and free stuff.
Here’s what you trade for those tiny rebates:
That might not sound like a big deal, but think about it. You have entities with staggering amounts of money tracking every penny you spend while you’re gambling.
Their goal when tracking that spend is to determine what marketing buttons to push to get you to spend more money.
The casino can use this information to send you hyper-targeted direct-mail advertising to convince you to visit more often than you might otherwise.
This means spending more money gambling than you might do otherwise.
And if this kind of marketing weren’t profitable (EXTREMELY profitable), the casino wouldn’t provide the rebates at all.
You visit a casino 4 times a year in Las Vegas. You spend an average of 2 days there each trip, and you spend 4 hours gambling each day.
The casino expects you to lose $500 per trip, 4 times a year, or $2000.
But they can tell by your action that you love playing Wheel of Fortune slots.
In fact, they can tell that this is far and away the most popular game among slot machine players. As a result, they decide to hold a slot machine tournament featuring that game on a specific set of dates—a set of dates you wouldn’t normally be visiting.
They send you mailers inviting you to the tournament.
You decide to make an extra trip to Vegas for the tournament, so you lose $500 more that year than you would otherwise.
For many people, this isn’t a significant amount of money.
But for the average American, it is a significant amount of money. The average person in the United States earns about $50,000 a year.
Gambling losses of $2500 a year represent 2.5% of that person’s income.
And that doesn’t include the cost of getting to and from Vegas and the cost of staying there.
Let’s assume you spend an extra $200 flying out there for the tournament and an extra $300 on lodging. Those expenses count, too.
You might say that since you’re so well-informed about these kinds of advertising tactics that you’d be immune to them.
And you might be right.
But according to Cultwatch, you should beware of thinking you’re immune to mind control.
Just knowing how mind control and persuasion tactics work isn’t sufficient defense against such things.
I just pass on the players club.
It isn’t a fair trade.
You can make a lot of mistakes gambling in Las Vegas.
But you can easily avoid most of them, too.
And honestly, not all the mistakes I’ve listed are what you would consider mistakes. Some of these are just matters of personal preference.
As with most things in gambling (and life, for that matter), a little mindfulness goes a long way.