Not long ago, Rip Rivers (a gambler friend of mine) told me about some simple rules that he started using to help him stop losing so much money in the casino.
He asked me my opinions, as he knows I write about gambling in casinos for a living.
And as it turns out, his 7 simple rules are a perfect formula for cutting your losses when casino gambling.
Today, I’m sharing these tips with you. They might not all apply to your gambling tendencies, but I think enough of them apply to enough people that this post might turn out to be the most useful I’ve ever written.
It’s so practical and simple that anyone can benefit from this advice.
Most of what you need to know about casino gambling can be found online, but putting this information to practical use is hard for some people. A lot of that is because the casino is in business to make money. And the only way for them to make money from you is to get it from you, the customer.
Your goal, on the other hand, is twofold:
- To walk away a winner, or…
- To walk away having gotten sufficient entertainment for your money
Either of those goals is achievable by most gamblers.
But they might require a different mindset than you’re used to.
Here’s what my friend Rip says you should do.
1- Stop Expecting to Get Something for Nothing
The first thing Rip told me was that most casino gamblers—himself included—have the crazy idea that they’re going to get something for nothing. Sure, winning $10,000 when putting a dollar into a slot machine is possible.
But it’s so unlikely that it might as well be impossible.
Rip and I aren’t lazy, but we’re suckers for an easy buck. The casino knows that most people are. They capitalize on that by offering games with lousy odds but big jackpots. They know that if there’s even a hint that someone can get rich without working like a slave for years, someone’s going to jump at that chance.
Since the math for all of these games is rigged in the casinos’ favor, they have no problem paying off the rare gamblers who win massive, life-changing amounts of money.
If you’re not already familiar with the concept of the house edge, you should learn more about it. The house edge is a mathematical expected loss per bet that’s computed based on theoretically perfect results.
Casinos operate in the long run. One tendency in probability is that as you approach the long term, your actual results will start getting closer to your expected results.
Individual gamblers play in the short term, though. Over the course of 10 slot machine spins or a dozen blackjack hands, anything can happen—even a winning streak for a player.
The problem is that it’s impossible for these winning streaks to continue past a certain point. Eventually, if you play long enough, your results will start to resemble the theoretical results.
The house edge is expressed as a percentage. For example, if I tell you that a roulette game has a house edge of 5.26%, you can expect—in the long run—to lose an average of $5.26 for every $100 you bet.
It’s obviously impossible to lose $5.26 on a single $100 bet, though. That’s why it’s a long-term average.
But the math of it is so certain that the casinos never have to worry about going broke because of too many winners.
When you expect something for nothing, you’re expecting the casino to offer you a game with “fair” odds or better. Fair odds are when a game pays off at the same odds of winning.
A single-number bet in roulette pays off at 35 to 1. The odds of winning, though, are 37 to 1. If it were a fair bet, it would pay off at 37 to 1.
But then the casino wouldn’t make a profit.
Don’t hate the casino for this. They’re in business to make a profit.
You expect to get paid when you work, don’t you?
2- Stop Playing the Slot Machines
The games in the casinos with the highest edge are the slot machines. Worse, the house edge for almost all slot machine games is invisible. Modern slots are powered by random number generators, and casinos don’t post the actual probabilities of getting a winning combination.
Most gambling writers and casino managers don’t use the expression “house edge” when discussing slots. They mostly talk about payback percentage, which is the yin to the house edge’s yang.
If you subtract a slot machine’s house edge from 100%, you have the game’s payback percentage.
Here’s an example:
If you’re playing a slot machine with a 5% house edge, the payback percentage is 95%.
Most slot machine games average a payback percentage—at best—in the 91% to 92% range. Some are much worse. The airport slots in Las Vegas are notoriously tight, with a payback percentage of more like 75%.
This means the casino expects you to lose an average of $25 for every $100 you wager in the machines.
The house edge is a function of 2 things—the odds of winning, and the payoff when you win.
On a slot machine, you have half that information—the payoffs. They’re listed on the game’s pay table.
What you lack is the probability of winning. Some symbols might be programmed to come up on average 1/8 of the time, while others might be programmed to come up on average 1/16 of the time, and so on.
Since you don’t know the probability of winning, it’s impossible to calculate the house edge with any accuracy.
But the house edge chips away at your bankroll little by little every time you place a bet.
And since slot machines have a high house edge combined with a high number of bets per hour, the amount you stand to lose playing them is dramatically higher than any other game in the casino.
Suppose you’re spinning the reels 600 times per hour. Rip and I agree that’s about average, in fact. And let’s say you’re playing a game at $3 per spin. That’s 1800 per hour you’re putting into action.
If we assume you’re playing an average slot machine with an 8% house edge, your expected loss in dollars for that hour is $144.
Let’s compare that with a blackjack game where you play with perfect basic strategy and face a house edge of only 0.5%.
You’re probably betting $5 per game instead of just $3, but you’re only playing 200 hands per hour at the fastest of tables. You’re putting $1000 per hour into action instead of $1800.
Better yet, you expected loss is only 0.5% of that $1000, which is only $5/hour.
Can you see how you’d save money playing the game where you’re expected to lose $5/hour instead of the game where you’re expected to lose $144/hour?
3- Slow Down—WAY Down
If you were paying close attention to the example in #2, you probably noticed that the number of bets per hour dropped from 600/hour with slots to 200/hour in blackjack. That’s an example of how switching games can slow you down.
If you’re making 1/3 as many bets per hour as your buddy, who do you think is going to walk out of the casino having lost more money?
In fact, since the house edge is based on the law of large numbers, you’re more likely to have results that deviate from the house edge if you make fewer bets.
One aspect of slot machine play that IS positive is that you control the pace of the game. Nothing says you must make 600 spins per hour. I have a lady friend who used to be a speed addict who probably spins the reels 900 times per hour. She’s an action junkie.
When I play slots—which is rare, admittedly—I play slow. I’d be surprised if I made more than 300 spins per hour.
Even if you play blackjack, you can take steps to slow down your action and make fewer bets per hour. The trick to that is to choose a table with lots of players. The more players at the table, the fewer hands per hour you’ll play.
This holds true for every table game in the casino. The more players at the table, the fewer bets you make per hour.
The fewer bets you make per hour, the less money you’ll lose per hour.
Also, the fewer bets you make, the more likely it is that you’ll walk away a winner. The more you play, the closer your results will get to the mathematical expectation.
4- Stick with Games with a Low House Edge
The house edge for all the games in the casino is a known quantity. Slot machines are the only exception to this rule. To find out the house edge for a specific game, all you need is a quick search in Bing or Google.
But the major casino games fall into the following 5 categories, anyway:
- Slot Machines
- Video Poker
The house edge on these games varies based on multiple factors, but they can also be remarkably consistent.
The house edge for blackjack can be as high as 100% if you make the wrong decisions. For example, if you decided to hit every hand until it busted, you’d lose 100% of every bet.
On the other hand, the average player makes reasonable decisions at least some of the time in a blackjack game. The average player faces an average house edge of 4% when left to his own devices.
But if you learn the correct basic strategy—the mathematically optimal way to play every hand in every situation—the house edge can be as low as 0.5%.
Rules variations can cause this to vary, but with perfect basic strategy, even the worst blackjack games have a house edge well under 2%.
Craps is a game where the standard bets—pass and don’t pass—have a house edge of 1.41% and 1.36%, respectively. But there’s a wide range of bets at the craps table, some of which have much better odds for the house and much worse odds for the player.
All you need to do when playing craps is stick with the simple bets, and you’ll be playing one of the best casino games in the house. And you’ll stand a good chance of winning some money.
Roulette is one of the simplest games in the casino, but compared to blackjack and craps, it has a high house edge. A standard American roulette game (the one with a green 0 and a green 00) has a house edge of 5.26%.
If you can find a European roulette game—one with only a single green 0—the house edge drops to 2.70%. That’s still significantly higher than the house edge in blackjack or craps, but it’s a far better deal for the player than American roulette.
I already talked about how high the house edge is for slot machines, so I won’t get into that again here.
Video poker is more complicated. Dozens (if not hundreds) of variants are out there, and each of those has multiple pay tables available. The best video poker games offer a house edge lower than that of blackjack, even. The worst video poker games might as well be slot machines.
But at least with video poker games, you can figure out the house edge if you know what pay table and what game you’re facing.
An example is Jacks or Better, which is the most standard type of video poker game. You get payouts if you have a pair of jacks or higher, and usually, the only payouts that change from one game to another are the payouts for the full house and the flush.
On a “full pay” Jacks or Better game, the payout for a full house is 9 for 1, while a payout for a flush is 6 for 1. These games are also often called “9/6” Jacks or Better games.
If you play with optimal strategy, the house edge for full-pay Jacks or Better is only 0.46%.
Any mistakes you make will increase the casino’s expectation, though.
5- Don’t Be Shy About Asking for Comps
Casinos offer free stuff to their customers. They know how much an average gambler loses per hour playing specific games, and their comps system—the way they determine who gets what for free—accounts for that.
But the casino doesn’t just hand you free stuff, either. Most of the time, you need to be a member of the players club at the casino to enjoy the comps. The exception in a lot of casinos is cocktail service. Everyone gets a free drink or 2 when they’re gambling at most casinos.
But if you’re hoping for free meals, free show tickets, free room upgrades, and the like, you need to ask for it. This involves being a member of the players club. If you’re playing slot machines or video poker, you just insert your card into the machine.
If you’re playing table games, though, you’ll need to ask the dealer to rate your play. They’ll credit your card with an estimated average of how much money you’re putting into action.
Playing with the players club card doesn’t change the odds of any of the games in the house, not even the slot machines or the video poker machines. Instead, they calculate 0.2% or so of your hourly action as rebates in the form of freebies for you.
If you’re putting $1000/hour into action, you should be earning $2/hour in comps.
You’ll still lose just as much money, but you’ll get some of it back in the form of free stuff.
6- Enjoy Some of the Other Activities Available at the Casino
Any time you spend doing something other than gambling at the casino will result in fewer losses. Most casinos offer a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. They almost all have show tickets and other events for sale, too.
Of course, you’ll want to take into account the hourly cost of these activities, but many of them are more affordable than losing money playing the games.
You need to do some of what my buddy Rip calls “hedonic math” here. (“Hedonic” means relating to pleasant situations.) In other words, you want to analyze how much enjoyment you’re getting for your dollar.
If you hate country western music, spending $100 to attend a 2-hour Toby Keith concert is a bad deal compared to spending a couple hours at the craps table.
On the other hand, if you love burgers, you might be able to spend a more enjoyable hour dining at Gordon Ramsay Burger than playing slot machines in the casino.
Healthy gamblers think of their gambling as an entertainment expense. As long as they don’t spend more than they budgeted for, they don’t mind walking away a loser.
Deciding how much entertainment you’re getting for your dollar is an example of making a rational decision regarding your finances.
7- Set a Budget and Stick with It
Here’s the final thing to remember about my buddy Rip:
If he walks into the casino with $500 in his pocket, he’s not leaving until it’s all gone.
At least, that’s how he used to be, before he came up with this system for losing less money at the casinos.
Now he sets a budget for every trip the casino—usually $250—and he leaves when he’s almost (but not quite) out of money. When his bankroll drops to $50, he calls it a day.
Rip makes a good living washing windows. He can afford to visit the casino twice a month and lose $200 on each trip.
Before he put this system into place, he was regularly losing $1000 a month at the casino.
I think he’s planning to take the $600 a month he’s now saving at the casinos and invest it in a new car payment. He’s been driving the same old pickup truck for at least 11 years now.
Everyone who plays long enough in the casino loses money. That’s because casino games are designed to make a profit for the casino. The math is inescapable in the long run.
But you don’t have to lose as much money in the casino as you have been. And money saved is worth just as much as money won.
The steps Rip and I listed above for losing less money in the casino can help you save lots of money over the years. You can use that money for anything you want.
But just as importantly, the same steps that help you lose money also increase your chances of going home a winner once in a while.
Since the law of larger numbers ensures that you’ll see the mathematically expected result eventually, the best way to increase your chances of winning during a given session is to place fewer bets at a game with a lower house edge.
And that’s how you stop losing so much money in the casino.