On average gamblers who visit Las Vegas spend about $541 on gambling per visit. Every year more than 40 million people leave about $10 billion in Clark County, NV. The good news: not everyone is losing money in Vegas. How much money do you gamble with? That is your bankroll. The most important gambling limit is how much money you can afford to lose. How you view gambling influences how you gamble. The risk of gambling addiction is quite low in the US population. Most big gambling losses come from 2 types of gamblers. The biggest losers are the whales, wealthy people who gamble.

Problem gamblers lacking wealth comprise the 2nd most significant group of losers. Problem gamblers are more likely to go broke and borrow money. Borrowing money to gamble doesn’t mean you have a problem, but it’s a step in the wrong direction. Good bankroll management keeps you out of debt. If you’re taking on debt to gamble you should stop and pay down the debt. Staying out of debt is part of good bankroll management.

To be honest, debt is part of the American financial life. Most people use credit cards to pay for concert tickets and other entertainment. The difference with gambling is simple: a concert comes once. You can go back to the casino every day. That’s why you need to practice good bankroll management.  

The following tips explain the Fixed Budget Principle:

1- You Only Use One Bankroll

In other words, keep your bankroll simple. However you decide to spend your gambling budget, it all comes from the same place. The fewer bankrolls you manage, the easier it is to manage them. You break the bankroll down, but you play within that one single, hard limit. You leverage your bankroll in several ways. The only hard limit is the amount of money in your budget. All your sports, table, and card game wagers come from one balance. All your playing session budgets come from one balance.

When the money is gone, you don’t replenish it in the middle of your trip. When you start thinking how to reduce hotel costs in the middle of your trip, you’re breaking the “one bankroll” rule. You should stick with the limit you set in advance. So set aside the largest bankroll you can afford. Lock yourself into that hard limit and don’t find sneaky ways around it. This hard limit should leave you enough money to pay all your bills and cover your trip costs.

2- Spend Your Money by Time, Not by Game

Yes, you can divide your $1000 bankroll into sports betting, table games, and card games budgets. But how many gambling sessions do you want to play?  Whether you’re on a 3-day vacation or gambling throughout the month, allocate some cash for every session. The math is easy enough. If you play 6 sessions, you budget 1/6th the bankroll for each session. You keep full flexibility on how you use the money within each session.

If you take your entire bankroll with you each time you gamble, put the session money in the pocket you use most often. The rest of your money is tucked into your other pocket. This way you know for sure when your session money is spent. Plan your session to start around a certain time and to end around a certain time. Be as precise as possible, but keep it fun.

Say you allocate 4 hours for gambling in each session. Set an alarm on your smartphone. Walk away when the alarm goes off. If you find yourself losing money too quickly, drop a session from your schedule. Find something else to do. Otherwise, you’ll have to shorten the gambling session times. The clock is your friend, not your enemy.

3- Separate Big Wins from Costs and Losses

Here is a simple example to illustrate the point:
You give yourself $200 to play with for an afternoon. On your first $5 bet you win $200.  What should you do? Cash out, put the profit aside (separate from your bankroll), and play down the original $200 you planned to spend. When you finish playing through that $200, stake your session is done. Keep the winnings.

In reality you’re more likely to win $5 on a $5 bet. Keep playing. Only think about taking money off the table when you win big. You’ve already assumed you’ll lose the entire $200. Your wager costs you $5. You lose the $5 if you lose the game. You recover your cost if you win the game. Think of each wager as a cost of playing. Think of each win as recouping part or all of the cost of playing.

The “cost of playing” idea reinforces the Fixed Budget Principle in bankroll management. On a fixed budget, at least part of every big win is set aside. It’s okay to cover your cost of playing out of a big win. Put the $5 back into the budget but set aside the remainder of the win. The idea here is to keep things as simple as possible. Gambling is too risky for the average player to treat it as a business. Think of each big win as a once-in-a-lifetime windfall.

4- Give Yourself Stop-Loss Orders

When you invest in the stock market, you protect yourself by setting a stop-loss order. This tells the brokerage to sell your position in a stock or mutual fund when the price drops too low. Say you start a session with $200. If you lose $50 in a row on $5 bets, should you keep playing? It’s too easy to over-think these things. Stop-loss limits help you break up your play.

Players sometimes make one of two strategic mistakes when gambling:

  • They fall for the Gambler’s Fallacy
  • They fall for the Sunk Cost Fallacy

These are 2 closely related illogical assumptions. The Gambler’s Fallacy assumes you’re “due for a win”. In reality the universe owes you nothing. You can just as easily lose the next 200 wagers as the last 200. The Sunk Cost Fallacy assumes you need to recoup your investment or cost before getting out of a project. Again, the universe owes you nothing. You may never win again. Using the stop-loss system you set limits on how much you’re willing to lose in a specific time period. The loss limit can be set per game, per session, even per excursion. But it only works if you stick to the plan.

5- Take a Break at Least Once per Hour

When playing alone, I sometimes become anxious as people come into a casino. “What if I need to visit the Men’s Room? What if I need to eat something?” As soon as you move away from whatever game you’re playing, someone else takes your place.

Some people become so obsessed with a game they will soil themselves rather than give up their seat. Rather than allow myself to become that fixated on playing a game, I force myself to get up and leave every 30 minutes or so. A good casino has plenty of tables and lots of games. You need a little down time to stay fresh and sharp.

“But I’m winning” remains the biggest obstacle to my taking a break. I’m only human. When I’m on a streak and having a good time, my heart pounds. I am still working on this, but if I have $500 in my pocket it’s easier for me to get up and walk away. Just as the universe doesn’t owe you anything, you don’t owe the casino anything. Give yourself some time to relish the feeling of victory. Go buy a dinner on the house. That makes it more fun.

6- Play Games that Take Longer

Stall for time between wagers. You can do this by creating some silly bettor’s ritual, but it’s easier to choose games that require setup. The casino staff set up games fast, and pushing a button on a slot machine always takes less time. When you’re playing blackjack, take just a little bit longer to decide whether you want another card or not. You’re allowed to think about it. Even if you’ve already made up your mind, stall for time and make your game last just a little bit longer.

So what if you do play the slots? Don’t sit there and slap your shoulders and spit on your shoes in some good luck ritual. Just practice pushing PLAY a little bit more slowly. It helps to have a friend there with you. When you’re talking with someone, it’s polite to look at them while they speak. Show them the evening is not all about gaming. Be cordial, attentive, and considerate.

  • If you’re just learning a new game, ask questions that can be quickly answered in-between wagers.
  • If you’re teaching someone else a new game, explain things in short sentences to help them learn.

Although you may not be able to gab-teach at a poker table, it happens often at the blackjack tables. The more time you spend in-between wagers, the longer your bankroll lasts.

7- Play Low-Cost Games

An old gambler taught me this trick. Instead of heading for the high roller tables when entering a casino he took his money over to the cheapest slot machines he could find. He sat there for an hour and played nickels and dimes. He really didn’t care if he won or lost.

He was killing time. Once in a while he won a jackpot. He just rolled it up or played it down. He did this to relax and get into the right mood. Other players recommend playing games with a low house edge. The house edge is usually higher on slot machines and lower on games like blackjack and baccarat. The house edge is how much profit the house should make over time—represented as a percentage of each bet that you’ll lose on average.

Although playing a low house edge game seems like a great strategy, my gambler friend told me a secret. He said if you can only bet $1 on a game you only lose $1 per wager. If you can bet $100 on a game, sooner or later you will. The lesson to be learned is that choosing a game with a low house edge is not enough. If you need to stretch your betting dollars, you need to make lower wagers. 5-to-1 odds pay the same proportion on a $1 bet as on a $100 bet.

Conclusion

Casual bettors and professional gamblers have one thing in common: Game play stops when you run out of money. For that reason alone, everyone should practice good bankroll management. You cannot guarantee the win, but you can stop the losses.

Bankroll management is more about limiting how much you lose than about managing how much you win. What you do with your big wins is up to you. But what you do as your money dwindles down determines how much longer you can keep playing. The Fixed Budget Principle gives you the flexibility to play as often as you wish. The beauty of the Fixed Budget Principle is that it keeps everything simple. You set a loss limit and enjoy that money until it’s gone or your time is done.

Although you can use a Fixed Budget strategy on a single wager, such as a sports bet on a game outcome, time management extends the life of your bankroll. Divide your budget across multiple sessions, take breaks, and relax as you play. Avoid rushing from wager to wager. Your choice in games to play also impacts the life of your bankroll. By consciously choosing games that take longer to play, or that have a low house edge, you give yourself extra time to play. And by limiting how much you wager per game you conserve your bankroll wisely.

Going for big wins with big wagers means you’ll incur big losses, too. You should limit your wagers according to the size of your budget. Either you can afford to lose $100 every 10 minutes or not. The math is simple enough. Good bankroll management should be the first skill a bettor learns. It is by far one of the most important skills you’ll ever need.

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