All year long, I write about casinos and casino games, pointing out what’s new and cool in the games people play and examining the strategies that give us the best chances to win. Early in each year, though, I like to strike a cautionary note. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the atmosphere, betting credits and chips rather than dollars and cents, and spending more than we ought.
So let’s take a brief timeout from the most entertaining new slot bonuses and when to split 6s in blackjack in order to think about how to keep casino visits fun and inexpensive in 2013.
- Have realistic expectations: Casino gambling is not a get-rich-quick scheme. For a handful of experts at games that involve large degrees of skill, there is an opportunity for long-term profit. But for most of us, it’s a day out, an entertainment experience that carries a cost just as surely as dinner and a movie do. Enjoy the wins when they come -- I’m all for a little celebrating -- but understand that over repeated visits, nearly all players wind up contributing to the corporate bottom line.
- Don’t bet money you can’t afford to lose: Knowing that there will be more losing sessions than winners, it’s just common sense to be prepared for the losses. Take stock of how much you're willing to spend on your entertainment for the day, set a loss limit and stick to it. If losses approach the amount you're willing to spend, slow down. If you’re at the casino with family or friends, you might try splitting play, sharing one machine and taking turns. That extends play while halving costs for each of you. Or you might just take a timeout, have a walk around to check out other games and amenities, or have a snack. If you hit your loss limit, quit. Period.
Above all, make sure your gambling money comes from your entertainment budget, not from money needed for the necessities of life. When the losses come, make sure you don't have money earmarked for food, clothing, school, the rent or mortgage on the line.
- Learn the games and strategies: A little homework goes a long way in helping to cut the odds against you at casino games. Average blackjack players face house edges of 2 to 2.5%. Those who take the time to learn basic strategy cut that to half a percent or so, a few tenths more or less depending on house rules. You can face a house edge in craps of 1.41% on pass or come, and less if you take free odds, or you can buck the 16.67% edge on any 7 or other high edges on one-roll propositions. A good book or a Web check can help steer you toward the best bets and strategies in any game.
A little learning is a good thing for slot players, too. 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, and use the information to choose the games that best fit your goals and style of play.
- Keep part of your winnings: About a decade ago, a close relative told me about drawing a royal flush for a $1,000 video poker payoff. She decided to step up play to dollar games, and lost a quick $700. She dropped back to quarter games, kept losing and kept playing -- after all, she said, it she was playing with “their money.”
In the end, she gave back the full thousand, and had the nagging feeling that after a royal flush, she should have come out with something more than a few player rewards points. I told her the key is not to think of winnings as “their money.” As soon as you've won it, it's yours, and you don't have to give it back.
- Never chase losses: What's worse than losing money? Losing even more in a desperate attempt to win it back. 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 ease back or quit, not bet more.
Don’t 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.
- Go easy on the alcohol: I used to like a beer while I played, but nowadays, I stick to water, coffee or diet colas. That’s just me, and if you like a drink while you play, it’s your call. Just don’t go overboard. You don't want your judgment impaired with money on the line. Have a good time, but keep a clear head, too.
May you prosper in 2013, in and out of the casinos.
Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44); Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at casinoanswerman.com.