Generally, you’ll find more stories about gamblers with big budgets on the internet than you will stories about gamblers with small budgets. High roller stories are more fun for most people because it gives readers a chance to dream about “what it would be like.”
But most people with big budgets need less advice about managing their gambling budget than low rollers.
This post is aimed at low roller gamblers on a budget, and I make no apologies for that.
Here are 7 tips for how to manage a gambling budget.
1- Only Gamble with Money You Don’t Need for Other Things
Let’s assume you’ve decided to go to the casino with $100. Ask yourself this question:
Do I need that $100 for something else?
You might not be thinking as clearly about this as you should, either. For example, most people think that if their bills are more or less caught up, they can have some fun with the money they have leftover.
But you should have $1000 in cash on hand for emergencies.
That’s a minimum amount of saving everyone should have, just as a matter of course.
If you don’t have $1000 saved for emergencies, you shouldn’t be gambling AT ALL.
In fact, you actually need more than that in savings. Most people should have between 3 and 6 months’ worth of living expenses in their savings account.
And that’s not including retirement savings. You should be saving for retirement, too, even though 50% of Americans have NO money saved for retirement.
The first rule for managing your gambling budget is making sure that your finances are in order.
2- Don’t Bet More than Your Bankroll
If you go to the casino with $100 and bet $100 on a hand of blackjack, you might not be at the casino for long. Sure, you might win $100, but if you keep making $100 bets, you’ll lose fast.
If you’re playing heads-up with the dealer, you’ll see 200 hands per hour. You can forget about having a 200-hand winning streak. I can promise you that.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider betting it all on a single bet. That’s called a maximum boldness strategy, and it can be a fun way to gamble. It can even be one of several successful gambling techniques that you have in your arsenal.
It’s just not going to fill much of your time.
The amount of money you’ll need in your bankroll varies based on what game you’re playing and for what stakes. It also depends on how much time you’re hoping to spend gambling.
3- Assume You’re Going to Lose
This is another way to say don’t gamble with money you can’t afford to set on fire.
No matter what kind of gambling you do, the odds don’t favor you.
If you play casino games, no matter what system you’ve thought of, the math behind the games and their payouts ensures that you can’t come out ahead in the long run. Sure, some gamblers use advantage techniques to get an edge.
But you’re probably not as good at that as you might think.
If you play poker, the rake that the casino takes from the pot every hand makes it next to impossible to profit in the long run. The number of poker players who consistently profit is less than 5%.
And most poker players, especially newer ones — the ones most likely to be on a budget — overestimate their ability to win consistently.
Sports bettors must wager the equivalent of $110 or $120 on a game to win $100. And the use of the point spread (or its equivalent), you have a roughly 50% chance of winning.
How long do you think you can maintain a winning record if you’re betting $110 or $120 half the time when you only win $100 every time you win?
If you assume in advance you’re going to lose, you’ll change your mindset and just relax and have fun.
If you’re doing it right, you should be treating gambling as an entertainment expense.
On the relatively rare occasions (20% of the time, maybe), when you come home a winner, you’ll feel great.
But you won’t feel bad when you lose, either.
4- Look for Low Stakes Games
The less you bet on each game, the less you’ll lose. This means, if you’re gambling on a budget, that you must find games you can play for low stakes.
What constitutes a low stakes game varies from game to game and from destination to destination.
For example, El Cortez in Las Vegas offers single-deck blackjack for just $5 per hand. And it’s not that lousy 6/5 game, either — you still get you full 3 to 2 payout for a blackjack. You can double down on anything, too.
They also offer $3 craps games that allow you to take 10X odds. That’s one of the best craps games anywhere, but you can expect to see plenty of players at the tables there.
Keep in mind that these games aren’t always available, though. Casinos change their rules and game conditions all the time.
5- Also Look for Games with a Low House Edge
That blackjack game I mentioned in the last post at El Cortez has a house edge of only 0.38% — but only if you play with perfect basic strategy.
Luckily, playing blackjack with perfect basic strategy isn’t that hard. Basic strategy is just the correct mathematical play for each possible situation you’ll encounter in the game.
The house edge for that craps game at the El Cortez is even better when you take 10X odds. The cumulative effect of the odds bet combined with the pass or don’t pass bet is well under 0.2%.
This doesn’t mean you’re playing a break-even game.
But you’re getting as close to a break-even game as you can in Las Vegas.
6- Look for Low Volatility Bets
Some gamblers don’t understand what volatility is when it comes to gambling. I’ll try to make that concept simple.
In roulette, you have a lot of different bets you can make. Most people know you can place a bet on red and win almost half the time — 47.37% of the time, in fact.
You only win even money on that bet. Bet $5 on black, win, and you get $5 in winnings.
But you can also place a bet on a single number in roulette. This bet only wins once out of every 38 tries, on average — that’s 2.63% of the time.
When it hits, it pays off at 35 to 1, which is nice. Bet $5 on 19, win, and get paid off at $175.
Both those bets have the same advantage for the house, though — 5.26%.
The difference is in terms of volatility. The more often you lose, and the less often you win, the more volatile the game is.
A slot machine usually hits a winning combination about 30% of the time, although that varies from machine to machine.
If you’re gambling on a budget, and you want to stay in action for any significant amount of time, you should go with low volatility bets.
7- Don’t Use Betting Systems
Betting systems are schemes designed around raising and lowering your bets in a systematic way with the hope of beating the house edge. Two of the most popular betting systems are the Martingale System and the Paroli System.
Both of these systems involve doubling, re-doubling, and re-doubling the size of your bets, depending on the outcome of your previous bets.
I’ve written at length about The Martingale System in a previous post, but here’s the thrust of that system:
Every time you lose a bet, you double the size of that bet on your next wager. If you bet $5 and lose, you bet $10 on the next bet. If you lose again, you bet $20.
When you do this, you put yourself into a situation where you’re risking more of your bankroll on a single bet than you’re probably comfortable with.
The Paroli System has been described as the Reverse Martingale. When you’re using this system, you double the size of your previous bet after you’ve won. This is an attempt to parlay your winnings into a bigger amount than you otherwise would.
The idea behind each of these systems is that gambling happens in streaks, but those streaks are short. The Martingale wants to make sure you grind out a small profit by betting more when a streak is about to end.
The Paroli System wants to make sure you win as much as possible when you hit a winning streak. Users of the Paroli System usually quit after 3 wins in a row.
That’s not a bad deal when it works. Bet $5, win, then bet $10, win again, and bet $20.
If you win 3 times in a row, which happens reasonably often, you’ll have won $35.
But, of course, neither of these systems work in the long run. They rarely work in the short run, either.
And they’ll have a devastating effect on your bankroll most of the time, because your bet sizes will get bigger faster than you thought they would.
If you’re gambling on a budget, great. Just be smart about it.
This means deciding how much you’re willing to lose and being willing to lose it.
Then it means choosing bets with a low house edge and low volatility so that you’ll get the most out of your gambling experience.
And never use betting systems. They’re for suckers.