15 Dumb Gambling Mistakes that Smart People Make

By Randy Ray in Casino
| October 7, 2016 12:00 am PDT
Dumb Mistakes that Smart Gamblers Make

We all do it. We go into a situation confident that we’re prepared to take on the world and realize only too late that we overlooked something, or that things were not what we expected. While this is natural human behavior that we should not be ashamed of, we still feel embarrassment when we catch ourselves making these mistakes.

If you’re not an experienced gambler this checklist should help you avoid making some of the dumb mistakes that can ruin your evening or, worse, put you in a bad spot.

1. Bringing the Wrong Cards to Pay for the Evening

One of the most important rules of casual gambling is to control your spending. You will be dipping into your entertainment budget but that almost certainly comes out of your bank account or off a credit card.

Most American families have two or three bank accounts and up to 10 credit cards. Although managing so many different cards is tedious there are natural reasons why we fill our wallets with plastic, convenience being the number one reason.

When you go out gambling a good money management tip is to carefully choose which cards you take with you. You should have one card for emergencies, such as when you may need to pay for a tow or cab ride. You should have one card for incidental expenses such as meals and other entertainment. And you should operate on a cash-and-carry basis for your gambling.

Of course it’s easy to go up to one of the ATM machines at the casino and pull more money out of the bank, but if you bring the wrong bank card you could run out of money more quickly than you expect or, worse, drop your balance below what it needs to be when some previously committed charge goes through.

2. Not Budgeting How Much Money You Can Afford to Lose for the Evening

Everyone wants to win when they gamble and thinking positively is part of the evening’s excitement. Nonetheless, if you just walk into a casino expecting to win you are setting yourself up for failure. Money management is always critical, even when you are winning and coming out ahead.

Be prepared to face the worst possible outcome for the evening: you may lose all the money you gamble with. How much can you realistically afford to lose?  Even experienced gamblers may neglect to decide how much they’ll risk before calling it an evening. If you don’t commit to a hard and fast budget your sense of what is reasonable becomes fluid and feels less reliable. An experienced gambler may make a last minute decision to stop by a casino, say as an afterthought on a dinner date.

Think about your gambling budget and be committed to staying within that loss limit. Hopefully you’ll win big but preparing for the worst case scenario helps you avoid losing big.

3. Not Paying Attention to the Passing of Time

It’s a good idea to always wear a watch when you go to the casino. Gambling establishments strive to create a minimal distraction environment to help you stay focused on gambling. They do turn up the sounds on the slot machines to increase the atmosphere of excitement. So when you hear someone hit it big on a slot machine halfway across the room you feel a sudden sense of urgency. All of the ambience inside the casino is intended to help you lose track of time.

Glancing at your watch periodically helps you stay aware of how much time has passed. You should take a break at least once an hour to clear your head and increase your physical activity. This helps you stay in control of your decisions about how your time is used.

4. Not Reading the Table Game Rules Card

If you regularly play the non-slot games at the casino you may feel you know what the table rules are. But casinos can switch the rules at any time. They may close several tables to consolidate players at fewer tables.

Some casinos may change their table game rules on certain days when they know more players will come in to gamble. Always check the table rules because you could also be confusing one casino’s house rules for another casino’s house rules.

5. Playing Maximum Bets

No matter how smart you are, unless the game rules specifically say that betting more increases your chances of winning one of the dumbest things you can do is bet the maximum allowed on the game.

When your chances of winning with a $1 bet are the same for a $25 bet you will burn through your stake much sooner, denying yourself more opportunities for winning large payoffs, when you go for the maximum bet.

Inexperienced gamblers often assume that they will win more if they bet more because a payoff of 10X $25 is $250 whereas a payoff of 10X $1 is only $10. But your chances of winning that 10X payoff are just the same for each wager amount and you may have to wait 20 or 30 wagers before you get the 10X payoff.

6. Assuming That Some Games Are “Hot” and Sticking to Them

By law all gambling games are designed to operate on the basis of random chance or an otherwise unpredictable random number generation algorithm. Even though there are statistical “hot” zones in all the sequential game plays, there is no way to know in advance how long these lucky outcomes will continue.

A slot machine is programmed to pay back a certain percentage of money over time. This theoretical return to player is calculated on the basis of simple probabilities, such as how many symbols are assigned to each “slot” on a (virtual or mechanical) reel, and which symbols appear more frequently. The random number generators in these games ensure that the outcomes of the spins are unpredictable, so the theoretical return to player is only likely to be met after thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of repetitions.

Your luck changes with every play regardless of whether you are playing slots or table games. You should play because you enjoy the experience not because you think the game is due to hit for you.

Casinos do have the ability to increase or decrease the theoretical return to player on their electronic games but they have to follow special procedures to make such changes and it is just not profitable for them to be constantly tweaking the games. They may make such changes to isolated machines used in slot tournaments, but those machines are carefully monitored.

7. Ignoring the Casino’s Loyalty Club

Casinos want you to keep coming back to play their games. Since the 1980s virtually all casinos have implemented electronic player reward systems. Every game you play awards you points that are accumulated on an in-house account. You can usually redeem these points for swag such as hats, shirts, and coats. You can also typically redeem them at the casino restaurants and bars.

Some people decide that since they are “only passing through” they don’t need to sign up for the rewards. And then they drop $1000 on games. While it’s not a good idea for the average person to lose $1000 when gambling, you could at least be getting some of that value back as points.

You can still use the rewards card at least once at casinos you never intend to visit again.

8. Overlooking Slight Variations in Game Names

You may have fallen in love with a game called “Simple Casino Gambling Game” at another casino and when you visit a new casino you stop to play a game that has a somewhat different appearance but seems to use the same title.

Be careful to choose the game you really want. A slot machine game may be part of a series, so you could accidentally sit down at “Simple Casino Gambling Game Extra Money” and only realize too late this game plays completely differently from what you are used to.

Different games in the same series may have different bonus rounds, pay structures, and probabilities for determining their payouts.

Most players don’t realize this but many similar games have different variances. A variance is a statistical measurement of how likely a game is to pay a certain prize. As a general rule of thumb it’s a good idea to assume that a low variance game pays more often but smaller prizes and a high variance game pays less often but larger prizes.

Games do not normally disclose their variances. You have to figure out for yourself if a game has a high or low variance.

9. Using a Bluff Strategy in Poker

You may be a really smart person but if you think the experienced poker players sitting around the table with you are going to believe you have a lot of good hands just because you are willing to put money on your cards, you are bound to lose your bankroll.

Bluffing works best in any situation only when you know your opponent well enough to be confident in how he will react to the bluff. When you’re playing with strangers you should realize you don’t know them well enough to read their playing styles quickly. Also, you don’t know them well enough to ferret out the better players from the worse players.

10. Making Extra Bets on Your Games

Some slot machine games offer a “Gamble” feature where you can risk a prize you just won on the outcome of a random guessing game. Some blackjack tables may offer side bet rules where you have the option of betting that your next hand will start with a pair of Aces. These side bets may offer great odds (payment) but your chances of winning them are less than just playing the basic game.

Even the smartest people may not calculate their chances of winning very well.

These extra bets are called “props” and the term is borrowed from the world of sports betting, where such bets are made on everything from which team scores first to which player in a game will score the most points.

There is no practical way to improve your chances of winning prop bets on a casual basis. You might be able to use a card counting technique in blackjack to identify a window when a prop bet is more likely to pay off but that is still a highly risky way to gamble and the best card counters depend on making money over time, not all at once.

11. Never Cashing Out on Slot Games

There are two reasons why you want to cash out on slot games when you get ahead by a predetermined amount.

First, you are less likely to run your money down when you start losing, and you will eventually start losing after you have been winning for a while.

Second, it’s less cumbersome to cash out tickets worth less than $1000 because you won’t have to fill out paperwork (although you are still required to report your winnings on your taxes). So if you have 3 $900 tickets you can cash them out individually and save time.

But, truth be told, most people, once they run up their balance, succumb to the temptation to keep running it up. You can play off several tickets and keep control over your cash without falling into the trap of thinking you’ll get it all back on the next big win.

This is also true with table games where you are playing with chips instead of tickets. If you are winning more than losing, take money off the table periodically.

12. Trying to Gamble with Someone Else’s Account

Although this happens more often with online gambling than online gambling, players sometimes think they’ll save time if they use another person’s bank card to make a deposit or casino account. Whenever money is involved “borrowing” someone else’s account is treated as fraud. The casinos when they notice players doing this are well within their rights and responsibilities to refuse service and you’ll be lucky if they don’t cancel the existing player’s account.

Even if you just want to use your brother’s credit card to make a deposit, that is not allowed. You have to fund your gambling through your own verifiable resources. If you don’t have any money to gamble with there are safer options. Find a casino with a no deposit bonus promotion that allows you to begin playing for real money with a small amount of casino credit.

13. Not Reading the Terms and Conditions

Imagine being handed three pieces of paper crowded with legalese as soon as you walk into a Las Vegas casino. How likely are you to read such a document as you head over to the roulette table?

Fortunately for us land based casinos display their most important rules and conditions on prominently featured signs and they leave the legal details to those rare times when you have to fill out paperwork.

With online casinos you may be prompted to look at the terms and conditions for signing up with the casino or for accepting a promotional bonus but many players just click on “Accept” without actually reading through the terms and conditions. This does lead to confusion and disputes between players and casinos.

You should be aware of the rules the casinos impose. One rule you agree to is to allow their decisions to be final in any dispute. You may feel they owe you $500 but if they disagree you’re out $500.

All promotional bonuses come with terms and conditions. You have to make a certain amount of wagers, playing some kinds of games voids the offer, you won’t be able to withdraw money until you have fulfilled other conditions, and you may not be allowed to withdraw some of the money. If you’re not sure what the conditions of your current bonus are, you need to go back and read the rules.

And some online casinos divide their terms and conditions into two or more documents. You have to read general terms and conditions about your membership, general conditions about how bonus promotions are handled, and limited rules about a specific bonus. It is always your responsibility to find and read the terms and conditions.

14. Betting on Sports on the Basis of a Feeling

There is little to no real science in gambling but when it comes to sports betting you create a severe disadvantage for yourself by making wagers that feel right. Many different factors affect the outcome of a sporting event, and that includes who is participating on each side.

If you are intimidated by the amount of research that is required to make smart sports bets this is probably not the kind of gambling you should turn to. If you don’t love the game you’re betting on enough to study the athletes’ and teams’ records and take into consideration the conditions under which events are held, you are literally throwing your money up into the air and depending on random chance.

Sports bettors pride themselves on the tradition of being able to make informed choices, something you cannot do on a roulette table or a slot game. The odds (payback) on sports betting may be confusing and you rarely see anything like 50-to-1 payoff because so many people are studying the statistics. They are willing to risk less money per wager in sports betting than in wagers that are decided purely by random chance.

That special feeling you have could be the result of a subconscious ability to crunch numbers. And it could also be that your team has been doing well on the road and is going up against a team with a really weak record in the current season. But you should know these details.

And, quite frankly, some bettors really enjoy doing the research. After all, they love the sports they bet on and don’t often bet on sports they don’t enjoy.

15. Making Too Many Wagers at the Same Time

Some people get carried away with sports betting. In fact, the competitive online sportsbook industry makes it easy for you to make dozens of wagers at the same time if you want to do that. Their software works like a turbo charged spreadsheet on steroids. But if you can’t track your money easily you may be losing yourself in the mechanics of the process and not enjoying the games.

Sport betting is supposed to make watching the sports more exciting. If you are buried so deep in the details of looking for the next good opportunity you may be setting yourself up to make some bad calls. Even the bookies can make bad calls so where does that leave the casual bettor?

Gamble for the fun of it but gamble responsibly. You owe it to yourself to not throw your money away on random bets that look good in the moment. How much is your budget and how fast will you burn through it with random line bets?

With time and practice you can reach a point where you are able to manage many concurrent bets. But take the time to learn how to do that gradually and carefully. Just because your best friend who has been betting on sports for two years can scan the sheets really fast doesn’t mean you have to try to do the same thing. You’ll enjoy sports betting much more if you don’t set yourself up for failure.


Gambling is fun for many reasons. It’s exciting when you have a stake in the outcome of an unpredictable event. And it’s even more exciting when you win. But remember that someone else is always going to make money off your gambling. They make more money when you are careless, overconfident, or using bad judgment.

While you cannot guarantee you will always win you can and should learn how to gamble with some discipline, developing a routine that minimizes your chances of making a mistake, and enjoy the experience without setting yourself up for quick disappointment.

Some people devote a lot of time to studying the stock market and learning to invest their money wisely. Although gambling is not an investment strategy there are some similarities between the two, and yet many casual players who would never do this with their investments just put their money on the table and hope to win big. Think and plan when you gamble and you should enjoy the experience more.