51 Gambling Mistakes
Published on August 15, 2016
Gambling mistakes are a huge roadblock. People who are new to gambling are often hamstrung by their fear over doing something dumb and looking foolish or losing money. We think of a gambling mistake as anything that people tend to do that we feel is a bad thing. Think of them as bad gambling habits if you’d like. In some cases, these are based on long-held myths and superstitions. In many cases, we identify mistakes that gamblers make because the casino very much encourages them to make them.
We’ve advised new gamblers and newcomers to gambling games so often that we feel compiling a list of common gambling mistakes to avoid is immediately in our wheelhouse. Why put them all on one page? Rather than write a bunch of different DO and DON’T pages for individual games, we rolled all the fifty-one most common gambling mistakes we could identify into one searchable location. In order to make it easier to find the content you’re looking for, we broke the fifty-one mistakes up into six categories.
Gambling without a budget.
Very few people can afford to walk into a casino and bet as much as they want. We’ve all got limits, from the penny slot gambler up to the high rollers in the VIP baccarat lounges. Our limits are different, based on our income and how much we can spend and still enjoy ourselves, but we should all still have them. An easy way to set a gambling budget is to create a daily win and loss limit. If you can afford to lose up to $1,000, quit when you’ve lost that much, and walk away from the gambling area altogether. Setting a win limit will help protect any winnings you manage to put together. We like to advise gamblers to set a win limit opposite their loss limit, though this has more to do with personal taste than anything else.
Betting with money set aside for another purpose.
We like to refer to this jokingly as “gambling with the rent money.” But it’s not always a joke. Betting with money that you have budgeted for another purpose isn’t just a huge mistake, it’s a bad investment of your money, and it’s an early warning sign for gambling addiction. If you don’t have enough money to continue gambling, it’s time to walk away from the table. If you didn’t set a budget and now your debit card is drained and you’re considering a cash advance to keep betting, it’s really time to walk away. Remember that gambling is a huge risk – even low-odds games guarantee that the casino will take in more money than it pays out. Gambling with money set aside for something else flies in the face of basic gambling logic and is a sign that something’s wrong.
Gambling with borrowed money.
Just writing that sentence earlier about betting with money borrowed via a cash advance from a credit card made us nervous. Please, don’t ever bet with borrowed money. Credit cards can be used irresponsibly in lots of ways, but advancing yourself a couple hundred bucks (at 15% or more interest, by the way) in order to feed that money into a casino’s grimy hands is just the worst kind of degenerate gambling behavior. It’s even worse if you borrowed the money from a friend or relative. It’s a sign of gambling addiction and it indicates that a person might have a serious problem and need professional help.
Chasing losses means spending more money gambling in order to recover from a period of bad beats. Maybe you’re down $100 and find yourself headed to the ATM to draw out $100 more to win back what you lost. Maybe you’re borrowing a few thousand bucks to place a sports bet that’ll cover all your day’s losses if it pays out. Whatever the scenario, spending good clean money to win back dirty gambling losses is a bad idea. Generally speaking, if your bankroll behavior feels like a bad idea, it is.
Gambling while intoxicated.
We’ve seen some new studies showing that drinking alcohol may slightly improve certain forms of decision making in some people. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean that you’re a better gambler when you’re sloshed. In fact, our rule against getting intoxicated while gambling has almost nothing to do with decision making. We advise that gamblers (especially newcomers to gambling) spend as much of their attention on the game they’re playing as possible. That means no eating, no drinking, and not much chatting, unless it’s with the dealer or another player and you’re talking about the game. Drinks are just another form of distraction. Besides, you should be saving up those drink comps to get a nice meal or a free night at the hotel.
Gambling without rest.
Decision fatigue is one of those cutesy made-up psychological terms we hear so often these days. It may sound nerdy and innocuous, but for gamblers it’s a real thing. Decision fatigue means that as you make multiple decisions in a row your ability to make good decisions decreases. This has been shown in study after study. If you’re actually tired while entering a state of decision fatigue, you’re as good as dead, in terms of decision-making. The casino profits as you get more and more tired, so they’re going to do all sorts of things to keep you in that zombie zone, including feeding you free caffeinated beverages, giving you snacks, playing loud music, etc. The more you gamble while tired, the more money you’re losing. It’s science.
Gambling too often.
The best gamblers in the world, guys who bet on sports for a living, or guys who count cards professionally, know how to take breaks. They know how to wait for a good opportunity and take advantage of it, then sit back and wait for that opportunity to come up again. Pro sports bettors aren’t wagering on every game of the season. They’re wagering when they have an expectation of a positive result. If you find yourself gambling too often, you’re probably exposing yourself to way too much risk.
Failing to join the loyalty club.
Casinos operate loyalty clubs to track your play and reward you for your business. Joining the club is as easy as asking to join. You’ll get a little plastic card to swipe before you play, and you can usually track your rewards at a machine right there on the gambling floor. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it’s the only way to get noticed by the casino unless you’re a really big spender. If you don’t join, you can’t get freebies, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot considering it’s a totally-free service.
Believing in the gambler’s fallacy.
We could write an entire 5,000-word page about gambling fallacies alone, but we’ve boiled it down to just two that most gamblers fall for. The first is the basic gambler’s fallacy. The gambler’s fallacy is a belief that if something happens more frequently over a given period of time, it is then less likely to happen in the future. It also means the opposite – a belief that if something happens less frequently over a period of time, it is then more likely to happen in the future. The truth is, numbers have no memory. Modern casino games are built with mathematics. No modern gambling game is more or less likely to pay out in the future based on past events.
Believing in the hot-hand fallacy.
A believer in the hot-hand fallacy believes that an event that’s happened recently is more likely to happen again in the future because of the proximity in time. An example would be a belief that a basketball player will continue making three-point shots at a high rate simply because in the last game he shot 90% from the three-point line. Obviously, many outside influences affect the player’s ability to hit this shot, and his recent success has no actual bearing on future performance.
Using the Martingale or any other betting system.
The Martingale betting system is the best-known of all the world’s many ridiculous betting systems, which promise a better winning rate in exchange for a stylized form of betting. The basic Martingale system says that if you double your bets after every loss, you’ll always eventually recover all previous losses plus a small profit equal to your original stake. The problem with the Martingale system, of course, is that it assumes an infinite amount of money, an infinite table limit in terms of bet sizes, and an infinite amount of time. If you’ve ever been to the casino, you know that those three things simply don’t exist. Eventually, all betting systems fail when applied to real-world casino games. Ignore them in favor of sound strategy, research, and experience.
Betting on games you don’t understand.
Newcomers to the casino often jump from game to game, dazzled by the variety, the sound effects, and the weak alcoholic drinks comp’d to them by casino management. The trouble is, if you don’t know how to play a game, and if you don’t understand some basic rules about it, you’re likely to hand your money over to the casino so rapidly that you won’t know what hit you. Approach every game with reverence. Know what your expected losses are. Understand the pay table. If you do those three things, you’ll be in great position to avoid losing your shirt.
Ignoring ideal strategy.
You can bet on one thing for sure – every casino game has been studied by someone (or some group of someones) much smarter than us. Let’s use blackjack as an obvious example. A group of math nerds and professional gamblers in the 50s and 60s figured out that they could use math to beat blackjack. They came up with an ideal strategy so good that casinos had to change the way they did business. Believe it or not, every game you can play in the casino has been studied like this, and most of them offer some ideal strategy. Even slot machines can be played with strategy. All you have to do to learn any game’s ideal strategy is perform a couple Web searches and follow what you read.
Believing in gambling myths and superstitions.
We don’t tell you to ignore gambling myths just because they’re wrong. Sometimes, these superstitions and traditions can be fun, or good water-cooler conversation. But we advise people who are getting serious about gambling to avoid this kind of thinking as a very serious form of gambling mistake. By believing in these ridiculous lies, you’re probably going to ignore sound game strategy. These myths are just another form of distraction for you to avoid.
Playing the wrong games.
We cover this mistake in more detail in the specific game mistakes section below, but we think it’s good to learn this rule in a general way. If you don’t enjoy a game, you shouldn’t play it. If you don’t understand a game, how its bets work, what the house edge is, or any other crucial factor, you shouldn’t play it. If you can’t afford a game, you shouldn’t play it. Lots of newcomers to gambling mess up by simple choosing the wrong game.
Failing to learn about gambling math and statistics.
If you’re going to be setting a budget, learning about basic strategy, and following the other 49 gambling rules listed on this page, it behooves you to learn about the math and the numbers behind the games as well. An understanding of statistics can inform your understanding of gambling and push you to the next level. Understanding gambling math will make you a better gambler, less likely to make most of the mistakes on this page.
Failing to practice before gambling with real money.
In the age of the Internet, choosing not to practice gambling games by playing free-money or trainer versions is downright ignorant. Twenty years ago, you didn’t have access to all the free strategy and practice content now available online. Take advantage of these resources to help you become familiar with a game before you put your hard-earned money on the line. If you’re not Web-savvy, you can still practice games for free at many casinos. That’s because casinos love to host practice sessions to teach players new games or to get people familiar with games, so that they’re comfortable wagering real money. Trainers, free to the public online or in person at most casinos, are your best tool against stage fright when it’s finally time to put real money on the line.
Ignoring game etiquette.
Casino etiquette isn’t just about manners. Some points of etiquette actually help games run smoothly. Other points of etiquette are designed to help the dealers or casino staff identify cheating. Breaking these rules will likely get you questioned or tossed out by casino security. Acting right is important – just because you’re in a casino doesn’t mean you have a right to act like an animal. Consider the needs of the people gambling around you. Not everyone thinks an annoying drunk is charming, especially when people are gambling real money.
Not tipping the dealer enough, or at all.
Two traditional forms of tipping are acceptable – a straight-up tip and a bet for the dealer. This doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Let’s say you’re placing $10 bets per hand or per round of whatever game you’ve chosen. Tipping the dealer a $2 chip every now and then is totally acceptable. You should tip a bit more after a big win, and continue to tip during losing streaks. 20% is a good rule of thumb – if you’re placing $100 bets, you should be tipping the dealer $20 at a time, or placing a $20 bet for the dealer every now and then. By the way – you shouldn’t just be tipping dealers. Anyone who gives you good service deserves a tip.
Arriving at the casino without a plan.
The worst mistake you can make is to decide on a whim to go into a casino and start gambling. Walking into a betting shop without a plan is as good as burning your money. Your plan should consist of a budget, a set of games you want to play, a time schedule, plans for eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom, and accountability partners if you really want to toe the line. By making a plan, you’re preparing yourself to walk out of there with as few losses as possible, or in a good position to protect your winnings if you manage to make a profit.
Taking insurance in blackjack.
The house edge on the insurance bet at most Vegas-style blackjack games is just around 7%. Considering that the game’s overall house edge is somewhere around 0.6%, taking the insurance bet means exposing yourself to something like eleven times more risk, all for a 3:2 payout. It doesn’t make financial sense, and it’s a sucker bet. Once you learn to count cards, you can make wise insurance bets a (tiny) part of your blackjack strategy. For now, just ignore this option.
Placing side bets in blackjack.
No blackjack side bet is worth it. Blackjack is a lovely game for players, with a low house edge. Casinos add side bets to turn the tides a bit. The payouts may look appealing, but trust us, the odds don’t justify the bet.
Placing the tie bet in baccarat.
The house edge in baccarat for the game’s two main bets (a bet on banker or a bet on player) ranges from 1.06% to 1.24%, making it one of the safest bets in the house. The house edge on the more lucrative tie bet is around 14.25%, making it one of the biggest sucker bets in the house. Taking the tie bet is a great way to burn through your bankroll chasing a payday that’s nowhere near a fair trade.
Placing craps prop bets.
Craps offers five bets with great odds that offer a house edge between 0.85% and 1.52%. Every other bet in the game is a sucker bet. Normally referred to as “prop bets” these exotic wagers milk your bankroll with a house edge anywhere from 2.4% to 17%. Ignoring the game’s five excellent wagers in favor of these potentially high payout bets is huge gambling mistake.
Playing Big Six or Wheel of Fortune games.
Ignore this game, no matter how beautiful the dealer or how loud and attractive the special effects. The odds vary depending on the game in question, but the best-odds wager on the wheel gives the house an edge of around 11%. The longest-odds outcomes give the house an edge of somewhere around 30%, at which point you’d be better off buying a scratch-off lotto ticket.
Placing the side bet in Caribbean Stud poker.
In case you haven’t noticed the pattern yet, any side bet available on a casino-style poker game is designed to separate you from your money. The best of these bets, meaning the ones that give you the best chance of winning, give the house an edge of around 7%. It just gets worse from there. Ignore these side bets altogether.
Placing the basket bet in roulette.
Often called the worst bet in the casino, a basket bet lets you wager on five numbers with a single chip. When you bet in the basket position, you’re wagering on zero, double zero, 1, 2 and 3 at the same time. This is a sucker bet, because the game’s standard house edge of 5.26% increases by 50% to 7.89% when you wager in the basket position. Unfortunately, the payout is only 6:1 … since the casino earns almost 8 bucks for every 1 you wager, a 6:1 payout doesn’t come close to paying you back for your consistent losses on this long-shot wager.
Betting on progressive slot machines.
Avoid progressive slot machines because they have awful odds. The games are designed to pay out less than non-progressives in order to pay for the occasional huge jackpot these games pay out. The appeal of that ever-increasing top prize is obvious, but if you want to walk away with more money at the end of your session, stick to a fixed-jackpot game.
Keno’s house edge hovers between 25% and 30%. Again, you’re better off buying a lotto ticket. Besides, keno is boring. It’s a hold-over from the old days of Vegas gambling, and honestly it’s a dying game played mainly by the elderly and degenerate gambling addicts drooling over the ticket girls.
Not using odds to back up your craps bets.
This one’s a bit complex, but stick with us, because it’s important if you’re going to play craps. In craps, the house edge on the game’s most basic bet (a bet on the Pass Line) is 1.41%. That means that for every $10 bet on the Pass Line, the casino is keeping about 3.5 cents as their profit. Remember that that figure is an average over time. Think of it this way – if you bet $1,000,000 on Pass Line wagers online, at $10 apiece, you’d have lost about $3,500 over all those session. What if we told you that craps includes a free odds bet with no house edge? You’d take it, right? That’s our advice to you – take the free odds bet. How do you do it? Make your usual Pass Line bet, wait for the shooter to establish a point (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10). Place your chips just south of the original Pass Line bet. This is like doubling down in blackjack. If the shooter his the point again, you win your initial bet plus the free odds bet. This bet is paid at true odds, meaning if you have a 2-to-1 chance of winning the bet, then the win is also a 2:1 payout.
Betting anything less than “max coins” on slots and video poker games.
If you don’t bet max, you won’t have access to the top payouts. If you’re chasing lower payouts than the top advertised ones, you can’t really even work out your odds. It’s an all-around bad decision to play less than five credits per video poker round, and there’s no benefit to not betting max on every spin of the slot machine. Bet max on a cheaper game rather than betting less than max on a more expensive one.
Playing American instead of European roulette.
American roulette wheels have 38 pockets where the ball might fall. European roulette wheels have 37 of these pockets. The addition of the extra pocket on the American wheel has a huge impact on the house edge for the games overall. American roulette has a house edge of 5.26%, while European roulette gives the house an edge of just 2.63%. If you can play the European game, you should never choose to play the American version instead.
Sending money to a blacklisted online casino.
This is a really dumb mistake, considering the amount of information available for free online about blacklisted, rogue, and scam gambling sites. This information is a single Web search away. All you have to do to discover that a given casino or sportsbook is rogue is to type their name into your favorite search engine and start to read comments and reviews. The Internet gambling community has your back – but you have to do a tiny bit of grunt work to find the information for yourself.
Ignoring online casino promotions.
While we could write thousands of words on the pros and cons of the online casino bonus industry, we think it’s important to make use of these promotions when possible. Online casinos can’t “comp” you the same way that land-based betting shops can, so these promotions are a kind of workaround. Gone are the days when online promotions were actually lucrative – the best you can hope for these days is $10 or $20 here and there. But it all helps. You ignore online gambling bonuses at your own peril.
Using the wrong online gambling payment method.
By “wrong,” we really mean “the wrong method for you.” Everyone has different circumstances. Maybe the best method for you is PayPal, or your credit card, or an eWallet service. The point isn’t to tell you what method to use, but to advise that you look into all your options before you settle on one method over another.
Signing up at the wrong online casino.
Different online casinos specialize in different games. If you’re a slot player, you’re not going to be very happy at a site with a few dozen slots, especially considering that some slot-specific sites host hundreds of options in all colors of the rainbow. The same goes for table games – a blackjack fan isn’t going to have much fun at a slot site with just one blackjack game thrown in for good measure. Then there are other considerations – design, graphics, downloadable software, compatibility with mobile devices, etc. Picking the right online casino is hard work – picking the wrong one is a huge mistake.
Ignoring terms and conditions pages.
Read all the fine print you can find. Every bonus has terms and conditions. Most deposits and withdrawals are governed by terms and conditions. The more you learn about your online casino before you make a transaction, the safer your money is.
Attempting to game the bonus and promotions systems.
Online casinos know all the ways that people try to scam and abuse their bonus systems. In the early days of online casinos, you could participate in what people called “bonus whoring,” whereby you earn bonus cash without ever really placing a wager. That kind of free money has long since dried up, and trying to force your way around it is just going to give you heartburn and get you banned.
Failing to take advantage of online casino referral bonuses.
The best promotions still running are referral bonuses. That’s because these bonuses promise small amounts of money and very low clearing requirements. Usually, you’ll earn $25 or $50 for every new member you refer with your special code. Clearing that money usually requires just a few equivalent wagers. It’s easy money, and if you know gambler friends that would like a site you’re a member of, it’s only natural that you’d recommend they join. You may as well earn a little cash for your trouble.
Bluffing too much.
You can always tell the newcomer at any poker table by the amount of bluffing he attempts. If you bluff too much, you’re just giving yourself away, and making yourself look foolish. Don’t be a cliché.
Calling a raise after a bet and any additional raises is known as “cold-calling.” It’s a dead giveaway that you’re inexperienced or have no idea what you’re doing. Avoid it.
Over-complicating your poker play.
Don’t walk up to a poker table with elite tactics you learned online when your personal playing level and experience level are anything but elite. Playing a too-complex set of strategic steps is a good way to get in over your head and lose it all in a very short amount of time.
Playing in the wrong game.
Choosing the right game is as important as any other single aspect of poker strategy. Maybe you’re not really a Texas hold’em player, but you’ll never know because you’ve never stepped outside your comfort zone to try Omaha or a blended game. Another thing to consider – the cost of the game you’re in. Finding the right game level means trying your hand at a few levels until you’ve located that sweet spot.
Not understanding the concept of bet-sizing.
Bet-sizing is all about placing bets of the correct size, as the name implies. Proper bet-sizing puts you in the best position to maximize wins and minimize losses. The goal of proper bet-sizing is to give opponents bad call odds when they hold a drawing hand. This is an essential poker skill that’s best mastered at low levels before it costs your bankroll too much.
Betting with your feelings.
As bad of a sports bettor and handicapper as you may be, your emotions are even worse. Your emotions may tell you that a team on a three-game winning streak is bound to win again – or that the team is “due for a loss.” Both of these ways of thinking are incorrect, and will shrink your bankroll quicker than any other mistake on this list. As soon as you start to feel emotions about a game or an athlete, it’s time to take a break.
Betting on too many contests.
You don’t have to bet on every week of the NFL, or every game of the MLB or NHL season. In fact, you’re better off betting as little as possible, and sticking to only those bets that give you a positive expectation. Betting on too many contests means exposing your bankroll to the most possible loss.
Placing exotic bets.
Without inside information, betting on things like the length of the national anthem or which team will win the call is a huge sports betting mistake. Exotic bets give the bookmaker great odds – that’s always a bad thing for bettors. Stick to traditional bets that you understand from every angle.
Betting on your hometown or favorite team or athlete.
This is really just a form of betting on emotion, and we’ve already covered why that’s a horrible mistake. Would we ever bet on our hometown favorite? Absolutely, if the bet offered us a legitimate positive expectation of a return.
Betting because you feel like you “have to.”
This is an indication of a few things, all of them negative. First off, it’s a warning sign for gambling addiction. Secondly, it’s a sign that your passion for sports betting has grown stale. Finally, we’d be worried about your bankroll management skills if you’ve found yourself in a position where you “have” to place a bet, for any reason.
Placing parlay, teaser, or pleaser bets.
Parlay bets are popular, in no small part because in many states they’re legally available and provided in a fully-regulated environment. Teasers and pleasers are also popular exotic multi-bets, similar to parlays. The trouble with parlay bets is that the pay outs don’t come anywhere near matching the potential payouts. In layman’s terms, they’re sucker bet.
Listening to the talking heads.
we’re not talking about the band The Talking Heads. They’re great. Listen to them as much as possible. We recommend “Wheel Inside a Wheel.”
If you spend an hour or two a day watching ESPN, you’re bound to come across some pretty breezy sports betting advice that you might want to follow just because, well, it’s ESPN. The same goes for your local newspaper – you’ll sometimes find writers opining vaguely about lines and whatnot. Don’t listen to any of this stuff – in fact, during your betting season, you’re better off turning off your TV and doing all your research on your own. Betting with the herd is a proven way to fail.
If gambling was easy money, do you think us gambling experts would be spending our free time writing gambling content for a living? Even the best gamblers, the most successful professional sports bettors and blackjack card-counters, struggle to live above the break-even point. One bad run or one series of mismanaged bets can easily knock them out of the black and into the red. It’s not easy to be successful at gambling – that’s why you have to follow so many rules.
If gambling were easy, you could occasionally get away with placing a prop or exotic wager, taking insurance against a dealer blackjack, or betting on your emotions. The fact is, making any of the above fifty-one gambling mistakes could ruin your entire gambling season and keep you from turning a profit. You can’t control the odds, you can’t control where the dice land or how the cards fall, but you can learn to avoid common mistakes. We’re not promising winnings, just slightly better odds and (probably) a better gambling experience.