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Golden Rules of Gambling

By Randy Ray in Casino
| November 14, 2016 12:00 am PDT
The Golden Rules of Gambling

When a person sets out to master a new skill or field of interest, it’s always wise to learn as much as possible. This applies whether you’re building a sandcastle or a nuclear reactor, and there are often a number of immutable commandments that apply to any given skillset. We like to refer to these as “golden rules,” as they provide indisputable guidelines for getting the most out of your upcoming experience or effort.

In this article, the topic of conversation involves games of chance. Some of these allow for strategy and skill, while others force the player to rely on blind luck. No matter which type you choose, though, there are certain facts and methods of conduct that can increase your overall enjoyment of the game (and possibly even your chances of winning). We refer to these as the “Golden Rules of Gambling,” and they range from time-worn truisms to more cutting-edge statements.

As you read this list, we urge you to carefully consider each rule as an individual item. Some may sound like common sense, while others might conflict with certain preconceived notions you’ve held for years. In the end, it’s up to you to decide which to apply and which to ignore, and it’s possible that some of these decisions may even be revisited after you’ve built up a greater body of knowledge on the subject.

Rule #1 – In the Long Term, the Casino Always Wins

This is the most important rule that you’ll ever hear regarding gambling. Some fellow players might dispute it, but they’re only deluding themselves into thinking that they can consistently overcome the built-in advantage enjoyed by all casinos, whether land-based or online.

The best proof we can offer about the long-term viability of taking on a casino is the actual gaming establishment. Each day, thousands of people stream into a casino, and all of them are coming to make a profit. If the business didn’t have a built-in advantage, it wouldn’t be able to keep the doors open for long. Its very existence is proof of a meticulous plan on the part of the management.

Some players believe that casinos cheat in order to win, but that’s not the case at all. A brick-and-mortar casino with loose ethics wouldn’t stay in business for long, as word would soon get out and cause players to leave in droves. Even shady Internet establishments have trouble pulling their cons for long periods of time, as watchdog groups are sufficiently dedicated to keeping the public informed about their activities.

No, there’s only one reason why casinos always win in the long run, and it’s most frequently known as the “house edge.”

Expressed as a percentage, the house edge describes the long-term advantage that any game of chance (and therefore the casino) has over the player. This amount generates consistent revenue for a gaming establishment, allowing them to pay employees, keep the lights on, and also to generate a significant profit.

In the case of a game with a 10% house edge, the player should (on average) lose $10 for every $100 he wagers (or $1 for every $10). When you consider all the money that’s risked in a Las Vegas casino on a daily basis, it should become obvious why these establishments are so profitable.

The higher the percentage, the larger the advantage for the casino.

The house edge is often regulated by various state or national bodies, although it can vary greatly from one establishment (or machine) to the next.

The edge for a slot machine is programmed by the designer, although it can often be adjusted by the casino. Table games, meanwhile, are more consistent, although the edge can still be adjusted by modifying the payout structure.

If you’re curious about some of the common house edges, here’s a brief list:

  • Slot Machines – 2% to 15%
  • Video Poker – 0.46% (this only applies to the full pay version of Jacks or Better)
  • Blackjack – 0.28% (when using the more liberal rules in Las Vegas)
  • Craps – 16.67% (when betting on any seven)
  • Craps – 0.00% (when taking the odds)
  • Roulette – 2.70% (on a single-zero wheel)
  • Roulette – 5.26% (on a double-zero wheel)
  • Caribbean Stud Poker – 5.22%
  • Keno – 25% to 29%
  • Casino War – 2.88% (when the player goes to war on a tie)

The realization that the casino holds an advantage over the player can be a sobering one, but it’s also common sense when you stop to think about it. These establishments are in business to make a profit, and they won’t get anywhere by randomly handing out money without some kind of plan in place.

Once you accept this truth, you can begin to develop the proper mindset to become a successful gambler. This involves finding the games with the best house edge, which allows you to minimize your long-term losses. And for those who can’t deal with this harsh reality, it’s best to get out of the hobby while you still have a few dollars left in your bank account.

Rule #2 – The House Can be Beaten in the Short Term

We realize that the first entry on this list can make gambling sound like a hopeless and potentially dreary task. While it’s not our intention to dissuade you from such an activity, we also didn’t want to paint an unfairly rosy picture.

The good news is that you can still win plenty of money via gambling, whether it comes from land-based blackjack or virtual slots. Sure, the house edge exists to give the casino a long-term advantage over the player, but there’s a massive amount of variation in the short term.

Need proof? Just take a look at these amazing gambling accomplishments over the years:

Examples
  • In 2000, a cocktail waitress in Vegas won $34,959,458 on a Megabucks slot machine in Las Vegas.
  • In 2009, a grandmother and craps novice took the dice at an Atlantic City casino and proceeded to string together 154 consecutive wins.
  • In 2013, a Finnish man placed a $0.25 bet on the Mega Fortune online slot machine and received back a record-setting progressive win of almost $24 million.
  • In 2004, a Brit named Ashley Revell sold every possession he had, then flew to Vegas and wagered the entire sum ($135,500) on a single spin of the roulette wheel. Red came up just as he’d predicted, and he immediately doubled his overall worth (and proved Wesley Snipes wrong in the process).
  • In 2011, an astute gambler won $15 million while playing blackjack at Vegas and Atlantic City casinos after negotiating special rules with a number of establishments.

While you shouldn’t expect to achieve the above results, I included them to demonstrate that gambling can be profitable under the right set of circumstances. If it wasn’t, casinos would eventually find themselves without any patrons.

Rule #3 – Don’t Drink and Gamble

Yes, we realize that gambling can be more fun when you’ve got an alcoholic beverage in your hand, but don’t say you haven’t been warned. Whether you’re sipping a free cocktail at a brick-and-mortar casino or nursing a bottle of beer while playing a game of online poker, you’re tempting Lady Luck in a way that’s sure to come back to haunt you.

When you visit a land-based gaming establishment, you’ll notice that they provide free alcoholic beverages to their customers. Stop for a moment and think about why they would do that. Is it because they appreciate your business and want you to have a good time? While we’re sure that’s true, it’s also true that the house prefers customers who’ve lost their inhibitions and are therefore willing to keep spending money past the point of common sense.

Once a beer or cocktail gets into your body, it stays there for an average of two hours. During this time, it makes you feel better by increasing the dopamine levels in your brain, but it also has a detrimental effect on speech, memory, judgment, and movement. The more you consume, the greater the overall effect. Before you know it, you’ll be throwing caution to the wind and dipping into your kid’s college fund to finance another round at the roulette table. By the time you sober up, it’ll be too late to undo the damage.

Rule #4 – Quit While You’re Ahead

When you’re on a hot streak, there’s always the temptation to keep playing. This is what the casino is counting on, as continued gambling allows the house edge to come into play and cancel out any short-term deviation.

Just a few days ago, we heard a story about a die-hard gambler who lives in our area. We were told that he plays the $100 slots at a local casino, and he recently lucked into a win worth more than $20,000. Of course, he kept right on playing, and you can probably guess what happened next. He gave all his winnings right back to the house, and this reportedly happens on a fairly regular basis.

Don’t be that guy. Gambling is a risky enough proposition to begin with, and it doesn’t get any easier when you insist on slapping Lady Luck across the face. If you’re fortunate enough to get a major win, cash out immediately and use that money to help improve your life (or the life of someone close to you).

The same logic applies when you’re suffering through a losing streak. If you insist on risking larger and larger amounts to make up for earlier defeats, then you’re engaging in what is known as “chasing losses.” This is a dangerous trap to fall into, as it can lead to financial ruin within a surprisingly short period of time.

And what about those who can’t stop?

Well, that brings us to the next golden rule….

Rule #5 – Learn the Signs of Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction, also known as “problem gambling,” is an addictive disorder that drives players to continue making wagers long past the point of common sense. Millions suffer from this malady across the globe, and it’s ruined families and even driven some unfortunate souls to commit suicide.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, an individual must display at least four of the following symptoms within a 12-month period in order to be diagnosed as a pathological gambler:

  • In order to feel excitement, the individual must wager with increasingly large sums of money.
  • If the person attempts to stop gambling or cut down, they begin to feel irritable or restless.
  • The person is constantly thinking about gambling, ways to fund gambling sessions, or past successes.
  • The individual has repeatedly tried to stop gambling, but they’ve been unable to do so for any significant length of time.
  • The person lies about gambling to friends and family.
  • When the individual feels stressed, they turn to gambling as a release.
  • After a losing session, the individual returns as soon as possible in an effort to “break even.”
  • Their gambling has caused numerous financial hardships, and they must often rely on others to bail them out financially.
  • The person’s personal and professional life has suffered due to their obsession with gambling.

While overcoming a gambling addiction isn’t easy, there are numerous resources and compassionate individuals who are available to assist you. Anyone who feels they might have a gambling problem is urged to seek help, as the situation is likely to intensify over time. Yes, a positive diagnosis would mean the end of your career as a gambler, but that’s better than being penniless and alone.

Rule #6 – Research Your Game of Choice

If you’re looking to have some fun and don’t mind losing a bit of money, there’s nothing wrong with bouncing about the casino and trying a few unfamiliar games. For those who are serious about making a profit, however, it’s always smart to do some intensive research before sitting in front of a new machine or table game.

Imagine, for example, that you were determined to beat a friend at a specific board game. Which of the following do you think would give you the better chance for success: (a) sitting down to play with no knowledge of the rules, or (b) being familiar with the rules and playing a number of practice games in advance? The answer should be obvious (if you said “a,” then we suggest looking for a new hobby immediately).

The same logic applies to all forms of gambling, whether you’re playing a video poker machine or betting on an MMA match. You need to be keenly aware of what’s going on, even if the end result of the game is largely out of your hands (such as with slot machines). Here are some of the most crucial factors to pay attention to:

  • What are the rules of the game?
  • What is the payout structure of the game?
  • Do the odds of winning increase with a larger wager?
  • Is a maximum wager required in order to be eligible for the top jackpot?
  • What is the house edge of the game?
  • Does the player have any control over the outcome of the game (blackjack or video poker), or is the end result determined entirely at random (slots)?

In a case such as slot machines, knowing all the details and rules won’t help you once the reels start spinning. However, it could be useful beforehand. Let’s say you’re interested in two specific machines, and your research reveals a house edge of 2% on one and 10% on the other. If you’re taking a long-term view, it should be obvious which of these machines to avoid.

Rule #7 – Manage Your Money

Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of fellow gamblers violate this rule. They head into the casino with a wallet filled with bills, and they later make a beeline to the ATM as soon as they’re broke. This often results in a vicious spiral, and we know more than one person who’s had to face their wife and explain why their joint bank account was cut in half within the span of a few hours.

The best way to avoid such a fate is to learn the art of money management.

There are a number of methods available on the Internet that include complex mathematical formulas, but we’ve always adhered to a more simplistic approach.

First, we always earmark the amount of money we’re willing to spend before we begin our gaming session, and we always keep this sum separate from the rest of my finances. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing online or at a land-based casino.

We’re also careful to only gamble with money that we can afford to lose. This is surplus income that’s been earmarked for entertainment purposes, just as some might set it aside for a concert or sporting event tickets. If we can’t afford to lose the money, then it doesn’t become part of the bankroll.

When we start playing, we never wager more than 5% of our bankroll at one time. This allows us to play for a long period of time, and we never have to worry about being wiped out by a single bet.

If we’re fortunate enough to win a hand or spin, we take half of the amount and add it to our bankroll. The other half is immediately lumped in with our normal finances and isn’t touched for the rest of our session.

When we begin a session, we’re prepared to play until either (a) we get tired of gaming, or (b) our bankroll is depleted. When the latter occurs, we leave the casino and never consider hitting the ATM for additional funds.

Sure, this might not sound like the most exciting way to approach gambling, but we’re in it for the long haul. We get plenty of enjoyment out of our session, which is always the primary objective. We’re thrilled if we win more than we started out with, but we’re also willing to accept a session where Lady Luck turns her back on us. Either way, we’ve engaged in our chosen hobby in a mature and responsible fashion.

Rule #8 – Look for the Best Offers

When we need to buy some new clothes, we always shop around to find the best prices. We’re not made of money, so it helps to save a few dollars here or there. The same logic should also apply to gambling, and you might be amazed at the difference it can make in the long term.

Finding the best deals can require a lot of research, but there are tons or resources available online. Online casinos are highly competitive with one another, so it’s not unusual to find those with sign-up bonuses or payouts that are noticeably better than rival sites. Not all land-based casinos are created equal, either, and those willing to play at smaller venues can find odds and offers that are sometimes far superior to games on the Vegas Strip.

Speaking of offers, we also highly suggest playing at a land-based casino with a free slots club card. These are available at most major establishments, and they allow the casino to keep track of your wins, losses, and overall betting activity. This is a prime way to get comps, which are freebies handed out by the casino to frequent customers in the form of free rooms, meals, show tickets, and more.

Rule #9 – Avoid Betting Systems

Betting systems take a structured approach to gambling in an effort to overcome the house edge. Some players swear by them, and there are plenty of online “experts” who are willing to share their secrets for a nominal fee.

Let’s take a look at one of the more popular examples, which is known as the Martingale. This strategy calls on the player to double their wager following every loss, with the idea being than an eventual win should cover all previous losses and still generate a profit for the player.

While this and all other betting systems sound good in theory, they simply don’t hold up over a sustained period of time. Long strings of losses can occur quite frequently, and players don’t possess the infinite bankroll required to weather these financial storms. In the end, all betting systems wind up failing those who employ them.

We also suggest using common sense when analyzing these strategies. If there was a betting system that consistently worked and allowed players to generate a profit, wouldn’t everyone know about it and employ it? And wouldn’t the casino eventually ban the practice or eliminate whatever game was susceptible?

Since gaming establishments don’t worry about such systems, the only logical conclusion is that they pose no threat to their bottom line. Think about this long and hard before you pay some Internet crook for his “winning secrets.”

Rule #10 – Have Fun

We realize that this might sound like a rather simplistic rule, but it’s one that often gets overlooked in the mad scramble for money. At their core, games of chance are just that…games. While a lot of cash might be on the line, they’re closer to harmless diversions like Monopoly and checkers than most would care to admit.

Folks are often drawn to gambling by their desire to make some fast cash, but there’s also an element of fun that permeates their original experience. From the lights and colorful graphics to the appeal of social interaction, the various forms of gaming can provide a great source of entertainment if you allow them.

If you find that playing your favorite game is becoming a chore, then maybe it’s time to try another option. And if the whole experience has lost its luster, then it might be a sign to move on to another hobby. For those who can’t walk away, I suggest referring back to rule #5 and the signs of gambling addiction.

Conclusion

The golden rules of gambling listed above are some of the most crucial guidelines for anyone wanting to maximize their long-term profitability and enjoyment at a casino or sportsbook. We’ve found all of these rules to be critical to our part-time career as gamblers, and we urge anyone who’s serious to give them a try.

Gambling can often seem like it’s rigged on behalf of the house, and that’s actually true. This is not, however, due to any cheating on the part of casinos or sportsbooks. Instead, it’s a carefully calculated percentage known as the house edge (for casinos) or vigorish (for sportsbooks) that allow gaming operators to consistently generate a profit.

Once you’ve committed yourself to gambling, it’s wise to take it seriously.

Always search for the best available offers, whether they’re related to sign-up bonuses, odds, or something else. It’s also important to know everything possible about a game, from the basic rules to the payout structure.

At the end of the day, though, gambling should be about having fun instead of trying to win enough money to buy a new car. The money should be secondary to the thrill of the experience, and anyone who deviates from this mindset is likely to find themselves getting burned out after a short period of time.

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