Gambling, by its very definition, implies risk, something many people aren’t used to dealing with. In your work life, you eliminate uncertainty by accepting a job with a fixed salary. In your daily life, you protect against disaster through a spectrum of safety precautions, from smoke detectors to seat belts.
When you walk into the casino, the house is betting that your unfamiliarity with risk will work in its favor. (Look at how easy establishing a line of credit is and how quickly the little extras, such as comps, make you amenable to spending and risking more money.)
By following the advice in this chapter, you’re taking the appropriate steps to reduce your risk of gambling-related problems when you enter the casino. But you’re wise to continue looking for signs of trouble during, or even before, your casino visit. These problems can take many forms beyond simple financial issues; they can affect your relationships as well as your health. This section helps you identify the warning signs so you can walk away before it’s too late.
Knowing the odds of failure
The best protection you can offer yourself in a casino is knowledge. Having a full understanding of the odds involved with every game allows you to set realistic limits in your play. You can know when pushing a little harder and continuing to play is okay, but you can also have a solid grasp on when it’s time to tuck your tail between your legs and go home. Without a basic understanding of your chances, you won’t be able to recognize when you’ve taken one step too far.
Because the casino does everything in its power to help you step off the plank and into the ocean of risk, is it any wonder some people get in over their heads before they even realize they’re in deep water?
You may have packed light for your long-weekend gambling getaway. But, trust us, you’re carrying more baggage than you realize — all that other stuff that defines who you are and how you react to certain situations. So be realistic about your own personality and temperament.
If you tend to get a little out of control when things go wrong, then bring along some safeguards in the event you start to lose. Have a friend hold your wallet, or simply leave access to money (beyond your bankroll) behind and carry nothing but cash. Above all else, be honest about how you’ve gambled in the past. Just because you haven’t been a perfect angel doesn’t mean you can’t go, but you do have to be more careful than other gamblers.
Are you a disciplined type? Is adopting positive behaviors, such as daily exercise and saving money, easy for you? If you’re cool, calm, and rational in your daily life, you’re likely to be a good candidate for video poker or the blackjack tables. Or are you impulsive and undisciplined? Does a trip to the mall for a package of socks turn into a shopping spree that sets you back a couple of paychecks? Do you struggle to stick to a diet? If you lack control in everyday activities, such as shopping and eating, then casinos can become a dangerous diversion. We’re not suggesting that you swear off casino visits if you can’t stop yourself from eating just one more chocolate chip cookie. But understanding your nature and taking precautions to protect yourself from “cleaning out the cookie jar” is important.
If you choose to partake in the pleasures and excitement of a casino visit, then, in addition to strictly following the money-management advice in this chapter, you may want to take extra steps to curtail your impulsive side. For example, try traveling with someone who’s more disciplined than you are and willing to serve as the designated banker.
Resisting the urge to chase losses
Even if you’re a highly disciplined soul, the hypnotic sway of the casino can seduce you into uncharacteristic behavior. One typical lure that pulls gamblers off the cliff of control is chasing your losses. For example, say you’ve lost more than you intended. But, you think, if you could just win one big bet, your problem would be erased. So chasing your losses is tempting, especially in a casino where people seem to be winning all around you.
The sad fact is that most people lose when gambling. And when people lose, they tend to want to get their money back. Even though it’s almost always a quick path to ruin, the urge to chase losses is a phenomenon that seems to sweep over casinos from the Mississippi River to Monte Carlo.
Don’t fall victim to chasing your losses! When you seek to retrieve that lost money, you start throwing good money after bad, hoping to win it all back. To avoid losing even more of your gambling bankroll, treat a loss as just that: a loss. Say no to the next hand or play, and say yes to some other activity.
Sipping, not sinking
Part of the casino experience is enjoying the festive atmosphere, bright lights, and free drinks. But enjoying and exceeding are two different events, and the quickest way to short-circuit your budget is to overindulge at the bar.
Overindulging is tempting, of course, with cocktail servers adeptly appearing just when the game gets tense, graciously slipping a fresh cold drink next to your elbow. As you sweat a little more, the next drink goes down more quickly. And before you know it, you’ve lost count of how many drinks you’ve had, not to mention how much money you’ve lost.
Monitor your drinking as closely as you manage your budget. If your game of choice requires strategy, then you play better with a clear head. And even if the game doesn’t require player expertise, you’re still better off without the excessive alcohol muddying your thoughts or encouraging you to go for broke when you’re in the hole.
Recognizing a gambling addiction
Exceeding your established gambling budget by a few hundred dollars on a trip to Vegas or your nearby riverboat casino is one matter. Getting yourself tens of thousands of dollars in debt over the course of time is another matter entirely; this sort of trouble is a serious gambling problem. Gambling addiction is a complex problem far beyond the scope of this book. But we’d be irresponsible not to address it in a chapter about managing your gambling money.
Gambling debts almost ruined Edgar Allan Poe and Thomas Jefferson and have devastated many families. Whether you’re a beginning gambler, an occasional gambler, or a regular bettor, you need to know the signs of gambling addiction. A few signs include
Trying to escape other problems in your life by gambling
Lying to others about the frequency or amount of your gambling
Falling behind on basic payments, such as rent or other bills, to feed your gambling habit
Asking to borrow money from friends and family to cover your gambling debts
If you suspect you have a serious problem with gambling, you’re not alone. Some excellent sources and support groups are available to help you fight your addiction and find ways to overcome debt and other related problems. You can start with an excellent website, www.gamblersanonymous.org, for answers and help.