Funny Money: 8 Tips For Smart Gambling

roulette wheel

Blackjack, craps and roulette do not a savvy investment portfolio make. Unless, of course, you own a casino, in which case they are all smart investments, helping you pick off easy money from desperate, get-rich-quick types who think they’ve got “a system.” There’s a reason casinos in drought-ravaged Las Vegas can afford to build replica cities and stage frivolous water fountain shows: Gambling is probably the dumbest thing you can do with money.

Logic, though, is overrated; especially when it comes to entertainment. If you gamble in moderation, you can have a good time while foolishly risking your money against the house.

As someone who has taken an annual Vegas trip with my college buddies 12 of the last 13 years, I’ve become something of an expert on gambling on a budget. I’m not here to tell you how to win at gambling, The goal here is to teach you how to lose your money slowly through smart gambling, making you a winner compared to friends who lose theirs quickly.

Here are 8 tips for smart gambling: One for every number on the dice at the craps table when you’re pulling for a seven:

1. Don’t be Han Solo. You know the line, “Never tell me the odds?” Don’t be that guy. Look up the odds. Stay away from the really unbalanced games such as roulette and keno, and stick to the more reasonable ones such as blackjack and baccarat.

2. Go small and keep your home. A saying gamblers — especially the testosterone-and-jack-and-Coke-fueled bro gamblers casinos love so much — tend to toss around is “Go big or go home.” The meaning is small bets aren’t worth making because they won’t win you enough money to make your outing worthwhile. It’s wrong. Winning a $5 bet feels nearly as good as winning a $20 bet. And losing a $5 bet feels a lot better than losing a $20 bet.

3. Make a budget and stick to it. A key to smart gambling– determine how much money you’re willing to lose per hour or night, then cut yourself off after you lose that much. Sure, all your friends will still be playing and urging you to stick with them, but tactical retreats can be the wisest plays.

4. Bring something to pass the time. When you’re the biggest, fastest loser among your group, you’ll need something to entertain yourself until the casino takes your pals’ money as well. Do not watch your friends gamble. Doing that will at best be boring, or at worst, will only make you want to play more. Load up your phone with games or keep a tablet or handheld gaming device handy, camp out at a slot machine and wait for Lady Bad Luck to tap your friends’ shoulders.

5. Set up shop at the sports book. Look for the giant TVs and grid screens lighted up with teams and numbers. Pick a team in the next game coming up, place a little bet and take a seat. Even if you lose the bet, it will take at least a couple hours, rather than the few seconds it would take to lose the cash in a gable game. In the time it takes your team to lose, one of the chronically overworked cocktail waitresses might even stop by to offer you a free drink.

6. Don’t try to get even with bigger bets. When you’re losing, it’s tempting to make a crazy bet in order to recoup your losses. Don’t do it. By falling into a psychological trap of non-existent urgency, you’re only decreasing your chances of treading water. Stick to your game plan and wait for a hot streak. And when one finally comes…

7. Never walk away after a win. If the wins start piling up, you may feel like taking your money and running. Do that and you’ll be haunted by regret, wondering how much money you left at the table. Lucky streaks, like good waves for surfers, are as rare as decent movies that star the Rock. So when you happen to catch one, ride it until it dissipates. Once the odds catch up to you and you start to lose, walk away.

8. Move up your budgeted loss cap as needed. Gambling is at its most fun when a hot streak puts you in the black, letting you play with “house money.” You can relax your discipline a bit and go in for the big kill. But because you’re up, you owe it to yourself not to lose it all. So set aside a stack of chips you wouldn’t be happy losing given your new financial outlook — say, your start-up funds plus $50 if you’re up $100 — then cut and run if you lose your other funds. Then try not to laugh as your friends tell you about how they were up $700 but ended up down $100.

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About Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.


  1. I play blackjack online but not for money and I always seem to come out ahead with my conservative betting strategy. I am not foolish enough to waste any of my hard earned money on real gambling but I appreciate those that patronize the casino in my area because their losses help to finance my local hospital, arenas and road repairs.

    I will admit to buying the occasional lottery ticket when the prize is huge.

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