By Jean Scott
Does your gambling bankroll disappear so fast that you are sure the casinos are cheating you? Have you ever gone on a day bus trip to a casino and had to wait in the bus lobby the last four hours because you lost all your money in the first two? Have you ever thought that you didn’t have enough fun in a casino considering the amount of money you lost in that time period? Have you ever wished you could take a longer vacation to Las Vegas but you aren’t sure your gambling bankroll would last? Have you ever taken a cash advance on your credit card (with killer fees and interest rates) when you ran out of cash in a casino?
This is not an article on the technical aspects of gambling, requiring a lot of math knowledge and special skills. It is true that by studying the games and learning about mathematical odds you can play smarter in a casino; but you don’t want to go to “gambler’s school.” You just want some simple advice on how to make your gambling bankroll last longer in a casino. Okay, let’s see what we can do, by just using common-sense ideas.
1. Accept the fact that the main thing casinos are offering is entertainment. Of course everyone wants to win, but be honest with yourself: you know that it is more likely that you will lose. So what is your real reason for being in a casino? You want to have fun, right? Don’t feel guilty and try to make up a more noble reason. It is a very sensible attitude. Too many people will not admit this to themselves; and then, when they lose, they feel very unhappy because they have “wasted” their money. The healthy attitude is to consider this whole bankroll your “cost” for this entertainment choice. If the casino doesn’t take your whole “entrance fee,” you feel really lucky. And what other entertainment options give you a shot at bringing home more money than you took with you!
2. Now that you have admitted that your goal is to have fun, you choose your gambling bankroll from the part of your household budget marked “Entertainment.” This is money you sometimes use to eat out at a nice restaurant, or go to a movie or spend on a ski trip. This is not money you set aside for groceries, or the mortgage, or insurance, or the kids’ school clothes. Unless you are an extremely disciplined person, you should have this whole bankroll with you, in cash if it is a small amount, in traveler’s checks if it’s a large sum. You should NOT have your checkbook, or your ATM card, or your credit card with you. Therefore, you can limit this entertainment “cost” to what you can afford. Nothing will take the “fun” out of gambling faster than losing money that has already been earmarked for necessities.
3. Now when you get to the casino, take your gambling bankroll and divide it up in some logical way. Some gambling writers suggest elaborate techniques here; others pooh-hoo the whole idea of money management. I emphasize using good sense. If it is a day trip by bus to Atlantic City and you have a small bankroll, but you want to immediately “bet big so I can win big,” you must face the fact that you may be out of money in a very short time. Will you be happy to sit out on the boardwalk and people-watch for six hours until the bus is ready to take you home? What about on a four-day vacation trip to Las Vegas? Do you want to go for the lifestyle- changing jackpots the first day and when you (most likely) “tap out,” spend the next three days sightseeing?
This is a personal choice and you don’t need any advice on how to blow your bankroll quickly. But you are reading this article because I promised you ideas on how to stretch your bankroll. So a common-sense technique would be to figure how many sessions of gambling you want to plan and then divide your total bankroll evenly into session bankrolls. In the above AC scenario, you might have $100 total and want to play once in the morning, break for lunch, then play two sessions in the afternoon with a break between them for a stroll up and down the boardwalk. You decide that you want a longer session in the morning, so you decide on a $50 session bankroll, with $25 for each afternoon session. In the Vegas scenario you could divide your money into daily bankrolls and then divide the daily ones into session ones. You can revise your strategy at anytime if you are winning, i.e., playing more sessions with the winnings. But in any case, you never “borrow” from the next session bankroll if you lose in the present session. That will assure that you are able to spread your gambling time to the very end of your visit.
4. Now you are ready to play! Wait. Stop and think. What denomination should you play? If you have been playing dollars in the past and your bankroll usually didn’t last long enough, then the sensible thing to do is play quarters. Going down in denomination is probably the easiest technique to use to stretch your money. If you are a new player, I always suggest you start with quarters. On average, depending on how the house has the machines set, you will lose between $50-60 an hour playing dollar slots. The same time on quarters would have an average loss of about $20-$30. You don’t have to be an Einstein to figure out that your money would usually last longer if you stick to quarters. If the casino has nickel machines, then this is your best choice for a small bankroll, for the average loss per hour would only be around $5. A warning here: it usually is better to go to a lower denomination and play max coins than play one coin in a higher denomination because most machines are set up to reward full-coin players by paying proportionately higher jackpots. If you think you won’t enjoy going down in denomination, remember what your goal is – having fun. Isn’t the person playing nickels or quarters enjoying the same exciting charged glamorous atmosphere of the casino as the dollar player? Doesn’t the same cocktail waitress come by both and accept the same order for an exotic drink that she will deliver to you both free of charge. Don’t both have the exciting hope of winning the top jackpot on their machine?
5. Now that you have chosen your most sensible denomination to play, you have to make a decision as to what kind of machine. Walk around and look at what the options are. Do you like to go for big jackpots? Then you will have to settle for fewer small wins. A rule of thumb is that the smaller the top jackpot on a machine the more little wins you will have along the way that will allow you to play longer. The multi-line video slots will give you more time on the machine because they pay off frequently. However, be aware of their multi-coin fooler aspect. You put the maximum coins in these nickel machines and you are playing more money than the quarter player on the traditional slots. A quarter multi-line plays more like traditional dollars.
6. Give yourself frequent breaks. Nothing will make you more sluggish than sitting at a machine for hours at a time. Go outside for a fresh-air break. Hit the snack bar for a quick bite. Go to your room for a short nap. Browse in the gift shop. Go to the sports book and check the odds on your favorite team. Or stop in the race book and put a couple of dollars down and watch one horse race. You can also change machines frequently to provide variety and give you a chance to rest your eyes and stretch tired muscles.
7. Another technique that works well in stretching your playing time is simply playing slower. There is no reward here for speed. So stop sometimes to chat with your neighbors – congratulate them when they make a big hit; sympathize with them when they have a long losing spell. Stop hitting the buttons and pull the handle for a while. Stop playing and sit back and enjoy that cool drink or hot coffee that the waitress just brought you. You can also slow down your play by choosing a machine that requires some thought. You can zoom along very quickly with no thought on a slot machine. Go to video poker and you have to stop and think in order to make a decision on every hand. I observed a couple recently that had a unique and enviable way to slow down their machine play. They took turns playing one video poker machine while the other watched, and every time they hit four-of-a-kind they stopped and hugged and kissed.
Do you think you are a pretty sensible person? You work hard at your job; you pay your bills on time; you shop sales; you budget your money carefully. Then don’t drop your common sense at the entrance to a casino. Take it in with you and use the very same careful thought – and you will find that you can play longer and have more fun!
Jean Scott is one of the country’s most renowned and successful gamblers and has appeared on many TV shows, including 48 Hours, where Dan Rather gave her the nickname of Queen of Comps. Her first book, The Frugal Gambler, has been a best-seller for nine years. She also wrote a sequel, More Frugal Gambling, and a tax guide for gamblers. She provides a complete resource package for video poker players, from beginners to the experienced: the Frugal VP software program which goes with her new book, Frugal Video Poker, and the must-have Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide. Her Web site is www.queenofcomps.com