Almost every year when we head down to our annual beach vacation in Rhode Island, I will take a little trip over to one of the nearby casinos. Sometimes there is a small group of us (never Mr. SFF) and sometimes it is just two of us. I realize that doing a blog post on a personal finance blog about gambling is a little risky as this is certainly not an activity that I recommend but after briefly mentioning my luck during our vacation, I wanted to summarize my thoughts. Please note that these are only my views and beliefs and what I have found works for me but no way would I ever recommend you go gamble unless this is an entertainment activity you enjoy and are OK paying for it.
Last week while on vacation I was debating if I even wanted to take my annual excursion as every dollar saved helps to get me a little closer to my financial independence goal. But our uncle asked if I wanted to go and after some careful consideration I decided to go but only for a couple of hours. Here are some general rules/guidelines that I follow and help me to minimize the amount of money I might lose and usually come home a winner.
Mrs. SFF’s Rule #1 – Set an amount of time you want to spend at the casino.
I told Uncle S before we even left that I did not want to spend a lot of time there so we agreed we would only stay for two hours. If you do not set a time you are likely to spend the entire night or day there. And this is of course is exactly what they casinos want. The more time you spend there, the more money you are likely to lose or spend not only on the games but in their many shops and restaurants.
Mrs. SFF’s Rule #2 – Before even walking in the door, decide on how much money you are playing with.
This should be a dollar amount that you are comfortable losing. When I go to a casino any money I play with I see as entertainment money. I would never spend $500 for an evening of general entertainment so I would never play with this much money. Never, and I mean never, should you ever play with more money than you are comfortable losing forever. Once you run our of money, stop playing! The most I am ever willing to play with/spend on an evening at the casino is $100 so that was my target. Losing $100 would suck but I could live with it. Any more than that and I know I would be pissed at myself so I never let that happen.
Mrs. SFF’s Rule #3 – Play a game you know and are comfortable with.
If you do not understand what you are doing, how can you expect to win other than dumb luck? Well, a lot of what casinos are about is luck but there are some that have better odds if you know what you are doing. I used to play Blackjack and did pretty well, following some of the general guidelines of when to hit and stay based on what the dealer is showing and what you have in your hand. I actually would bring a little cheat sheet with me in case I came across a scenario that I did not know off hand. Blackjack actually has the best odds out of any other game in the casino. Years ago I also played a little Texas Holdup but realized that although I know the basics I am really not that good. The past few years though I have opted for Craps, which has the second best odds out of all games in the casino. Uncle S loves playing craps and he has taught me how to play the past few summers. I do not know all of the ins and outs or even all of the different ways to place bets, but I know the basics well enough that I could play on my own and do well. It’s a game of chance but there is some strategy involved as well. Although playing at tables might be intimidating, most casinos, during a slow time, will give you some instruction on how to play the games. If in doubt, you can ask for help.
Mrs. SFF’s Rule #4 – Play a game where you actually see the money leaving your hand.
Slots nowadays are all electronic. You just swipe your pre-loaded card into the machine, push the buttons, and hope luck is on your side. As it is electronic you are not actually watching the money leave your hand and dwindle away so before you know it you can lose oodles of money. I personally do not like slots as you are just pumping money into a machine in hopes that you happen to be the one lucky person who will hit it big. You don’t need to know much about them but playing slots is sort of like trying to win the lottery and you have absolutely no control of the outcome (and by the way have the worst odds out of any casino game). With Craps or Blackjack there is some strategy but you are also playing with chips. You physically have the chips, representing real dollars, sitting right there in front of you. You have to physically place the chip(s) in front of you to make a bet. You can easily see your pile of chips either grow or shrink depending on how your night is going so it is a nice reminder of how you are doing.
Mrs. SFF’s Rule #5 – When possible, leave when you are up.
There are going to be ups and downs, its just the nature of the beast. But if you can see that you are doing well, just call it and walk away with your winnings. You are better off walking away with even a small amount of winning rather than trying to make even more. This can be hard as you get the excitement of winning and can easily think “just one more roll” but before you know if you could lose all your winnings. Last week we were both up so after I rolled and finally “crapped out” we decided to call it quits. We had only played for an hour but in that amount of time I was able to to turn my $100 into $306 and Uncle S had almost $1,000 in winnings (he can stand to lose more and places much higher bets). Could we have played for another hour and up to out set departure time? Sure. But would we have left with any winnings? Who knows! As I see it, I made $206 in one hour, had fun, and would rather leave up than potentially lose any money.
A portion of this money did go to our joint long term savings account. Obviously this is not a great long term savings strategy but with my rules and a little bit of luck I ended up bringing home a little money. Gambling certainly does not fit well into my financial independence goal so I think I will limit my gambling to a one time per year entertainment activity while on vacation and continue to save more and spend less.