If I were to give advice strictly based off my statistics background, then I would tell you to never gamble. No lotto, no casino games and no sport betting. But I know the thrill of winning $100 on a scratch-off, nailing 21 in blackjack and hitting on a 4-team parlay. The overwhelming sense of pride, adrenaline and happiness is unique and unrivaled by many things in life. It is really no surprise that gambling is so addictive…
So I’m not going to tell you to never gamble, that would make me a hypocrite. Instead I’m going to teach you how to gamble responsibly:
The lotto is the biggest scam out there. It feasts on dreamers and “ya never know” thinkers. I won’t bore you with the probabilities, but just know you are basically throwing away your money. Yes statistically speaking there is a very small chance you win. But there’s also a chance that Selena Gomez realizes I’m her perfect man and we live happily ever after together…
This section will be broken down into two of the most popular lottery types: Scratch-Offs and Powerball
DO NOT BUY SCRATCH-OFFS. It is really that simple.
“But my friend’s-aunt’s-baby sitter’s-dog walker won $10,000 on a scratch off just last week!”
While this may be true, she also probably spent hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on these stupid scratch-offs before getting that winning ticket. When you buy a scratch-off there are four real possibilities:
- You win $0
- You win less than $20. Sure you won, but it’s an insignificant amount of money. In fact, its just enough money to go back into the store and buy more lotto tickets, how convenient? So, you “reinvest” your small winnings with the hope of landing the big winner. But instead you end up losing and walking out of the store with slightly lighter pockets.
- You win $20-100. Great, but how many tickets did you buy in your lifetime before achieving this massive success?
- You win big. Wohoo! But I don’t know anyone who has actually won a significant sum of money playing scratch-offs. Besides your friend’s-aunt’s-baby sitter’s-dog walker of course.
Only play the lotto when it becomes huge. And when I say huge, I am not referring to the dollar amounts. $50 million and $1 billion are technically both enormous amounts.
In this context, huge means that the Powerball becomes a topic of conversation several times throughout your day:
When “Did you see the Powerball is up to $XXX” replaces “Weird weather were having today, huh?” then you know its time to buy a ticket and get in the mix.
The reason I only recommend playing lotto when the jackpot becomes “huge” is twofold:
- If everyone is talking about it, then tickets are being purchased at an increased rate. That means the jackpot is also growing at an increased rate. More press/hype = more winnings
- You get your thrill, without becoming a regular lotto player. How many times a year does the lotto jackpot actually become a topic of conversation? Maybe 2-3 times a year max? Buying a $10 ticket twice year will not hurt your finances.
Notice how I said “a $10 ticket” and not “twenty $10 tickets”. When the jackpot balloons, some people will spend hundreds of dollars on tickets because they believe they are increasing their odds of winning. Technically they are correct, but the chance of winning is so slim to begin with. Having 1 ticket or 1000 tickets really won’t make a difference.
When you play the lotto, you know you will not win. The real reason you buy a ticket is because you like having skin in the game and the rush that accompanies the drawing of the numbers. You can get that same rush with one single ticket.
If you really want to increase your odds, participate in your office/church group/etc. pool. Your odds of winning will increase, but you will still only be paying for one ticket. Yes you will have to split your winnings, but as mentioned before, $50 million and $1 billion are still both enormous.
Moral of the Story: lottery is kind of a scam so DO NOT become a regular player, especially with scratch-offs. Instead play the Powerball only when the jackpot is “huge”.
The university I attended for undergrad happened to be near two of the largest casinos in the USA, so I’ve experienced my fair share of casino trips. Casinos are essentially giant playgrounds for adults. There are games, restaurants, drinks and shows. EVERYTHING is geared towards getting you to spend money.
Most casinos will even provide free alcohol. They are not being nice, they have done the math. They know people spend more when they are drinking. They know the extra money they make off drunk gambling buffoons will more than make up for their lost alcohol profits.
So how does one survive when the odds are stacked against you and there are endless ways to blow your money? Enjoy the adult playground and experience the excitement of gambling by following these four casino rules:
1. Set Your Floor
BEFORE you even step foot into the casino, decide how much money you are comfortable
gambling spending that night. Spending, not gambling. You need to have the mentality that you will lose all the money you walk in with. It will make your night 100 times more enjoyable when you are fearless and don’t have anxiety about being down X amount of dollars.
Make sure to tell your friends the amount that you decide on. Ultimately if you blow through your money and REALLY want to hit the ATM then your friends probably won’t be able to stop you. But it’s always good to give yourself some resistance before making the cardinal sin of using the casino ATM.
2. Set Your Ceiling
After setting your floor, you also need to determine your celling. Again this is done BEFORE entering the casino. If you have ever gambled in a casino, then at some point in time you have probably experienced this: You get hot!
You start winning hand after hand. Your confidence starts rising and you feel like you’re on Cloud 9. Every decision you make just seems to work out and put you deeper into the green. However, all good things must come to an end.
All of the sudden your luck starts turning and you begin losing money. Instead of admitting your hot streak is over and stepping away from the table, you keep playing. Now your back to even. At this point your mind can’t get over the fact that you were just up so big.
So you keep on playing with the hopes of getting back to that green number. Before you know it your down big. Finally you are forced to step away and stop the bleeding.
This is why having a magic green number is so important. As soon as you reach that amount, you step away and stop gambling for the night. Walking out of the casino even money is a good feeling. Walking out of the casino up money is a GREAT feeling.
Make sure you share this number with your friends as well. If you REALLY want to keep playing, then you’ll probably ignore them. But again, it’s just about giving yourself a brief moment to reevaluate.
3. Play it Slow
The odds are always in favor of the house, do not try to fight this. Your goal should NOT be to make money. Your real goal should be to make your money last as long as possible. Change your mentality. Think of the casino as a playground where you will spend your money, not as a place to win money. Play the tables with the smallest buy-ins and enjoy the game itself.
Think of it this way: if you were at a food market with $50 in your pocket, would you buy a single large $50 item or would you go for 10 different smaller items? You would opt for the smaller plates because it would allow you to try many different flavors and spend a few hours appreciating the festivities. Dabble, don’t deep-dive.
4. Wear a Watch
Most casinos will not allow you to check your phone while sitting at a gaming table. They will also pump oxygen into the windowless gaming floor to keep you feeling wide-awake. Wearing a watch will prevent you from getting sucked into this fantasy world. Therefore you won’t be blindsided when the clock suddenly reads 6 AM.
Moral of the Story: the casino’s goal is to get you to spend money FAST. Use the above rules to play slow and within your predefined floor and ceiling.
When I was 19 I fancied myself a sports betting guru. I truly believed I had college football lines figured out.
“Oregon breaking out the white and neon cleats? Everyone’s faster in white, hammer the over. LSU getting points at home? No one goes into Death Valley and comes out alive.”My Dumb 19-Year-Old Self
I was smarter than Vegas. It’s laughable when I look back now, but at the time, I did not realize just how smart Vegas really was. I started the season red hot. But of course, this did not last. Eventually I began losing games by a few points (even half points in some cases). I justified my losses by analyzing the play-by-play:
“I would’ve won if that idiot made that field goal or that moron didn’t fumble that punt!”
Also My Dumb 19-Year-Old Self
After losing some more games by the slimmest of margins, I finally came to the realization: Vegas knows. Vegas is smarter than you. It’s not a coincidence that the line was 3.5 and the final score was 27-24…
An odds-makers full-time job is to create lines. They analyze stats, players and match ups all day long. They know about all the injuries and scandals that don’t reach the public eye. They know who rolled an ankle in practice and what player is sleeping with his teammate’s girlfriend. They are professionals. So as an average-joe-sports fan it is absolutely ridiculous to think that you will outsmart them. But that doesn’t stop us does it?
There are no two ways about it. Watching sports becomes way more interesting and exciting when you have some money on the line. So here’s how you can still have some skin in the game without bankrupting yourself:
Similar to walking into a casino, you first need to decide how much you are willing to lose. A good way to do this is by including your sports gambling money in your food/beer budget:
Imagine you’re at your local sports bar with some buddies and you usually spend $50 on beer and wings here. The games are about to start and you have a strong hunch that the Jets are going to put up a good fight against the Patriots (they’ll inevitably lose in heart breaking fashion but it’ll be close). So you throw $25 on the Jets to cover the spread. Now you only have $25 left for beer and wings until this game is over. If the Jets don’t cover then you eat less wings and drink less beer. Boo-hoo. If the Jets do cover, then you just had beer and wings for free!
Once you’ve determined how much you will bet, there are two strategies for making the most of your limited betting capital:
Pick ONE game that you have a strong feeling about. If you are only betting a few dollars then it is pointless to try to spread it over multiple games. You will likely end up getting ~50% right and in the hole a few bucks because of the juice.
If you don’t know what “the juice” means, then you probably don’t bet on sports very often. That is good, don’t start now.
This strategy works best with money lines. If you can find an underdog that you feel good about, then you’ll get the benefit of winning more than you risk. So, a small bet can end up with a decent payout.
If there are multiple televisions around you playing different games and you want action on all of them, then a parlay is your move. Depending on what games you select, parlays can have really long odds. The longer the odds, the larger the payout.
This is a great strategy if you only have a few bucks to wager. Betting $5 on the spread of a single game is kind of pointless because the potential winnings are insignificant. However, putting this $5 into a 4-team parlay that could net you $50 suddenly becomes much more interesting.
Moral of the Story: Vegas knows.
Gambling can be a very slippery slope. We all see the potential upside, but few see just how slim the odds are of actually achieving that upside. You should NEVER plan to make profit when you are gambling. The lotto odds are impossibly long, the casino games are always in favor of the house and Vegas simply knows way more than you do about sports betting.
I know gambling is exhilarating (when you win), and that’s why I’m not telling you to avoid it at all costs. Instead follow the tips I laid out above. You will still be able to participate and feel the thrill of gambling, however you will do so with insignificant amounts of money. So when you inevitably lose, you will still be able to sleep at night.