12 Gambling Resolutions for the New Year in 2017

by Michael Stevens
on January 3, 2017

Some people love making New Years’ resolutions, but most break those resolutions almost immediately.

I’m one of them.

For 2017, I thought I’d make a dozen resolutions related to gambling and share them here.

I’ll try to remember to update this blog with a post at the end of the year explaining how well I did at sticking to these resolutions.

1. I resolve to play slot machines less often.

Slot machines are a lot of fun, but they’re an expensive game to play. Not only am I making a lot of bets per hour, the house’s edge on those bets is sky-high.

The average slots player makes 600 spins per hour. I visited the Winstar Casino in Oklahoma with a friend of mine last spring, and I watched her pressing the spin button repeatedly at a lightning pace. She had to be making 800 spins per hour.

I, on the other hand, played at a more sedate pace.

But I’m sure I was making an average of at least 500 spins per hour.

Compared to most other casino games, that’s an insane amount of action, even if you’re playing for lower stakes.

The house edge on a slot machine game is at least 5%, but the average is probably closer to 9%. For purposes of writing about this, I’ll split the difference and say the house edge is 7%.

How much money am I going to lose if I play for a dollar a spin?

The expected loss per hour is the amount of action multiplied by the house edge. At 500 spins per hour, I’m putting $500 into action.

7% of that is $35.

That’s a high hourly loss compared to almost any other game.

I’ll look at the expected hourly loss for some of the other games I like below.

2. I resolve to play video poker more often.

Video poker plays just as fast as slots for an experienced player. Let’s face it—once you’ve mastered the game, you don’t spend a lot of time sitting there laboring over each decision.

The difference comes from the house edge. Even on the worst video poker games, the house edge is only 5% or 6%. The best games have a house edge of less than 1%. For purposes of calculating hourly expected loss, we’ll split the difference can call it 3% on average.

Expert players probably stick with the games where the house edge is 2% or less. The other factor to consider is that getting the edge that low involves a degree of skill, too. I’m good at video poker strategy, but I’m far from a master.

But even with a house edge of 3%, the amount I’m losing at video poker is dramatically lower than at the slot machines.

I play mostly quarter machines, but you always have to bet 5 coins per hand at video poker. (You want to activate the bonus payout for the royal flush.)

That’s $1.25 per hand. At 500 hands per hour, that’s $625 in action per hour.

3% of that is $18.75, which is almost half the expected hourly loss that I’d see playing slots.

And video poker is more compelling, because I have the added challenge of making the right decisions as I play.

3. I resolve to stay out of debt—unless it’s smart debt.

Borrowing money to fund your gambling is almost always a bad idea. I tend to like casino gambling, and I know that the house has an edge on every bet on every game in the casino. Borrowing money to fund that activity is foolish—especially if I’m paying interest on that money.

I have friends who’ve maxed out credit cards with cash advances and lost all their money playing craps with it. If you’re going to play with borrowed money, craps is as good a game as any and better than most.

But if you play long enough, you’ll lose.

And most gamblers I know aren’t disciplined enough to clear up their credit card debt first thing if they’re winners. They’re more likely to blow the money in the bar.

But some debt can be smart debt.

If I could play poker on a professional level, it might be worth my while to take on investors. I have a good friend who played poker professionally for years, but he played with an investor’s money. Their deal was that his investor would suffer the losses (if any), but he would get 50% of the winnings. I’m not sure how often they settled up.

Recently, Greg Raymer announced that he was taking investors for his action throughout 2017. He was selling shares in his bankroll at $1000 per share, and he was buying 20 shares himself. He was hoping to raise a bankroll of between $60,000 and $120,000.

Here’s how Raymer’s deal works:

He settles up at the end of the year. If he breaks even, you get your investment back. If he loses money, you lose proportionally based on the amount of your investment.

If he wins, you get 60%, and he gets 40% for playing.

My friend the pro poker player told me this is a good investment. Greg Raymer is an excellent player and he’s in the top 1% of the field in terms of integrity.

4. I resolve to master basic strategy in blackjack.

I can use a blackjack basic strategy chart, but I’d rather have it memorized (for reasons that will become clear later in this post).

I know the correct play for most hands in most situations, but not every hand in every situation.

And if you want to milk every tenth of a percent from the casino, you need perfect basic strategy.

And you need to execute that strategy perfectly, too.

Even so, blackjack is a negative expectation game. The expected hourly loss is better than any other game in the casino, though.

Here’s why:

You’re going to place far fewer bets per hour playing blackjack than you will at slots or video poker. You’re looking at 50 hands per hour at a full table, or 200 hands per hour if you’re the only player.

We’ll split the difference again and assume 125 hands per hour.

At $5 per hand, we’re putting $625 into action per hour.

But instead of losing 5% or more, we’re looking at a house edge of 0.5%. (If the rules aren’t great, maybe 1%.)

Splitting the difference again, and allowing for the occasional mistake, I’ll assume an average house edge of 0.75% at blackjack.

My expected hourly loss is 0.75% multiplied by $625, or $4.69/hour.

THAT is cheap entertainment.

5. I resolve to get re-acquainted with card counting.

I don’t want to stop there, though. Once I’ve mastered basic strategy, my plan is to move on to start counting cards.

Make no mistake, I have no plans to become a professional gambler. If I did, I wouldn’t choose blackjack anyway.

But if I’m going to be playing blackjack anyway, maybe I can sway the odds a little more in my favor by counting cards.

An expert card counter can get 1% or 2% over the casino, but I’d be happy to count cards well enough to play at break even.

Counting cards well enough to accomplish this isn’t that hard.

Mastering basic strategy is the first step.

Raising and lowering my bets based on the count is enough to get to break even. I don’t even plan to make changes to my strategy based on the count.

Even if I’m a break-even player, I’ll come out ahead on blackjack because I plan to take advantage of the casino’s comps and perks.

Most card counters don’t want to belong to the player’s club. They want to avoid detection.

But since I’m not going to play well enough for the casino to back me off, I’m not worried about that.

I want to get the most comps for my money.

The casino is going to assume that I’ll lose 2% when they’re calculating my value as a player. If I’m a break-even player, all those comps come my way for free.

You can learn more about this strategy and the mindset behind it by reading Max Rubin’s excellent book, Comp City.

6. I resolve to enter more poker tournaments.

I’m not a great poker player, but I am better than average. And even though slot machines aren’t an option for me anymore, I like having a shot at a huge jackpot.

Poker tournaments provide me with a double whammy:

They allow me to put my brain and skills to good use.

But they also give me a better-than-average chance of winning a life-changing amount of money.

I have friends who buy at least $5 worth of lottery tickets each week.

At the end of the year, they’ll have spent $250 or more on the lottery.

But the payback percentage for the lottery is awful. The house expects to win 50% of your money.

You’re looking at an average annual loss of $125 if you’re playing the lottery every week.

I’d rather buy into a couple of the daily no limit Texas holdem tournaments at the Winstar Casino. The entry fee is $65 most days, but I’m confident that I’m at least a break-even player.

If I get lucky in a couple of those tournaments, I can take the winnings and reinvest them into the main even of the World Series of Poker. The entry fee for that is $10,000, but we’re talking about a life-changing prize pool if I win that.

The top prize in the main event of the WSOP last year was $8 million.

There was a time when I couldn’t retire on $8 million.

That time is passed. The older, more mature version of myself knows exactly how to make $8 million last the rest of his life.

7. I resolve to visit some different casino destinations.

You probably noticed based on most of my resolutions that I’m NOT an advantage gambler. I know how to use certain advantage gambling techniques, but I’m not proficient enough to earn a living playing these games.

Nor do I want to.

I make an okay living writing about gambling.

In fact, I’m not even sure I have the temperament to be a professional gambler.

I’m in it for the fun, and I want to have more fun in 2017.

That means getting out of my comfort zone and visiting some different casino destinations.

Most of the time I spent in a casino in 2016 was spent in one of two places:

  • The Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma
  • The WInstar Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma

I resolve to make it to some of the cool casinos in Las Vegas a few times this year. In fact, to pursue my strategy of getting comps by counting cards at blackjack and mastering basic strategy, I’ll have to travel to a major casino destination.

The blackjack games in Oklahoma charge a 50 cent ante per hand. You lose that amount even if you win the hand.

For a $100/hand player, that adds 0.5% to the house’s edge.

For a $10/hand player, that adds 5% to the house edge, which reduces blackjack to a game with an edge that’s as low as roulette or even slots.

9. I resolve to maintain a separate gambling bankroll.

One of the principal rules of bankroll management in gambling is to keep your gambling bankroll separate from your other funds.

I’ll be honest.

I’ve had trouble with this in the past. I’ve never spent the rent money gambling, but I have dipped into my gambling bankroll to pay for the occasional drink at the bar or the occasional meal at the buffet.

The problem with that is if it continues, it won’t take long for you to run out of money to gamble with.

A gambler without a bankroll can’t gamble.

I might lose my bankroll by the end of the year, but it’s not going to be related to spending my bankroll on something other than gambling.

I like to gamble.

I don’t apologize for it.

But I’m going to be smarter about my approach to managing my bankroll.

10. I resolve to spend more time writing about gambling.

I mentioned earlier in this post that I make a reasonable living writing about gambling. I’m not going to get rich doing this—Stephen King has nothing to fear, in fact.

But I know I’ll make a better living by increasing my word count.

Every writer I know gets paid by the word or by the project. Completing more projects and getting my average daily word count up has as direct effect on my bottom line.

But just as importantly, writing about something forces you to think more rigorously about it.

In the case of gambling, if I think more rigorously about it, I’ll win more money.

At least I’ll lose less.

11. I resolve to be more mindful.

A Bill Murray video where he talked about how he wanted to be more present became viral last year. In this video, he said that he though enjoying the moment was important.

I couldn’t agree more.

One reason I plan to avoid slots is because it’s hard to be mindful when playing. Slot machine play is the opposite of mindfulness.

It’s mindlessness.

I’ve read multiple articles and even a book about the psychology of slot machine games. The point of most of them is that slot machine players tend to get into a state resembling a trance.

I don’t want to be hypnotized by a gambling machine.

12. I resolve to spend more time playing games that don’t cost money.

While I enjoy gambling, it’s not the only way I like to spend my time. I have twin daughters, both of whom are 14 years old now.

We enjoy playing board games and card games.

It’s a great way to spend time together doing something active (being present, being mindful) and spending time with people I love.

On New Years’ Eve, I picked up a card game called Race for the Galaxy and another card game called Cards Against Humanity.

I had to sell my game collection a couple of years ago, but this year, I’m going to rebuild it.

But it’s not enough to just have a stack of board games or card games.

To get your money’s worth, you have to play them.

Getting in some time at the table playing games with my daughters is worth more to me than any time I spend at the blackjack or the poker tables.

Conclusion

In short, I’m committed to getting the maximum amount of fun in exchange for my gambling money in 2017. I have no plans to quit gambling or anything silly like that.

But I am going to focus more on treating gambling like my other entertainment expenses and do my best to get the most value for my money.

I think the most important resolution I’ve made involves being more mindful.

That’s a great resolution for anyone, even non-gamblers.

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