Introduction to Money Management Tips
Unfortunately, slots players typically spend any of their winnings before ever leaving the casino. A simple change of habit would let them instead leave as winners. I’ll briefly review each of my eleven practical slots money management tips.
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What is Negative EV, and Does It Apply to Slot Machines?
Unlike craps and blackjack, which are so-called “negative EV” games, you can consistently win at slots over the long-term. EV stands for earned value, which is a statistical term for the more general word “average.” It means that on average, over time, everyone loses at craps and blackjack.
Why? Because the rules of the game say so. The math behind those games says so. Because of those odds, that’s why casinos like to offer craps and blackjack. With them, casinos have a house edge.
There was a short time when blackjack wasn’t a negative EV game for everyone. Players learned to do simple math in their heads to take advantage of casinos using only a few card decks. Since first developed, this card counting was itself countered by casinos with a higher number of decks, casino surveillance, and automatic card shufflers.
If left alone by casinos, slot machine gambling is also a negative EV game. But that “if” is essential. Casinos never leave them alone. They’re always tinkering with the odds of winning on their slots machines, even before the arrival of casino operating computer systems in 2012.
Casinos have business practices that change the odds of winning on slot machines. For instance, their state or tribal compact may have gaming regulations that legally require them to meet a minimum theoretical payout limit. They can only achieve this limit with the ability to adjust the odds of winning on a slot machine.
For this reason, manufacturers must provide casinos with slot machines with adjustable odds of winning. But having this feature has allowed casinos to incorporate unusual business practices which also change the odds after the casino meets their obligations to the gaming authority.
Yes, slot machines are casinos’ biggest money-maker, by far. The profit made from gaming revenue, even when giving back 93% of that revenue as winnings, is enormous for the casino. That profit pays the employees, gaming revenue income tax to the state, and generally keeps the lights on at the casino.
On average, over all slot machines, casinos make a substantial profit. But they don’t make a profit on every individual slot machine. They don’t intend to!
A typical casino business practice is having promotions including, but not limited to:
- Free slot play
- Adjusting a slot machine to be a winner near busy areas
- Reducing odds during busy nights
- Increasing odds during the first year the casino is open
Craps and blackjack are negative EV games because the rules of the game make them so. But slots are electronic devices, which makes them highly adjustable. And, yes, the casino’s ability to adjust the odds of winning electronically, even remotely, includes video poker machines.
Repeating the Golden Rule of Gambling
The golden rule of gambling is this: Never gamble more than you are willing to lose. For slot machines, never have a bankroll larger than you can safely afford to lose.
You can’t assume you’ll always win because, sometimes, you’ll lose. And when you lose, you can never afford to enter a state of financial risk. Never forget, even when you are winning, that playing slot machines is gambling.
Practical Tip #1: Preparation – Budget Your Gambling Bankrolls
If you’ve never learned personal budgeting, now is the time to learn. Determining your bankroll size for regular casino visits isn’t much different from managing your household expenses. Use your existing skills to budget your casino trips.
If you’ve never learned how to manage a budget, I recommend searching YouTube for a channel that suits your needs. There are many other fantastic budgeting channels on YouTube to choose from, including:
- If you’re a young or expectant mother, Marissa’s The Budgeting Wife
- For those wishing to pay off debt, Kelly’s Freedom in a Budget
- A hugely popular budgeting channel is The Dave Ramsey Show
Most people go to a casino to play slot machines for its entertainment value. They take a certain amount of money to gamble with, which is known as a bankroll. How much is your bankroll?
For some, it’s $20. For others, it’s $100 or more. How much bankroll you take to a casino should be entirely based on your planned budget.
If your budget can’t afford a gambling bankroll, you can still experience the thrilling casino environment. For instance, casinos have great buffets.
Sometimes, I go to a casino due to my love of buffets. Other times, it’s to have a nice dinner with a friend.
If you can afford some amount of gambling bankroll, you’ll need to keep a financial record. Why? Because you might win money, and gambling winnings are taxable income.
Keeping a gambling record before winning at a casino is essential for getting taxes back from gambling income when filing your annual tax returns. Consult your income tax preparer for the tax rules which apply to you. For more details, see my article Keeping Gambling Records for Tax Preparation and More.
Practical Tip #2: Preparation – Don’t Borrow Money to Win
How much bankroll you take doesn’t matter. Being on a budget means you adjust your play to match your bankroll, not the other way around. Going to a casino is lots of fun for many people – it’s shouldn’t and doesn’t need to be about financial risk.
Never borrow money with which to gamble. It is possible to win money at a casino, yes, but there are no guarantees, even with my best strategies. Don’t assume you’ll come home a winner before you’ve yet arrived.
This advice not to borrow goes double for credit cards. The cashiers’ cage at a casino will be happy to give you a cash advance on any of your credit cards right up to the limit available. Avoid doing so.
Some people are unable to budget their gambling expenses. This inability is sometimes related to gambling addiction. There are various terms used for people who spend all they own on gambling, including problem gamblers and degenerate gamblers.
I’m not an addiction counselor or medical practitioner, so there is little help that I can provide. However, I’ve collected gambling helplines and other website resources at Responsible Gambling. A link to these resources is at the bottom of every one of my website pages.
Practical Tip #3: Preparation – Leave Your ATM Cards at Home
Until you’ve gotten into the habit of doing so, it can be challenging to stick to your gambling budget. ATM cards are very convenient financial tools. However, sometimes using them is too much of a temptation.
To avoid exceeding your planned budget in the heat of a casino visit, leave your ATM debit cards at home. If you’ve not yet gotten into the habit of sticking to your planned bankroll, leave your ATM cards at home alongside your credit cards.
I would argue that leaving your debit and credit cards in your car in the parking lot is still too much of a temptation. To paraphrase Dave Ramsey, financial guru and author of The Total Money Makeover (commission earned), “If you already had good money management skills, you wouldn’t be reading this.”
Whatever the case may be, develop and maintain good financial habits. This advice includes managing your casino bankroll. You know yourself best, or your spouse does (we’ll talk about teams below), so use that self-knowledge as an advantage play to keep your winnings.
Practical Tip #4: Preparation – Review Your State’s Gaming Returns
My last tip for preparing to gamble by playing slots is to choose the best casino as well as the best denomination slot machine to play. While individual preferences and planned bankrolls matter to making both these decisions, your state’s gaming commission may be of tremendous help.
Perhaps you don’t yet have a fundamental understanding of the usefulness of return statistics. For full details on this slots’ topic relevant to money management, see my article Top Financial Benefits of Slot Machine Payout Returns.
Does your state’s gaming commission offer publicly available payout return statistics? There are several possible answers depending on your state including:
- Win percentages for each casino or state region
- Win percentages for each slot machine denomination
Further, these financial statistics provided by casinos on the performance of their slot machines can be by year, month, or even by the week. Before you go to your chosen casino, or to perhaps pick the casino with the best returns, learn what is available online from your state government.
For links to my detailed state-by-state articles with just this sort of information and more, visit my free Online Resource. This article has links to my weekly reviews of each U.S. state, territory, or the federal district as a resource for slots enthusiasts.
Practical Tip #5: Upon Arrival – Visit the Players Card Desk/Kiosk
Your first stop once arriving at a casino to play slots should be the players’ club desk or, as has become more prevalent of late, one of their kiosks. Several good reasons for doing so are:
- Collect any available free slot play
- Register for any available promotions including point multipliers
- Receive any available discount vouchers
- Play a free game to win any of the above
Gamblers are often a bit paranoid. For decades, an ongoing concern has been whether it’s a good idea to use the players card, which comes with membership to a casino’s loyalty program. It is an excellent idea to use that card when playing slots.
However, I cannot prove this to you as a fact. Because I or anyone else cannot prove it to you, not definitely, it will likely always remain an ongoing concern. But I can offer some observations as an attempt to convince you not to avoid the significant savings and substantial discounts provided when using a players’ club card.
For my best thoughts on players club cards, see my article 7 Advantages of Players Clubs for Playing Slots. There, you’ll learn the origins of loyalty programs within the airline industry. Further, it’ll detail what advantages you’ll receive from such programs.
Practical Tip #6: Upon Arrival – Pick a Money Management Strategy
When I’ve taught university courses, eventually my students will have questions about having a career after college. They are trying to come up with their plan. It may seem a bit harsh, but I tell them this: “I don’t care what your plan is. I care that you have a plan.”
When you arrive at a casino, decide upon a money management plan which you can implement. What is your strategy? What are your goals?
If you search for money management strategies online, you’ll find many suggestions. Pick one and stick with it for the length of your casino visit. Unfortunately, many of these suggestions aren’t money management strategies.
Instead, they are often about avoiding something with a known low return. For example, here’s one with which I agree absolutely: Avoid playing wide-area progressive slot machines. For why see my article Winning Strategy 2: Progressive Slot Machines.
I’ve written this slots money management article to, how shall I put it, teach you to fish once instead of forever catching fish for you.
For example, the Nevada state gaming commission has return statistics by region and slot machine denomination, including progressive and non-progressive slot machines. A popular wide-area progressive is Megabucks, which has genuinely dismay payouts. Year after year, it’s typically around 85%, while penny machines are 90%, and nickel machines are 95%.
But you’re a smart person. You already avoid wide-area progressives (like the plague) if you gamble in Nevada. Why? Because you’ve read, thought about, and implemented tip #4 above.
With this article, I assume you want a systematic approach to slots money management. I’ve assumed you want a high-level perspective of everything needed to manage your bankroll. I’ve further assumed you’re okay with my providing linked resources for any necessary details.
I cannot tell you everything about the slots money management strategies available online. But I can help you evaluate any you find by what makes them an approach versus ad hoc gambling advice. One example I’d found, supposedly a money management strategy, suggested playing video poker instead.
But perhaps it would help you if I offered keyword phrases to help you search online:
- Slot machine (or slots) money management
- Slot machine (or slots) bankroll management
- Winners Bank wallet
- Loss limits
- The Piles Method
- Play Through Once Method
Practical Tip #7: When Playing – Limit Losses with Loss Limits
Whatever slots money management strategies you discover online, if it truly is about money management rather than general gambling advice, it’ll always come down to these two fundamental principles:
- Limit Losses
- Preserve Gains
In this section, I’ll delve into systematically limiting bankroll losses. The next section will do the same for preserving gains or winnings earned during slots gameplay.
The easiest way, if perhaps not the most effective, to reduce the loss of a bankroll is to play slower. I don’t entirely agree with this suggestion. Yes, it does indeed limit the loss of a bankroll, but it is much like not going to a casino in the first place.
My adjustment to this “play slower” suggestion is always to avoid playing two or more slot machines at the same time. That method was a fine approach back in the decades before the casino operating system technology developments of 2012, when slots were almost entirely games of chance.
Now we know that we need to pay close attention to the performance of each slot machine we play, rather than just let it play. These days, it’s possible to pick out slots winning patterns, but only if you’re paying attention to what you and the slot machine are doing together. See my articles on Winning Slots Strategies.
In general, much of the work necessary for limiting your losses occurred while preparing for your casino trip. You went looking for, and hopefully found, your state gaming commission’s publicly reported casino-specific and slot machine denomination-specific return statistics.
But one method for limiting losses is, instead, to always use loss limits when actively playing an individual slot machine. Even casino-by-casino, denomination-by-denomination return statistics don’t identify the specific serial number and location of winning slot machines.
At best, as helpful as this truly is, you’ve only avoided non-winning slot machines. Besides using return statistics from the state, here’s my article on another way to avoid “bad” slot machines: Choosing Slot Machines.
Using loss limits means deciding how much you’re willing to lose on any individual slot machine. Whatever way you evaluate candidate slot machines, someone must play for you to determine if it is worth playing. Watching someone else play it runs the high risk of that person never leaving the machine if it’s worth playing.
If you decide to spend your bankroll to determine if it’s worth playing, don’t waste your entire bankroll doing so. Avoiding this potential catastrophe is, essentially, what having a loss limit means.
There are two approaches to implementing a loss limit. The first is, put a few bills into the machine equaling how much you’re willing to risk and spend no more than that to evaluate the performance of that slot machine. Maybe you’ll insert $20 or even $100.
Second, put in more than you’re willing to risk but limit how much you spend. In a practical sense, slots players are often carrying around a voucher with prior winnings, likely more than they are willing to risk on any one slot machine.
Don’t risk the whole amount by setting a loss limit. Let’s say your voucher or smallest bill was $100, but you only want to spend $20 on that machine.
Sounds simple enough, yes? But there’s a difficulty – small wins. Slot machine interfaces quickly show how much money or credits you have in the machine. But they don’t easily show how much you’ve spent during your playing session.
To know how much you’ve spent, you’ll need to keep track of it yourself. Counting credits is the most straightforward and practical way to keep track. Here’s how.
You’ve set a loss limit in dollars. For the slot machine you are playing, how much is that loss limit in credits? Examples include:
- On a penny machine, a $100 loss limit is 10,000 credits.
- On a nickel machine, a $100 loss limit is 2,000 credits.
- On a quarter machine, a $100 loss limit is 400 credits.
- On a 1-dollar machine, a $100 loss limit is 100 credits.
- On a 5-dollar machine, a $100 loss limit is 20 credits.
- On a 25-dollar machine, a $100 loss limit is 4 credits.
Once you know your chosen loss limit in credits, you’ll also need to know how many credits it takes to make a bet on your candidate slot machine. Now, and this is the tricky part for non-math slots players, divide the loss limit in credits by the credits per bet. That’s how many bets, how many pushes of the button, you get to reach your loss limit.
Practical Tip #8: When Playing – Preserve Gains Systematically
Revenue minus expenses equal profit. The previous section explained how to reduce gambling costs using loss limits. But that’s only half of our profit equation.
To take home money, we must make sure we don’t spend all our winnings. If you spend all your bankroll, revenue equals expenses. And profit is zero. If you take a bankroll to a casino and don’t spend any of it, if you don’t gamble at all, expenses are zero. And profit equals revenue.
However, this is gambling. When playing a slot machine, profit can exceed your bankroll. That’s what we all hope for, whether we spend our profit on that slot machine or another in a highly entertaining manner or take it home instead.
Preserving gains means leaving a slot machine with a profit. Whether you take it home or use it to fund more gambling entertainment is entirely up to you. Most people go to a casino for entertainment value, but not everyone. For details on this relevant topic, see my article Identifying Gambling Goals.
There are several ways to protect your winnings when playing a specific slot machine systematically. All these methods involve timing your cash outs. Setting a loss limit, as discussed in the last section, is also about timing.
Preserving gains, however, isn’t about losing money carefully. Instead, it’s about your actions immediately after a win, perhaps even a substantial win. Let’s discuss your possible options after winning money playing slots.
- Winning double or more of your entire original bankroll: GO HOME.
- Winnings equal to your entire original bankroll: Put ALL these winnings away and continue playing at the casino with the remainder of your original bankroll.
- Win between how much you put into that slot machine at the start of playing it and half your entire original bankroll: Put some percentage of those winnings away where you won’t spend it. I recommend 50%.
- Win less than half of what you inserted initially into that slot machine: This is a potentially winning slot machine. Continue playing until reaching your loss limit, then use these small winnings on other slot machines or not. It’s your call.
To keep these tips practical, I must point out two difficulties with suggestions #2 and #3. First, slot machines don’t allow you to cash out only part of the money inserted. How do you eject only a portion of it? You can’t.
Herein lies the charm of not using all your bankroll at once. With part of your bankroll inserted into that slot machine, you can cash out a voucher for the full balance and then enter money from your bankroll without ever leaving that winning slot machine.
The second issue is where to put away your winnings so you don’t or can’t spend it. One approach is to use the WinnersBank200 or Gamble Gram Box (commissions earned). These devices are lockable containers slightly smaller than a typical wallet, if somewhat thicker.
The WinnersBank200 allows players to push bills in through a slot while its key remains at home. However, it can only hold up to 30 bills, at most. There’s an active possibility jamming will occur well before inserting 30 bills. I’ll update this paragraph once I’ve thoroughly tested the device.
The Gamble Gram Box requires a key to insert or remove money. However, it’ll easily hold at least 50 bills yet still close and lock.
With good habits, neither of these lockable containers is particularly necessary. After only a few tries, I’ve successfully used two pockets for the same purposes and more. As I have needed to learn, a typical men’s jeans front pocket will hold $10,000 in $100s, that’s 100 bills of any denomination, without any of them peeking out.
Using two pockets means putting your bankroll, your spending money, into one pocket, which is in nearly constant use. Money both goes into and comes out of this pocket. The other pocket is for deposit only.
Again, with a little bit of habit-forming, you can train yourself to use your pockets in this way. Because it is a habit, try to always use the same pocket for deposit only. You’ll need to train yourself to take nothing out of it while you’re still at the casino.
I was surprised to find that it only took me about three tries before I never took anything out of that pocket until I got home. You can do the same, and never have to worry about losing a key to a lockable container.
Besides having more than twice the holding capacity, pockets are also a lot faster to work within a busy casino environment than struggling with lockable containers.
Practical Tip #9: When Playing – Pros and Cons of Emotional Control
I’ve read a lot of opinions about emotional control while gambling. Most writers advise slots players to tightly control their emotions when playing. I take the opposite approach but in moderation.
As I wrote about in my book, Learning to Win, for nearly a year, I was coldly analytical when playing slot machines. But it wasn’t until I decided to get passionate that I started to win.
Maybe loosening my emotions made me try harder to win, or perhaps it just helped me listen more closely to my instincts. Whatever the reason, the results were what mattered. Allowing myself to be passionate, but not out of control emotionally, helped me win a lot more at slots.
Whether you feel you need to control your emotions or not, I suggest being yourself. Why? Because I want you to enjoy yourself when playing slots, even if you enjoy yourself the most when you’re winning cold, hard cash.
Just don’t break the slot machine in your excitement, okay? I want to play it afterward, especially if you were winning!
Practical Tip #10: Debriefing – Get Accountability with a Team
To get good at slots money management, you need a team to hold you accountable. And maybe, at the same time, you’ll keep them accountable. When asked how well their slots play is going, too many people respond, “I’m breaking even.”
That’s code for, “I have no idea how I’m doing.” Silence in response means they know precisely how they’re doing, but they’re just not going to tell you.
Your team can easily be yourself and one other person. They don’t even have to go to the casino with you, although there are good reasons to take someone that has nothing to do with money management skills. For example, it’s for both your safety and enjoyment.
Frankly, you’ll get better at developing your slots money management skills if you are open and honest with someone, or something, about your gaming performance. It isn’t particularly easy, however, if you’re not used to doing so. But if you want to get good at money management, or even great at it, having a team is the easiest way to get there.
Your team needs to be someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing the results of your gambling. Perhaps it’s a spouse or significant other. If nothing else, maybe it’s just you logging that trip’s detailed gambling records. Again, see my slots-related article Keeping Gambling Records for Tax Preparation and More.
Practical Tip #11: Debriefing – Practice Improves Discipline
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well, you know what I mean. Winning money at slots takes work. How could it be any other way?
Much of this work is entirely about discipline. Building good habits of slots money management takes control, which itself takes practice.
I encourage you to practice developing your slots bankroll management skills. Why? Because this is indeed a skill, which means you’ll get better at it if you are diligent. You’ll always get better at this skill if you don’t stop trying to get better.
Lastly, I encourage you to forgive yourself if, or rather when, you make a mistake. Remember that nobody’s perfect – pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep learning. As Dave Ramsey has said, “Nobody is born knowing how to manage money.”
Summary of Money Management Tips
I’ve briefly reviewed eleven practical slots money management tips, including skills to engage when preparing beforehand, what to do immediately upon arrival at a casino, actions to take while play slots, and reviewing your casino trip after returning home.
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