How to Lose Less on Your Vegas Vacation


March 24, 2008   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

If you ain’t just a little scared when you enter a casino, you are either very rich or you haven’t studied the games enough. VP Pappy

Later this Spring my wife is off to Las Vegas. Her annual Vegas trip gives her some much needed and deserved R&R; we have two kids and her full time job is dealing with them!

While I love my wife, I don’t love that she comes home with nothing but the lint in her pockets. Sure, she has fun out there and clearly there is a cost to fun. However, is it impossible to come home with a little cheese left over? After all, I could use the winnings (or non-losings, if you will) as a reward for my hard work. I mean, this DLM thing isn’t a piece of cake – especially when I still have a normal job!

So to break this spell, I am coaching her on the games to stay away from, the games to increase the bets on, how to manage her money, etc. Trust me, she is never going to do all of these, but creating this list became fun so if she does a couple, I’m happy.

Here is what I came up with. If you have some extra tips, please add them in the comments.

General Tips

    • Slow it Down: If you have five or six hours of casino time ahead of you, go to a game that takes a while. Trust me, you are not in a race to blow your wad. Games like Blackjack are one-and-done; each hand, even at a full table, might take 2 minutes. On the other hand, a single thrower at the Craps table could be there for 10-15 minutes. Even if you only play the pass-line, the game is exciting and offers a way to slow down the pace of your losses. (More on individual games in the next section) 
  • Time: You will never see a clock in a casino and you will probably never know that the sun is setting or rising. Wear a watch or set a timer to alert you to the passing hours. At some point, your brain fatigues and so does your decision making ability. Set some limits and head to the pool. 
  • Drinks: Do something to ensure you aren’t drinking more than one drink per hour. If you want to get hammered, that’s fine, but do so in the bar and away from the in-bar video poker machines. Trust me, not following this point will lead to you waking up in the morning asking where your $500 went. Remember, the drinks are free for a reason. 
  • Cashing in: If your bankroll for the evening is $1,000, DO NOT get $1,000 in chips right when you get there – break it down. Keep 50% of your bankroll in cash and toss it into your purse or the front pocket of your pants (front pockets are tougher for pickpockets). Take the other 50% and get some chips and go play. 

The reason for this is two-fold: mentally, it’ll be easier for you to walk away with cash versus chips, and secondly, once you have all chips, it’s difficult to get your money back; dealers will not cash you out. To get cash back, you are forced to find the cage which entails walking by eighty other game tables, cheering crowds, waiting in line, etc. That’s a lot of temptation that you can avoid simply by retaining some cash.

  • ATM Card: Leave it in the room’s safe. Enough said. Don’t bring it down to the casino. 
  • Winnings: How many times have you heard someone say, ‘I was up $500 but I gave it back”. Well, use that 50% rule. When you win something, take half of it, stash it, and commit to leaving it alone until you get back to the hotel room. You still have your original bankroll and half of your winnings to play with. Why not plan on leaving with some money in your possession? 
  • Club Cards: Don’t laugh at the old ladies using these things, they are smarter than you. I went to Vegas three years ago and after 4 days, I was down $200. After at least 25 hours of gambling, I considered this a winning trip. Point being, I didn’t win a ton of money or lose a ton. However, I was flagged in some database and for the next year I was getting emails that contained crazy discounts: everything from free airfare to massively discounted rooms. Use the card, get discounts and comps. 
  • Do more: Seriously, do more than just gamble. Here is a list of 10 cool things to do in Las Vegas. Don’t like those, here are 10 more ideas. Should I continue? 
  • Help: Don’t gamble with your mortgage payment or your family’s food money. Gambling is entertainment, just like the movies; it’s not an income source. If you have a problem, get some help. Please.
  • Games

Here are my opinions on some of the more popular games in Vegas. I am not making any promises, heck, you will probably still lose it all. However, the lesson I want to get across is this: Learn the game, learn the odds. Would you invest in a company without knowing how they operated? NO. Would you take a job without knowing anything about the company? NO. Well, then why gamble without knowing the games and knowing how to win?

  • Slots: I have to admit, for as lame as these things are, the newer slot machines with interactive screens and bonus rounds are pretty fun. Having said that, you control nothing. All of the reel stops are set by the software on the machine, therefore, your winning was the result of the software and so were all of the “I almost won” moments. The software is set to keep you on the edge of your seat so when you get 2 matching symbols when you need 3, know that the machine is trying to keep you close, you didn’t almost win – there is no almost.

One point that is worth discussing is the betting lines. When you walk up to a $0.25 machine, your $0.25 is buying you the lowest payout. In order to get the max payout (you know, the huge number in blinking lights) you have to bet ‘max lines’. On some machines it’s 10 lines, on some it’s 20. If you go with 10 lines, your single pull will cost you 10 x $0.25 or $2.50 per spin. That’s slightly more than the quarter you planned to spend isn’t it?
Odds: Plan to lose unless you sat at the right time. General payouts are anywhere from 80%-98% depending on the casino.

  • Roulette: This is my wife’s favorite game (which, in my opinion, is why she always loses). It’s the easiest game to learn, I mean you are simply picking the number that you feel the little ball will land on. There are 38 numbers to choose from so stare at the board and let the little voice in your head work its magic.
    Odds: The house has a 5.x% advantage over the player. 
  • Blackjack: Yes, there is skill to blackjack. While you have no control over the cards you, the dealer or the other players receive, you have a helluva lot of control over what you do with them. I am not going to give a full tutorial here but this is definitely the game that I have personally had the most success with. Here is a good place to read up on Blackjack strategy.
    Odds: This somewhat depends on the number of decks and the table rules, but all-in-all, the casino will have an .4-.6% advantage over the player in Blackjack. This is a pretty slim advantage. 
  • Let-it-Ride: Think of Jacks or Better, 5-Card Stud but 3 cards are community and they are flipped one at a time. Instead of betting with each flip, the flips give you a chance to reduce your existing bet or choose to let it ride. It is fun, it takes no skill, and at a slow table, the games go quickly so bet small until the table fills up. For more detail than you need, here is a good resource.
    Odds: The house has a 3.5% advantage over the player.

So the clear lesson is to choose the game with the lowest house advantage. If you hate blackjack, which has one of the lowest house advantages, move on and find something else. Once you have chosen the game you think you’ll like, study it. My hope is that you’d do this before perusing the airport’s book store because at that point, it’s too late. There are tons of books that you can read ahead of time. Then, practice with a buddy or by playing on a free gaming site.

Good Luck!

By the way – do not take pictures inside casinos. They will ask you to leave.

– Jay

Written on 3/24/2008 by me, Jay White, the founder of Dumb Little Man and an all around average guy.  

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