How Much is Too Much Gambling? A Guide to Help You Decide

“Drink responsibly”. “Only bet what you can afford to lose.” “Eat sensibly to lose weight.”

Gamble responsibly
No matter how many times we’re told to “stop gambling” – few of us listen just because someone said we should (Image source: Darren McCarra)

We are bombarded with messages daily that sometimes seem to be oxymoronic; “have fun, but not too much”…”let your hair down, but don’t let it get tangled in anything”…or “be wild and crazy, except when it’s time to pay the bills and feed the baby.” Okay, not literally, but you know what we mean; we’re supposed to be hip, carefree and suave, until it comes time to pay the piper, at which time we’re told to change hats and become a sober and mature adult.

Don't worry, be happy
Setting your own gambling parameters in advance will ensure a happier experience, no matter if you win or lose

And whether or not we want to admit it, we’re all influenced by these messages; messages given us by media campaigns, industry advertising tag lines, and our families and culture at large. In America, this is a particularly schizophrenic dialogue, where Puritanism and the Wild West have always butted heads, leaving our free-wheeling aspects often at odds with our more responsible and socially correct sides.

Don’t dig your own grave when gambling by not making clear-cut decisions every step of the way

But let’s get real for a moment, shall we? Very few of us, in the middle of guzzling booze, eating too much dessert, or gambling online or on land, have our “STOP” signs ready at a moment’s notice; if we did, addiction and out-of-control behaviors wouldn’t plague modern society the way it does. And just as not everyone with a drinking problem is necessarily a raging alcoholic or everyone with an eating disorder is de facto very fat or very thin, so too, not everyone who’s experienced making poor decisions when gambling is an automatic gambling addict.

Let’s face it: something like gambling – capable of producing huge adrenalin highs and equally devastating depressive lows – is not always an easy behavior to manage with total equanimity. Even with the best of intentions, we sometimes get caught up in the excitement of winning or the pursuit of losses.

How can we better ensure we follow our genuine intentions when gambling? Not the vague and rather insipid commands of anti-gambling jargon; but rather our own actual comfort levels, which everyone must decide for themselves? Allow us to offer you a few tips we have ourselves learned the hard way, in the hopes that they will ultimately make your time gambling more fun, less stressful and generally more positive.

1   Back Up Your Gambling Intentions with Your Actions Before You Go

It’s all well and good to say you’re only going to play till you lose x amount of cash, or that you’ll walk away if you hit 3x your starting bankroll. Somehow when you’re actually in play, all those good intentions can go right out the window. So create parameters and prompts before you start gambling to help you escape when you should. For land casinos, take the amount of cash you’re comfortable losing, and leave all credit and debit cards at home. Don’t establish lines of credit with casinos, no matter how tempting it may be. If you’re playing online, set up your account so no instant transfers are possible and never keep more in your online account than you could live without.

2   Tune in to Your Own Feelings Before They Crash on You

If you’re honest with yourself and you’ve gambled more than once or twice, you know when you’ve passed your own comfort zones, whether winning or losing. We all can feel when we’re tumbling into stupidity or gambling off wins like we’re made of money. Learn to listen to – not ignore – these signals that it’s time to go. You can even put a rubber band around your wrist and ping yourself with it when you feel either end of the emotional spectrum starting to overtake you as a reminder to get out of your seat and go home.

3   Don’t Get Into Situations You Can’t Get Out Of

Getting drunk while gambling, particularly at a land casino, puts you in an extremely precarious position, regardless of whether you are winning or losing. If you’ve had too much and know you have to stick around before you can possibly drive home, you open the door to dwindling back wins or accelerating losses (either of which could drive you to drink more). We’re not saying you can’t have a glass of wine or a cocktail, but try to keep it to that, so you always have the option of leaving at the most optimal point.

4   Practice Handling Loss with Comfort

Losing with grace
Getting comfortable with the feelings that accompany loss can help keep a small loss from becoming a much bigger one (Image source: alphacrowdalbum)

This is a big one. The reason most gamblers keep chasing losses (and usually turn them into greater losses) is because any loss at all makes them feel like a failure. Obviously, this is as unrealistic a vision for gambling as thinking it will never rain is for someone with no umbrella. Your emotional umbrella should keep you from getting soaked at the casino; before you leave or begin to play online; envision yourself losing a little, and being okay with it. Once you have mastered this behavior, you are 90 percent of the way to being an equilibrium gambler.

5   Think About What Your Wins Will Cover

Just as much as delusional behavior when we lose a little, many of us start thinking we are invincible when we win a bit as well. So before you lose a win back, step away from the machines or tables and visualize what your new win will actually pay for. Maybe it’s just a nice lunch for a few days at work. Or maybe it’s way more: paying off a credit card, buying a wonderful gift for your spouse or kids, or if you’ve really hit the jackpot, a fantasy vacation or even a dream home or car. Be okay with the win, rather than feeling compelled to try for more.

Take these steps to heart, and we can almost promise you a more positive long-term relationship with gambling.

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