How Do You Know When to Quit Gambling?

Man Holding Hand Palm Out and a Casino Background

I was asked to write a post answering the following question:

How do you know when to quit gambling?

This could mean one of two things, really.

It could mean how do you know when to end a specific gambling session.

Or, it could mean that you think you might have a gambling problem and need to quit for good.

I’ll try to answer both questions in this post.

Money Management Techniques

One of the most popular ways to try to beat the house edge in casino games is by setting win goals and stop-loss limits. These kinds of strategies are called “money management techniques.”

John Patrick is a gambling writer who’s a big proponent of money management techniques. Frank Scoblete mentions them repeatedly, too.

Here’s how these money management techniques work:

First, you need to establish “bankrolls.” The simplest definition of a casino bankroll is the amount of money you’ve set aside to gamble with.

Some money management gamblers like to divide their bankrolls into smaller bankrolls, but doing so has no effect on the math behind winning.

Here’s an example of how that might work:

You’re planning a trip to the casino that’s going to last for five days, and you’ve saved $1000 to take with you to gamble with.

A money management guy would tell you to divide that $1000 bankroll into five single-day bankrolls of $200 each.

And if you wanted to play twice a day, maybe once in the morning and once in the evening, you’d divided those bankrolls into two separate piles of money with $100 in each.

These are called “session bankrolls.”

They’re really just entirely arbitrary ways of budgeting your money, and they do nothing to improve your odds against the casino.

But there’s more to money management than just budgeting your gambling bankroll.

Win Goals and Stop Loss Limits Explained

A win goal is an amount of money that you’re hoping to win in a gambling session. When you’ve achieved your win goal, you end that session. It’s an arbitrary amount that you get to choose. Most money management guys like to set a win goal using a percentage of your session bankroll.

Here’s an example:

You have a $100 bankroll for a blackjack session, and you set a win goal of $40 – 40% of your bankroll.

You play for $5 per hand.

At any point, when that stack of chips in front of you hits $140, you quit and go find something else to do with your time.

Stacks of Red Casino Chips

Now that you understand bankrolls and win goals, you have 2/3 of the money management equation.

The last piece of the puzzle is the stop-loss limit.

This is the opposite of the win goal. It’s an amount that, once you’ve lost it, signals that it’s time to quit.

If you use $40 again with your $100 session bankroll, you will quit when your stack gets down to $60.

You’ll play until you’ve either won $40 total or lost $40 total, then you’ll quit.

How to Set Appropriately Sized Win Goals and Stop Loss Limits

You’ll need to do some self-analysis and use some judgment when setting up your win goals and loss limits. Mostly it depends on what sounds like fun to you. I’ll explain my approach to various games below, although they’re not, strictly speaking, what most money management “experts” suggest.

When I play roulette, I like to get big wins rather than small wins. (I used to do the opposite.)

My goal is to play for 38 spins – no more and no less.

And, on every spin, my plan is to bet on a single number. If I win one of those bets, I get 35 to 1 on my money.

Sometimes I’ll hit a single number multiple times during a 38 spin session.

Let’s say you’re playing at the WinStar Casino in Oklahoma. The minimum bet on the roulette table is $5, but I also have to pay a 50 cent fee on every bet. They call it an ante, but you can’t win it, so it’s not really a bet. It’s just a fee.

I know precisely what bankroll I need, now – 38 spins at $5.50 per spin, or $209.

I take two approaches to this strategy.

Sometimes I’ll quit as soon as I hit a win. If they spin the wheel 10 times before I hit my win, then I’ve lost $55, but I’ve won $175 on my winning spin, for a profit of $120.

Other times my goal is to hit a single number win twice during the session. This happens less often, but when it does, I see a bigger profit. Let’s say I hit twice after 20 spins. I’ve lost $110, but I’ve won $350, so I have a $240 profit.

With either of these approaches, the most I can possibly lose is $209 – that’s the amount I’ve set aside to play roulette with.

Another Example of Money Management in Action

Even though I advise people all the time to avoid the slot machines, I do play slots sometimes myself. I have to. After all, I write about them, so I need personal experience to share.

The fun of slots is playing for a big jackpot. My win goal at a slot machine is simply to win the jackpot during the session. Once I’ve hit the jackpot, I quit – I don’t care how big or how small my profit is at that point.

The average jackpot on a slot machine game is usually about 1000 coins.

Here’s my approach to playing such a game:

I set aside enough money to play 1000 spins on that game. Then I play until I hit the jackpot or lose all my money.

If I’m playing on a quarter machine where I’m expected to bet three coins per spin, I’m looking at a session bankroll of $750.

I play until I hit the jackpot or until the $750 is gone.

The Thing to Remember About Money Management Techniques

The most important thing to remember about money management techniques is that they don’t give you any kind of mathematical edge. They’re just ways of budgeting your money. You still shouldn’t gamble with money you can’t afford to lose.

The other important thing to remember about money management techniques is that all your decisions are entirely arbitrary. There’s no mathematical advantage to gambling until you’ve won or lost 40% of your bankroll compared to 20% of your bankroll.

You get to decide, and whichever choice you make should be informed by how much fun it sounds like it will be.

What About When You Should Quit as an Advantage Gambler

What if, though, you’re gambling with a mathematical edge?

How do you know when to quit then?

There’s no magical win or loss number to signal that it’s time to quit. In fact, if you’re gambling with an edge, the longer you play, the more money you make.

Your earnings as an advantage gambler come from the amount you’re wagering versus the edge you have. If you’re playing blackjack for $5 per hand and getting 150 hands per hour, that’s $750 per hour in action. If your edge is 1%, you’ll eventually average $7.50 per hour in winnings.

Man Playing on a Slot Machine

The longer you play, the more money you’ll earn.

So, when do you quit?

Obviously, you’ll quit playing the instant you think the casino might be watching you. Getting backed off is no fun, even though it is a badge of honor for many blackjack players.

You’ll also quit playing when you get tired. If you’re tired, you’ll start making mistakes. The more mistakes you make, the less likely it is that you’ll profit.

Also, if the game conditions change so that they’re no longer favorable to you, it’s time to move on. I was counting cards in a casino once where they started shuffling the deck after every hand. There was no point in continuing to play at that point, so I called it a day.

When You Should Quit Gambling if You Think You Have a Gambling Problem

The short answer to this question is “immediately.”

If you think you have a gambling problem, you probably have a gambling addiction.

Some people think that because you’re not ingesting a substance, you can’t really become addicted to gambling.

Such people should read some of the literature on the subject. You get the same dopamine response from gambling that you get from drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

You can ruin your life by gambling compulsively just as quickly as you can by drinking too much or taking too many drugs.

You have multiple options when it comes to getting support in your efforts to quit. Gamblers Anonymous is easy to find, but it’s not your only option. Fire up your search engine and get help if you think you have a gambling problem.

Conclusion

How do you know when to quit gambling?

It’s mostly an arbitrary choice. You can’t beat the odds by quitting at specific points, but you can use money management techniques to better handle your gambling budget.

Just try to be sensible about it.

And if you think you have a compulsive gambling problem, quit immediately.