What Does “Responsible Gambling” Mean?

Roulette Wheel, Three Casino Dice, Two of Diamonds Poker Card
Should teenagers gamble? Should senior citizens? What about someone with an income beneath the poverty line? By definition, teenagers shouldn’t gamble. They don’t have the mental faculties or maturity necessary to gamble responsibly.

Some senior citizens shouldn’t gamble, but most find a way regardless. It really depends on their mental and emotional wellbeing.

Most people really ought to consider their individual circumstances and answer this question for themselves, but I do have some advice and suggestions about what to think about when making that decision. Not everyone should gamble, but everyone who does should gamble responsibly.

This post compares and contrasts several types of responsible and irresponsible gambling behaviors. The goal is to provide you with the proper tools to judge how well your gambling behavior measures up.

If you find yourself struggling to take a break from gambling, consider reaching out to gambling addiction resources. It’s okay to ask for help.

Responsible Gamblers Only Gamble With Money They Can Afford to Lose

I’ll propose that the most important criterion for judging responsible gambling concerns money. If you can’t afford to lose it, you shouldn’t bet it.

What does this mean in real life? What behaviors exemplify gambling with money you can afford to lose versus gambling with money you need for something else?

An example of a responsible gambler might look like this:

Joe saves 10% of his pay every week through the end of the year to build a bankroll. Since he earns $30,000 a year, he has a bankroll of $3000 to start his poker career with.

He uses that money to play poker, and he sets aside any money he wins from playing poker to increase the size of his bankroll. After another year, he saved $3000 more from his job, AND he’s won another $6000 playing cards.

He now has a bankroll of $12,000, which means he can play poker for higher stakes than he used to. This increases his earn rate, too. Eventually, Joe earns $30,000 a year from his poker career, and his bankroll grows to $50,000. He quits his job to play poker professionally.

This not only exemplifies responsible gambling, it demonstrates the kind of time and discipline required to gamble as an advantage gambler.

But Joe’s brother, Bobby, makes the same amount of money, but instead of waiting to build his bankroll, he starts playing blackjack (a negative expectation game) with $120 per week. At the end of the year, he tallies up his losses to find that he’s down $120 for the year.

Casino Blackjack Table, Money Coming Out of Wallet

Bobby gambles less responsibly than his brother Joe, but as long as the bills get paid, you can’t really fault him or claim a lack of responsibility on his part.

Sure, he loses money, but his bills get paid. He handles his and his family’s needs in a timely manner.

Finally, it might help to look at the youngest brother, Billy. He gambles on slot machines once a month, but the amount he gambles changes based on his mood and how much he drinks.

Some weeks, he wins a little money, but he always loses those winnings and then some. He even once hit a $1000 jackpot, but only after losing $2000 total in the six months prior to that win.

And he pays his rent late almost every month. He could live in a nicer apartment if he’d bite the bullet long enough to start paying his rent on time. Eventually, he loses so much money that he has to take in a roommate.

Those three examples show a descending order of responsibility. Joe demonstrates the most responsible behavior, although Bobby doesn’t behave terribly. Billy borders on irresponsible, but some gamblers demonstrate even worse behavior.

How Do You Define Problem Gambling and How Does It Relate to Responsible Gambling?

Responsible gamblers have fun and recognize gambling as an entertainment expense. They recognize the risks involved. They also understand that most gamblers lose most of the time, regardless of whether they buy lottery tickets, playing slot machines, or betting on boxing matches.

Responsible gamblers also take pains to protect themselves and their families from the ravages from problem gambling.

Problem gamblers THINK about gambling differently from their responsible cousins. They usually think that if they play long enough, they will surely hit a jackpot. Problem gamblers hide their gambling from their friends and relatives, and they jeopardize relationships without much thought.

They also let their gambling activities start to take a toll on their health, both physically and financially.

Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of thinking gambling will make you money. Bingo halls, bookmakers, casinos, the lottery, and poker rooms build their businesses on winning more money in the long run than they pay out.

Over any significant length of time, the vast majority of gamblers lose more money than they win. Sure, a tiny percentage of gamblers win big money. But they can do that because of all the other gamblers who lose money.

The idea that you will eventually win a big jackpot and catch up on all your previous losses poisons your mind and devastates your financial health. With that being said, remember to always manage your bankroll properly.

Responsible Gamblers Follow Some Simple, Common Sense Rules

Don’t conclude from this that I oppose gambling. I support gambling, but I only support responsible gambling. And as luck would have it, responsible gamblers have several behaviors in common.

#1 – Responsible Gamblers Never Gamble Money They Can’t Afford to Lose

You might find this glaringly obvious, but problem gamblers never seem to prevent themselves from betting money they need for something else.

What does it mean to use money you can afford to lose? If I found burning money satisfying and entertaining, could I afford to burn that amount of money for sheer entertainment purposes?

Hand Reaching Into Empty Jean Pockets

No matter how you gamble, in the long run, you’ll lose more money than you win. The companies taking or facilitating your bets set the system up that way.

For a gambler to win $1000 on a slot machine, other gamblers need to lose $1100 on that slot machine. For a poker player to win $1000 at poker, the other players must lose that money, along with an additional amount that the house takes from each pot, the rake. (Most cardrooms take 5% of every pot to pay for hosting the table. This replaces the house edge in real money casino gambling.)

For a sports bettor to win $1000 on a sports bet, someone somewhere must be losing $1100 to pay for it. Most gamblers, because of the nature of the business, fall on the losing side of that equation.

#2 – Responsible Gamblers Don’t Chase Losses

What do I mean by “chase losses?”

You chase losses when you keep gambling after losing. You play with the intention of winning back what you’ve lost. Many gamblers fall for something called the gambler’s fallacy—the belief that eventually, the luck must even out over time. If you’ve lost several times in a row, winning must become more likely, right? Wrong.

The odds don’t change based on previous events. If the ball lands on red in roulette 99 times in a row, the probability that it will land on red the 100th time remains 47.37%. Every spin of the roulette wheel happens independently of the previous spins.

#3 – Responsible Gamblers Set Gambling Loss Limits and Time Limits

Casinos do their best to make this a chore. The lack of clocks in a casino makes it hard to know how long you’ve been gambling. Without predefined limits, you’ll lose more money than you can afford to even than you expect.

Responsible gamblers also avoid gambling in a depressed or angry state of mind.

Responsible gamblers set a goal of making intelligent, prudent decisions. Doing that requires a clear head and a reasonable state of mind. They also avoid alcohol while playing because overconsumption of alcohol can lead to bad decisions.

Finally, a responsible gambler understands the importance of balancing gambling with other activities. They eat out at restaurants, see shows, and have an entire life outside of gambling. They pursue other hobbies besides just gambling.


I hope to encourage my readers to gamble responsibly. Knowing what responsible gambling looks like might pose a conundrum to some folks, which is why I’ve listed so many examples of good and bad gambling behavior.

Don’t let anyone tell you whether or not you should gamble. That decision belongs to you. But do gamble as responsibly as you can.