Money management in gambling refers to setting win goals and loss limits during your playing sessions. For example, a slots player might decide on a money management scheme that looks something like this:
- The player has a $100 bankroll, and she decides to play five sessions with a mini-bankroll during each session of $20.
- Her goal is to win at least $4 per session. If at any point during the session she has $24 in credits on the game, she quits and pockets her money.
- Her loss limit is also $4 per session. If at any point during the session she has $16 in credits or less, she quits and pockets how much money she has left.
This is the kind of money management system that authors like John Patrick espouse as a way to “grind out small wins”. The reality is that this system has nothing to do with your chances of winning or losing.
How much can you expect to lose?
Any time you gamble in a casino, you can calculate your chances of winning or losing with ease. You multiply the total amount of money you put into action by the house edge, and that’s the amount you can expect to lose. The formula is straightforward enough: amount wagered X number of wagers X house edge.
For example, if you’re playing a dollar slot machine for $1 per spin, and you make 600 spins in an hour, then you’ve put $600 into action. If the slot machine gives the casino a 5% edge (which wouldn’t be unusual) you could expect to lose a total of $3. If you could make a single bet of $600 on that same machine, you’d still expect, mathematically, to lose $3.
Quitting while you’re ahead would be a winning strategy, but only if you never played again. Anyone who plays long enough will fall victim to the house edge.
What is variance and how does money management affect that?
On the other hand, money management strategies can affect your variance. Some money management systems advise raising the size of your bets when you’re losing (or winning). This is supposed to give you an edge over the casino, but the reality of the situation is that a negative expectation game is a negative expectation game. If you play long enough, you’ll lose all your money.
Different gamblers have different dispositions. You might be a recreational gambler who just enjoys playing for the fun of it. Your best bet is to choose a wager size that you’re comfortable with, stick with that, and accept your losses. On the other hand, you might be a gambler who wants to “win big or go home”. In that case, if you’re winning, you might want to raise the size of your bets in order to take a shot at the bigger win. Your chances of losing everything increases, but so do your chances of winning a large amount.
What you need to remember is that your chances of losing are always better than your chances of winning, no matter how you size your bets.
An example of a money management system
The Martingale System is the classic example of a money management system. It doesn’t usually apply to slot machine gambling, because most slots have strict limits to how much your maximum wager is. It’s still illustrative of how a money management system works.
Here’s how the Martingale works. You start with a single unit, and you place an even money bet. If you win, you pocket your winnings. If you lose, you double the size of your next bet. Then if you win this next bet, you’ve recouped your loss from the first bet, and you’re ahead one unit.
The problem with the Martingale is that eventually you’re risking a large amount of money in the hopes of getting ahead by a single unit. A typical Martingale progression would look like this: $1 – $2 – $4 – $8 – $16 – $32 – $64. After 7 bets, you have to wager $128, and if you win, you’re still only ahead by a single dollar.
The other problem is that eventually you’ll hit a bet size that your bankroll won’t be able to cover. Even if you have an infinite bankroll, the casino has limits to how much you’re able to bet at one time. The Martingale guarantees lots of small wins and occasional large losses. At the end of the day, it does nothing to help you win more in the long run.
The best money management advice you can get is to play within your means. Don’t risk money you can’t afford to lose. Treat gambling as a form of entertainment, and remember that the casino has the edge, no matter how you size your bets.