This article aims to offer some advice - based on my own experiences - to gamblers who are aware that they have a tendency towards over-stretching themselves, perhaps even worried about it, but still want to be able to gamble.
I don't think I have ever written an article where I can honestly say that if you read it to the end it will save you money - potentially a lot of money! However I am pretty confident that I can say that with this one. You see, I've always been a compulsive person and I've been gambling online for over 10 years. I have tried pretty much every method of control going and anyone in a similar boat to me should find at least one good take-away below.
In fact, if you can't, then it's my blunt opinion that you should get some help to quit
gambling altogether because I don't think there is anything else that will stop you from falling over the cliff one day.
I have come to realise over the past few years that I have borderline addictive tendencies. I've never been particularly drawn to alcohol and I have never indulged in hard drugs but when it comes down to smoking, chocolate or gambling, my will is weak!
Thankfully, due to a health scare that turned out to be a false alarm (I can be a bit of a hypochondriac too!
), I kicked smoking about 3 years ago and haven't even held one since. After 25 years of a passionate love affair with nicotine, I even surprised myself: I put a step machine by my desk and did 100 steps every time I wanted a cigarette and it worked. Still love the smell though!
Chocolate I have always found easier to control but I still can't buy a family bag of maltesers to last the week. Oh no: one afternoon and the bag is empty and my stomach full. But as luck(!) would have it, I developed a mild hiatus hernia which screams at me if I over-indulge hence my chocolate problem is now under control!
When it comes to gambling though, things weren't so easy: there were no medical issues rushing to help me out with this one! Plus I have history: I grew up with fruit machines which took every last penny I owned through my late teens and early twenties, back when the only control I had was an empty wallet or the 11pm call for "last orders".
Nowadays, I still love to play slots and casino games and I still have a desire to gamble regularly. I have more disposable income but it's not limitless. I have more time: that's a problem. But most importantly I know that I have a tendency to be compulsive. Combine these three and it's easy to over-step the mark and start chasing your losses and that is where the problems start.
GAMBLING: MY METHOD FOR SELF-CONTROL
I don't like to think of how much I have lost since I started playing online in 2004 but one thing I have noticed is, that as time has gone on, my bet size has increased. Two reasons for this: firstly I am now comfortbaly in middle-gae and over time I have more of what I want from life. Thus I have more disposable income than I did back then so I guess, sub-consciously, money has less meaning to me now. Secondly, when you start betting bigger, it's hard to go back and some time ago, I realised that this was the crucial issue I had to deal with if I wanted to continue playing.
The answer on the surface seems actually relatively simple: step away. If I am playing for a prolonged period, my bets start to creep up. If I am winning, it's because I feel lucky and want to seize the perceived opportunity (this is where you forget the logic about every hand or spin being random and independent of the last!). If I am losing it's because I see the chance to get my losses back with one decent win.
This is probably the point where I should state that I have a strategy for playing slots and video poker: my two favourite games. It's not to win: it's to manage my enjoyment. I go 50 spins/hands and my lowest acceptable bet (let's say £1 a play) and if I don't hit a feature or a big win, I up the bet for 50 spins to say £1.50 and so on. When I get the feature or big win I am after, I usually either sink back down and start over of if I feel I am on a run, do a few spins at a totally illogical, yet bigger, bet size. Remember: logic no longer counts!
Slots players should also familarise themselves with the concept of variance before they play too - it has a huge impact on your bankroll and your bet size!
If you are familiar with the Martingale strategy then you will understand not only where I am coming from but also where the potential pitfall is. If you are losing and gradually increasing your bets to recover, then most of the time you will succeeed in at least reducing your losses but only if
you know when to walk away and that is hard: every now and again you will inevitably go past your limit and then you are asking for trouble.
So before I start playing I decide where my cut-off point is. Let's say I have an absolute maximum of £1,000 at my disposal, I would set my walk-away limit at £500. If I get to £500 down and I feel my bets are starting to get a little high for own comfort, I walk away for maybe an hour, a morning, a day: any period where I can go and do something else that takes my mind off it. This works because I know I still have some money for another session later.
When I return I start on my lowest bets again: walking away makes it far easier to regard each session as a new one. I don't even think about the last session or chasing those losses. It's gone: history. I start afresh.
TIGHTENING THE CONTROLS
Time manangement might be my best friend but it's not my only
friend. Obviously as you can see from the above, it is coupled tightly with budget management: going in to any session with a firm idea of your maximum loss is never a bad idea even if you don't trust yourself to stick to it. Plus there are "tools" that you can use.
I've always found self-exclusion doesn't work simply because there are too many casinos, sportsbooks and other gambling websites online so you simply end up paying elsewhere. Historically, my favourite casinos have been those who respond positively to individual player needs: those who will reduce reverse times, allow you to set deposit limits, pay you very fast when you win and just generally treat you properly. Over the years I have self-excluded from some of my favourites because of bad sessions and ended up regretted it as I simply ended up playing at casinos that weren't as customer-friendly.
That is why deposit limits are a better option but maybe my thinking here isn't quite what you'd expect. You see, like self-exclusion, setting a deposit limit can end up simply driving you to an operator that isn't as good and potentially even more dangerous for the borderline compulsive player. So setting a deposit limit that equates to how much you "expect" to lose is not a good idea (yes I realise no-one wants to lose but if you go in with your eyes open you will benefit from it!
What I do is I set a deposit limit that equates to just below the maximum loss I could take without falling over the cliff. Before I go on, I should point out that this is dangerous ground: until you have gambled to a point at which you have had to make cut-backs, it may be quite hard to know wher ethis point is, so here is how I calculate that:
Let's say I have £2,000 in my bank account and I know I need £800 a month for bills. I know that if I spend £1,200 on gambling it would hurt - and things may be very tight for a while - but it's doable in a worst-case scenario. What I don't want to do is hit the inevitable bad streak and blow that £1,200 in the first few days of the month. So I set £1,20 up as my monthly loss limit. But I don't stop there:
Most reputable operators will let you set daily, weekly and monthly limits and if they don't then I strongly suggest you find one that does: there are plenty of casinos
and no excuse. Thus, I would couple this £1,200 monthly deposit limit with a daily limit of £100. That way, I know that allowing for occasional cashouts (I'll come to that control in a moment!), I can have a session pretty much any day I want
if the urge takes me. This is one of the problems that bordeline compulsive gamblers face: the "urge". You need to control the urge! That's what this does successfully for me.
I just mentioned cashouts and this presents the gambler with one of the biggest problems, especially on casino games: knowing when to cash out! The solution is to set a target before each session based on time and budget. In my example above with a daily starting balance of £100 and 2 hours to kill, you might decide that you want to aim big at £500. If time is more limited then maybe set it to £200. Either way, know the target before you start and start betting at a suitably modest bet size. You may not stick to it but at least you start with a focus and over time, you will learn to fine-tune this successfully.
The cashout itself isn't just a marker for limiting your session: it is also a marker for managing your budget throughout the month. It will take between 1 and 5 days normally to get this money through to our payment provider and while you might end up spending it, you are ensuring that you can maintain the urge to gamble throughout the month without over-stretching.
Any gambler who expects to win long-term is deluded: if you think this way then no-one can help you. Of course, you could get lucky with a big win but the long-term reality for 99% of us is that we will lose and we should realise that we are simply paying to be entertained.
I just want to sum up the main points. As long as you know your budget, know when to walk away, know when to cash out and know when you are starting to bet beyond your means, you will get more enjoyment from gambling in my opinion. 2 minutes of setting these limits and targets before any session will focus you and hopefully help you stay on the straight and narrow. But more than anything, the one thing that really works for me, really focuses me and stops me getting out of control is taking a break regularly. If you do one thing, do that! And set a deposit limit ;) Good luck!