Safer gambling – a comprehensive guide for poker players

Play Safer content guides poker players towards making better decisions off the table
Posted on: January 26, 2023 22:06 PST

We’re not anti-gambling at PokerOrg – far from it. We champion controlled, responsible, well-regulated gambling. Done right, gambling can be a great source of entertainment for responsible adults.

The majority of poker players who gamble do so responsibly, but there is a vulnerable minority for whom the behavior can easily become an issue. This content is here to highlight the warning signs to watch for – for you and for those around you – and to point you towards help if you need it.

Expecting to lose is key to safer gambling

When it comes to casino games, you’re not going to win.

This pessimistic prognostication is one of the simplest ways to keep a proper perspective on gambling. You don’t have to be a math wizard to understand how casinos make money, but even a degree in statistics isn’t always enough to keep expectations from becoming misaligned with reality.

The fact of the matter is that you simply cannot beat the casino. Even the unluckiest gambler has the same odds of hitting the buffalo slots jackpot as anyone else, but the casino is the only winner in the long term. There is no amount of luck that can overcome the mathematical edge baked into their games. For that matter, “luck” is nothing more than a manifestation of statistical variance. People scratch winning lottery tickets every day, but nobody’s ever going to bankrupt the Mega Millions.

As a poker player, you probably have a better understanding of this dynamic than most gamblers. You likely know the mathematical truth that playing against the casino is inherently a losing proposition. That’s why you prefer to spend your time playing against other humans at the poker table. Maybe your aces will hold or maybe the villain will run down their flush, but at least it’s a fair fight. Heck, you might even have an edge. To a smaller degree, this holds for sports betting, too. It’s possible to have an edge here, where information and data are everything.

But poker players aren’t immune to losing too much money, or even their whole roll, in the pits or in the sportsbook. It’s happened to some of the best players in the world. And online casinos and sportsbooks have made it infinitely easier to gamble whenever and wherever you want. 

We champion regulated safer gambling as a form of entertainment

Don’t gamble what you can’t afford to lose

That phrase is written and repeated often enough that it’s becoming hollow, but it’s important to revisit those words in the context of the previous point. The expectation of losing should help frame your decisions about how much money you’re even willing to put on the line in the first place.

It can be useful to think of the money you have in play as money you’ve already spent. That’s the natural mindset of a player who expects to lose. You’re not at a casino looking for an investment, after all. You’ve already bought your chips, and if you happen to have some of them left to turn back into money at the end of the day… well, that’s just fantastic.

In that context, it’s important to mindfully consider how much you’re willing to spend gambling. Given the presumption of losing, do you really want to spend $100 on a hand of blackjack? It’s certainly possible you can do so without causing harm to your finances or your relationships. What about $500 per hand? What about $1,000? Everyone has a safe limit. 

It doesn’t have anything to do with courage either. There’s nothing courageous or impressive about putting a rent payment on red. And as for the thrill of gambling lots of money? That’s an awfully dangerous thrill. The dopamine reward diminishes over time just like it does with any good drug, demanding an increasing dose of cash to bring about the same emotional effects. That’s called an addiction.

You’re a smart person, of course, and you know all of this to be objectively true. But this form of slippage is still the most common way a gambler (or a drinker or a drug user) ends up turning a recreational activity into something that causes tangible harm.

Set limits and stick to them

Protecting yourself while gambling can be difficult because casinos are designed to take your money and they’re damn good at it. Even those who understand the purposeful nature of these temptations still fall victim to their traps.

One of the best ways to avoid gambling more than you can afford to lose is to set a firm budget before you start. Decide how much you are willing to lose and stick to that amount. If you wouldn’t spend $1,000 on a concert ticket or a round of golf, is it wise to spend that much for a few hours on the emotional roller coaster that is the craps table?

It’s a lot easier to spend more than you intend at a casino than it is at a golf course – nobody’s hitting the clubhouse ATM to reload at the turn unless it’s to fund another sleeve of golf balls – and it’s up to you to protect yourself against temptation. Figure out how much you’re willing to lose (because you expect to lose), and do not let yourself go beyond that number.

Safer gambling leads to more enjoyment at the casino

Don’t lose your judgment to drugs and alcohol

Unfortunately, protecting yourself is easier said than done. If it was easy to gamble safely, everyone would be doing it. But given how skilled casinos are at taking your money, there’s no reason to make the game any harder by intentionally impairing your own decision-making skills.

Nobody on this website is going to pass judgment for the responsible use of drugs or alcohol, but these substances are undeniably dangerous when you’re gambling. It’s not a coincidence that these places absolutely love giving away free alcohol in particular, a freebie that no other commercial establishment in the world can afford to provide. It’s almost like keeping customers happy and drunk and lowering their inhibitions to losing money is a profitable business model in the gambling industry.

Don’t fall victim to this for the sake of having some fun. Don’t let drugs and alcohol trick your altered self into gambling (spending) more than your sober self would. Courage isn’t an asset at the blackjack table.

Reach out for help

Prevention is the best medicine for any ailment of course, but what happens when you start experiencing harm? Subsequent articles in this series will delve into the ways to identify dangerous gambling behavior in yourself and others, and how to find the kind of help that actually works. We’ll even talk about some ways that artificial intelligence could be used to make gambling safer in the future.

For now, we think it’s important to convey that there is no stigma associated with seeking help. Nobody is going to arrest you for gambling too much, and nobody is going to shame you for acknowledging that you’re struggling. Whether it feels like it or not, you absolutely can talk with the people in your life about what you’re going through. That’s what friends and family are for.

If you don’t feel like you have someone to reach out to, free and anonymous support is available 24/7 from professionals in the US via the National Council on Problem Gambling (1-800-522-4700), in the UK via GamCare (0808 8020 133) and in Canada via the Canada Safety Council.

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