Casino virgin with budget question
November 23, 2021 2:24 PM   Subscribe

What is a reasonable gambling limit that would allow an unseasoned gambler to have a good time at a casino?

The Mr and I will be in the St Louis area visiting family over Thanksgiving, and he wants to go along on an afternoon excursion to a local casino. We've never been to a casino. He's more excited about it than I am, and also more adventurous as far as trying out different games and placing bets. I will most likely play the slots a bit and follow him around watching the rest of the time.

Our budget is not huge but also not super tight; however I'm not thrilled at the idea of throwing a few hundred bucks into a bonfire, either. On the other hand I don't want to set the gambling budget too low to have a good time.

Obviously everyone's budget will be different according to how much money they have overall, how much they enjoy gambling and how much they can comfortably lose without kicking themselves. But what do you think would be a good minimal to moderate amount of money to budget for a few hours of afternoon gambling at a casino?
posted by Serene Empress Dork to Grab Bag (24 answers total)
I don't gamble. I don't get how or why it's fun. So the two times I've been to a casino I took $100 each time, and played slots and watched everyone else gamble. I figured if I won some extra, hooray for me. If I lost most or all of it, then it was an amount that I could afford to lose without losing sleep over.

One of the times I walked away with $120 and had a nice meal, the other time I walked away with $20 and felt like I had an OK time hanging out with my friends and didn't stress over the amount.

So my answer to your question is take $100 - that's enough to let you play for a bit, but not so much that you'll regret losing it.
posted by ralan at 2:30 PM on November 23 [10 favorites]

It really depends on the game and your bet amounts. If you want to play some nickel slots and place the minimum bet each time, $20 will keep you busy for a while. If you're into cards, you're going to need more money, especially if you want the option to place large bets if you have an especially good hand. You should probably determine your "what I can afford to lose" budget ahead of time and then find games that fit within that budget. Good luck!
posted by mezzanayne at 2:40 PM on November 23 [3 favorites]

Well, what do you pay to go to the movies, or to a gig, or the theatre? Assuming you'll get a couple of hours of entertainment out of the excursion, I would budget $20-$50 each as money that you will frivle away on the slots or roulette ($1 and $5 chips) or whatever, and probably another $50-$100 each for drinks and food.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:41 PM on November 23 [4 favorites]

It kind of depends on the minimum bets at the casino you're going to, but if the minimums are too high for your taste you might not have much fun no matter what you do. If you're planning on doing something like blackjack, and the tables are $5 or $10 minimums, I'd agree with ralan's bankroll figure of $100 - even if you have horrible luck, you'll still get 10 to 20 games in, and more likely stretch it quite a bit further than that. Personally, I'd get bored with slots a long time before pouring $100 into them.
posted by LionIndex at 2:43 PM on November 23 [7 favorites]

I love to gamble, and spent way too much money in my younger years chasing the big wins. It's positively electric when the correct number hits for a bunch of people at a craps table. I agree with the others that $100 will serve you well for an afternoon as long as you stick with slots or table games with a $5 minimum bet. Except if you want to try craps, and then I'd bring $150 because you might want to have multiple $5 minimum bets on the table at the same time.

However, I do not advise playing craps on your first visit because it's really easy to lose really quickly. Have a great time!
posted by kimberussell at 3:02 PM on November 23 [3 favorites]

What amount of money would you feel comfortable throwing into a burn box, never to be retrieved again? Because well, gambling is gambling and odds are pretty high that you're wasting whatever money you put into gambling, and I don't know your family budget. Basically, I feel like ralan does about gambling: I guess it's fun if you win, but most of the time you're not going to win, so.... Whatever you feel like you can afford to lose without feeling bad about it. If you won't be all broken up over or miss $100, then waste the $100. It sounds like blowing a few hundred is definitely not your jam. If you're not really excited about or into gambling yourself, maybe even less money.

Admittedly it's been a loooooooooong time since I gambled, but I remember they seemed to have some kind of slot machines that took change that you can kill time at without blowing that much money and to keep yourself very mildly entertained while you wait around for your husband to finish. Maybe just focus on that?
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:18 PM on November 23 [4 favorites]

I don't gamble and I'm a casino neophyte. I had a short stint where I got to go to a couple of casinos. I set a budget of $100 and split it between slots and roulette (the most basic bet is betting on a color). I enjoyed learning finer details of roulette and made an extra $70 one time and lost most of it the second time, but it let me play for more than an hour each time.
posted by furtive at 3:24 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]

I too love to gamble and would n'th everyone saying that $100 should be more than enough unless you want to play at a $10+ minimum bet card table.

If you go at a quiet time, dealers are happy to teach you how to play the games. And, at the higher-end casinos, will often advise you on the right move for your hand according to "the book" (i.e. the statistically best move) if you ask for help while you're playing. If you've been curious about how to play a game, I'd encourage you to give it a try! The dealers are going to be nice and helpful - they want your money.

Pai Gow Poker is a chill game that is very prone to ties, so it takes a long time to lose your money playing it. It's played you vs the dealer and you work with just the cards you've been dealt face-up, so it's not competitive like traditional poker. Blackjack is also fun and not hard to learn how to play well enough to stretch $100 through an afternoon.

If you see a lively card table, you might also have fun just hanging out while your husband plays. I've met lots of friendly people who like a chat while they play low-limit blackjack, so you might find yourself occupied that way too.
posted by snaw at 3:31 PM on November 23 [6 favorites]

I agree that about 10-20x the table minimum is a good amount to bring that will keep you entertained for your stay. Note that minimums can vary pretty widely based on where you are and when you're there (Saturday evenings are going to be hard to find $5 tables, but midday on a weekday may not be a problem). $100-$200 should be fine for table games.

Keep in mind that it's generally considered good manners to tip the dealers at table games if you win, and especially if you win big. It's also good etiquette to tip the cocktail servers if you're getting (free) drinks. Generally $1 per drink, and the dealer tips will vary based on how lucky you were but at least the table minimum. Tip in chips, no need to pull out extra cash. Some games have other tacit rules about placing bets for the dealers but you can just hand them a gratuity and they can do what they want with it.

(I love craps but agree that it can be very intimidating, so if you're interested in trying it I'd definitely recommend learning the rules before you go.)
posted by backseatpilot at 4:16 PM on November 23 [3 favorites]

I have to push back a little on 10-20x the table minimum. Sometimes that will last a while, but I remember taking my wife to her first time at a blackjack table with a $10 minimum, and each of us going through $200 (so $400 total) in about 20 minutes. She never wanted to play again and now considers gambling utterly absurd. Now that was unusual in my experience, but not wildly out of line. I've had $200 at a $20 table last me for hours, and I've had it last me 10 minutes. So be forewarned, go during the day if you can when minimums are lowest, have a blast, talk to people and the dealers, get "free" drinks, and hope to get lucky. (On that note, I previously took a girlfriend to a casino for the first time, we played casino war - a truly horrific game where your money will almost always disappear in the blink of an eye - and somehow parlayed $100 each into over $3000 and now she loves gambling despite losing most of the time.)

It also depends on how you bet. $200 at roulette will almost certainly fly by if you wager the minimum on individual numbers. It will likely last a while if you just bet black/red, odd/even, etc. Craps is hit or miss, but the more you do anything than just bet on the pass line, the faster your money will (likely) go.

For me, every time before I go to a casino, I decide how much I could lose per day and not feel bad about it, set that amount aside and when it's up I'm done. If table minimums are such that it would likely fly by in no time, I skip those games or find another casino. The amounts have gone up over the years, but I always set a firm limit. I have no upside limit, so when I'm winning I'll keep playing as long as I'm having fun - I'm not in it to make any money, I'm there to have fun. A day at the casino is more expensive than almost any other fun activity I do, but it's a couple times a year max, and I'm ok with it.
posted by slide at 5:06 PM on November 23 [3 favorites]

I would look at it like I look at lotto or scratch offs. Budget whatever you would pay for an equivalent amount of entertainment time somewhere else, and just take it as given that you won't see that money ever again.

Anything that you take home at the end is gravy.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:13 PM on November 23 [3 favorites]

I agree with slide, depending on what game you play, your night out can be over very quickly indeed. I don’t find losing money fun so if I wanted to extend my time there, I’d probably stick with the slot machines. You never know though, you two may love it and become instantly hooked (God, I hope not…) but just wander around, decide on what your budget is and stick to it.
posted by Jubey at 5:15 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]

I have gone to a casino to gamble once. I mean, previous to that I've dropped a few coins in a slot machine, done a pull, got nothing, walked away, because I happened to be in Vegas with people and I was leaning up against it, but.

A few years ago we ended up with some package deal where I think the Casino gave us $20 each in credits, we put in another $40 or so, and it was not enough to figure out how to make the slots games we tried fun, but we tried, and...

I realize it freaks the heck out of casino security, but I'd go in with the expectation of not gambling, go in, order something non-alcoholic, tip the bartender double as though it were alcoholic (and once you've got the bartender on your side it's easier to be socially non-conforming), and sit and people watch. And you have my permission to do just that. It's a lot more interesting to me to watch the dynamics of the people who do find casinos to be fun than to participate in casinos myself, and if I go prepared to do that I can enjoy my time in them.
posted by straw at 5:19 PM on November 23 [4 favorites]

Two words: Video Poker. Way more interesting than slots because you actually have to make choices. But less stressful or intimidating than table games because it’s just you and the machine. You can make $20 last for a long time at the quarter video poker games, because most of them will usually have a pay out at at least 2 pair, sometimes jacks or better. So that way you win back the quarter you just spent.
Edited to add: just don’t bet max.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:09 PM on November 23 [2 favorites]

There was a funny thing about a kid who wanted to be a gambler, and a casino owner replied (paraphrase): "House always has the advantage, best reasonable odds are betting on the Pass Line in Craps."
posted by ovvl at 6:14 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]

I go to Vegas and AC a LOT for work things (conferences and such). I'm not a big gambler, but the way I look at it is if I was going to go out for a nice dinner and a show (or some other "big-ish" night), how much would I spend for a few hours going out.

For me that number is about $200.. so I usually bring $200 or so to the tables and play craps or blackjack for a little bit. If I start to lose money, I walk away, maybe go get a drink or just walk around the casinos and people watch. Then I go back (if I have anything left) and play a bit more. The idea is to spread it out and get a couple hours of fun out of it.
posted by niteHawk at 6:37 PM on November 23 [4 favorites]

Our method:
1. Agree on an amount, in advance, that each of you will walk in with to use on gambling. We usually use $20 or $40.
2. You must absolutely agree to use _no_ other money; no going to get more chips/tokens because you are "on a roll". If you can't agree to that part, then you will have trouble sooner or later.
3. You absolutely agree to leave (or stop gambling if your partner hasn't reached this point) when the agreed upon amount is gone.
4. When both of you have lost the money you walked in with you must leave.
5. IF you get lucky and you win some money, you can either keep playing with the total money you have OR you can cash out and leave. I strongly recommend leaving when you're ahead of what you walked in with, but it's your choice. If you elect to continue playing, see 3. and 4.

Discuss beforehand. If you and you're partner can't agree to follow rules like this, or similar ones of your own devising, DON'T GO IN. Going without forethought is a guarantee of things like losing the rent money, having tearful arguments, or discovering a gambling addiction you didn't know that one of you had.
posted by TimHare at 7:39 PM on November 23 [2 favorites]

Strict answer to your question: It all depends on what you play, how much you bet, and how much you are comfortable losing. $1-200 can get you a couple hours of fun if you're mindful and responsible. Here's how:

Penny slots are everywhere, just be sure you understand how to bet the minimum (or whatever you are comfortable betting) because some of them can be a little complex - you play x lines at x coins per line. There are penny slots where you can literally bet just about anything between $.01 and $10.00 per spin depending on which buttons you push, so be sure to understand them before hitting any buttons. Note that even though they are penny denomination, many (but not all) machines have a minimum bet of 30 or 40 cents, with betting options in multiples of that minimum.

Seconding Pai Gow as a good card game to waste some time at without risking much. Depending on where you go though, Pai Gow may be either not played there, or if it is it often has a higher minimum bet. (River City, Hollywood, and Ameristar all offer this game based on a quick search. Many tables in Vegas have a $25 minimum. Tables here in the MN card rooms you can get in on for $5. Limits may also depend on what time of day you go.) The dealers will help you. Suggest you ask for a 'House Way' button so if you accidentally set your hand wrong, they will fix it for you. For this or any table games you might play, bet only the main bet unless you're feeling lucky. The other bets have very high house percentages - it is exciting to win a larger payout with a really good hand, but it's easy to go dozens of hands without those bets paying anything and not recommended unless you have the bankroll to handle the swings. Do consider playing the red light jackpot bet for $1, consider that similar to a $1 lottery ticket with a 5- or 6-figure top prize.

TimHare has some good suggestions. I would add:
Walk in with only the cash you feel comfortable not walking out with. Never lose more than you plan to. If you even think there's a possibility that you would consider hitting the ATM if you lose your limit and feel like continuing to play, leave your ATM cards at home / in the hotel. If you've never been I would strongly suggest this either way since you don't really know how you will react.

For slots, consider this strategy: Pretty much every game pays out only in tickets these days, which you then bring to the cashier or an automated kiosk to exchange for cash. Play your desired bet, and if you happen to hit a small or big win that you feel good or excited about, cash out. Put the ticket in your pocket and re-add some credits with more cash if you like the game, or use this as your cue to try out another machine. Commit to not putting those tickets back in; cash them all out at the end of the night.

Have fun and good luck!
posted by SquidLips at 9:42 PM on November 23 [2 favorites]

I always play the cheapest blackjack table. It doesn't take that long to memorize the "basic" table for blackjack and then the house edge is, while real in the long run, about as minimal as you can get in games where the house doesn't make its money on the rake. Obviously you can get unlucky and go through 10-20x table stakes in a very short period of time. This is, however, actually an important opportunity for you, as you can observe whether you are capable of adhering to a strict limit, as you must be to safely gamble.
posted by praemunire at 9:48 PM on November 23 [2 favorites]

It all depends on what you mean by "gamble". I'm going to focus on Blackjack; I used to play Blackjack For Real. Basic strategy plus some sort of card counting, my expectation was to break even or maybe make a little. The rule of thumb there was you needed 100x the minimum bet; at a $10 table that'd be $1000. Note that card counting implies some volatility; you're mostly making minimum $10 bets but if the count is in your favor you need to put up $100 on a single hand, maybe more.

A more precise answer is on this blog post. It models playing blackjack with just basic strategy, no card counting, where the house has a 0.414% edge. You are ultimately going to lose money at this game, but it takes awhile. It says that if you want to play 300 hands (ie: about 3 hours) and only have a 1% risk of going broke, your stake needs to be 52x the minimum bet. I believe this result has you making the minimum bet every single time, no counting. See also this calculator.

I find gambling dismal. The people who seem to have the most fun are the ones who ignore the crushing mathematical reality and go full-in on irrational but fun behavior. Video poker is a good example; if you are playing it "right" you aren't making any choices, just always picking the right play. But that is really boring. So have fun instead. Pick on a hunch. Trust your winning streaks. Get excited when your handsome friend is rolling the dice at the craps table; always bet on them, not the house. You're going to lose money in a casino anyway but you might as well have fun and free drinks doing it.
posted by Nelson at 6:55 AM on November 24 [4 favorites]

Gambling story derail:

So, a long time ago, I was trying to get home, after a job working far away from home...

I had a gas credit card, so I could make it home to Seattle. But, had no money to stay in a Motel 6 or anything. Had like 20 bucks. Hit Wendover Nevada. So, thought, maybe I can win enough for a hotel room tonight. Went to the Blackjack table. $2 minimum!

Had been holding my own for a half an hour. Young dude sits down. Given Wendover is the closest place to Salt Lake City you can gamble, and having just worked for a company run by BYU professors, it was obvious to me that this dude was from Utah.

He bets $20 on his first hand and wins. And lets it ride and wins again...

Eventually, he is up about $200. I'm down by like $4. He bets $100. Loses.

Next hand.

He bets another $100. Loses...

I ended up sleeping in the back seat of my car out in the desert somewhere. What a tool...

How much can you afford to lose? Look for low minimum bets
posted by Windopaene at 12:23 PM on November 24 [1 favorite]

Don’t think of it as throwing money onto a fire. Think of it as spending money on carnival rides. You’re in it for a little thrill. How much are you willing to spend on carnival rides?
On some occasions I think that $4 is too much too spend for a stupid Ferris wheel spin. Other days, I’ll buy a book of tickets and try everything.

Have fun!
posted by SLC Mom at 1:44 PM on November 24 [2 favorites]

Find out what the stakes are at the table games you want to play. While I have fond memories of $5 blackjack at Ballys, it just isn’t that way anymore. If you can find $10 tables and play carefully and with breaks, $200 might do you.
posted by OrangeVelour at 4:25 PM on November 24 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: $100 turned out to be a decent amount for a couple hours of play in the afternoon. We bought $50 in chips and got $50 in bills for the slots. I lost about 30 bucks in the slots because I had NO idea what I was doing and they were less straightforward than I'd hoped. But it was fun.

The Mr. actually won a couple hundred between blackjack and the slots, so we were up $150 overall. He had a great time... lol.

Thanks to everyone for the advice :)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:21 PM on November 27

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