In popular depictions of gambling, fun and responsibility usually don't go hand in hand. From "Vegas Vacation" to "The Hangover," trips to Sin City and other popular gambling destinations are often filled with unwise wagers, excessive alcohol consumption, and outrageous acts such as stuffing small Asian men in the trunks of vehicles.
These over-the-top pieces of pop culture fluff have left an indelible mark on the minds of casual players, and waves of tourists hit Vegas each year with the idea that they're doing something seriously wrong if they don't wind up marrying an exotic dancer in a drunken stupor or betting their entire bank account on a game of keno. This is not the case, however, and I'm here to tell you that moderation and responsible gambling can work in tandem to create an experience that's just as enjoyable and not nearly as felonious.
I realize that a section on problem gambling doesn't fall into the "fun" category, but I feel an obligation to include it in any post relating to responsible casino gaming. Even if you're a casual player, I recommend reading this information, as you might recognize signs and symptoms that a friend or loved one is dealing with.
There are two major reasons why a person should gamble responsibly. The first is to ensure that the session ends in fun instead of personal hardship and bankruptcy. The second is to avoid falling into gambling addiction, a crippling affliction that can rob a player of their finances, self-respect, and loved ones.
The following are signs that a person may be struggling with a gambling addiction: (If you notice these signs in yourself or a friend, please remember that numerous programs exist to provide assistance.)
Gambling When You Can't Afford It – Most people stop gambling when they've used up all their disposable income, but those with an addiction immediately start looking for new ways to fund their hobby and recoup their losses. At first, this may involve rerouting cash that would otherwise be used to pay bills, but it can soon turn to credit card advances and borrowing from friends. As the problem gambler encounters more difficulty in getting money, they may even sink low enough to resort to stealing.
Gambling to Forget – When the player is under stress or looking to escape from everyday problems, they turn to gambling as a way to cope. This makes them feel better for a time, but the constant need to gamble eventually morphs into yet another difficult situation.
Being Unable to Control Your Gambling – The average player has no problem getting up from a slot machine or blackjack table and walking away. The problem gambler, however, often stays at the casino until they've lost everything. This is one of the classic signs of addiction, as it indicates the inability to make rational decisions when faced with certain triggers such as gambling or alcohol.
Constantly Thinking about Gambling – Even when the player isn't at a casino, he or she is thinking about gambling. They may constantly tell stories of their past exploits to friends, family, and total strangers, or they might spend all their free time reading books and articles on how to beat the house. They may also seek to make wagers on the outcome of trivial events, as they're constantly trying to achieve the rush they've come to associate with gambling.
Growing Secrecy – Part of the fun of gambling is being able to swap stories with other players and brag to total strangers about the big wins you've racked up. When you start becoming more secretive about your gambling, however, this may indicate a growing problem. Problem gamblers often feel shame and remorse about their action, and they seek to cover up their behavior by lying and making excuses.
Psychological Need to Gamble – Like a drug addict, a problem gambler may feel the urge to make wagers long after they've ceased to derive pleasure from the experience. When this isn't possible, they begin to experience psychological withdrawal symptoms and become irritable and agitated.
Increasing the Size of Your Bets – For a gambling addict, part of the thrill comes from the risk associated with gambling. If they're playing $50 per hand at a blackjack table, this amount may slowly lose its appeal and turn into $100. When these wagers result in losses, the bets may become even larger in an effort to hit it big and break even.
Now that we've got that dreary public service message out of the way, let's dive in and look at 10 different ways you can have fun while simultaneously being a responsible gambler.
When a casino awards you "comps" - it means that you won't have to pay for items such as meals, hotel rooms, or shows. This can result in big savings, and getting comps can be considered an art form in itself. Whenever I travel to a major gambling destination, I always try my best to leave with something free, although you'll have to spend money to be considered for these perks. A number of magazines and websites also exist to assist comp hunters, and getting hundreds of dollars in freebies can be every bit as exciting as clipping coupons and getting several carts of groceries for nothing.
Trying an Exotic Dinner
If you're playing at a gaming hub like Macau or Las Vegas, you'll be surrounded by all sorts of foods that you may not have sampled before. Whenever I make it through a gambling session without blowing all my bankroll, I take some of the leftover money and treat myself to a type of dish that I've never experienced. This is how I came to fall in love with French cuisine, and I'm currently enjoying learning more about South American dishes thanks to several visits to Via Brazil Steakhouse in Vegas.
Have a Spin, Make a Friend
Casinos are filled with lonely patrons who turn to gambling simply because they have no other real hobbies or ways to fill their time. In the case of older players, they may have outlived many of their friends or loved ones, and so they sit for hours on end in front of a slot machine with a cigarette as their only companion. I like to remedy this whenever possible, and one of my tactics includes pausing and talking to my neighbor after every spin of a slot machine. Not only does this slow down my overall rate of play, but it also creates the possibility of making a new friend.
This option can be practiced at home or the casino, although the latter is probably best for the overall experience. After each hour of gaming, I take a 30 minute break and sample some form of alcoholic beverage that I've never tasted before. It's wise to never try more than a couple of mixed drinks per night, which is perfect if you're only playing for a few hours. This led me to try an Apple Martini for the first time, and it's also a smart way to step back from the tables and avoid chasing losses. Just make sure you can handle your liquor, and never drive while under the influence.
The Gentle Art of Flirting
When you're inside a land-based casino, there are lots of ways to pass the time other than gambling. Not all of them cost money, either. One of my favorites is to engage in harmless flirting with both employees and customers of the opposite sex, although you'll want to make sure that your attention is never unwelcome, overbearing, or could get you into a fight. I start by striking up a harmless conversation, and then I move to a few well-placed compliments. I never set out to get someone's number or anything so ambitious, instead looking at it as a way to responsibly manage my time while at the casino.
Turn Your Session into a Game
When I go to the casino with a friend, I sometimes like to propose a friendly wager before setting foot on the premises. We both agree to start out with a bankroll of the same size, and the player who ends the night with the most money remaining wins a side bet that we've previously agreed upon. While a lucky player may win the bet just by hitting a jackpot, it's still a good strategy for forcing yourself to play at a deliberate pace and avoiding outrageous wagers.
Converting Your Man (or Woman) Cave
Modern-day men often have a room in their home dedicated to "guy stuff," and there's no rule that states women can't have something similar. If you want to enjoy the thrill of gambling without running yourself into debt, one sensible option is to convert your man or woman cave into a haven for casino action. You can purchase a few old slot machines for the enjoyment of yourself and guests, and you might even consider hooking your computer up to a big-screen television to enhance your online gaming sessions. Isolating your gambling experience to your own home cuts down on travel and hotel fees, and it's also a great excuse to have friends and family over for a game night.
Before undertaking a gaming session, I always set a time limit for myself. I also calculate how much money I'm willing to lose, and I never spend more than that amount. If my session ends with a surplus of money in my wallet, I sometimes like to treat myself by using a bit of the excess to buy something that I've been wanting. For example, a recent session started with $200 in my bankroll, and I had $250 when the self-imposed time limit expired. In order to reward myself for restraint (and good luck), I went on Amazon and bought a few Blu-Ray movies that I'd been looking forward to.
Broaden Your Gaming Horizons
Most people prefer a certain level of familiarity, so they tend to gravitate towards the same things repeatedly. Casino gambling isn't any different, which means a person may play slots or roulette and never try all the other wonderful options surrounding them. If you want to spice things up, I suggest making it a point to try a new game each time you head to the casino, but always play at the lowest limits available. This latter tactic limits your losses as you learn the rules of the game, but it also serves to keep your session as responsible as possible. With any luck, this playing style may also result in you finding a few new favorites and increasing your available choices.
Take Advantage of the Free Option
While land-based establishments aren't in the habit of offering free gaming sessions (with the exception of comps), almost all online casinos have no-money versions of their software. The selection may not be quite as robust as when you play for cash, but you can still find most of the popular gaming options. If you want to be responsible and frugal at the same time, I suggest rotating between free and cash sessions when playing online. It's a great way to keep from losing a pile of money, plus it gives you an opportunity to sample the different types of games being offered by the site.
I realize that "fun" and "responsibility" aren't two words often associated with one another, especially when it comes to gambling. I also freely admit that some of the items on this list are a bit of a stretch because of this fact, as most people like to cut loose from time to time.
Please note, however, that irresponsible gambling can lead to consequences that are often glossed over in television and movie depictions. While walking away from a casino with money in your wallet and a smile on your face may not seem attractive by Hollywood's standards, it's much better than pawning your wife's jewelry or filing for bankruptcy.