Understanding and Controlling Gambling

It’s Important to Understand Gambling Before You Start. 


There is so much noise out there about “responsible“ gambling. It is spread by gambling operators and those acting in conjunction with them. But there is never any rational explanation of what exactly is meant by “responsible” gambling in practical terms. If “responsible” gambling means anything it must involve understanding and controlling gambling. This is an attempt to present this type of information.

Gambling can be fun but it can also be dangerous. It’s important to understand gambling before you start. A real understanding of gambling means having to think in theoretical terms. The easiest way to think about it is by working out how much you can afford to lose.

Of course, there are winners, but very few long-term winners and only at games there is a possible chance for the player to have an edge. For example, a strong poker player playing against weaker players.

Financing Gambling

Gambling losses should never be from normal savings, from borrowings, or funded by the proceeds of crime. This is precisely the route to gambling ruin. Gambling funds should be from income only, but not of course income needed for normal living. It should only come from disposable income, the discretionary spending on leisure. Poorer persons with lower incomes are likely to have less income and therefore less disposable income, so should allocate less to gambling losses. For example, if only 10% of income is disposable, then the maximum gambling loss should be say 10% of that amount, being 1% of the person’s total income.

A wealthier person might have 20% of income at their disposal and could feel comfortable allocating a maximum of 20% of that to gambling losses, being 4% of their total income. The average amount between 1% and 4% is 2.5% which is a good balance to work from. If a person has a 40-hour working week then one hour is 2.5% of that time. It does not make sense to lose at gambling at a higher rate per hour than your hourly earnings rate. So, someone earning £400 per week at £10 per hour for 40 hours can afford to lose £10 per week in one hour of gambling.

It doesn’t really matter whether the gambling activity is weekly or monthly or annually. The principle is to just apply the maximum time and loss over a longer period. In a 28 day-month, this would be a loss of £40 over 4 hours. If it’s an annual gambling trip the allocated amount would be say £500 over 50 hours.

Understanding Casino Games

Looking at casino table games there are differences in the pace of the games and in the house advantages in each game. If you were playing a game where there were 100 hands per hour and the house advantage is 1% then your loss per hour is 100% of your bet amount, assuming it is the same each hand. Therefore, the bet size should be £10 per hand to result in an average one hour loss of £10.

This is close to a blackjack experience if playing basic strategy with decent rules at a table with limited players. A poor strategy and / or poor rules could increase the advantage above 1%, but a full table would reduce the speed of the game.

Although the expected loss is £10, the turnover in the hour is £1,000, this means the cash funds required will very probably be somewhere between these two amounts. A common measure of loss as a percentage of funds used is known as the hold percentage. With typical hold percentage being around 20% then funds required are likely to be at least £50.

This £50 is of course only an average, so it makes sense to have a gambling bankroll far greater than the average amount needed in one session. Also, the bankroll needs to cover consecutive negative sessions. A useful guide would be to start with a gambling bankroll of £500. The way to build the bankroll is to set aside £10 per week for a year from disposable income before you ever start gambling. If you are unable to do that then maybe you are not ready to start gambling.

The type of bets placed makes a difference. Betting on red or black at odds of 1 to 1 on roulette will not be as volatile as betting on only one number per spin at 35 to 1 odds on roulette. Whilst the £500 bankroll could easily be comfortable enough for the 1 to 1 to bets it would be unlikely to be enough for the 35 to 1 bet.

In order to be able to continue gambling, you will have needed to continue to always set aside the same £10 on a weekly basis. Gambling winnings should not be spent on other items but should be added to the gambling bankroll. This is the only way to ensure that the gambling bankroll could stay intact. Remember it doesn’t matter what the actual result is in a week. It is the theoretical loss of the £10 which needs to be replaced.

Comparison of actual games makes the theory easier to understand. The numbers are rounded estimates for simplicity. Playing baccarat or punto banco at 75 hands per hour and wagering £13 per hand for a turnover of £975 at a house advantage of 1% results in an expected loss of £9.75.

The casino table game roulette with a single zero has a 2.7% house advantage on the number bets. Playing at a full table of around 37 hands per hour, at a stake of £10 per spin will generate a turnover of £370, resulting in an expected loss of £10 per hour.

Compare this with an electronic roulette game at 180 spins per hour with the same 2.7% house advantage. Now a stake per hand of £2 per spin will generate a turnover of £360, resulting in an expected loss of £9.72 per hour.

Long Term Gambling

Long term gambling losses are like death by a thousand cuts. If the game speed is increased then death comes sooner. Technology in most areas helps consumers by reducing costs or improving products. For losing gamblers, technology increases the cost of gambling losses by speeding the games up. The only way to counter this is to reduce your gambling stake.

Even where it is a remote gambling using alive dealer, the overall game pace will be quicker, meaning that stake size should be reduced. Keeping the same stake per spin or per hand might seem boring, but it is an important control method. Doubling the stake on one spin requires halving the stake on two spins to get back on balance.

All of this information is of course theory. In any one session, you may come out well ahead or badly down. But these are not reasons or excuses to change the way you control your gambling behaviour. When gambling you are already choosing to lose cash and time. It’s not sensible to lose control as well.

Students, the unemployed, persons on benefits, persons in part-time work and persons with similar limitations on disposable income generally cannot afford gambling losses and should avoid gambling. Persons under age 25 may have difficulties with gambling as our adolescent brain development is not fully mature until that age. The risk-reward analysis needed in gambling is an area that is one of the last to develop. So, it’s not a good idea to start gambling before age 25.

In general summary:

  • Do not spend more than the equivalent of one hour per week (on an annualised basis) at all forms of gambling
  • Plan to gamble at a level that your expected loss per hour will not be more than you earn in an hour as a full-time employee
  • Save up a dedicated gambling bankroll before you start gambling and replenish that bankroll regularly regardless of actual results
  • Avoid gambling at casino games that have been speeded up technologically unless you are willing to trade down your wager appropriately


If you are unable to comply with this type of advice, then is gambling right for you? For the majority of people there really is only one “responsible” gambling message that makes any sense, which is “DON’T GAMBLE!

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