What To Do When You Win Early

            A couple of weeks ago, a reader sent me a note asking what he should do when he finds himself up significantly very early in a session when he expected to play 4-5 hours.  This is not an easy question to answer as it is really isn’t a math question.  The bottom line is that if you are playing a game with a payback below 100% (you can choose to throw in comps and cashback if you want) then you are playing a game in which you will lose over the long run.  The more you play, the greater the likelihood that you will lose and the amount you are likely to lose (from the beginning of time) continues to go up. 

            Of course, using this logic, you should never play any game with a payback below 100%.  So, if your only reason for playing is winning then you should stop now unless you are playing some of the video poker machines that pay over 100%.  However, as I have long surmised, most of you play in the casino for entertainment purposes.  We all want to win when we play, and the games are created to allow you to win some of the time over short sessions.  So, what is the answer when we’re up $100-$200 after 20 minutes of play after taking a long drive to the casino and expecting to play deep into the night?

            I’ve already explained the mathematical answer, but I don’t think that’s the one my reader was looking for.  So, the question has to be answered more from an emotional standpoint.  First of all, it is good for the psyche to win some of our sessions.  So, it might not be a bad idea to just walk away for the evening.  If you make these trips on a regular basis, giving up the few extra hours of play and driving home may be one solution.  Another possibility is to take your winnings and find something else to do in/around the casino.  Most have some other form of entertainment available.  Go see a show or a movie.  Go bowling.  Head to the video arcade (Pac-man, not video poker!).  This latter one is one of my personal favorites.  I can make a dollar last pretty long on a pinball machine! 

            Another possibility is to take it down in denomination.  If you’ve been playing quarters, maybe you want to try nickels for a little while.  If you’ve been playing multi-play, go back to playing a single hand.  The simple fact is that the math is against you and you can’t change that.  The key is to not allow yourself to lose your psychological edge.  You hold in your hand the casino’s money.  There is no reason to give it back. 

            The last thing you want to do is losing your composure.  It is human nature to get frustrated when the winning streak stops.  We start losing some of what we won and we want to get it back.  So, we start increasing our wager or taking bigger chances in the hopes of recovering some of what we started to give back.  If we were already on a downswing, our bankroll may be dwindling which limits the downside.  Or the credits may almost be gone from the machine so it will give us a reason to stretch our legs.  If, however, we just had a big win, these braking mechanisms won’t be there. 

            At the very least, I advocate hitting the “Cash Out” and taking your ticket out and going to cash it in.  Start with a new $20 after taking a little breather.  We’ve all seen the little disclaimer on advertising (when talking about stocks and the like) that past performance is not necessarily and indication of future gains.  Nothing could be more true for gambling.  In fact, it may be even more true for gambling.  What happened in the past is meaningless.  The game you are playing has a particular payback and that is what you can expect to happen over the long run going forward.  You simply cannot change this.  But, you CAN change how you let it effect you.