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I’m Broke & Cheap but I Still Love to Gamble

Yeah, you read that right. I’m broke - obviously, I even started a blog about it. And I’m notoriously cheap. I buy everything with a reduced for quick sale sticker and am not above finding a new wardrobe at garage sales. But there’s something that is terribly out of whack with these characteristics  - I love to gamble. Not in the way that I need to call a hotline because I am definitely way too cheap for that. But office pools? Yep, take my $10, I’m sure Jessica is having that baby three days prior to her due date. The occasional rounds at the craps table? Yes please, we’re going to rock this table like we’re shooting a Vegas commercial.

Since I’m not smart enough to say no every time someone asks me to hit up a casino or buy a box in the Super Bowl pool, I figured I would do the next best thing - improve my odds of winning. It’s not like gamblers everywhere haven’t already tried this and I’m going to find out the secret, not at all. I’m just going to go in knowing what the heck my odds actually are and make a better decision based off of that. Really, that just means, avoid the sucker bets.

So let’s take a look at just what your odds of winning are for some of the most popular ways to lose money!

Super Bowl pool - 1 in 100. Since the squares are randomly assigned the odds that you’re square will be the winner is 1 in 100. After the numbers have been assigned your odds change. If you’re like me, you’ll end up with numbers like 8 and 4, but if you’re lucky you’ll end up with 7 and 0, the box most likely to win with a 13.16% probability. You can check out the odds of each score over at Sports Illustrated.

Mega Millions1 in 302.6 million.

Powerball - 1 in 292.2 million. Yikes, looks like I’m going to avoid lottery tickets from here on out.

Scratch-off ticketsAbout 1 in 4 for cheaper tickets. Meaning $1-$2 tickets, which account for 75% of sales. The good news is if you’re willing to buy a $20 ticket (which I am 100% not) your odds increase to about 1 in 2. Hey, you’re not winning the jackpot, but you’ll win something at least.

Let's take a closer look at the one and only scratcher I ever buy (I'm a creature of habit!), Loose Change. It's a $1 ticket with a max prize of $500. You scratch off six coins and win the prize if your coins add up to over a dollar. According to the New York State Lottery, the chance of winning that $500 prize is 1 in 49,440. Chance of winning my $1 back? 1 in 9.

You probably won’t be hitting it big with Mega Millions but you just might win something on those scratchers!

Moving on. Let’s take a look at your odds hitting it big in a casino.

Before we really get into all the good stuff, can I give you a few words of caution? Know what you're comfortable losing. When I gamble I look at it as money I’m going to spend. Like if I were going to go to a movie or a play. It’s money that I’m spending on entertainment. I definitely don’t expect to win.

One of the best ideas I’ve ever had is to always set a limit. If I say I’m only willing to spend $50, that’s it. There’s no going to the ATM for more money. Respect your limit. Know what you're comfortable losing.

As we go on, I'll try to give you some simple tips I've learned along the way so you can get more comfortable if you're unfamiliar with the game. If you want to learn in depth how to play any casino game before hitting the tables, a quick Google search will do the trick.

Slot Machines

Slots1 in 49.8 million. In all fairness, I’m not big on slots due to the fact that it’s a computer. And logically I have to think it’s a computer programmed to take my money, right? I mean the casinos stay in business somehow.

For table games we’re going to have to switch it up a bit, there are so many different ways to win and lose money and not all bets are created equal. We also have to talk about the house edge, or in non-gambler's terms, the percentage of your original bet the casino expects to take as profit. For example, if the house edge is 5% and you bet $100 - the casino expects to earn $5 profit.

I know what you're thinking - it's all so technical and intimidating to play table games as it is. Now I want you to understand complicated math as well, like it wasn’t bad enough to have to remember what a hard six really is. But don’t worry, it’s not all that bad. I just want you to go away remembering what games you’re more likely forking over your money to the house and which games you might have a shot with.

RouletteHouse edge of 5.26%. Roulette is a pretty straightforward table game. A roulette wheel has 38 potential spots for the ball to land - 0, double 0 and numbers 1-36. Quick note: as you can see in the above photo, the numbers are not sequential! So all odd numbers are not red, all even numbers are not black, etc.

Individual bets can be made on the 38 numbers, red or black, even or odd, dozens, high 18 or low 18 or columns. That sure seems like a lot. But what is important is your odds of winning! If you bet on a single number your odds are 2.63%. If you stick to even/odd, high 18/low 18 or red/black your odds increase to 46.37%. Of course if you hit it on the single number bet you hit it big: 35:1 compared to 1:1.

And please whatever you do DO NOT put all of your money on one bet. I repeat, do not put all of your money on one bet. Ever. Seriously. I don’t care how lucky you feel. I mean you totally can but no one is really impressed.

A few years back, I was at a roulette table when this young guy came up to the table and placed $1000 on the table. He made a big deal about how he was going to put all of his money on red, he was feeling lucky! His friends were just as excited as he was as the ball started going. Then the ball fell onto black. The hot shot just sat down with his head in his hands while all of his friends stood there awkwardly. Losing $1000 sure isn’t as fun as winning $1000. I was just shocked, in total disbelief of what I just saw. To make matters worse, some of the other people at the table were not so kind after he left. No one wants to be the running joke at a table.

And certainly, if you’re going to be devastated if you lose the bet you’re making don’t do it. No one wants to see you cry at the table. I think about that guy often, I just want to know if he’s ever done that again. My gut says no but sometimes people surprise me.

CrapsHouse edge of 1.35%. I LOVE craps. The game is seriously fun. And you’ll make some new friends at the craps table.

I know craps is intimidating. Not that long ago I stood and watched everyone else have the fun and wouldn’t join in. Then a 75-year-old gentleman named Wes taught me how to play craps in Atlantic City. He was patient with me and explained every bet and helped me win money. Then another boisterous man joined the table and started to make crazy bets. Wes was all of a sudden not happy and I learned a valuable craps lesson - acting like a show off is a surefire way to make your new craps friends unhappy. They have no problem showing you the game if you ask, they do have a problem with you acting like you know what you’re doing when you don’t.

Start at a low dollar table and be upfront you’re new to the game and go during a downtime - not when the table is packed (that might mean gambling in the middle of the day). The dealer will help you out too. They want you to play!

There are way too many bets to actually discuss at a craps table, so we’ll just stick with the ones most likely to get you positive results!

In order to get the best house edge (1.35%), you’ll have to bet on the don’t pass and don’t come bets. Which is basically betting against the guy (or gal) rolling the dice. So statistically better but kind of unexciting when the whole table is rooting against you. If you want to be a good sport, take a shot at the pass and come bets. You’ll make more friends and you’ll only have to deal with a house edge of 1.41%. Like the safest bets on the roulette table, the pass/don’t pass and come/don’t come bets all pay out 1:1.

As a general rule, stay away from the middle of the table where the house edge is skewed further out of your favor. The best house edge you'll get is 9%! Betting the 7 results in a house edge of 16.7% - the worst bet on the table and maybe even in the casino.

Blackjack - House edge of 1%. Turns out I’m not the only fan of gambling in my family. Actually, my uncle plays poker professionally. But one piece of advice that’ll stick with me is from my dad’s dad (after a particularly hard night at a roulette table) - “Roulette is a fools' game. Blackjack is the only game in the casino worth playing. The best odds are always at the Blackjack table.”

My dad’s dad and I didn’t always see eye to eye but I will always remember him telling me this. As it turns out, the man was right.

Blackjack is relatively simple compared to other table games and you only have one goal - beat the dealer. All you have to do is get closer to 21 than the dealer does without going over. Unlike poker, the other players at the table don’t matter.

Your overall probability of winning a hand is 42.43%.

There you have it! If you’re going to gamble (like I most definitely will) - gamble smart. Pay attention to the safe bets and the sucker bets and avoid the latter at all cost.

I’m ok with winning small, it’s still fun to play and win something! Believe me winning small is a much better feeling than losing big! Just ask my friend from the roulette table.

Have you ever bet it all on red? Did you win? Tell me about your big wins! Or if you have luck like mine, tell me all about the time you were up big and then lost it all!

One final thing - I feel like it would be irresponsible to post this without including this link to gambling helpline numbers by state. If you think you may have a problem, please reach out.
Broke Dolly
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  1. I completely agree with what you said about knowing your limit. My boyfriend is a big gambler..unfortunately he looks at his money as something that could be doubled. I always go in with the idea that I only have 80 dollars that I am willing to loose. If I loose it, it won't break the bank. But when he looses his money he goes straight to the ATM to try to win it back. There is a huge difference between going to play and have fun...and going specifically to win money. I enjoyed this, thanks :)

    1. I like that idea - only play with what you're willing to lose! I know if I go to the ATM at all it'll just be a vicious cycle. I need hard limits :) Thank you for stopping by!

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