How to Properly Plan and Budget Your Gambling Vacation

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vegas gambling vacation

Las Vegas at NightDuring your Vegas vacation, nothing is worse than going broke the first day. Sadly, that’s what happens to many visitors, especially those who don’t plan and properly budget their trip. As a result, they either spend half of their gambling vacation doing things other than gambling or they make so many trips to the ATM machine that they effectively double or triple the original cost of their trip. Neither option is desirable. A little advanced planning can help you avoid both situations and allow you to get your fill of gambling while staying on budget.

Let’s assume you want to go to Vegas for four nights and do a little gambling, eat some world-class cuisine, and see a couple of popular shows. You’ve researched on the Internet and have a fairly good idea of the cost for the food and shows, but you have no idea how much the gambling will cost. Suppose you decide that you don’t want to spend more than $1,000 on gambling for the entire trip. It’s good that you set a loss limit, but how much gambling will that $1,000 get you? If you play craps, that $1,000 can last 10 minutes, 10 hours, or all 4 days depending on often you play and how much you bet. The challenge is to ensure you don’t lose your gambling allotment before the end of your trip. Otherwise, you’ll either hit the ATM machine or walk around sight-seeing and window shopping, neither of which is appealing.

The obvious question is whether $1,000 is enough to cover the amount of time you want to gamble during your 4-day vacation? In other words, your $1,000 loss limit is completely arbitrary. Instead of setting a random limit that will dictate how much time you gamble, let’s do the opposite and roughly plan how much time you want to gamble over your four nights and then calculate the amount you need to achieve that goal. Your plan will be highly subject to change, but it’ll at least give you a decent estimate of how much money you’ll need to ensure you can do all the gambling you want.

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Unless you’re a ga-zillionaire and have an unlimited bankroll, it’s important for you to understand that you can’t play unlimited craps. When I go to Vegas, I’m on a limited budget with limited time, so the best approach for me is to plan a reasonable number of craps “sessions” per day that allows me to do other required activities with my wife, such as going to dinners and dancing, shows, etc. I suggest that you use a similar approach. Let’s assume your four-day Vegas trip starts on a Sunday and ends on a Thursday. The mere fact that you’re avoiding the weekend shows me that you’re capable of doing some level of planning (i.e., you wisely chose the days of the week with the cheapest hotel rates, since Friday and Saturday nights are generally much more costly than Sunday through Thursday). Therefore, if you’re capable of this amount of planning, then doing a little more to plan your gambling sessions won’t be a burden to you. So, don’t be lazy; plan and budget your gambling time.

The first step is to roughly plan your daily activities. Let’s do this by creating a simple table, such as the one below. Let’s assume your plane lands at McCarran International Airport on Sunday at 1:00pm and you must depart the hotel at 8:00am on Thursday to catch your plane home. Remember, your plan isn’t firmly set in stone; it’s flexible. The intent is simply to give you a general idea of what you’ll be doing, which will enable you to do a rough cost estimate (i.e., the goal is to derive a cost estimate for your desired amount of gambling time, not to plan down into the weeds every waking moment of your trip).

Basic Activities During Your Vegas Vacation

DAY and TIMEACTIVITY
Sunday, 1:00-4:00pmLand, get luggage, get to hotel, check in, unpack, quick lunch, walk around casino
Sunday, 4:00-6:00pmCraps
Sunday, 6:00-8:00pmDinner and drinks with spouse
Sunday, 8:00pm-12:00amCraps
Sunday, 12:00am (midnight)Go to bed “early” (you and your spouse are exhausted from traveling and from the excitement of your first day in Vegas)
Monday, 8:00-9:00amBreakfast with spouse
Monday, 9:00am-1:00pmCraps
Monday, 1:00-2:00pmLunch (by yourself because your wife doesn’t want to leave the video poker machine)
Monday, 2:00-6:00pmCraps
Monday, 6:00-8:00pmDinner with spouse
Monday, 8:00-10:00pmGo to a show with spouse
Monday, 10:00pm-2:00amCraps
Monday, 2:00amGo to bed
Tuesday, 10:00-11:00amBreakfast with spouse
Tuesday, 11:00am-3:00pmCraps
Tuesday, 3:00-6:00pmPoker (you want a break from paying craps so you relax at a low-limit Texas Holdem table)
Tuesday, 6:00-8:00pmDinner with spouse
Tuesday, 8:00-10:00pmWalk the Vegas Strip sight-seeing with spouse (accept it, you’re going to have to walk around with your spouse and look at all the pretty lights, fountains, volcano, and everything else at least once during your trip)
Tuesday, 10:00-12:00amDancing with spouse in the lounge
Tuesday, 12:00am-2:00amCraps
Tuesday, 2:00amGo to bed
Wednesday, 10:00-11:00amBreakfast with spouse
Wednesday, 11:00am-3:00pmCraps
Wednesday, 3:00-4:00pmVideo poker with spouse
Wednesday, 4:00-6:00pmGo to an afternoon show with spouse
Wednesday, 6:00-8:00pmDinner with spouse
Wednesday, 8:00-10:00pmGo to a show with spouse
Wednesday, 10:00pm-2:00amCraps
Wednesday, 2:00amGo to bed
Thursday, 8:00amDepart hotel for the airport, eat breakfast at airport

This plan has enough detail to give you an idea that there’s a chance you’ll play as many as 9 craps sessions.  Knowing this, you can now estimate how much money you’ll need to cover those 9 sessions.

It’s important to note that a critical part of my overall planning is that I expect to play a few poker sessions that will overlap at least half of my craps sessions, not because I enjoy playing poker, but because I use poker as a way to pass the leftover time from any craps sessions that’s cut short because of cold dice.  As shown in the table above, my craps sessions are planned mostly in 4-hour increments.  I always assume I’ll lose some of the sessions (i.e., you can’t and won’t win every session).  Occasionally, I’ll lose my entire buy-in amount within the first two hours of a session.  In those cases, I never dig into my pocket for more craps money for that particular session.  I maintain my discipline and stick to my loss limit.  Even if I lose my entire buy-in amount within the first hour, I stop (i.e., I never dig for more craps money within the same session).  To pass the remaining time for that session, I leave the craps table and head for the poker room to relax at a low-limit Texas Holdem table (e.g., typically, I play a $2-$4 or $3-$6 game).  My poker buy-in is usually no more than $50.  In other words, if I lose my $100 buy-in at the craps table after just one hour, then I quit for that session and play poker until it’s time for my next craps session.  Remember, if I lose before the session is over, I never dig into my pocket for more craps money.  If you get into the habit of digging for more, you’ll find yourself digging several times in a single session and, before you know it, you’ve dug so many times that all your craps money is gone and it’s only the first day of your 4-day trip.  Leaving the craps table and playing poker allows me to wait out the remaining time for that craps session without losing a lot more money.  I can sit at a low-limit Texas Holdem game and play for hours on a mere $50 buy-in.  Then, when it’s time for my next craps session, I cash out of the poker game and find that I’ve broken even in most cases.  The bottom line is that I never dig for more craps money in a session.  Instead, I quit, leave the table, and wait for my next session.  If you don’t like poker, then pass the time by sitting at the bar watching a ball game or doing something besides continually digging for more craps money within a single craps session.  Having discipline and playing smart ensures you won’t go broke before it’s time to go home.  Remember, nothing is worse than being in Vegas without any gambling money.

Let me emphasize that your plan is highly flexible and highly subject to change for a variety of reasons, which means you may play a lot more or less craps than you planned.  For example, your spouse may decide she wants to spend more time with you on the dance floor, or she got a hankering to go canoeing on the Colorado River by the Hoover Dam, or your winnings may be a lot more than you expected so you play longer sessions.  Although your plan will likely fluctuate, it’s still better than basing your gambling cost estimate on an arbitrary guess.  Take the time to create a plan.  If you’re too lazy and undisciplined to make a simple plan, then there’s little chance that you’ll maintain the discipline necessary to be a successful craps player.

Using your table of basic activities (e.g., like the table above), calculate how much your desired gambling will cost.  The first thing you should determine is what table limit you’re going to play.  As noted in our other lessons, you should find a $5 table because of your limited bankroll.  Leave the $15 and $25 tables to the ga-zillionaires.  You may have to do some homework to find a $5 on the Vegas Strip, but they do exist, especially on weekdays.  Some Strip casinos have a $5 table at the front entrance to attract players, while other casinos have them tucked away in a corner so you can’t find them and, therefore, have to play on their $15 tables.  Do your homework and don’t be shy about it.  Find the casino’s phone number online, and then call and ask for the craps pit.  Simply ask if they have $5 tables and when.  Don’t be nervous or afraid to call.  The casino is just like any other business and the staff is there to help potential customers, so they’ll be happy to answer your questions. Making a few phone calls is certainly better than walking miles up and down the Strip checking each casino to see if they have $5 tables going.  As we noted in our other lessons, it’s worth the time to do your homework, especially if you’re a novice player.  It’s better to learn and get experience on a $5 table than a $15 table because it’s easier to stomach a $5 mistake than a $15 mistake.

Let’s assume you find a $5 table at a casino you like.  A $5 table means your buy-in for each session is relatively inexpensive.  The unwritten rule I always use is that I buy-in for $100 for each daytime session, regardless of whether the session is planned for two or four hours.  I’ve found through years of playing craps that a $100 buy-in at a $5 table is sufficient for me to survive several cold spells but doesn’t stretch my bankroll to the breaking point.  For the nighttime sessions, I usually (not always) buy-in for $200 because I want to stay at the table longer.  Vegas is awake at night, the casino is packed, the table is packed, players are interacting with each other, and it’s just a lot more fun for me than in the daytime when everyone is still asleep or hung over.  So, I spend a little extra for my nighttime sessions.  Let’s use my approach to create a new table with a new column to identify how much craps money you need for each session.  Let’s focus on only the craps sessions, but when you do your planning, don’t forget to estimate how much to bring for the other activities and games you might want to try.  Remember to include money for the poker (or other activities) you plan to do when you have a losing session.  For planning purposes, I always assume I’ll lose half of my craps sessions, so I add $50 to those sessions (as shown in the table below).

Amount of Craps Money to Bring

DAY and TIMEACTIVITY$ AMOUNT
Total Amount to Bring for Craps1500
Sunday, 1:00-4:00pmLand, get luggage, etc.
Sunday, 4:00-6:00pmCraps100
Sunday, 6:00-8:00pmDinner and drinks with spouse
Sunday, 8:00pm-12:00amCraps$200 + $50
Sunday, 12:00amGo to bed
Monday, 8:00-9:00amBreakfast with spouse
Monday, 9:00am-1:00pmCraps100
Monday, 1:00-2:00pmLunch
Monday, 2:00-6:00pmCraps$100 + $50
Monday, 6:00-8:00pmDinner with spouse
Monday, 8:00-10:00pmGo to a show with spouse
Monday, 10:00pm-2:00amCraps200
Monday, 2:00amGo to bed
Tuesday, 10:00-11:00amBreakfast with spouse
Tuesday, 11:00am-3:00pmCraps$100 + $50
Tuesday, 3:00-6:00pmPoker
Tuesday, 6:00-8:00pmDinner with spouse
Tuesday, 8:00-10:00pmWalk the Vegas Strip
Tuesday, 10:00-12:00amDancing with spouse
Tuesday, 12:00am-2:00amCraps200
Tuesday, 2:00amGo to bed
Wednesday, 10:00-11:00amBreakfast with spouse
Wednesday, 11:00am-3:00pmCraps$100 + $50
Wednesday, 3:00-4:00pmVideo poker with spouse
Wednesday, 4:00-6:00pmGo to an afternoon show
Wednesday, 6:00-8:00pmDinner with spouse
Wednesday, 8:00-10:00pmGo to a show with spouse
Wednesday, 10:00pm-2:00amCraps200
Wednesday, 2:00amGo to bed
Thursday, 8:00amDepart hotel for the airport

In this example of your 4-day trip, playing at a $5 table, buying-in for $100 and $200, and including an extra $50 for activities after a losing session (such as poker), you should bring a minimum of $1,500 for craps (i.e., this amount is for craps only, and doesn’t include money for other games you might want to play).

IMPORTANT: This does not mean you’re definitely going to lose $1,500 playing craps.  It simply means this is the absolute worst-case scenario if in the unlikely event that you were extremely unlucky and did lose it all.  Chances are that you won’t lose it all.  Yes, there may be sessions where you might lose your entire buy-in amount, but there may be other sessions where you break even, or win a lot, or lose only a little.  Again, it’s important to understand that the $1,500 total does not mean you’re guaranteed to lose it all.  Let me explain further to ensure you understand the concept.

For purposes of planning your vacation, you should plan on losing your entire buy-in for each craps session (although it probably won’t actually happen).  Yes, your planning should assume you’ll lose it all.  Don’t assume your first session will be a winner, which can then make up for your losses at a later session.  This worst-case approach helps ensure you have enough money to cover as much craps as you hope to play.  For example, if you bring only $1,000 but still plan to play the 9 sessions as shown in the table above, what if the unthinkable happens and you lose it all by Tuesday afternoon?  Yes, I know it probably won’t happen, but what if it does?  Remember, nothing is worse than being in Vegas on vacation without any gambling money.

IMPORTANT: Now’s a good time to review two important laws that you must never break:

1. Never gamble (including craps) with more money than you can afford to lose.

2. If you lose all your planned gambling money before it’s time to go home, you must always have the discipline to avoid the ATM machine.  Never dip into the ATM machine to get more money than you had originally planned for gambling.

This approach to planning your Vegas vacation not only helps you decide how much gambling money to bring, but it also helps you to limit your expectations for how much gambling you’ll actually do.  For example, if you plan to play craps for four days straight but only plan on spending $500, then your expectation of playing for four days straight is unrealistic.  If you know $500 is all you can afford to lose, then you can adjust your plan to reduce your craps time and increase the time for other low-cost activities, such as visiting the Hoover Dam or hiking Red Rock Canyon.

Again, it’s very unlikely that you’ll lose your entire buy-in amount for every craps session.  For example, for the 9 craps sessions planned in the table above, a scenario might be:

  • Session 1: Win $7.
  • Session 2: Lose $64.
  • Session 3: Lose $92.
  • Session 4: Win $121.
  • Session 5: Lose $200.
  • Session 6: Lose $89.
  • Session 7: Break even.
  • Session 8: Win $28.
  • Session 9: Win $678 (Finally!  The distribution variance finally goes your way and you hit one of those blistering hot streaks!).

In this example, your net is a positive $389.  You’re an overall $389 winner for the trip!

The next decision you have to make is what to do with whatever money you don’t lose after each session.  For example, suppose your buy-in for your first session is $100 and at the end of the 4-hour session you find that you lost $58, which means you cash out for $42.  What do you do with that leftover $42?  You can either save it or blow it, it’s your choice.

If you decide to blow it, add the leftover amount to one or more later sessions.  Heck, you’re on vacation and you set aside $1,500 for gambling, so why not blow it doing what you went to Vegas for in the first place?  For example, maybe you decide to add all the leftover to your second session and buy-in for $140.  Or maybe you decide to split the $42 between the next two sessions and buy-in for $120 for those two sessions.

If you decide to save the leftover, consider it as winnings.  Even though you lost $58 that session, you still have $42 leftover from your initial $100 buy-in.  If you had planned on losing the entire $100 buy-in, then any leftover is a positive.  I sometimes justify calling the $58 loss a “$42 win” by thinking that I paid $100 (i.e., my buy-in amount) for four hours of fun and entertainment at the craps table, and then I got a $42 rebate.  View your craps time the same as any other entertainment, such as a fine dinner or show.  The cost of your 4-hour entertainment session was $100 and you have $42 at the end of the session, so the cost of the 4-hour session was really only $58.  Sounds like a $42 winner to me!

The point of this lesson is to always plan your Vegas trip to help determine how much gambling you’ll actually do and how much money you’ll need to do it.  If you don’t bring enough money, you can be stuck in Vegas with empty pockets–and that’s just no fun at all.

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