The Wisdom of Setting Win & Loss Limits

Most so-called gambling “experts” agree that we should always set win/loss limits and have the discipline to stick to them.  I don’t agree with the word “always,” particularly with win limits.  I believe it’s important to evaluate your circumstances and make a reasoned judgment call on whether to quit while you’re ahead.

I do believe loss limits are important so there’s nothing to debate about that.  For example, suppose you take a three-day Vegas trip and plan to play a lot of craps.  I recommend dividing your craps-playing time into equal sessions with each session a set duration, such as four hours.  Then plan on playing three 4-hour sessions per day (i.e., one in the morning, afternoon, and night).  Set a loss limit for each session, such as $100.  That means for your three-day vacation, plan on spending $900 at the craps table.  That’s a reasonable amount for three days in Vegas.  This does not mean you‘re going to lose the entire $900.  It simply means you should plan on bringing $900 to cover your potential craps expenses.  (Review our other lesson on how to properly plan for a gambling trip, and how to determine the proper amount to support your planned gambling time.  Without proper planning, the enjoyment you get from your Vegas trip has a good chance of being a lot less than desired.)  For each 4-hour session, stick to your $100 loss limit.  If the dice just don’t cooperate and you lose $100 the first hour, accept defeat and leave the table.  Don’t dig into your pocket for money that’s planned for a later session.  If your luck stays bad, you could lose your entire $900 in one day.  Then what?  What do you do for the remaining two days of your vacation?  You walk around sight-seeing with your empty pockets turned inside, that’s what.  How many times can you watch the free fountains and volcano?  It’s terrible being in Vegas without any gambling money!  Stick to your loss limit every session, leave the table when you’re having bad luck, and do something else until it’s time for your next session.

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Now, let’s talk about win limits.  I don’t always like win limits, especially when visiting Vegas for a few short days.  Win limits are good for someone who plays a lot, such as a Vegas local who stops at the casino every day on his way home from work.  In this case, if he gets ahead by a certain amount, such as $25 or $50, then it’s good to quit while he’s ahead for that day.  He won’t miss much by quitting early because he can always return tomorrow for another session.  However, if you’re an occasional gambler who only plays twice a year in Vegas or once a month at your favorite online casino, then win limits may not suit your circumstances.

Suppose you and your wife head to Vegas for a quick three-day trip.  You arrive and she lets you play your first craps session as soon as you dump your bags in the room.  You hurry down to the tables and see one where everyone is clapping and cheering so you deduce that it must be heating up.  You count only seven players at one end of the table but there’s no room for another because the fat guy in player position #1 takes up two spots.  You turn to the guy who was there before you waiting for an open spot and ask, “You gonna play?”  He says, “Yeah, once someone leaves.”  You think to yourself, “I was nice and gave him a chance, but he didn’t take it, so I’m making my move!”  You wedge yourself between the gorgeous brunette and the non-smoker while politely asking, “Can I get in here, please?”  They ignore you, but the dealer knows there’s only seven players at that end so he asks everyone to make room for you (the table can accommodate eight players at each end).  You immediately drop your $100 buy-in and tell the dealer, “Five on the line with fifteen odds.”  You think about your win-loss limits and tell yourself you’re going to quit if you win or lose $100, no matter what.  (Very good!  Setting limits at the start is good!)  The dealer quickly gets your chips, positions the bets for you, and puts the remaining chips in the apron for you to pick up.  The shooter immediately rolls the point and you win a quick $23.

The craps table turns blistering hot.  The shooter rolls number after number, point after point.  With every other roll, you pocket those beautiful green chips instead of putting them in your chip rack.  Finally after 30 minutes, the game ends with a 7-out.  You pull out a handful of green chips from your pocket and realize you just won $700 in less than an hour.  Now what?

You’re $700 ahead, which is way more than the $100 win limit that you set for yourself.  Do you stick to your win limit and quit that session early?  Do you quit for the rest of your trip and not play any more craps at all?  Think about it.  You’re $700 ahead, which will pay for all your meals for the whole trip and maybe a couple of cheap shows.  So, do you quit playing altogether for the rest of your trip?  Personally, for me, there’s no way I quit.  I came to Vegas to play craps, not waste time sight-seeing.  I pocket $600 of the winnings and use the other $100 for the remainder of that session.  I play by the same rules in terms of my loss limit, so if I then lose $100 before the end of that session, then I quit.

My strict rule is, if I lose my $100 limit for a particular session, I never dig into my pocket for more to continue playing.  Instead, I quit and go to the bar for a beer and watch the game, or play poker, or sit with my wife at the video poker machine, or do something until it’s time for the next 4-hour session.  However, if I win, I keep playing regardless of how much I win.

Win limits can be useful in certain circumstances for some people.  For example, people who seldom gamble will oftentimes quit when they’re ahead.  For them, gambling isn’t fun or they don’t like risking their money.  They usually play simply because their spouse or friend plays.  Suppose your company sends you and a colleague to Vegas for a training class.  After class, you talk your friend into stopping at the craps table for a few minutes. Your friend has no clue how to play the game, but he plays anyway because he’s not yet ready to go back to his room.  You tell him, “Just do what I do and you’ll be fine.”  The shooter has a fairly decent roll that lasts 15 minutes.  Your friend counts his chips and finds he’s $45 ahead.  He then says, “Thanks, that was fun, but I’m walking away.”  A win limit (or a win of any amount) makes sense for this type of gambler.

Remember, familiarize yourself with the craps rules and always set a loss limit for each session, but evaluate your circumstances before setting a win limit.  Loss limits keep you out of trouble, but win limits can sometimes defeat the whole reason you’re playing craps (such as during the occasional Vegas vacation as described above).

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Written by John Nelsen in partnership with the team of craps pros at