Bad beats happen. Games of chance produce wild swings of wins and losses, a natural variance that the human mind perceives as good or bad luck. Without risk, gambling wouldn’t exist. The specter of losing is always hovering over the roulette wheel, the poker table, and the sportsbook counter.
The ability to recover from a loss is important. The best sports bettors in the world win not much more than 55% of their bets, which means they lose almost as often as they win. The same goes for advantage gamblers playing blackjack or video poker, fighting for every tenth of a percent of edge they can squeeze from the house.
Here’s how to recover from a big gambling loss.
What’s Considered a Big Loss?
I can’t define a big loss across the board. The number is likely to be a little different for each person. One gambler may take a $500 loss in stride, while another gambler would miss a house payment if he lost that kind of money.
It’s difficult to compare big losses across different games of chance and skill. For instance, an NFL bettor may only plan to place 20 or 25 bets in a season, while a slots player makes 25 bets in 3 or 4 minutes. This is an interesting comparison since I think both sports bettors and slots players tend to see big losses due to the same bad behaviors, namely gambling outside of their budget and chasing losses.
All that said, we can talk about a big gambling loss as a percentage of a player’s bankroll. I think we’d all agree that a loss of 100% of your bankroll is a big loss, right? I think most people would agree that a loss of 50% of your total bankroll counts as a bad loss. It’s hard to know where to set the limit.
That’s why it all comes down to this – a big loss means losing while betting more than you can afford to lose. To some extent, that’s down to personal preference. It’s important to establish betting limits so that you don’t find yourself in this position to begin with.
What to Do Right After a Big Loss
I was in Mississippi last summer, gambling a little at Horseshoe Tunica in between events for a buddy’s wedding. One of the guys at my table was having a nice run of luck, making mostly even money bets and building up a nice stack. He was also downing cocktails like they were ice water.
If you’ve ever spent much time gambling, you know what eventually happened to this guy and his money. He put his whole stack on the 1st 12, hoping to double his money. He lost, and his face turned an incredible shade of purple.
That guy was experiencing a big gambling loss. Lucky for him, he made the right move. He got up from the table and walked away. I don’t know what became of him, but his decision to step away from the table after a big loss makes me think he probably turned out alright.
Here are the three things you should do right away when you experience a big gambling loss:
1. Take a break.
Gambling while on an emotional high or low is pretty much the same as gambling while intoxicated. Your decision-making processes are slow, your judgment is cloudy at best, and you’re in no condition to be wagering real money on risky outcomes.
After a bad loss, you’re likely to be in a very emotional place. You will tend to chase your losses and make up for your mistakes. Don’t do this.
Take a break, walk away, find a calm and quiet place where you can evaluate what just happened without distraction.
2. Establish how much you lost.
It’s time to think dollars and cents. If you’re that poor tablemate of mine from Tunica, you probably had a little over $3,000 sitting on that dozens bet.
How much did you lose? What percent of your bankroll does this loss represent? This may seem like the last set of calculations you want to be doing right now, but it’s a crucial step in the immediate aftermath of a big loss in gambling.
3. Re-evaluate your bankroll.
It’s time to make an intelligent decision about whether you should keep playing or not. To do that, you need to re-evaluate your budget for this gambling excursion.
If you came to the casino with $5,000 and just lost $3,000 on a dumb roulette bet, at the very least you’ll want to adjust how much you’re wagering per decision. You can’t wager at the tables with $2,000 the way you were with $5,000.
Most of the time, you’ll want to pack up and leave after a bad beat. I don’t think anybody who gets put on an emotional bender over a loss can recover well enough to gamble successfully. I don’t like to tell people things like “you have to leave the casino after a big gambling loss,” but I think in the majority of cases, leaving for the day is the right move.
What to Do Before You Gamble Again
After some time has passed, and the emotions of the day have cooled, you’re probably going to want to go back to gambling again at some point.
Here are three things to do before you go back to gambling after a big casino loss:
1. Be honest about the impact of your big gambling loss.
Was your loss so bad that it impacted your life outside of the casino? I’m talking here about the old cliché of “betting the rent money.” It’s one thing if you had to tighten your belt a little bit because of a bad gambling beat – quite another thing if you have a family to support and they had to bear the burden of your loss.
Being honest about the impact of your loss is probably the hardest part of this page of advice, but that also makes it the most valuable. If you think your gambling is hurting your life or the lives of others, you should consider avoiding gambling altogether.
On the other hand, a bad gambling loss doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. If I were to lose $100 playing blackjack, I’d feel pretty burned, but that’s because I have a low tolerance for losing money and a conservative gambling budget. Losing $100 wouldn’t impact me or my family in any significant way even though I’d still consider it a big casino loss.
2. Identify the reason(s) for your big loss.
Maybe your big gambling loss came down to a simple mistake – placing a bet larger than you intended or misunderstanding a game’s rules. Those types of mistakes are common, and they’re easy to correct.
Another common reason for a big loss is betting on emotion or placing a wager after you drink a little too much. These behaviors are a little trickier to control and manage, and generally require professional help or a support group. Before you tackle those difficulties, understand that they pretty much preclude you from responsible gambling.
You can’t work on a problem that you haven’t outlined. If your issue was poor money management, address that by reading up on bankroll management strategies and watching videos on controlling your casino spending.
3. Change your betting habits.
Once you’ve named the problem (or problems), you can start to change the way you wager to prevent another big gaming loss at the casino.
Bankroll management is boring, but if you strictly adhere to a unit bet size, you’ll never find yourself making a dumb betting move that leads to a bad beat. The same goes for following optimal game strategy. If you’re playing blackjack, video poker, or any one of a half-dozen games for which optimal game strategy has been developed, following those strategy charts should prevent you from having to deal with a bad casino beat.
Conclusion – How to Recover from a Big Gambling Loss
To put my advice in an easily-digestible format – after a bad casino loss, you need to step away, gather yourself emotionally, look at the numbers, and make changes to your betting strategy moving forward. Somewhere in there, you need to be honest about whether gambling is a good idea for you or not, at least in the short term.
That’s not to say that everyone who deals with a big casino loss has a gambling problem. It’s more to say that some big losses are unavoidable, and others should be avoided at all costs. If you can’t avoid casino beats caused by good old-fashioned player error, maybe it’s time to consider a break from the casino altogether.