Self-Control in the Casino

Self-control is defined as the ability to function normally within society while controlling one's emotions, desires, and behavior in the face of external demands. Most people manage to pull off this balancing act every day--those who cannot sometimes wind up ostracized or incarcerated.

Self-control in the casino works the same way, although the penalties for failure are often just as severe. Some individuals have wiped out their life savings at the slots, while others turn to white-collar crimes such as fraud to fund their addiction. This is not normal behavior, of course, but it's something that plagues millions of casino patrons to one degree or another.

On this page, we share some of the best ways to maintain self-control while gambling at the casino. We also provide a number of tips for enhancing your overall discipline, as well as listing the signs that someone may be suffering from gambling addiction.

How to Stay in Control in the Casino

The next time you walk through the doors of a casino, keep the following tips and tactics in mind. You might not be able to apply all of them during the span of a single trip, but any serious gambler will be provided with ample opportunities to use each one over the course of several years.

  • Understand the Rules
  • Avoid Alcohol
  • Take Breaks
  • Bankroll Management
  • Don't Get Greedy
  • Never Borrow Money
  • Avoid the ATM
  • Don't Chase Losses

Understand the Rules

How can you expect to win at a game if you don't understand the rules? Some casino offerings are easier to learn than others, so always do your research before sitting down at the table. This can save you a certain amount of embarrassment during a game, and it can also ensure that you don't make stupid and costly mistakes. A lot of casinos offer practice tables where you can learn games without paying, and the Internet is filled with free versions of every casino favorite.

Avoid Alcohol

Drunk people often make fools of themselves, and even someone who's slightly inebriated isn't functioning at 100%. The fact that many casinos offer complimentary alcoholic beverages should tell you everything that you need to know. They don't do it to make their customers happy; they do it so patrons will become inebriated and make mistakes when gambling. The casino already has an advantage over the players. Don't give them yet another one by getting hammered.

Take Breaks

Anyone who's ever been to a casino has seen bleary-eyed gamblers who look like they haven't slept for days. The smart players, however, never put themselves in such a position. Your body needs sleep to function properly, and depriving it leads to mental errors that can cost you dearly. Don't be afraid to head up to your room for a few hours rest, especially if you've been playing a marathon session. At the very least, take a break every hour to clear your head and combat the hypnotic allure of the slot machines.

>Bankroll Management

Your bankroll is the amount of money you've allotted for gambling. You should always play within this amount and stop if it becomes depleted. If you're gambling over the span of several days, this total should be divided up by the number of gaming sessions. If you lose the allotted amount during a session, stop play and find something else to do. Another strategy is to set a goal and quit if you manage to win that amount. This might sound excessive and decidedly dull, but it's this kind of discipline that prevents smart players from going broke and spending their child's college fund on a Beverly Hillbillies slot machine.

Don't Get Greedy

Let's assume a player wins $300 on a slot machine. He thinks to himself, "Now I'm playing with the casino's money, so I'll see how long I can ride this hot streak." Then he promptly loses the $300, as well as another $150 of his own hard-earned money. When the gambling gods see fit to give you a boon, it's always wise to accept it and walk away. The house edge gets everyone in the long run, so take the money and run when the opportunity presents itself.

Never Borrow Money

If you're borrowing money in order to gamble, it's safe to assume that you can't afford to pay for your gambling on your own. While a winning session might allow you to pay back the loan and still have a decent amount left over, what happens if the session ends in a loss? Now you're broke and in debt to someone else, which is the kind of thing that can end friendships and alienate family members. If you can't afford to play with your own money, then don't play at all. Anyone who can't adhere to the previous sentence should definitely read our final section on problem gambling, as they may be in need of help.

Avoid the ATM

The entire purpose of setting a budget is to avoid foolish actions such as borrowing money or making additional trips to the ATM machine. When your allotted amount of money is gone, take the opportunity to leave the casino as soon as possible. If you make the mistake of going to the ATM and withdrawing even more cash, you're courting the kind of disaster that can impact your family as well as yourself.

Don't Chase Losses

When a player suffers a number of losses, emotions can often begin to cloud their judgment. They may get angry, vowing to "get even" with the casino for having the temerity to take their cash. This is known as "chasing losses," and it's a surefire way to get even deeper in the hole. A game of chance is always a risky proposition, and someone who's just experienced a string of losses isn't guaranteed to reverse their luck through simple persistence.

Ways to Enhance Self-Control

Some people seem almost inhuman when it comes to exercising self-control. No matter what the temptation, they can bypass it without batting an eye. For the rest of us, though, the process can be a lot more difficult. If you need some extra help in the discipline department, here are some strategies you can try incorporating into your daily life.

Feed Your Body

Exercising self-control requires glucose for your brain cells, and you'll be more prone to bad behavior if you haven't eaten in a while. Avoid sugary foods in favor of something like meat or whole grain rice, and you should be good to go for hours.

Practice Meditation

When you train your mind, it becomes better equipped to handle the day-to-day stresses of temptation. You'll be able to make smarter decisions, especially when faced with traditional weaknesses. You don't need any fancy equipment to get started, and even five minutes of concentration and contemplation per day can yield noticeable results.

Learn to Forgive

When you succumb to temptation, there's a tendency to beat yourself up and engage in additional self-destructive behavior. Learn to forgive yourself when you slip up and resolve to do better next time.

Get Plenty of Sleep

You brain needs to draw upon glucose to fight off temptation, and it's hard to do that if you're not getting enough sleep (7 to 8 hours per night). Low glucose levels can also make you crave items that are high in sugar, and this leads to a whole other set of problems.

Make Sure to Exercise

Doing any kind of exercise allows your brain to function at maximum efficiency, and this can be of major importance when it's time to stave off unwise impulses at the casino. Even ten minutes of exercise can make a difference, but we'd suggest 30 per day whenever possible.

Discover Your Inner Foxhole

When soldiers are expecting to be bombarded, they may dig a foxhole to better protect themselves. When you feel temptation building up inside you, it's wise to retreat to your inner foxhole and wait for the gambling barrage to subside. This might sound like a lot of new age nonsense, but delaying gratification by even 10 minutes can go a long way towards establishing better discipline.

Self-Control & Problem Gambling

When a person fails to exercise self-control in the casino, it can sometimes be a result of problem or pathological gambling. An estimated six million Americans are addicted to gambling, and this can tear families apart and result in everything from financial ruin to prison time. In a 2008 Australian survey, problem gambling was found to be the largest contributor to fraud within the nation, with the average case resulting in a loss of $1.1 million.

According to studies, a person with a gambling addiction alsohas a much higher lifetime risk for suicide. In fact, a report five pathological gamblers try to take their own life at some point. UC San Diego sociologist David Phillips labeled Las Vegas as having the highest suicide rate in the United States, and the levels for New Jersey became "abnormally high" only after the introduction of legal gambling.

In order to prevent financial and personal ruin, as well as curb the risk of more fatal problems, a person must first be diagnosed as having a gambling disorder. In order to be classified as a pathological gambler, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states that at least four of the following symptoms must be demonstrated within a one-year period.

  • Gambling has caused the individual to suffer extreme financial problems. As a result, they often have to rely on friends and family for assistance to meet basic needs such as food and rent.
  • When the individual tries to stop gambling or even scale back their activities, they experience feelings of restlessness and irritability.
  • Instead of admitting their dependence on gambling, the person often comes up with elaborate lies to mask their involvement.
  • When the person feels anxious, depressed, or otherwise stressed out, they frequently turn to gambling as a mechanism for coping with their problems (both real and imagined).
  • Over time, the excitement derived from gambling begins to diminish. In order to recapture this feeling, the individual begins to increase the size of their wagers. This works for a time, but then the amount must once again be increased in order to maintain the desired rush.
  • Due to their gambling, the individual has either destroyed or seriously jeopardized a job, relationship, or career opportunity. In many cases, however, the person blames these setbacks and misfortunes on factors other than gambling.
  • The person has tried on multiple occasions to stop or cut back on gambling. Each time, however, the attempt is ultimately unsuccessful.
  • If the individual suffers financial losses during a gambling session, they return as soon as possible in an effort to recoup their money. This cycle often continues until the gambler has either achieved their goal of "getting even" or (more likely) cannot obtain additional funds to play with.
  • The person is obsessed with gambling in both word and deed. When they're not playing some game of chance, they're daydreaming about past wins, planning their next gambling excursion, or thinking of financial schemes to generate a new bankroll.

Fortunately, a problem gambler has a number of means at their disposal for overcoming their self-destructive behavior. While the success rate of each option differs based on the individual, the following have proven to be among the most successful.

  • Self-cure
  • Drugs
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Step-based Program


In this sort of treatment, the individual largely determines the direction of their rehabilitation. This may be as simple as exercising willpower and resisting temptation, or it can also involve online peer support to aid in recovery. Another popular option involves motivational interviewing, allowing the individual to emotionally prepare themselves for life without gambling. According to one study, one-third of problem gamblers are able to overcome the addiction on their own.


In severe cases, drug treatment may be prescribed to help the individual overcome their desire to gamble. Two popular drugs for this type of therapy are paroxetine and lithium.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The emphasis is on identifying gambling-related thought processes, especially those that make a person vulnerable to out-of-control behavior. Problem-solving and skill-building are both emphasized as a way to combat possible relapses.

Step-based Program

The most well-known version of this therapy is Gamblers Anonymous, and its 12 steps are modeled on those used by Alcoholics Anonymous. The system emphasizes group support and individual responsibility, and a significant amount of time is devoted to helping members overcome financial and legal troubles.


Exercising self-control in the casino can pay a number of dividends over the long term. The most obvious is that you'll be able to save money by not chasing losses or making foolish wagers. Another benefit is the prevention of gambling addiction, a severe problem that plagues millions of individuals around the globe. You should also experience a boost in self-confidence, knowing that you've exercised the necessary willpower to make a smart decision in the face of temptation.

Casino gambling can be immense fun, but it's best tempered with realistic expectations. The house edge exists to give the casino a clear advantage, and even the luckiest player is bound to suffer through cold streaks.

If you accept these facts and keep a cool head, you can still enjoy your time spent in the casino. If not, then you may be headed for disaster.

The choice is yours.


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