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Smart Money

by C.J. Mittica

When it comes to casino gambling, it’s possible to make your own luck.

Atlantic City casinos took in $3.3 billion in gaming revenue in 2011—which means, out of its 28.5 million visitors last year, you can bet a decent majority of them walked away with empty wallets and purses. Beating the house is already a tall proposition, and that’s before players even reduce their own odds with impulsive decisions and the innate desire to chase Lady Luck. It takes a little more to be a consistently successful player, whether your game is poker, blackjack, craps or anything else. While the casinos certainly won’t offer you any advice on how to stack the odds in your favor, you can still earn a seat with the high rollers by following these 10 tips.

1. If you can’t beat the house, beat other players.
Plain and simple, it’s easier to win money in poker. “Poker’s a game of skill, whereas other games in the casino are games of chance,” says John Hogan, an avid player from Mantua. “You’re not playing against the house in poker. You’re playing against other players.” He says it’s different than your typical home game; loose play simply won’t work as well in A.C. Players new to the poker room scene should seek out Limit Texas Hold ’Em. “You can’t be bullied in a limit game cause the betting is structured,” says Hogan, who favors the Borgata when he goes to A.C. The time of the week also matters, too. Michael R. Benfield Sr., a Glendora resident who makes several trips a year to the Harrah’s or Trump Taj Mahal poker rooms, says that pros congregate on the weeknights while Friday nights and Saturdays tend to attract (for good or bad) more reckless players. He suggests adjusting your betting strategy accordingly when you’re switching between No Limit and Limit tables. “In No Limit, it’s better to play the bigger hands,” Benfield says. “In Limit, you can play small cards at times. You can have a better chance of seeing all five cards after the flop because it’s not as expensive to see them.”

2. It all starts with attitude.
How many times have you walked into a casino thinking, “I’m willing to lose $200 tonight?” And after the evening is over, where do you think the money has gone? Straight into the casino’s pockets. That’s fine if you’re going to write the night off as fun and blowing off steam. But, “if your goal is to continually make money, you cannot look at it as entertainment,” says Dr. AJ Moore, a journalism professor at Rider University who specializes in gambling and sports media trends. That requires a more focused approach and an optimistic outlook.

3. Check your mood.
What are the reasons you gamble? Fun? Thrill-seeking? Escape from other problems? The answers have a surprising influence on your gambling habits, says professor Lia Nower, the director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University—the only gambling research and policy center of its kind in the United States. “Mood state is very closely aligned with persistence,” says Nower, who oversees studies that look at problem gambling and how players make decisions. “[For] people who are in a kind of aversive mood state—depressed, anxious, whatever—continuing the gambling experience is more important than winning or losing at that moment.”

4. Roll with the punches.
Aspiring to be a professional gambler or a high roller? It’s not easy. And even if you regularly do it for fun, be prepared to ride out some tough stretches. “The reality is,” says Nower, “that the best of the best lose a lot, even though they win a lot.”

5. Blackjack offers the best odds —if you play the right way.
In his time as a senior gaming operations inspector, Alan J. Ciciarelli saw one player split 10s against a dealer’s ace three separate times in 10 minutes. No surprise he lost all three hands. “He walked away from the table,” remembers the author of Play Smart and Enjoy Your Stay, “and looks at his friend and says ‘Gee, I can’t understand what happened.’” The point? Stick to the system (or as Ciciarelli calls it, “methods of play”), and you’ll maximize your odds. The player’s slim advantage in blackjack is quickly lessened by buying insurance, making side bets and playing multiple hands. “The concept nobody understands is, if you don’t have 21, your hand doesn’t matter,” he says. “Your hand is only a winner or loser depending on the dealer’s hands.” Learning the right plays helps tremendously. You can even take a basic strategy card to inform your play or ask the dealers what they think the right move is.

6. Count cards at your own risk.
It’s not illegal, but you will definitely be thrown out of a casino if you’re caught doing it. And while it can help you, you have to be a numbers whiz to do it well and effortlessly. “It’s a job,” Ciciarelli says about card counting. “It’s a lot of hard work.”

7. Make the unpopular choice.
Want to have fun? Play craps, where a hot roller and boisterous group can turn the excitement up to 11. Want to win money? Bet the Don’t Pass line—which is essentially betting against the roller. It certainly won’t win you any friends at the table, which is why you shouldn’t make a big show of it. “The quiet ones are the ones who are winning,” says Moore. “They aren’t allowing the fun and excitement to vary their strategy.” Another common mistake is players who never take money off the table.

8. Hit a winner, win money.
There are countless ways to bet in roulette—evens and odds, reds and blacks, first, second and third 12s, etc. So a common strategy is to spread money around to hit as many chances as possible. But that can cost you more to play than you end up winning. “People will put $200-$300 down on the table, hit the number and get $125 back. To me, that’s senseless,” Ciciarelli says. “If you hit a winning number, you should win something, show a profit.”

9. Be smart with your money.
Losing money quickly causes players to reach for their ATM cards. (Best to leave that at home.) But few realize how difficult it is to call it quits once you’ve accumulated some winnings. To manage that, Kevin Collins asks a friend to cash part of his winnings so he won’t play it. “The other thing that I do is think of what I can buy with the money I won,” says the Washington Township resident. “That helps with removing the notion that ‘It’s not my money anyway.’”

10. Drink at your own peril.
Certainly alcohol (free or otherwise) helps people relax while they’re at the casino. But it also causes people to lose track of time and get distracted from the game. “Alcohol,” Moore says, “is the No. 1 reason people make bad decisions.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 8 (November, 2012).
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