Risk Of Ruin
Risk of Ruin is a concept you should consider if you want to continue casino play on a regular basis. You can usually manage a fair gamble against the casinos if you study the games and play at optimal times but that just makes it more probable that you will break even or better over the long run. Over the short run and sometimes, in psyche smashing clusters, you will be at the low end of variance. If you play enough, there’s going to be a time when Lady Luck beats you down—repeatedly. Risk of Ruin measures the probability that you’ll lose so much money that you can no longer afford to play (or so much that you no longer WANT to play). It is useful for bankroll management and also to keep you within your own personal risk tolerance, which is important if you want to keep this hobby fun and not a soul draining exercise in futility!
Off To Vegas!
In May, I found round trip airfare from Philadelphia to Vegas for $129 on Southwest Airlines and in my enthusiasm over an extra trip to Vegas, failed to consider this concept. I relay this story, so you might oversee your bankroll prudently and weather a losing streak without melting down, like I did.
I made my flight, caught the express bus to the El Cortez and was checked in, unpacked and on the floor within two hours. (The OCD won’t allow me to drop my bags and go or else I would have been on the floor in one hour.)
I have a long relationship with the El Cortez and have a good deal there. The details are for another article, but I am always playing with a slight theoretical advantage. This year, I had only three gambling trips previous to this one, also with a theoretical advantage and had lost on every one. Surely, I couldn’t lose a fourth time. Uh, yes I could. I could lose six trips in a row, all with a theoretical advantage. So, let’s examine my actual playing pattern and talk about the Risk of Ruin.
Losing In Las Vegas
I play video poker and although there are very precise Risk of Ruin numbers that can be generated by the pay table of the game played, I like to make rough estimates based upon what percentage of the jackpot the loss is. On this fateful trip, I lost more than a royal flush (4000 coin jackpot) over three days. I lost about 35% of a jackpot per day, playing between 6-10 hours. That’s not lucky but it’s not that unusual. When I add in the free play that I also lost, it makes it closer to half a jackpot per day, which is still not unusual.
I bumped up in denomination for some of the play to try to generate points so if I figure that I lost half a royal for the trip, that’s not all that unusual either. This play was on Bonus Poker, which has low variance (less bankroll needed to hang in there and wait for a jackpot) but it sure doesn’t feel like it when you are not hitting four of a kinds and you are not recycling coin. The other half of the play was on Downtown Deuces Wild, which has a pay table over 100% but nearly triple the variance of Bonus Poker.
The Truth About Advantage Play
Winning sprees and losing sprees are a normal part of variance. You have the same chance of hitting the jackpot or losing your bet, on each hand that you play, regardless of what happened the hand or hands before that. Just because you are theoretically overdue for a jackpot, does not mean that a jackpot is going to happen. Just because you are playing with an advantage does not mean you are going to REALIZE that advantage during that session! In order to hang in there through the swings, you need to manage your bankroll and your expectations.
So, I went to Vegas, knowing, but trying to ignore the fact that I should probably have a bankroll of four 25c royals, $4000, if I want to play 25c video poker consistently. Could I have lost $4000 in three days, if I played only 25c video poker? Probably not, but it is possible. Psychologically, I should have prepared myself for a loss, because you are going to have more losing trips than winning trips. You hope to hit jackpots and have everything even out, but that may not happen in a year or even in two years, so you should play in a range, where if you lose your daily session amount, every day, it is not going to ruin your trip. If you do take a shot and play above your means (I mean, it’s called gambling) you would be wise to prepare yourself for the worst case scenario, have a non-gaming Plan B in place in case you need a time out and sock away a portion of any jackpot money you win to build your bankroll for a rainy stretch!
Looking back on my session notes, I can see that my expectations were out of line for this trip. I played quite a bit of 50c Bonus Poker. Also, I did drop to quarters when I wasn’t recycling, but many times I went to 25c Downtown Deuces which has higher variance. I shouldn’t have been surprised with a loss, since I did not hit four deuces or a royal flush and these hands don’t come frequently.
I hope that you will win, win, win and not have to suffer a losing streak, but evaluating your bankroll, play and psychological mindset before and after a trip will make for a smoother overall gaming experience.