I know I’ve been radio silent on Twitter (yes, it’s still and always will be Twitter; I refuse to call it X) for the past few months. As I gear up for my #AnnualDestinationBirthdayPartyInLasVegas later this week, I wanted to check in and give an update on where I am at and share some lessons I’ve learned, as well as post my gambling plans to help hold myself accountable. 

I don’t know the best way to start this, but lest I get in my head and talk myself out of writing it, I’m just going to dive in; I’m typing this in one go, and posting it the same night — I hope you enjoy.

As many readers know, I had a rollercoaster gambling year in 2023. I hit my first ever handpay in February on a $1 bet for $1202.90 playing Buffalo Ascension on a Carnival Cruise. At the time, it was thrilling, but in retrospect, it sent me down a path towards degeneracy (not the tongue-in-cheek degen that I refer to myself as, but on a one way road into compulsive gambling territory). 

Feeling invincible, I began to chase harder and harder, spending more time and more money in the casino. Despite my logical brain knowing better, my degen brain took over and once I got to the casino; I found myself chasing on slots, especially those with perceived persistence. While sometimes I was able to dig myself out of holes and come out victorious (like with my $2100 handpay on Ascension at the Ameristar in May), it was only a matter of time until I gave it back, because bigger play (usually) led to bigger losses (I gave back over half of the aforementioned handpay in my subsequent two trips). 

I have always prided myself on being a logical (well, as logical as you can be choosing to enjoy games that are designed to take your money) and disciplined gambler. That went out the window last year.

This all came to a head when I took a trip to Las Vegas for my cousin’s bachelor part. Long story short, I took my worst loss ever: about $1400. Everything is relative, especially in gambling; whereas some play at tables with a minimum higher than that, that is just over my bi-weekly take-home paycheck. I wrote about this in a raw blog post (typed on my iPhone while flying home, still reeling and defeated) if you want all of the gory details. But it was clear after that trip that something needed to change. What, I just wasn’t sure. But I knew in my heart of hearts that I was displaying the same compulsive tendencies with gambling as I had previously with drinking, and I could see the slippery slope that I was flirting with.

I announced on Twitter that I would be taking an indefinite break from gambling to recalibrate and figure out my feelings.

I had a planned trip for When We Were Young at the end of October. I was excited for the lineup and had prepaid for my hotel, so I knew that I had to face my demons head on. I set strict bankroll limits, promised myself that I would explore the city beyond the casinos, and aspired to avoid the one-armed bandits that had been my downfall the previous trip. I even went an entire day (Saturday) without gambling once. I didn’t have much luck in the casinos, but I managed to stick to my limit. That, above all else, restored my gradually-eroded confidence in my discipline, and was my biggest win of the trip. 

I spent most of the trip preoccupied with gambling and the limits that I had set; it reminded me of my past attempts at moderation when I was drinking. In both instances, I was able to stick to the limits that I set, but it took so much mental energy that it took me out of the moment. Of course I was capable of letting loose and having fun, but the consequences weren’t worth it. I began to wonder to myself if I needed to quit gambling entirely. As someone who has been gambling since they turned 18, started a blog about Las Vegas, and has 5 gambling related tattoos, this was a painful thing to even consider. 

I decided not to gamble on my solo cruise. NCL threw me a curveball when I had a coupon in my room for free drinks in the casino. My addict brain tried to convince me that this was a suitable excuse to gamble, but I stood strong. (Fortunately, I was able to take advantage of the offer at the casino bar without playing; between my frequency and generous tips, the bartenders had a water and Heineken 0 ready for me when I’d walk up by the end of the cruise.) I am proud to say that I stuck to my limits, and did not gamble once. I felt free and relaxed.

To end the year, I had a Christmas cruise booked with my mom through Carnival. I booked it on the heels of my handpay back in April with a floater offer they sent me before realizing that I am not the whale they hoped; I had $500 of free play to spend. I hemmed and hawed about how I would spend it, ultimately deciding to try and convert it to as much cash as I could, and take it home with me.

I was (mostly) disciplined, sticking to video poker or Ultimate X vuluturing, but with one exception: the fucking pigs. Riding high after converting $20 of free play into $50 cash, I walked by Rich Little Piggies: Meal Ticket and saw that the red pig was fully X’d off, meaning that there were plenty of premium symbols. My degen brain convinced me that it was +EV to play, which of course it wasn’t — since the piggies are ALWAYS fucking -EV. If you know this game, you know exactly what I’m talking about; if you don’t know this game, please learn from my many mistakes and never fucking touch it. Anyways, I blew through $140 of free play with increasing levels of despair before finally hitting a bonus for $42. I cashed out with my tail between my legs, relieved that it was over.

I am glad that the pigs (re)taught me my lesson about slots (for the 120,395th time). The anxious anticipation I felt as the for-entertainment-only pigs swelled bigger and bigger without bursting, the frustration I felt as the sliding doors failed to reveal a much needed coin, the despair as I dug a deeper and deeper hole, and my resigned acceptance that the house edge was eating away at me were in no way enjoyable. It wasn’t entertaining, and it certainly wasn’t fun; in fact, I’d pay money not to experience that cocktail of negative emotion again. It was then that I realized the absurdity of chasing on slots. Not only are slots designed to slowly part (or in the case of Buffalo when it’s not hitting, rapidly) rob me of my money, but they rob me of my self-discipline. By design.

I hope that is the last time I ever hit “spin” on a slot machine.

On a happier note, I’m pleased to report that I converted the $500 of free play to $520 of cash, thanks almost exclusively to video poker, and the fortuitous luck of a few 4OAKs and 2 elusive straight flushes. I greatly enjoyed my time playing video poker, and found it entertaining and exciting.

On a rainy day, my mom and I decided to play for some free drinks in the casino. I bought in with $20 of house money, and after losing that, was going to stop and go home with my $500. My mom threw me an executive $20 to keep playing. I got some good play, hitting a straight flush. I started poking around on the machine, Ultimate X vulturing. I found a 2x multiplier on the bottom line of a 3-line 50 cent Double Double Bonus game. Since I had some credits, I decided to go for it for one spin. I got dealt AAA. Relieved to have a guaranteed winner, I turned to my mom and wishfully said “please send me an Ace,” almost as a joke.

I hit deal, and the first card out was an Ace. Four Aces 800×2 on the bottom line. As I silently fist pumped in excitement, I noticed that the box on the second line wasn’t yellow, and that the credit amount was large. In a state of shock, I realized that I hit 4 Aces with a Kicker on the second line, for 2000 credits. I was so elated that I forgot I was playing 50 cent, which I eventually remembered when the screen locked up and displayed CALL ATTENDANT. 

I hit a $1807.50 miracle. 

Poetically, the after-tax amount (Carnival wouldn’t withhold, but I’ve got $360 parked in a high-yield savings account until tax season) comes out to right around the amount of my worst loss ever.

I came home with $2300.

I’m not going to delude myself into thinking that I was “due,” but I am absolutely going to graciously accept this gift, learn from the mistakes of 2023, and make better choices in the future. I put the full amount in savings, less $300 that I spent to treat myself to upgraded linens and buy a silk comforter (yes, this was the thing I most wanted with my windfall, and yes, I’m turning 30 this week…why do you ask?)

So, where does that leave me heading into my #AnnualDestinationBirthdayPartyInLasVegas? Excited. With the following thoughts/rules:

  1. Enjoy the ride. First and foremost, I am going to enjoy the time and experiences with my friends. Whereas in the past, gambling was the focus of my trips (and I spent any time not gambling in a state of withdrawal, desperately looking to scratch the itch), this trip it will just be the prelude — I’m flying in a day early and staying solo at the Golden Nugget. Once my friends get there, I might not even gamble; I’m going to be fully present with them, and enjoy quality time, memorable experiences, and make priceless memories — that itself is +EV no matter how the gambling goes.
  2. No slot machines. I know that they activate my lizard brain, and I cannot afford (emotionally, mentally, or financially) to let my degenerate urges take over. I know that slots are designed to be addictive, and that I will lose control if I start. I’ve learned this lesson enough times; now it’s time to apply it.
  3. Stick to my limit. I know I can do this, and I look forward to doing it again. I still haven’t decided how much I will risk (I’ll decide before I leave my house), but I will bring it in cash, and if it’s gone it’s gone; no ATM under any circumstances. Without slot machines, this will be much easier.
  4. Only put $20s in. It’s all too easy to turn $100 into $79 and to chase that all the way to $0. The same goes for TITOs, which will stay in my wallet. This will force me to be conscious about my wagers and really weigh the monetary value of the money I gamble, rather than viewing it as credits that make the machine continue.
  5. Walk. If a machine isn’t being kind to me, I need to take a walk rather than putting another $20 in. There is so much to enjoy/watch in Vegas, that there is no reason to stay at a machine and go into tilt; I can extend my value by changing my scenery, soaking in the constant sensory stimulation, and people watching. Gambling will always be there.
  6. Book winnings. If I double up my buy-in, cash out and put a new $20 in. Remember that I don’t have to gamble all of my money right away (and that doing so will end my gambling, since I’m not reloading at the ATM), and remind myself that money in my wallet is more ammo for later.

This is all a process of continual learning, reflection, and growth.

I’m sure this trip will bring new challenges, new triumphs, and plenty of memorable experiences. I am excited to see both how the trip goes, and how it informs my mindset toward gambling moving forward.

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