For Bettors, There Are Always Limits

by Ray Wallin

One of the popular phrases we’ve all heard is that “there are no limits.”

A simple web search yields that the following things have no limits — churches, love, the outdoors, travel, your future, learning, fitness and many other things. This is the age of the overused acronyms YOLO (you only live once) and FOMO (fear of missing out), which are the battle cries of those looking to justify their “carpe diem” approach to life.

In this live-life-to-the-fullest mentality do we need limits?

As horseplayers, we most definitely need limits.

A child who is never told “no” will become spoiled. A dog that isn’t trained to crap in the yard will continue to leave presents under the dining room table. A horseplayer that doesn’t have a set bankroll will become broke.

“A fool and his money are soon parted.”
– Thomas Tusser

We all know the guy who keeps betting. Hopefully this isn’t you. He could be up, he could be down — it doesn’t matter, Action Andy keeps pushing money through the windows, sometimes on a whim. You wonder if he has a money tree growing in his backyard or if his rich Aunt Elda finally kicked.

Action Andy will play all day without regard for how much he is up or down. If you ask him you’ll get his stock responses, either “up big” or “down a few”. Truth is he doesn’t even know. He keeps betting without a plan.

You are better than Action Andy. You have a plan.

Set Amount Per Day

This is a great starting point for the casual player who plays a couple of times per year.

When I first hit the track legally after high school, funds were tight. I was working my part-time retail job for minimum wage and mowing every lawn I could. I knew I couldn’t bet at the level of my retired Uncle Dutch, who was gambling for a living at the time. I allowed myself a bankroll of $50 a day down at Monmouth Park that summer. Handicapping the night before, I would hone in on the playable races and think about how much I would consider putting on each race.

Initially, I would figure out how to spread my fixed bankroll across all the wagers I liked. Sometimes I liked certain plays more than others and increase or decrease the proposed wager.

The only issue I had with this approach was that I played lower amounts on early races to preserve bankroll for later in the card. Nothing beats a solid $20 winner scoring early and you only had your minimum on it. Yet, for a kid hustling to cut grass and work part-time before heading off to college, this system worked well.

Set Gambling Bankroll

This is more applicable to those horseplayers that play regularly over the course of a year.

Now that I am well past my high school and college days, I have a “big boy” job. I also have a ton of responsibilities — mortgage, taxes, bills, family, car, dog and a houseplant. I have a set aside sum of money that is my bankroll. Based on that, I set bet sizes in alliance with my confidence and the type of wager I am considering.

While I set my bet sizes based on confidence level and use a fixed amount, other horseplayers will use a percentage based approach to determine bet size based on both confidence and bankroll size. Many of these horseplayers use the Kelly Criterion for establishing their bet sizes.

Benefits of Setting a Bankroll

You won’t bet away money you need for your life responsibilities. You’ll be able to pay your mortgage and car payments. You’ll be able to save for Junior to go to college.

Unlike the government, it keeps your betting money separate from your gas money. You won’t draw from one bucket to fill the other.

Having a finite amount of betting money will force you to think about the wager you are making. How confident are you in this play? Are you following the 90% rule or are you taking a flyer on this race? You’ll think about the size of your wager. If you have $100 in your bankroll, I doubt you’ll be quick to drop a $50 win bet on a horse.

It forces you to bet with your head, not over it. You won’t bet money that you don’t have. If you can’t bet with your head, you need to seek out help, such as 1800-GAMBLER.

If you ask any successful horseplayer or even someone who makes their living playing the races, they will tell you that money management is more important than handicapping.

When you set a limit on your bankroll, your betting ignorance and poor discipline will go away since you must think about every wager. Your betting won’t be shortsighted and unnecessary.

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