The 9 Mental Skills of Successful Gamblers

by Ray Wallin

People that make a living gambling have a different mindset about gambling than those that play recreationally. When your bottom line is on the line, you approach your opportunities differently than the casual gambler.

How do they do it?

#1 Attitude

This may be the most important skill of all. I can remember going to Monmouth Park with my late friend Ryan (aka the Trader). We’d walk in and the first thing he’d say to me was “I can lose $100 today.” This is like admitting defeat before you even get started. I am all about defining your wagering bankroll, but focusing on what you can lose isn’t going to help you realize what you are going to win!

When I walk into the track or sportsbook I think to myself that I am going to win a certain amount that day. That amount is based on the number of bets I plan to make that day. My late Uncle Dutch would never talk about losing.

If you head to the track or sportsbook with a defeated attitude from the start, you might as well hand them your money and leave!

#2 Motivation

The one thing I have learned in my 20-plus years of successfully beating the track is that if you mentally aren’t into handicapping, it isn’t going to end well. Some days you hit the past performances like a champ; other days, it feels like a grind. If your head isn’t into it, skip the day. Your bankroll will thank you later!

Sometimes I find that I need a physical trip to the track to invigorate my passion for racing. The sounds, the atmosphere, or even sitting outside on a grandstand bench drinking a nice craft beer is enough to renew my passion for the sport! Admittedly, I could do without running into “Rail Guy” in the paddock, but seeing and talking to the other regulars I know is almost therapeutic!

#3 Commitment

There are days we can’t lose and days we can’t win. If you have a winning process, stick to it! There is no sense changing what you know works. You have invested a lot of time and effort in what you know works. Keep refining and honing it to provide you the best results.

Commitment also extends to keeping meticulous records. Do a post-mortem after the day is over and learn from both your wins and losses. They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither was a wining handicapping system!

#4 People Skills

Until the advent of legal horse and sports wagering, I spent a lot of time at Monmouth Park, the Meadowlands, Philadelphia Park (now Parx), and the race book at the Borgata. Invariably, I would end up sitting next to a know-it-all or find Rail Guy pontificating about some abstract sixth-off-of-a-layoff-on-the-drop-on-alternating-Thursdays angle.

Are you going to let some jerk get under your skin?


Be polite, but work on tuning people out. Take a walk. Find a new seat. Focus on what you are there to do — win!

#5 Self-Talk

You are not going to win them all. You won’t win most of your bets.

Don’t beat yourself up over each loss.

You have no control over what happens when the gate opens. When I figure pace scenarios, I always leave a percentage for “chaos”. Sometimes things don’t go as planned — and you can’t account for that.

#6 Mental Imagery

Many athletes talk about visualizing the result. This is no different in gambling.

You have done your handicapping. You think that horse will go wire to wire or Aaron Rodgers is going to light up that defense today. Your analysis backs this up.

Stick with your sound handicapping. Visualize how you think the race or game is going to go. This approach leads to confidence and helps you avoid the dreaded self-doubt.

#7 Managing Anxiety

Admittedly, this is one I struggle with. Some days we are more confident than others. Follow the 90% rule. Don’t take a flyer when you aren’t confident. Wait for the next race. Your bankroll will thank you later!

#8 Managing Emotions

This is the hardest skill to master on the list. Very few people can disassociate themselves from their feelings. I’ve been guilty of this in the past myself and will probably be guilty of it again in the future.

How many times have you handicapped a race, found a horse that you are rooting for to do well and found reasons to play him, only to lose? Chances are you forced your analysis to fit your emotions.

One way to combat this is skip the race or game when you know you have a vested interest in the outcome other than winning money. This is why I never bet on any Rutgers’ games!

#9 Concentration

If you are successful, chances are that you are not distracted by shiny objects. You can minimize the distractions to your handicapping if you do your homework the night before — and not the day of — when you are at the track or sportsbook.

If you do your handicapping the night before, and not at the track, you’ll have less distraction and you can actually focus on a race from start to finish! (Unless you are like me and you spend most of your evening hours on a soccer field coaching kids’ soccer!)

Changing your mindset is easier said than done, but nothing is impossible. If you find you are guilty of violating any of the above on daily basis, start making small changes to alter your mindset. What is the worst thing that happens — you start winning more bets and padding your bankroll?

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