Investing Lessons from Playing Craps

\"\"I don’t always gamble, but when I do, I prefer to play craps.

It’s the most exciting and entertaining game in a casino, and it typically offers the best odds*.

However, many folks are a bit intimidated by the rules and protocol, and they risk missing out on all of the fun.

That’s where I come in. Whenever I have a friend who doesn’t know how to play, I’m happy to teach him the rules and open to the door to a new world of gambling adventures.

But I do have a secret that I keep to myself: I hope they don’t make a lot of money the first time they play.


Rule One: Don’t Get Cocky

Hoping against a windfall for my friends isn’t a sign of ill will – it’s actually for their own good.

Craps can be a very fun game. You’re typically playing with all of the other players at the table – if you win, they win, and vice versa. That can make for a lot of high fives and shared camaraderie with your brand new buddies as you all build small mountains of chips.

You can walk up to a table, and if someone hits a few points in a row, you can treble or quadruple your money in the blink of an eye. Playing at a hot table is like standing in front of a broken ATM machine that’s spitting out money. There’s even free drinks!

If your first game of craps makes you a ton of money, it’s a joyful experience, and it’s easy to think that’s the norm.

It’s not.

I’ve know gamblers who made a mint their first time playing craps who then get into real trouble. They forget the odds. They forget there is a high risk of loss. They play with far more than they can afford to lose. All to chase that original euphoria from their first outing.

It’s much better for a new player to quickly experience the full roller coaster. Sometimes you win big, and sometimes you lose everything so fast you don’t even have chips left to tip the waitress (I always keep some bills in reserve, just in case).

I want a new player to remember it’s gambling, and I want them to know and respect their limits. A break even session, or even a modest loss, can help anchor them in the right place.


Yep, It’s Metaphor Time

A great run on a craps table, while profitable, can get a little annoying. Goofballs who don’t even know how to play start sounding like experts. People throw money at all of the exotic bets (these offer worse odds and are silly to play). Cautious excitement is replaced by gleeful greed. You know how this story is going to end.

A bad run of luck will clear a table fast. Folks who overextended themselves will look with shock as the dealer claims their last chips. The people who keep playing after that know the game, know the odds, and know fortunes can change in an instant.


At long last, the stock market has experienced a correction (a decline of at least 10%).

Some might say, “It’s about time.” There are a lot of players around the table who have never known anything but winning. When you have a fat stack of chips in front of you, it’s hard to remember things like risk, proper asset allocation, and the fact that “past performance is not indicative of future results.”

This is a good week to do exactly that.


* Counting cards in blackjack offers the best casino odds (they can actually swing in your favor). Given that, casinos don’t like card-counters and will ask you to leave. If they catch you 🙂


4 thoughts on “Investing Lessons from Playing Craps”

    1. Thanks Erik – I think many folks now expect the market to steadily rise forever. It’s important to get a reminder that it can indeed drop. The good news is that the stock market, unlike the craps table, should be a winning proposition over the long haul!

  1. I once saw a study measuring the correlation between gambling addicts and their first gambling experience. I don’t remember the exact details, but apparently, people who won a lot of money their first time gambling are about a billion times more likely to become addicts. And people who lost money their first time are far less likely to develop a problem.

    I think it holds true in your metaphor. I started investing in the stock market during the recession. As such, I’ve noticed my own bias is to always assume we’re in a bubble, and any correction, no matter how small, is a sign the wheels are about to come off. I wonder about people with a bias in the other direction.

    1. Many thanks MW. I’ve done my own research of gambling addicts and first gambling experiences, and although my data set isn’t large enough to be statistically valid, it’s spot on with the study you mention.

      People are funny. They can get overconfident rather easily, so it’s always good for them to experience a loss or two so they end up with a more measured approach. I think you have a great advantage over folks who started investing right at the start of the bull run, and that advantage may be fully displayed before too long.

      Thanks again!

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