Be prepared for this

Before even beginning your trip, decide on the size of your gambling bankroll. Whether it's $20 or $20,000, figure it out at home instead of while waiting in line at the ATM on the gaming floor of The Wynn.

Also know this: You'll gamble more money than you think you will. Of all things learned in Las Vegas, and shown to be true time and time again, this is pretty close to be indisputable. If you set your bankroll at $400 in theory, figure you'll end up burning through $500 in reality. That's just how it goes. So be realistic with your budgeting, then tack on a little extra.

Gambling is entertainment. You're paying to have fun and to play the games. Think of the whole experience at the tables as just one part of an entire trip full of good times. Much of the thrill comes in wagering money on the game, but you're really there to crack jokes with your buddies while the casino life whirls around you. The last thing you want to do is lose so much that you end up bummed out for much of the trip, moaning about how much you're down and putting a wet blanket on the whole experience.

Right off the bat let's make one thing very clear, you're not going to win money. Nope. Won't happen. Everyone dreams of heading to Vegas and hitting it big, but it doesn't happen. Never, ever, ever.

OK, maybe "never, ever, ever" is inaccurate -- only slightly so, though -- and overly dramatic. Every once in a while you'll have a trip where you make money at the tables or on the machines, but it doesn't happen often. Certainly not frequently enough to count on it happening to you. Casinos love to post big pictures of slot machine mega-jackpot winners, but rarely do they mention the hundreds of other players who contributed to paying the electric bills and the salaries of the pit bosses wearing Italian suits.

So get comfortable right now with the idea you're going to lose money. In fact, don't even think of it as truly "losing," think of as paying a fee for your entertainment, just like when you buy a ticket to the movies or a fork over a cover charge at a club where the pretty people gather.

Having accepted that you're not going to win, your goal is to lose your money slowly -- getting as much entertainment and fun for your dollar as you can -- and maybe even go home not having spent all the cash you had budgeted for gambling. Your best chance of making this happen is to play tough and play smart. This means:

Knowing which games to play and which to avoid

Blackjack and craps put the player at only a small disadvantage to the house when played correctly. Others, like Caribbean Stud Poker, give a huge edge to the house.

Knowing at least the very basics the games

There's a lot to know, and if you're new to gambling you won't be able to learn it all before heading to Las Vegas, but we can teach you the bare essentials, which is far more than many Vegas visitors know.

Understanding money management and proper bet sizing

Perhaps the single biggest mistake new gamblers make is to bet too large, especially if they get on a small hot streak. When betting too large all it takes is a short cold spell -- and you'll always run into a cold spell -- to lose all your money. Here's a rule of thumb that will make your budget last longer: When in doubt, bet smaller than than you think you ought to, not bigger.

Finding out which games you most enjoy

You're not taking this trip to get rich, you're taking it to have fun. If it turns out you have a great time playing one of the games with odds that aren't so great, so what? If you really like it, play it. No matter what anyone tells you or how much unsolicited "advice" you get in Las Vegas (trust me, you'll get a lot), never forget you're playing with your own money and are entirely free to risk it in any way you see fit.

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