With all the effort we put into hanging onto our money at the poker table, it is a shame to lose it while going to and coming from the table. Money is sometimes lost this way, however — it falls out of pockets, is swiped by opportunistic thieves, or is lost to more aggressive criminals.
In most parts of the poker world, these things happen only rarely. But they are damaging enough when they do happen that it’s worth investing a little thought into how to avoid them.
Your best strategy for managing money depends on how much money you need to bring to a game, where you play, and your risk tolerance. As you move up in stakes, the mechanics of moving money around get harder, and you have more to lose if you make a mistake or become a victim.
Because of this, and because different environments are different — e.g., a New Hampshire card room is different from a full-blown casino — you’ll want to tailor your approach to the situation. Here are an assortment of lessons I’ve learned on the subject over the years:
1. Don’t make yourself an attractive mark
Thieves, muggers, and robbers are, to a first approximation, utility-maximizing agents, too. The question isn’t whether you have something they want; it’s whether you have more of it than the next person and whether it will be easier to take it from you than from another mark.
You should therefore try not to be the most attractive mark in the room. Don’t flaunt your big wins. Other things being equal, try not to look like someone who has a lot of money. Even keeping money in a pocket with a zipper can make yourself a slightly tougher mark in the eyes of an unskilled thief.
2. Be aware of what constitutes “big money” (or an appealing target)
Remember that what counts as “big money” in the poker room might not count as big money in the rest of the casino. As I write this, the Las Vegas Wynn is running no games at which $2,500 would not count as a big win. In the context of the entire Wynn, however, $2,500 is not big money.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful, but it does mean that opportunists are likely to look elsewhere in the casino. Remember that risk is relative to context, and behave accordingly. Be particularly careful when the money you have is more than what the people around you have.
3. Get an escort
Security escorts are usually available to walk you to your car at the end of a session. (In some places it is conventional to tip for this service.) At some card rooms, parking lots have some remote regions, and these can be areas in which you are relatively vulnerable.
4. Check the rear-view as you go
“Follow home” robberies occasionally happen. I was once a regular in a card room where these were rare but not unheard of (partly because the room itself was competently staffed and secure). I made a habit of noting cars near me as I left the parking lot, and also making a note of the cars around me every five minutes or so on my way home.
I think that this is worth the effort, especially for regulars who are known to handle significant money in the poker room. This can also have the side effect of making you a more attentive driver (which for many people might plug a significant life leak).
5. Investigate safe options for money management
Casinos and card rooms are generally on your side in this fight. While they are incentivized to encourage you to keep your money liquid and ready to spend or bet, thefts are bad for them as well as for you.
You might have access to free safe-deposit boxes, cashouts by check, or any number of other services. Take a minute to ask staff about these options if they would be useful to you.
6. Take measures to protect an unattended stack
When you leave your stack unattended at a table, take reasonable measures to discourage theft. Take bills or high-denomination chips with you (and inform the dealer how much you’re taking away — this will prevent confusion). If you don’t do this, at least move these items in front of your stack or under low-denomination chips, so that it’s harder for passersby to swipe them.
Finally, make a note of your stack size before you leave so that you will know if a problem occurs.
7. Bank that win!
Some banks (including Bank of America) have many ATMs that accept cash deposits. These can help you get money out of your pocket and into a bank account efficiently.
As in many areas of poker, doing many things that might individually seem obvious or trivial in the aggregate can help you a great deal. While you will never be completely safe from all bad actors, an attentive outlook and a little preparation will improve your situation dramatically.
Thinking Tournament Poker by Nate Meyvis is now available both at Amazon and at nitcast.com. Be sure also to check out Nate and Andrew Brokos on the Thinking Poker podcast, and for more from Nate visit his blog at natemeyvis.com.