How Not to Blow Your Budget on Betting

Keep it as a hobby instead of an addictive habit.
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From MainStreet.com

To some, $25,000 is an annual salary.

To Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, $25,000 is an evening's entertainment.

Moneybags Roethlisberger partied last week at the

Playboy

(PLA)

Club in the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, while wagering up to $8,000 a hand. Like many high-rolling athletes and celebrities, he reportedly lived it up large with the requisite bodyguards, cigars, vodka Red Bulls and Playboy Bunnies all within reach.

This week the Steelers announced Big Ben is going to have a lot more cash to offset his Vegas spree. On March 3 he signed a $102 million contract, with $36 million guaranteed over the next eight years.

"If you are Ben and you just signed a contract for $102 million that's like throwing $100 or $250 on the table. Percentage-wise this is minuscule to his paycheck," says Benjamin Eckstein, odds maker and president of

America's Line

, in Las Vegas. "It's about degrees. Charles Barkley is a famous gambler and he bets six figures. He has plenty of money and he sees it as a hobby. He says, 'I'm taking my money and spending it on gambling and I am still feeding my kids.' But, you should know your limits."

It is a safe bet that most of us are earning less than Roethlisberger. So if gambling is your hobby of choice, how can you enjoy the rush of going for blackjack, without your bank account going bust?

The first step is to treat gambling like other forms of entertainment and

create a budget

, says Cary Carbonaro a financial planner with

Family Financial Research

in New York. "Skiing, shopping, and collecting model cars are all expensive hobbies that my clients budget for," says Carbonaro. "I have clients who budget $20,000 a year for skiing and I make sure they aren't spending more than they are making."

In order to stick to your budget, Eckstein suggests gamblers keep it simple. "Take a bankroll and put it in a sock. Bring the sock with you and whatever is in the sock is what you play with," he says. "When it is gone, walk away." Carbonaro agrees that sticking to your budget is most important. "Don't go over that limit and don't bring your ATM card," says Carbonaro. "You don't want to put down more than you are willing to lose."

That advice came too late for one client of

Morris Armstrong

, a financial planner in Danbury, Conn. This gambler, who was two years away from retirement, lost half a 401(k) and

went from 100% equity in a home down to around 20% equity

. "What should have been a very comfortable retirement will be less so with the working career having to extend to

age 70," says Armstrong. "What became a budgeted amount using the rationale that it replaced weekend dinners out, was really feeding a gambling addiction."

That is why it is important to stick to a budget. Compulsive losing can be a sign of addiction, experts warn. One resource for people concerned about gambling is

Gamblers Anonymous

. "A hobby is supposed to be fun and relieve stress," says Carbonaro. "You have to keep it entertainment and not get yourself in a hole."

Even if you are making $102 million.