The one thing you cannot legally guarantee when you gamble is that you’ll win your next wager. Assuming you play honestly you are taking on some risk. But even when you gamble there are ways you can manage the risks you take and improve the chances you’ll reap some rewards.
1. Use a Simple Bucket Budget to Manage Your Money
Effective money management is critical to good gambling habits and while many people do commit themselves to risking no more than a certain amount of money on any gambling excursion, you can create a better budget than that. But no one wants to saddle themselves with a complicated spreadsheet they have to consult on every game.
What you want to do is rotate your money as you play. Say for example you visit your local casino with $60. You could go in with 5 $10 bills, a $50 bill and 10 singles, etc. It would be better to settle on how many tickets you want to rotate. Three is a nice modest number, so get three $20 bills.
This way you can start out with small wagers and hope to roll them up. If you run through the $20 on your first game move on to a different game.
When you get to a point where you have doubled one ticket take your money and divide it so that you always have three tickets (or four if that is how you want to play). As long as you have as many tickets as you started playing with you don’t have to stop and think about your money.
A good rule of thumb is to pull any ticket that you have doubled in value. As long as you have at least one ticket with double value or greater you can risk playing down another ticket.
2. Look for Smaller Jackpots
Whether you are playing the slots, keno, or roulette you will see the temptation to play a game that promises a crazy payoff. Always remember that the money for those payoffs comes from the players.
So if you are playing the slots, pick the game that pays 4,000 max credits instead of the game that pays 10,000 max credits. Your chances of winning are better with the smaller payoffs. This is due to a low variance in the game design.
If you ignore all warnings from experienced gamblers to play keno, go for a small number of picks. The safest range of picks is 3 to 5. You don’t risk as much money because you’re more likely to win something.
3. Make Smaller Bets
Some gambling advice articles suggest you should “go big or go broke”. That is terrible advice. The faster you lose your money the sooner you will be done gambling. If you just want to get out of the casino then leave immediately and save your cash. Otherwise, stretch it out by making small bets.
Unless the rules of the game make it more likely that you’ll win by betting more there is no reason to “bet more to win more”. Your chances of winning or losing are the same regardless of whether you bet $1 or $100. But you have more chances to win or lose when you bet $1 than when you bet $100.
If the prizes are proportionally the same regardless of the size of the bet then you gain nothing by betting more. You’re not just multiplying your wins you’re also multiplying your losses when make larger wagers.
Some people sneer at the idea of playing small wagers. Ignore them. If they don’t do the math and see that they can stay in the game longer with small bets that is their mistake.
You might win $1000 with a $5 bet. That is always true. And if you played a $1 bet and only won $200 you may feel like you cheated yourself by not making that larger bet. Don’t do this to yourself. What you have to think about is how many more wagers you can make with your current bankroll, assuming you never win until the last wager.
The more wagers you make the more times you should win.
4. Play the Short Odds, Not the Long Odds
It may not be as much fun to win $20 as to win $200 but the short odds tell you who most people favor in a game. When enough experienced bettors are favoring one competitor over another, that’s a signal you’re not likely to win on the long odds.
Yes, there is always that occasional event where something unexpected happens. It wouldn’t be gambling if we were never surprised. Conservative betting may produce modest wins but it produces more wins than aggressive betting, especially if you don’t like doing the research.
The same principle holds true in table games and slot games. In blackjack, for example, experienced players don’t like to be dealt a 15 or 16 in their hand. The chances of winning are less than if they are dealt an 18. And you can always hit on an 11 or less.
5. Don’t Bet on the House Edge
Most gambling experts talk about “the house edge” or how much the casino expects to earn from a game over time. This is a popular concept to talk about because it’s easy to explain and understand. The idea that the casino only rakes in a 1-10% of all player wagers makes it sound like you are going to keep at least 90% of your money. But the truth is that most people lose on a wager.
The low house edge doesn’t mean the dealer won’t get a natural in blackjack, that the roulette wheel will land on your number, or that the slot game will hit a jackpot on your next spin. The house edge means nothing on any individual wager.
And the same is true of “theoretical return to player”, which the yin to the “house edge” yang. If the house edge is 5% then the theoretical return to player is 95%. While that seems like a great ratio it is only relevant to a large number of wagers made over a long period of time measured in months or years.
They want you to pick games that are less likely to take your money through the basic rules. It’s still your responsibility to play wisely. Although some slot machines have a theoretical return to player that approaches the RTP of blackjack and baccarat most slot machines still have worse percentages. Even so, you can quickly lose your money at the blackjack table if you don’t know when you should hit and when you should surrender.
For that matter, if you have a choice between a table that allows surrender and a table that doesn’t allow it, play on the table with the surrender rule. When your cards have a low probability of winning it’s better to get back half your bet than to hope that the dealer will magically go bust. The best surrender rule is the early surrender, where you can fold before the dealer checks for a natural; unfortunately, most casinos now seem to favor the Late Surrender, where the dealer takes your bet if he has a natural.
Don’t assume the house edge is working in your favor. It’s working in the house’s favor. You still have to make good choices.
6. Stay with Pass or Don’t Pass in Craps
You can enhance these basic bets by betting on the odds but if you don’t understand what all the betting options are stick to the simple bets.
In any gambling game the more complicated the betting rules the more likely you won’t do so well. Those rules are there to give the house an advantage. A wagering option may only exist because the casino knows someone will try it despite the low chances of winning.
The higher the promise of payback the less likely you will win. The simpler bets work the same way for everyone.
7. Only Play Outside Bets in Roulette
There is a romantic notion that if you wait long enough your number will come in and then you’ll get your money back. This idea comes from too many people playing roulette the wrong way. The odds on a single number bet are 35 to 1. That’s a nice payoff but the chances of guessing a single number are worse (either 1 in 37 on European style tables or 1 in 38 on American style tables).
Casinos don’t like to offer wagers where the odds (pay off) equal your probabilistic chances of winning. They want the odds to pay less. That is how they lock in the “house edge”.
Outside bets in roulette pay less than inside bets but their chances of paying anything are much, much better. The closer your probabilistic chance of winning gets to 50% the more fair the game becomes to you. You’ll find that people have different opinions on where you should place your outside bets but as long as you keep your bets modest you can try different positions and form your own opinions. Your money will last longer this way.
8. Read the Fine Print
If you play the slots and spin up the top paying combination but don’t get the jackpot you’ll wonder what happened. Most likely you did not play the maximum bet, which on some games is required for the maximum payoff. This is true on many progressive slot games.
If a slot game has a pay table screen you should scan it before playing the game so you understand the rules. If the pay tables fit on the cabinet’s front panels, that means you’re playing a simple game but you should still look for those small words along the side or near the bottom that explain what the limits are.
Your expectations play a big role in how you gamble.
When you play a table game, if there is a little placard on the side of the table or standing in one corner, read it first.
9. The Only Good Betting System Is No Betting System
If someone tells you about their surefire betting system you should run away. Betting systems don’t work as promised. When you gamble you don’t know the outcome of any random game. Your betting system can’t change the probabilities or the payoffs.
Many betting systems are structured to recoup losses by increasing bets. The problem with this approach is that your chances of winning or losing, in most games, are the same regardless of how much you bet. Increasing your next bet because you lost on the last bet is the worst way to gamble.
Once you decide how much you are going to wager per game or spin, stick to that number. Divide the amount of money you are willing to risk on the game by your wager amount. That is how many plays you have to recoup your initial balance or get ahead.
10. Use Time Management and Money Management Systems
You can’t change the odds and probabilities with a betting system but you can and should manage your gambling habits and budget. Too many players just walk into the casino, start gambling, and keep going without any idea of how long they will play or how much they will risk.
It’s okay to visit the ATM once, although you will save a few dollars if you withdraw your cash at your bank’s ATM. If you keep pulling money out of your accounts all night long, maybe you should take a break from gambling and come back another evening.
Setting a time limit on how long you play a game is good for several reasons.
- First, it gets you “out of the zone”. Casinos are designed to create a mesmerizing experience so that players keep gambling. When you take a break and clear your thoughts you can make rational choices.
- Second, taking a break and walking around for a few minutes is good for your health. Studies have shown that sitting for many hours at a time is not good for your heart health.
- Third, if you’re frustrated with your progress on a game then changing games can help you relax more. By setting a time limit you can assess how you are doing at a game and decide if you should try something else.
11. Play Free Games Before Playing for Money
If you are out of practice or have never played a gambling game before, look for free versions of the game online where you can practice. Many Websites now offer free games for roulette, blackjack, and slot games in a “try before you buy” spirit.
You can learn the rules of the card games without risking your money by playing free games. It’s not exactly the same experience when you play a computer but you should invest a few hours in studying how blackjack works by playing the free games with a tutorial. You can take your time looking up the probability tables on each hand.
This won’t make you an expert overnight but you’ll feel more confident when you sit down at that table with the live dealer.
12. When Playing Slots, Pick Cheap Entertaining Games
Most people play the slots and modern slot games offer a lot of fun options instead of just more bells and whistles. But beware the exciting branding on the new games. Before sit in that new full sound cabinet look at how much it will cost you to play the game. Watch someone else play it for a while. How much are they winning or losing?
If you play the game for the entertainment experience you want to monitor how much money you are winning or losing. If you can manage it, you just may be able to play a fun game without spending much money. But remember that no matter how much those bonus games play like “adult arcade games” you are paying far more per spin than you would pay for a turn at a real arcade game.
Hence, if you have a choice between a 25 cent minimum bet and a $10 minimum bet you may get more enjoyment from the 25 cent minimum game. Of course the newest games have higher wagering minimums. Just use good judgment when choosing an entertaining game to play.
13. When Betting on Horses, Be Modest
It’s okay to only bet Win tickets when you bet at the racetrack. There are three basic positions you can bet on: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. The Win ticket pays the best of the three basic bets. The Place ticket bets on the 2nd horse (it pays the same if the horse comes in 1st or 2nd) and the Show ticket bets on the 3rd horse.
You can “box” your bets if you want to make Trifecta wagers. A Trifecta bet calls a specific order for the three horses. So if you think the number 7 will come in first, the number 5 will come in second, and the number 9 will come in third you can place that Trifecta bet. But the chances of this happening are not great. You can improve your chances of winning the bet by “boxing” the horses so they pay if they all cross the finish line in any order (as the first three). The payoff on a boxed bet is less than on a straight Trifecta.
Most racing experts advise against making Show bets because a winning horse only pays for 3rd place on those bets. But if you win you win, and that means you get some money back. If you’re just gambling for fun and not trying to make a lot of money at the track, Place and Show bets are safer.
The more complicated the wager you make the less likely you’ll win, but those big wins you hear about in the news are typically coming off the “exotic” bets. Just remember that it takes a lot of losers to pay for one big winner.
14. In Blackjack, Be Prepared to Split
Your chances of winning are better if you can split but you have to be able to cover the additional bet. It is wiser to hold back some money on your initial bet than to bet the last of your cash on a single hand.
Say for example you are playing at a $5 table and you are down to $10. You might think, “Well, I’ve only got $10 left so I might as well go all in.”
If you aren’t dealt a pair then you won’t kick yourself. But if you see a pair of 7s come up and the dealer face card is an 8, you’ll want to make that extra bet.
If you are dealt 2 Aces or 8s and you don’t have any extra money you’re going to kick yourself into next week. But don’t do that. If you are about to spend the last of your budget on the game it may not make that much difference. It’s not like you can do anything with your last $5 bet and you are dealt two Aces.
If you are playing at a table with a high minimum and there are lower minimum tables open, then moving to a the lower minimum table when your bankroll run low will give you more time to get ahead. You’ll keep that split option available longer this way.
15. Know What a Skill Stop Slot Game Is
Many slot machine games allow you to press a stop button while the reels are spinning. This results in a quicker reveal of the outcome of your slot game but it does not change the outcome of the game.
However, there is a class of slot machine games that offer what is called a “skill stop”. On these games pressing the stop button does affect the outcome of the game. The availability of skill stop slot games varies by market and different laws may apply to how they are programmed.
You are more likely, on modern slot games, to see something like a first person shooter bonus round. These types of games may offer true skill stop play but most of them still only simulate the action and just prompt you to press buttons for the sake of keeping you engaged.
A skill stop bonus round may give you a targeting mechanism. A simulated bonus round may just prompt you to initiate an animated action sequence that corresponds to a randomly chosen outcome.
Read the game rules carefully. The help screens should tell you either that stopping the reels has no effect on the outcome of the game or they should explicitly tell you when and how you’ll be able to use a skill stop. They may not use the phrase “skill stop” but they may say “press the [X] button to interrupt the game” or “to shoot the monster do [X]”.
If you can find a skill stop slot game to play, practice the stop on the lowest possible bet. Don’t worry about what payoffs you may be missing. The skill stop option gives you a better chance for winning a bonus round. Some skill stop games may slow the speed of the spinning reel a little bit as a clue that the Skill Stop option is available. The option may only become active on a random basis.
Prudence pinches the purse, so to speak. Although gambling is all about taking risks in the hope of winning money, there are smart ways to gamble and dumb ways to gamble.
As a rule of thumb you want to keep your money in play as long as possible in order to take advantage of every possible win. This kind of strategy does mean you’ll win smaller prizes because you are risking less per gamble.