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Play Longer With Less Risk

Taking a sensible, educated approach can pay dividends

by Carol Costa


Gambling presents a certain amount of risk. That element of risk is part of the fun and thrill of playing. It is also the part that can be analyzed and adjusted to suit your skill level and financial means. Learning how to minimize risk and play sensibly allows you to stay in the game longer and provides more opportunities to win.

A bookie once said that if you want to win at the racetrack you should play the favorite to show. The favorite in any race is determined by professionals, called handicappers, that study the field and set the initial odds for the race.

You can bet your horse to win, place, or show. Betting to win means that you only collect if your horse crosses the finish line first. A place bet pays if your horse comes in either first or second, but a show bet pays if your horse comes in first, second, or third. It’s easy to see that a show bet gives you more chances to win and betting on the favorite to run in the money is usually a smart wager. Granted you may not win a lot, but you will at least recover the amount of your initial bet and garner a small profit. It is a conservative method that allows you to win smaller amounts more consistently and it is the basis for a strategy that can also be applied to many casino games.

Play Longer With Less Risk

Before participating in any type of gambling venue, you should determine how much money you can afford to lose. Remember that playing conservatively will not guarantee that you will win every time. If there were such a sure-fire method of winning, the casinos and racetracks would not exist. However, a sensible, educated approach to gaming will help you get the most enjoyment out of every dollar you wager.

One of the ways to train yourself to play sensibly is to have your gambling funds in smaller denominations of currency, such as, fives and singles. With smaller bills in hand, if you are attracted to a particular game, you can put in a few dollars to see if it is worth playing. It’s a fact that some machines are set to pay out more than others. So, the five-dollar, five-minute rule is a good one to follow. If you lose five dollars in five minutes or less, abandon the machine you are playing and look for another one.

Always take the time to read the payout schedule for a new game and check on the minimum and maximum bets required before you start playing. This is especially important for the penny slots that have become so popular. The fabulous sounds and graphics make penny slots fun to play, but be aware that to get the maximum results from these machines, you usually have to play every line. Most of these machines have bonus round features, so find out how the bonus round is triggered. Some machines require that you play a maximum amount of coins to get into the bonus or to be eligible for the top money prizes.

While the idea of playing a penny machine sounds economical, many of them have so many lines you have to play that each spin often costs more than a quarter or dollar machine. Your gambling dollars may go further on the standard reel slot machines.

When you approach a standard slot machine, you must decide if you are going to play the minimum or the maximum amount. Study the payout amounts posted on the machine and determine whether you would be satisfied to win the prize listed for a minimum bet. Keep in mind that betting one coin on every spin instead of two, three, or five will increase the total number of spins and that automatically increases the number of chances you have of winning.

Video poker is an excellent choice for conservative gamblers and there are a number of variations that make it entertaining and challenging. Playing poker does require some knowledge of the game and a certain amount of skill. There are many books on the market, including my own, that tell you how to play the game and get the most out of your time and money.

The win/loss percentage on video poker machines is the same whether you play the minimum or the maximum. Consider that on a Jacks or better game, the most frequent win is a pair of Jacks or better but that win simply returns the amount bet on that hand. So whether you bet one coin or five you are just staying even. Two pair is another common win and you should seek out machines that return two to one on two pair, rather than playing a machine that just returns your bet for that win.

Pay attention to the other players and you will notice that people who wager the maximum on these games are often out of money long before the high-paying wins start materializing. Keep in mind that the primary advantage of playing video poker is the fact that one good winning hand can often make up for any prior losses.

Most poker machines offer a menu of different games and again you should check the payout schedules for each game on the menu and choose the one that pays out the most on a minimum bet. For example, Triple Bonus Poker pays up to 400 coins for four aces with a deuce. On a quarter machine, that’s $100 for risking just 25 cents. Four of a Kind games have generous payouts for four of any card in the deck and the frequency of drawing that hand seems to be much higher than drawing a straight flush or a royal flush.

One version of poker that is perfect for the conservative gambler is Let It Ride, a five-card stud game. Each player receives three cards and then must make a winning hand with those three cards and the two community cards turned over one at a time by the dealer. Initially, the player must place three equal bets before the cards are dealt. If the initial deal does not display a winning hand, the player can cancel the second and third bets, but if the hand is a winner, the player can Let It Ride. This game has a pretty generous payout schedule and it also pays out on 10s or better, giving the player an additional chance of winning.

Let It Ride can be found as a table game, but high-profile electronic machines that seat six people in front of a huge video screen with a virtual dealer can be found in many casinos and are less expensive to play. However, Let It Ride should not be played unless there are three or more players participating. More players increase the number of cards dealt on each hand and therefore increase everyone’s chances of winning.

The Keno lounge is a good place to take a break, and Keno is another game that can be played prudently. Keno is an easy game, similar to the lottery. Choose the numbers you think will be drawn during the next game and if they are indeed drawn, you win. The way to reduce the risk on Keno is to play less than four numbers or learn how to play a way ticket. A way ticket allows you to break your lucky numbers into smaller sets of two or three giving you more chances to win. You must bet on each set you play, but the minimum bet on a way ticket can be as low as 25 cents at some casinos. Directions and diagrams for playing way tickets can be found in the Keno lounge.

Roulette is another number game that is easy to play. Bet on a single number and you win 35 times the wager, but betting on one number is a high-risk gamble. Unlike Keno, reducing your risk on Roulette requires you to cluster your bets so you are playing more numbers, such as, a group of four or a whole line of numbers. You won’t win as much, but your odds of staying in the game increase based on how many numbers you choose to play. Recently, electronic Roulette games that seat six to eight people have been introduced and can be played for as little as 25 cents a spin.

In addition to the suggestions already presented, there is one more important rule to follow if you want to play longer with less risk. When you get a decent win on a machine, cash out so you’re not tempted to lose the credits you have just won. You can always put another small bill in the machine to see if it is going to continue to pay.

Sensible gamblers set limits for themselves and become very familiar with the games they enjoy playing. They also quit when they are ahead and walk away as winners.

Carol Costa is a journalist and the published author of nine books. Her knowledge of finance and her love of gaming prompted her to write, Video Poker: Play Longer with Less Risk (ECW Press). Originally from Chicago, she is now based in Tucson, Arizona. You may contact Carol via e-mail at

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