What’s an advantage gambler?
And why aren’t you an one?
An advantage gambler is someone who gets a mathematical edge when gambling. Most writers restrict the phrase advantage gambling to refer to legal methods of getting an edge. Cheating is not an advantage gambler technique.
It doesn’t matter what kind of gambling you’re engaged in–casino games, sports betting, poker, or horse racing–if you can get a mathematical edge, you’re an advantage gambler.
People who engage in this style of gambling use the built-in features of the game or activity to get this edge.
Also, don’t think that the casinos welcome advantage players with open arms just because they’re not technically cheating. The most famous advantage gambling technique is arguably counting cards in blackjack. And if you’ve ready anything about card counting, you know that those folks get run out of the casino all the time.
Video poker players often use advantage gambling techniques, too–mostly combining their skill at the game with the use of slots club memberships. Progressive jackpots that get large enough sometimes provide a mathematically advantageous opportunity, too.
Online casino bonus hunting was a popular advantage technique among internet gamblers for years, too.
But you’re probably not an advantage gambler, and that’s a good thing. Here are 7 reasons why:
1- You’re not smart enough to be an advantage gambler.
Maybe “smart” is the wrong word. Most advantage gambling techniques don’t require a degree in physics.
But advantage gambling does require a specific set of knowledge and skills that most people don’t have.
My assumption when writing this blog is that my readers are recreational gamblers. That’s the opposite of an advantage gambler. You’re gambling for entertainment and/or fun.
There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’m convinced that recreational gambling is better than advantage gambling.
If your goal when gambling is to earn a certain amount of money per hour, you’ve turned a fun hobby into a job where you make money.
Think about it this way:
I enjoy talking to people on the phone. But once I get a job as a customer service rep in a call center, the experience changes dramatically.
Mark Twain said it best:
“…Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”
Do you want to spend your time gambling working or playing?
I choose playing, every time.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t make a career out of advantage gambling. Chances are, though, that once you do, you’ll miss out on your former enjoyment of many types of gambling.
2- You eliminate a lot of gambling games from contention, and that’s no fun.
Most of the serious advantage gamblers I know refuse to place any bet with a negative mathematical expectation. This is logical, and I can imagine Mr. Spock from Star Trek having such a standard.
But think about all the fun kinds of gambling you miss out on if this is your behavioral rule.
You’ll never play craps again, for example. (Unless you believe in dice control techniques. I’m skeptical of that, but who knows?) But shooting dice is one of the most exciting rushes in the casino. I’d hate to never play craps again just because I want to be an advantage gambler.
You’ll also never play roulette again, either. (Unless you think you can get an edge by finding a biased wheel somewhere. And that’s not realistic.) Roulette isn’t as exciting as craps, but it’s still a lot of fun. I like to play roulette when I’m looking for some laid-back, relaxes gambling. Some people think the house edge is too high at roulette, but the number of bets per hour that you’re able to make ameliorates your potential losses.
You’ll also never play slots again, either. (I don’t know of any real exceptions to this one.) I don’t like slots, but I know a lot of my readers do. Since 80% or more of most casinos’ revenue comes from the slot machines, someone must love playing them. I don’t know of a legitimate advantage gambling technique that you can use with a one-armed bandit, though.
In fact, when it comes to casino games, you’ll only really have 2 left to choose from.
3- You’ll be limited mostly to blackjack and video poker games.
In a traditional casino, the only 2 games where you can get a consistent edge are blackjack and video poker. And in fact, you can only get an edge at some blackjack games and some video poker games–not all of them.
If the rules conditions at the blackjack table are too restrictive, it’s impossible to get any kind of edge at the game. In Atlantic City, for example, the games are dealt from a freshly shuffled deck every time. You can’t count cards if the deck is constantly being shuffled.
At the Winstar Casino in Oklahoma, they charge a 50 cent ante on each bet. This changes the basic house edge from about 0.5% to 10.5%. One of the best games in the casino becomes one of the worst. No amount of skill at card counting can overcome a house edge of 10%.
With video poker, you’re at the mercy of the pay tables. If you can find a casino with games with favorable pay tables, you can get an edge by combining your rewards from the slots club with skilled play. But most casinos don’t offer video poker games with pay tables that favorable. Many of the casinos which do limit the stakes so that you can’t make a worthwhile hourly wage even if you can get an edge.
4- Even with the games where you can get an edge, it’s hard to make a worthwhile amount of money.
Let’s suppose you spend the time and effort to learn how to count cards in blackjack. You even scrimp and save to the point where you have a $2000 bankroll. You’re going to start counting cards at the $5 tables. (The minimum bankroll you need for counting cards is 400X the size of your average bet.)
You can calculate how much money you expect to earn per hour by multiplying the amount you’re betting by the number of bets you place per hour. You multiply that by your edge over the casino. The result is your hourly expected win.
At $5 per bet, you’re probably going to put between $250 and $1000 into action per hour. You’ll rarely be able to get $1000 into action, though. That means placing 200 bets per hour. t the $5 tables, you’ll rarely be the only person at the table. And the more people playing at the table, the slow the game goes.
If your edge over the casino when counting cards is 1%, you’re looking at earning between $2.50 and $10 per hour.
You can make more money than that working at In N Out Burger.
Of course, if you get a bigger bankroll, you can play for higher stakes. But how likely is it that most of my readers are going to be able to set aside $20,000 just for the purposes of funding their new card counting career in blackjack?
Even then, you have to deal with casino detection and interference.
Now let’s talk about video poker.
The strategy with video poker is to find a game where you have a small edge, or even where the house has a tiny edge. You then combine the 0.2% or so in rebates you get from the slots club to give yourself a mathematical edge.
Sure, plenty of casinos offer games with pay tables where you can get an edge of between 0.1% and 0.3% in those situations. But those games are usually the quarter games.
Here’s how that math breaks down:
You bet max coins on such a machine, and you put $1.25 into action on every hand. You play 600 hands per hour. That’s $750/hour in action.
Your expected hourly win is between 75 cents and $2.25.
That hardly seems worth the trouble it takes to become an expert video poker player.
5- Advantage gambling takes too much work to be worth it, and most of us are lazy.
Here’s what you must do to become a good card counter:
First, you need to find a system that you can use. Next, you have to master the system. That takes hours of practice.
The simplest card counting system I know of is the Hi-Lo. You keep a running count of +1 or -1 based on whether the cards that have been dealt are high or low.
Low cards (2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, or 6s) are counted as +1. High cards (aces, 10s, and face cards) are counted as -1.
The ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck are what make the difference in your advantage. When the deck is full of aces and 10s, you have an edge. You raise your bet accordingly. (The reason is because you’re more likely to get a natural, which pays off at 3 to 2.)
Keeping up with +1 and -1 doesn’t sound that hard, but that doesn’t account for these things:
- Casino blackjack happens fast. You don’t have a lot of time to make these calculations at all.
- You have to look like you’re not counting cards. If the dealer or pit boss can tell that you’re counting, they’ll ask you to play other games. Sometimes they might even ask you to leave the casino.
Also, in games with multiple decks, you have to convert the running count into a true count to make up for the dilution effect of having so many cards in the deck. This means dividing the running count by your estimate of how many decks are left in the shoe.
Now, about video poker–much has been said about how low the house edge is and how high the payback percentage is. But this is only true if you’re playing each hand using the optimal strategy.
In other words, every hand you get, you have to choose the one way to play that hand that’s best. And you have 32 possible ways to play each hand.
That’s actually easier than it sounds, but it’s still not EASY. It takes work and effort. And your edge in VP games is so small that even slightly less than perfect strategy can turn your positive expectation negative.
Most people just don’t want to put this much work into gambling, which is supposed to be a leisure activity.
6- Casinos HATE advantage gamblers.
If you’re a card counter, you have to be able to count cards without getting caught. And if you’re good at it, you will get caught eventually.
Casinos are paranoid about players who can get an edge over their games. They’re reasonably polite when they ask you to stop playing blackjack. They might even be reasonably polite when escorting you out of the property.
But most people (myself included) HATE confrontation. Why put yourself in a situation where confrontation is inevitable?
This point, however, doesn’t apply to video poker players. Casinos who offer VP games where you can get an edge understand that some of their patrons are exploiting that edge.
They make up for it in other ways. The casinos count on a percentage of would-be video poker experts not being competent enough to get an edge, for example. They also count on the ones who can get an edge to spend money on other products in the casino, like meals.
Those casinos didn’t get so big and fancy because they made it easy for players to win in the long run. And that’s what advantage gamblers aim for–long-term winnings.
7- Most of us are too short-sighted and unrealistic to be advantage gamblers.
All of this talk about having an edge at a gambling activity has ignored one thing until this point:
The mathematical edge only matters in the long run.
What does this mean to the would-be advantage gambler?
It means that in the short-term, it’s possible to lose money or even go broke–even though you have a mathematical edge.
This is one of the reasons why you need such a large bankroll to play blackjack at a professional level.
Also, most people grow discouraged if and when they lose in the short term. Most people don’t have a long-term outlook on gambling activities. If they did, the casinos would go out of business.
Here’s how the gambling business works in a nutshell:
Companies take advantage of the perceived discrepancy between short-term and long-term results.
Players sometimes come home with some winnings in their pocket. They mis-remember how often this happens (confirmation bias). They keep playing because they think they’re net winners or break-even gamblers.
But they’re usually not.
Some wannabe advantage gamblers think they’re really skilled because they’ve won a bit of money in the short term, too. As they keep playing, confident that they’re great card counters (or whatever), they eventually start seeing the losing results that their unnoticed lack of ability guarantees.
I’m not saying that you’re not possibly cut out to be an advantage gambler. But it’s one of those things that sounds romantic and exciting, but it really isn’t. Most readers just aren’t up for it.
My contention is that this is a good thing, though. Once you give up your dreams of making some kind of stellar living by gambling, you can enjoy being what you probably were meant to be anyway:
A recreational gambler.