Gambling for a living sounds great, doesn’t it?
After all, who wouldn’t want to play games and bet money, AND get to do that instead of working at a 9 to 5 job, right?
And it’s true that some people gamble professionally.
But how hard is gambling for a living, really?
Is it something that most people can do?
In this post, I examine some of the factors involved in gambling for a living.
Gambling for a Living Is Harder than You Think
If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time at all, you already know that there are lots of ways to gamble.
Casino games are just one example, and you can subdivide the category of casino games into multiple subcategories using various criteria.
For example, you can divide casino games into 2 broad categories — gambling machines and table games.
You can also gamble on sports or play poker with other people.
In many cases, you can get a mathematical edge, which is what you’ll need if you want to earn your living from your gambling activities.
In some cases, though, you cannot get an edge. I don’t care how skilled a gambler you are, you can’t beat the slot machines in the long run.
Most amateurs underestimate the amount of skill and tenacity needed to win enough money at gambling to earn a living at it.
The rest of this post looks at some of the gambling activities where you can get an edge.
And it explains what it takes to get that edge.
Playing Blackjack for a Living
You probably already know that blackjack has the lowest house edge in the casino.
And you might have heard that some blackjack players get an edge over the casino using advantage gambling techniques like card counting.
What people don’t understand is how hard it is to make a living playing blackjack.
First, you need a huge bankroll. Even though you can get an edge at blackjack, it’s still a game of chance. In the short run, anything can happen.
In the long run, over the course of thousands of hands, you’ll see results in line with what the odds and probability behind the game would have you expect.
But in the short run, it’s easy to go on a losing streak and lose your entire bankroll.
According to Blackjack Apprenticeship, you need a bankroll of $50,000 or more before you can play blackjack professionally.
Even then, you must become good at counting cards (or some other advantage technique). That’s both easier and harder than you think.
Most people of average intelligence can count cards well enough to get an edge against the casino.
But most people don’t have the self-discipline or motivation to put in the practice necessary to do so.
You don’t just need to be good at counting cards to win money from the casinos — you need to be GREAT at it. You need to be so good that you can do it without the casino noticing.
And they have pros who are paid to “back you off” if they catch you.
Playing Poker Is Another Way of Gambling for a Living
Everyone knows that there is such a thing as a professional poker player, but the number of poker players who win consistently over time is smaller than you may think.
From the best discussions I’ve seen on the matter, only 5% to 10% of poker players are profitable in the long run.
Here’s the thing about playing poker for a living:
You not only need to be better than the other players, you need to be so much better that you can overcome the effect of the rake.
When a casino or cardroom hosts a poker game, they take 5% of each pot to pay for hosting the game. This amount is called the rake.
Imagine if you were playing with a bunch of other players who are all EXACTLY as skilled as you are. If there were no rake, you can easily see that in the long run, everyone’s going to get the same percentage of good hands versus bad hands.
In other words, in the long run, you’d break even.
If you were even 1% better than your opponents, you’d profit.
But since your winnings are effectively taxed at 5% every time there’s a pot, you can’t win unless you’re at least good enough to overcome the rake.
And you face at least one of the same issues professional blackjack players face:
You need a large bankroll to overcome potential runs of bad luck.
You can read more about appropriate bankroll management in poker at Upswing Poker.
You’re Not Gambling for a Living if You’re Making Negative Expectation Bets
Every bet you make has either a positive or a negative expectation. This is the amount that you’re going to win, statistically, on average, over the long run on that bet.
In the case of casino games, for example, the expectation is measured by the house edge. That’s a percentage of each bet that you’re expected to lose on average over the long run.
All casino games offer negative expectation bets unless you do something unusual like count cards or use some other advantage gambling technique.
Poker is often a negative expectation bet because most poker players overestimate their skill level.
With games like roulette, no fancy systems can help you win in the long run. No matter how hard you try to sharpen your psychic abilities, you’re never going to be better at picking lucky roulette numbers than anyone else.
Professional gamblers don’t engage in magical thinking.
Some Sports Betters Gamble for a Living
I’d guess that the number of sports bettors who are able to overcome the vig are about as low as the number of poker players who can overcome the rake.
In fact, the number might be even lower.
What’s the “vig?”
That’s how the sportsbooks make their money. Most sportsbooks, when offering a proposition with a 50% probability of winning, require you to risk $110 to win $100. (This is a ratio — you might just as easily need to risk $44 to win $40.)
It should be easy to see how, in the long run, if you’re winning $100 half the time and losing $110 the other half of the time that you’ll lose money.
The mistake that a lot of sports bettors make is to assume that their short-run streaks of good luck equate to skill.
In fact, the sportsbooks count on this.
Their handicappers are the best in the world at calculating the odds and coming up with point spreads.
To win enough money to bet on sports professionally, you’d need to be a better handicapper than the world’s best.
Or be perceptive enough to notice when market forces provide you with lines that present a positive expectation.
What about Video Poker?
A lot of people realize that video poker games offer some of the best odds in the casino. As a matter of fact, video poker often has a house edge as low as the house edge for blackjack. You just need to be able to find the games with the right pay tables and then play those games with perfect video poker strategy.
This, again, is easier said than done.
And even with a house edge of less than 0.3%, in the long run, you’ll still lose money.
Here’s what advantage video poker players do:
They find video poker games with a tiny house edge, like 0.2% or 0.3%, Then they join the slots club at that casino. They find out when the double and triple rewards times are.
Most casinos’ slots clubs award rewards worth 0.2% of your action, which brings these video poker games close to a break-even proposition.
When you double or triple that 0.2%, you start having a mathematical edge over the house, but it’s in the form of casino comps.
But the edge is tiny.
You have to be able to play for stakes high enough that an edge of 0.3% or 0.4% is meaningful.
And most of the casinos which offer these games have already done the math. So they only offer the good pay tables on the quarter machines.
You bet $1.25 per hand on those games. If you’re fast, you play 600 hands per hour. That’s $750/hour in action.
If your edge is 0.4%, for example, you can expect to win $3/hour.
I can’t make a living on $3/hour.
You probably can’t, either.
The Best Way of Gambling for a Living
The best way to gamble for a living is to be the house. Buy stock in a casino company.
If you’re especially entrepreneurial, launch a site like this and sell advertising to the casino companies.
It’s harder to become a professional gambler than some people think.
It’s easier than some other people think, too.
The 2 most important things are simple but not easy:
- You need a huge bankroll.
- You need to make positive expectation bets.
The rest is just details.