Anyone can win at gambling. You don’t need to be especially skilled or smart. You just have to get lucky.
But if you want to win at gambling more consistently, you can do certain things to improve your odds. It’s even possible to make a living as a gambler, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog post.
If that’s your goal, though, this post is a good starting point.
Most of what you need to know about winning at gambling involves understanding some math. Probability is the reason casinos are such profitable businesses.
If you master probability, you can BECOME the casino.
And the math isn’t as hard as you think. Yes, you need to understand fractions, percentages, and odds. I didn’t say that learning how to win at gambling would be effortless.
I just said anyone can do it.
Here are 7 ways to win at gambling.
1- Learn how the math behind gambling works.
I’ve written other posts about probability, but here’s what you need to understand in a nutshell:
Probability is the math that measures how likely it is for an event to happen. When you bet on an event, the stakes versus the payout can be measured against that probability.
If the comparison is favorable, you stand a good chance of winning. If it’s not, then you stand a good chance of losing.
All casino games, for example, come with a built-in house edge. This is based on the casino paying out at odds that are lower than the odds of winning.
Roulette provides one of the most easily understood examples:
The even money bets in roulette pay off at even money–1 to 1 odds.
But the odds of winning aren’t 1 to 1.
The odds of winning are actually close to 0.9 to 1.
The house benefits from that difference in the long run. The longer you play, the more likely it is that you’ll see actual results that resemble your mathematical prediction.
That’s why players win in the short run. Anything can happen on a single spin of the roulette wheel.
But over thousands or tens of thousands of spins, the results start to mirror the expectation.
With casino games, the math is expressed as an expected percentage of each bet that you’ll lose. That percentage is called the house edge.
For example, the house edge in roulette is 5.26%. It’s hard to win at roulette in the long run when you’re facing such a large house edge.
The casino expects, over time, to win $5.26 for every $100 you wager. They’re banking all the bets from all the players at all the tables. They get into long term expectations faster than any individual casino gambler could ever dream of.
Your goal is to find games where you have an edge over the house.
Gambling games that aren’t banked by the house still present you with lousy odds for various reasons. For example, if you play poker, the house usually keeps 5% of each pot. Are you a sports bettor? You have to wager $110 to win $100.
Those are examples of “the rake” and “the vig”, respectively.
2- Investigate which gambling activities offer you the best odds.
Sure, you want to choose gambling activities that you enjoy. Who wants to spend time gambling if they’re not having fun.
But you also want to find games that offer better odds.
If you want to be a short term winner, find games where the house edge and volatility are low.
If you want to be a long term winner, find games where you can get an edge.
You can only get an edge at a handful of gambling activities. These include:
- Video poker
- Sports betting
The best casino games–with the lowest house edge and least volatility–include:
- 3 Card Poker
- Video poker
Here’s something else to think about:
If you’re playing a negative expectation game, your best chance to win at gambling is to make fewer, larger bets.
If you’re playing a positive expectation game, your best chance to win at gambling is to make more, smaller bets.
Remember what we discussed earlier. Gambling math is all about long term expectation. If the odds are against you, the way to win is to stay in the short term.
If the odds are with you, the way to win is to get into the long run.
These are called “maximum boldness” and “minimum boldness” strategies.
3- Make sure you have a big enough gambling bankroll.
I look at gambling bankrolls in 2 different ways:
If you’re an advantage gambler, you need a big enough bankroll to avoid going broke before your edge kicks in. You can’t win at gambling consistently if you go broke in the attempt.
The right size bankroll varies based on your specialty. I mentioned in another post that you should have around 350 times the big bet in Texas holdem to be sufficiently bankrolled. The numbers are different for blackjack, sports betting, or video poker.
But the principle is the same. If you have an edge, you can’t go broke in the short term.
If you’re not an advantage gambler, it doesn’t matter how big your bankroll is. Play long enough, you’ll eventually go broke. That’s how games with a negative expectation work.
You still need to be mindful of your bankroll, though. Your gambling bankroll needs to be separate from the money you need for the rest of your life. Pay your rent, your other bills, and buy groceries first.
Then IF you have some money left over that you don’t need for anything else, you can gamble it.
Most people who gamble don’t have the bankroll they need to participate. That’s a losing approach to gambling, not a winning approach.
4- Stay sober.
If you want to win at gambling, you have to make a series of good decisions:
- Do you have a big enough bankroll?
- Does the game offer good enough odds?
- What approach should I take to the game?
- When should I quit?
- How do I define winning?
The answer to each of those questions is a decision point. No one makes better decisions after drinking alcohol.
Don’t get me wrong. I think people who enjoy a drink should have a drink.
But people who are serious about winning at gambling are better off staying sober. At least don’t combine your drinking habit with your gambling hobby. That doesn’t serve anyone well.
When I was younger, I played a lot of poker at underground cardrooms in Dallas, Texas. I used to go to the bar for karaoke first. I told my drinking buddies that I wanted the other players at the table to think I was drunk.
That sounds like a great strategy.
The problem was that I really was drunk most of the time.
Drunks make lousy decisions at the poker table. I liked to claim that I was a break-even poker player. But the truth is that I was a losing player and wasn’t honest enough to admit.
I quit drinking a few years ago. I don’t suggest you quit drinking (unless, of course, you want to). But please don’t drink alcohol while you’re gambling. That’s a recipe for disaster, I promise.
5- Join the players club at the casino.
If you’re not a casino gambler, you can ignore this one. But if you plan to spend any time or money in the casino, joining the players club is mandatory for the aspiring winner.
Here’s how the players club works:
The casino wants to encourage you to play a lot. So it has a rewards program that tracks how much you gamble. Please note that it doesn’t track how much you LOSE; it tracks how much you WAGER.
Usually this is done through a plastic card that resembles a credit card. You insert this card into the slot machine as you play. And it tracks how much you wager.
If you’re playing table games, you still use your card. Just present the card to the dealer. Ask to be rated. They’ll estimate how much you’re betting per hand and how many hands per hour you’re playing. Then they’ll update your account accordingly.
The casino then awards you free stuff as a percentage of the money you’ve put into action. They usually do this at a rate of 0.2% or 0.3% of the amount you’ve wagered.
This free stuff usually consists of one or more of the following:
The easiest rewards to earn are the comp meals at the casino’s restaurants. Lodging is also easy to earn. That’s because you value the rewards based on their retail value. But the casino pays wholesale for them.
For example, suppose you get a meal at the casino’s steakhouse for $60. The food cost for that meal is $20 or less.
Here’s another example:
That $200 suit you’re staying in?
It probably would have sat empty had you not been booked into it. It only represents an opportunity cost to the casino if the hotel would have otherwise been sold out.
Professional gamblers look for every tenth of a percentage point in expectation they can get. This means participating in the loyalty program at the casino.
Some video poker aficionados specialize in maintaining a super-low house edge and supplementing it with enough casino rewards to profit in the long run.
6- Learn how to have fun.
Define what it means to win at gambling. For many people, the best “win” they can ever hope for is to have a good time at the casino.
Let’s face it. Counting cards in blackjack is hard. Playing poker at a consistent winning level is hard, too. Picking winners against the spread in sports betting often enough to profit is stressful and hard, too.
Set a goal to have as much as fun as possible. Measure how much fun you’re getting in return for the money you’ve lost.
If you do that, you win at gambling even when you lose money. If you’re playing most casino games, that’s the best you can hope for.
I encourage everyone to put the odds in their favor if they can.
But as Clint Eastwood once pointed out, a man’s got to know his limitations.
7- Develop some interests outside of your betting activities.
This relates closely to #6. You can find a lot to do in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, or Reno. The number of good restaurants in any one of those cities is staggering. You can also see some of the finest shows in the history of the world–especially in Vegas.
I know it’s fun to gamble. But don’t eliminate other sources of entertainment and fun to the exclusion of all others.
I can’t imagine a drearier life than one spent at a poker table, grinding out 2 big bets per hour, 16 hours a day for the rest of your life.
These 7 ways to win at gambling should work for anyone. Not everyone has the temperament to become a professional gambler. Frankly, a lot of us aren’t smart enough to pull that off, either.
But if you expand your definition of what it means to win at gambling, anyone can become a winner. You can learn the basic probability behind most gambling activities with little effort. The bankroll guidelines I’ve offered are simple enough, too.
Most gambling games don’t have a strategy to employ, but if you play one that does, you should learn at least the basics of the strategy. Signing up for the players club is a no-brainer. Staying sober while gambling might be harder for some people than others.
And no one should be opposed to having more fun when they’re gambling.