If you want to gamble better, start by thinking about what “better gambling” looks like for you. Does it mean you’re going to win more money in the long run? Does it mean you’re going to have more fun when you’re at the tables or watching sports? Does it mean you’re going to lose less money per season?
Some people are okay with being recreational gamblers, and recreational gamblers are usually losing gamblers. Others want to win consistently over the long run. They might or might not be gambling for a living, but their goals are different from the recreational gambler who has resigned himself to losing in the long run as long as he has lots of fun.
No matter what your goals are, once you clarify them, you have a better shot at successfully achieving them. This post includes several suggestions for gambling better. I hope you’ll take at least some of them and run with that advice.
1- Start Refusing to Play Games Where You Don’t Have an Edge
When you play a casino game, the house has a mathematical edge over the player. This is some basic probability stuff. That edge is what keeps the casino in business. It’s also the reason you’re likelier to come home a loser instead of a winner.
The house edge is a function of the probability of winning a bet versus the bet’s payoff. Probability is just a ratio that describes the likelihood of winning. Expressed in odds format, your probability of winning a bet might look like this: 37 to 1.
The first number is the number of possible ways you could lose that bet, and the 2nd number is the number of possible ways you could win that bet. When you bet on a single number in roulette, for example, you have 37 ways to lose and only a single way to win. Your odds of winning are 37 to 1.
But odds are also used to describe the payoff for a bet. A single-number bet in roulette pays off at 35 to 1. That’s the ratio of winnings to losses. If you bet $1 on a single number in roulette and win, you get paid off $35 in winnings.
Wait, you think, I’m way ahead of you. If the odds of winning are 37 to 1, why aren’t the payoff odds 37 to 1, too? That’s because the casino wants to make a profit. The difference between those payoff odds and the odds of winning is the house edge.
That edge is usually described as a percentage of each bet that you’re expected to lose on average over time. It’s easy to calculate in this example, too. You just assume 38 spins of the roulette wheel, each of which lands on one of the 38 possible results. You also assume a bet size of $100.
What’s your net loss after those 38 theoretically perfect spins? You’ll see 37 losses at $100 each, for a total loss of $3700. You’ll also see a single win for $3500, which means you’ve lost a total of $200 over those 38 spins.
The average loss per spin is $5.26. That’s 5.26% of each bet, and that’s the house edge. Now let’s suppose you’ve found a roulette wheel with a slight bias toward a certain set of numbers. Those numbers come up slightly more often than they should because the wheel isn’t perfect.
When you bet on one of those numbers, instead of having a 37 to 1 chance of winning, you now have a 34 to 1 chance of winning. What are your results going to look like after 35 spins on that wheel?
You’ll lose 34 times, for total losses of $3400. But you’ll win once, for a total win of $3500. Your net win is $100. Divide that by 35, and you get an average win per spin of 2.86%.
Instead of the house having an edge of 5.26%, YOU have an edge of 2.86%. If you have a long-term edge over the house, you will eventually win, assuming you don’t go broke first because of variance.
The house edge is usually easier to calculate for casino games than it is for other types of gambling. But most of the time, no matter what kind of gambling you’re doing, you’ll be playing against an edge. In sports betting, you’re required to risk $110 to win $100. This gives the book an edge over the bettor, assuming you have a 50/50 shot of winning.
Even in poker, where you’re playing against the other players, you usually face a mathematical disadvantage. That’s because the house takes 5% of each pot as the “rake.” This is how the casino makes money from poker games.
To be good enough at sports betting or poker to win in the long run, you must be able to win often enough to overcome that extra amount. In sports betting, this means winning more than 53% of the bets you make in the long run. In poker, it depends on how many other players are at the table.
Poker and sports betting, though, ARE good examples of where you can reliably get an edge. In casino games like blackjack and video poker, you can also get an edge, but it requires perfect play. It also often requires skillful taking advantage of the comps and rewards the casinos offer players as an incentive to keep playing.
There are other ways to gamble with an edge, not all of which are easily found or learned. If you’re willing to make an effort, you can get rich gambling, though.
2- Learn to Make Some Simple Gambling Forecasts
If you want to know how much money you’re expecting to win or lose, you can do the math easily enough once you know the formula. It’s just the number of bets you’re making multiplied by the edge—either your edge, or the house edge.
Suppose you want to know how much money you’re going to make over a season of football betting. First, forecast how many bets you expect to make. Let’s assume you’re planning to make 100 bets.
Now, let’s assume you’re confident that you can win 60 of these bets. (If this is the case, by the way, you’re a world-class handicapper.) You’ll win 60 bets of $100 each for $6000 in winnings. You’ll lose 40 bets at $110 each for $4400 in losses. Your net win over the course of the season is $1600. Over a 17-week season, this is an average win of $1600/17 weeks, or $94.12 per week.
You can also run this calculation for hourly winnings or losses at a casino game. You just need to know how many bets per hour you’re making.
For example, if you’re playing blackjack and counting cards, your edge over the house might be 1%. If you’re betting an average of $100 per hand, and you’re playing 200 hands per hour, your expected hourly winnings are $100 X 200 hands X 1% per hand, or $200/hour.
When you’re making these kinds of forecasts, though, keep in mind that variance is going to have an effect on you in the short term. You don’t win $200 per hour in an hour. You might lose $400 the first hour, win $600 the 2nd hour, lose $200 the 3rd hour, and win $200 the 4th hour, then win $1000 in the 5th hour. Your average win per hour over those 5 hours was $200/hour, but the results were all over the place.
The difference between the unpredictability of short term results and long term expectation is called “variance.”
3- Think Long Term Instead of Short Term
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about variance and the difference between the long run and the short term. Most people underestimate how long the long term really is. An hour at the roulette table is not going to give you a good feel for your long term expectation at all. That’s not much more than 50 spins at most roulette tables.
How do you know when you’ve hit the long run?
I saw a great answer to this in a forum thread the other day. The author said that since you always lose in the long run, you know you’ve hit the long run when you’re losing. If you’re winning, then you’re still in the short term.
In the same thread, Michael Shackleford suggested that one of the most frequent questions he gets is how long it takes to get into the long run. His answer is that mathematically speaking, when you’ve played an infinite number of hands, you’re in the long run. But, of course, that’s impossible.
He goes on to explain that the longer you play, the closer you get to the long run, but you’ll never arrive. It’s like shades of gray. They can get darker, but you’ll never truly get into the block.
For now, let’s just say that the longer you play, the more bets you make, the closer you are to the long run. If you play poker for 10 hours, you’re further away from the long term results than your buddy who has played for 100 hours. And someone who’s played for 2000 hours is closer to the long run still.
If you change your perspective about the long run, you’ll have a better attitude about the deviations and variance you’ll see in the short run. This will have 2 effects:
- You’ll enjoy your gambling more.
- You’ll be less likely to make bad decisions based on short term variance.
And LOTS of players make decisions based on short term variance. This is the phenomenon that causes people to think that their hunches have some kind of actual predictive value.
The long run also varies based on the game that you’re playing. I’ve seen people suggest that you start to get into the long run in blackjack somewhere around 15,000 hands. If you only play at tables where you’re heads-up with the dealer, you’ll see about 200 hands/hour. This means it takes 75 hours of play to start to get into the long run.
When people do mathematical simulations to create basic strategies for blackjack or video poker, they run millions of hands to make sure their results are accurately based on the long run. Even then, with blackjack, when certain hands are close to being a hard decision, these simulations might be inaccurate. An example of a hand like this is when you have a hard 16 and the dealer has a 10 showing.
4- Be Creative
I recently read a couple of articles about a professional gambler named Eddie Teams. He’s won millions of dollars gambling, but he’s also won over 30 cars. Unlike most advantage gamblers, he doesn’t stick to just blackjack and poker, either. He’s creative enough to find ways to get an edge over the casino in other ways that less creative people might not even notice.
According to Teams, “Every casino game in the world is beatable, and it can all be done without breaking any laws. There are biased roulette wheels. Side bets at every table game are beatable. I’ve memorized shuffles, recognized card-backs, sequenced aces, controlled dice.”
I’m skeptical about some of these techniques, but who am I to argue with a man who has won 30 different automobiles during his gambling career?
I’ve written about my skepticism about biased roulette wheels and dice control in other posts, so I won’t repeat those doubts here. Instead, I’ll look at some of the ways Eddie Teams got creative to win money gambling on games other advantage gamblers wouldn’t touch.
Here’s an example:
Most advantage gamblers won’t go near the slot machines. The house edge is too high, and it’s almost impossible to estimate just how high the house edge is on such games.
But Teams found a promotion where the player with the most play during a specific period of time got to pick 1 of 5 different posters hanging on the wall. Each poster had a dollar amount that you could win on the back of it: $10,000. $50,000, etc.
If you only won $10,000 from that card, you’d probably not even cover your losses on the slot machine. The $50,000, on the other hand, was a profitable choice.
How do you make sure you pick the poster with $50,000 behind it? If you’re Eddie Teams, you memorize the back of the poster so you’ll KNOW where it is during the next contest. He won $150,000 in 2 months this way. And it’s not something most gamblers would even think of.
Eventually, the casino figured out what was going on and started changing the poster cards every time. This didn’t discourage Teams. As a student of gambling psychology, he knew that all you needed to do was watch the eyes of the person responsible hanging those posters. Their eyes would naturally be drawn repeatedly to the poster worth the most money.
5- Check Your Ego at the Door
No matter how good at gambling you think you are, someone’s better. This is especially true when you’re talking about casinos. Don’t get cocky, and don’t act cocky.
This is especially good advice related to card counting. Your goal when counting cards in blackjack is to fly under the radar and avoid getting caught as long as you can. One sure way to ensure getting caught is to strut around like a banty rooster. The more attention you bring to yourself while you’re playing, the more likely you are to get caught. If the casinos back you off, you can’t win any more of their money.
If you’re a jerk at the poker table, people will stop playing with you. I read a book by Mike Caro once where he explained that more money flows from the losers to the winners at a poker table where everyone is friendly and happy than at a table where everyone is deadly serious and surly.
Be welcoming, friendly, open, and humble at the poker table. This will put more money in your pocket. You’ll also have more fun.
6- Don’t Be Afraid to Gamble on a Longshot
You might or might not have heard of Ashely Revell. He didn’t exactly gamble on a longshot, but his approach is similar to someone who did. He put all the money he had in the world on red at the roulette table and won. In his case, this was over $75,000. He won, too.
Of course, doubling your money when you have a chance of doing so at 48.65% isn’t exactly a longshot. The odds are against you, but they’re not a longshot.
You know what’ s a longshot?
Winning the Main Event at the World Series of Poker.Even if you’re twice as good as the average player, your probability of winning that event is only 1 in 3500 or so. (There are usually between 6000 and 7000 entrants.)
Let’s say you’re half as good as the other players. Your probability of winning in that case might only be 1 in 14,000. Compare that with the probability of winning the lottery, though. If you bought 10,000 lottery tickets, the probability of hitting the jackpot would be 10,000 in 175 million, which is the same thing as 1 in 17,500.
That’s not a huge difference if you’re a lousy player, but if you’re an average or better player, the probability of winning the World Series of Poker is twice as good as winning the lottery.
So yeah, gamble on a longshot if you want to. Just be smart about it.
7- Broaden Your Horizons
It never hurts to have other possible revenue streams in your gambling career. If the only thing you know how to do is count cards, you’re in trouble if you run into a casino where all the games involve a deck that gets shuffled constantly. If you know how to play video poker at an expert level, though, you might be able to find some profitable opportunities there.
If you’re a poker player and find a tough game, you might be able to go bet on some sporting events and get a positive expectation there.
The examples are myriad and obvious, though. Having multiple avenues to make money from gambling just increase the number of opportunities you can look forward to.
On the other hand, if your goal is to profit, you can still find plenty of ways to improve your results. Some of these are as simple as getting to know the math behind the games better. Some of them are as complicated as mastering a card counting strategy in blackjack.
No matter what your goals are, you shouldn’t settle for being the same gambler you were a year ago. You should constantly be trying to take things to the next level.