I’ve recently begun re-reading Guerrilla Gambling: How to Beat the Casinos at Their Own Games by Frank Scoblete.
I’ve always been fascinated by his mix of good advice and bad advice. Some of the good advice is obvious in the extreme, some of the bad advice sounds plausible at first, and some of the advice is indifferent.
In this post, I want to look at a specific list of “guerrilla gambling techniques” he presents in the introduction to his book. Having written about and studied casino gambling and the math behind it for the last 20 years, I feel like I’ve developed a pretty good knack for separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to this sort of thing.
Much of what Scoblete has written is good advice, by the way—especially some of the stuff he’s written about the attitude you should take toward the casino. He explains elsewhere that the casino isn’t your friend.
Their goal is to take your money. Your goal should be to take theirs.
Unfortunately, once it starts getting into the nuts and bolts of how to do that, Scoblete’s advice starts to fall apart a lot of the time. Some of his advice has no bearing at all on the kinds of results you can expect. And some of his advice might actually interfere with your chances of being a long-term winner.
Here are the specific 7 techniques I’d like to address in this post:
1- You Should Only Play in Short-Run Bursts when the Likelihood of Winning Is Greatest
Scoblete sort of has a point here, but it’s not a great point, and it’s also a little misleading. The idea is that playing in a short-run burst increases your chances of winning. That’s not exactly true.
It might increase your probability of walking away from a specific session as a winner, but the game is still rigged against you mathematically.
He uses baccarat and roulette as his specific examples here. I’m just going to look at roulette.
The probability of winning at roulette is the same as the probability of winning at any other game. You divide the number of winning possibilities by the total number of possible outcomes.
For example, if you bet on black, you divide the number of black outcomes by the total number of potential outcomes.
A roulette wheel has 38 numbers on it, and 18 of them are black. That’s all you need to know to calculate your probability of winning a bet on black—it’s 18/38, or 47.37%.
That number doesn’t go up or down whether you play for 5 minutes, 5 hours, or 5 days. It stays 47.37%.
But you could more easily see a longer losing streak than expected than you can see a longer winning streak.
Of course, if you have a specific enough goal, you CAN adjust the probability to suit that goal. Suppose you have $100, and your goal is to double your money at the roulette table.
A single bet of $100 on black is more likely to achieve that goal than 2 bets of $50 each or 4 bets of $25 each.
You only have to buck the odds once if you make a big bet. If you make 2 or 4 smaller bets, you have to buck the odds 2 or 4 times in a row to double your money.
If you’re going to gamble as long as Scoblete has—or as long as I have—if you keep playing negative expectation games like roulette, you’ll eventually see your overall statistics start to resemble the mathematically expected statistics.
Artificial constraints on your time at the table do nothing for your long term chances of winning. Playing only in short term bursts won’t make you a winner at casino games.
2- You Should Only Play Against Games Where the Casino Has a Small Edge or No Edge
This is more accurate advice than some of Scoblete’s other advice. I’ve seen him say that a house edge of 3% or higher is unacceptable. This is an oversimplification, but there’s some truth to it.
But first of all, what exactly is the house edge?
That’s the theoretically predicted amount of money you expect to lose on every bet, expressed as a percentage.
If a game has a house edge of 5.26%, the casino expects—in the long run—to average $5.26 in winnings every time you bet $100 on the game.
But that’s just an average over the long run. As we already discussed, in the short term anything can happen.
If you bet $100 on black on 38 statistically perfect spins of the roulette wheel, you’ll win $100 on 18 of those spins, for $1800 in total winnings. You’ll lose $100 on 20 of those spins, for $2000 in total losses.
That’s a net loss of $200 over 38 spins. To get an average, you just divide that $200 by the 38 spins, and you get $5.26. Since we’re working with bet sizes of $100, it’s easy to understand that the house edge is 5.26%.
Generally, though, Scoblete is right—the higher the house edge, the more money you expect to lose in the long run. There’s more to consider, such as volatility, but he’s not exactly wrong here. He doesn’t go far enough, though.
If you want to win at casino gambling in the long run, you must find games where you can get a mathematical edge over the casino. This means counting cards in blackjack, for example, or controlling the dice in craps. Perfect video poker play on the right pay tables combined with slots club promotions can net you an edge, too. Finding a video poker progressive jackpot that’s large enough can also give you a positive expectation.
But just keeping the house edge low won’t make you a long term winner. It will usually just take you longer to lose all your money.
3-You Should Use Strategies Designed to Turn the Tables Quickly in Your Favor
I’m not sure I agree with this or even understand it. What strategy is going to turn the tables quickly in your favor with a casino game?
Counting cards in blackjack is a longer-term strategy. In fact, any legitimate advantage gambling technique will only start to bear fruit in the long run. It seems to me that no strategy will turn the tables quickly in your favor.
Baccarat is another game that has no strategy. It’s purely random, and counting cards doesn’t yield an advantage.
Craps has a strategy—avoid the sucker bets. These are the bets at the craps table with the highest house edge. Some people, Scoblete included, think that a skilled dice shooter can affect the odds of an outcome, too. I’m skeptical of this, myself.
You can forget all about strategy with slot machines. Even Scoblete doesn’t suggest playing slots.
Video poker definitely has a strategy, but it only gives you an edge in some specific situations. For example, you need to find a table with a favorable pay table. Then you must make near perfect decisions on every hand about which cards you’re going to discard and which cards you’re going to keep.
At any rate, I’d say that this advice is neither good nor bad.
4- You Should Have a Sufficient Bankroll that Is Reserved Only for Gambling
A bankroll is an amount of money you’ve set aside to gamble with. Every gambling writer at some point suggests that you set aside money that you can afford to lose so that you don’t gamble with the rent money. This is good advice.
But here’s the thing about gambling bankrolls:
If you’re playing in a game with a negative expectation, you need an infinite sized bankroll to avoid going broke.
In other words, there’s no such thing as a “sufficient” bankroll for a game like roulette—at least not from the perspective of helping you to win.
You might have a bankroll that’s big enough that it’ll be sufficient to provide you with an hour’s play, or something like that.
But unless you have an edge over the casino, your bankroll size probably doesn’t make much of a
When you do have an edge, though, having a big enough bankroll becomes very important indeed. The reason for that is simple—in the short term, gambling games are still random—even if you have an edge.
With a little bit of searching, you can find bankroll recommendations for any gambling game where you have an edge. Scoblete offer specific bankroll recommendations for games with a negative expectation, too, but they’re not really important.
The central idea behind your bankroll requirements in a game where you have an edge is that you want to minimize your “risk of ruin.” Your risk of ruin skyrockets when you have a negative expectation.
But Scoblete has it half right. When it comes to negative expectation games, your only hope is to get in and out in the short run. You’ll still lose at that game in the long run, but you might be able to book a winning session or two.
With a negative expectation game, your bankroll size probably doesn’t matter much, though.
5- You Should Never Allow Yourself to Lose an Entire Session Stake at One Table or One Game
This is a common money management principle that plenty of gambling authors promote. The idea is that you take your bankroll and divide it into smaller session bankrolls. You then set a win goal and/or a loss limit. If you hit either the win goal or the loss limit, you end the gambling session.
It’s probably easier to explain this using an example. Let’s say you’re a roulette player, and you’re only interested in playing roulette.
You’ll be in Vegas for 5 days, and you want to play twice a day all 5 days. You’ve brought $1000 to play with. You would divide that into 10 session bankrolls of $100 each.
You’d then set a win goal—maybe your goal is $20 per session. You also set a loss limit of $40. If the stack of chips in front of you gets up to $120, you call it quits. Or if it gets down to $60, you call it quits.
Statistically, you’re playing one long gambling session that lasts until the last time you play that game. The longer you play, the closer you get to the long run, and the closer your results will mirror the long term results you’d expect.
It doesn’t matter if you lose an entire session stake or not. Switching tables only matters if you’re switching to a table with a different game with different odds. Switching games only matters if you’re switching to a game with different odds.
This is one of those arbitrary pieces of advice that leaves me scratching my head.
6- You Should Learn Techniques for Extending Your Body Time at the Tables but Not Your Risk Time in Order to Win Complimentaries from the Casino
This might be some of the best advice in the book, and it comes almost directly from Max Rubin’s much better book, Comp City. Here’s what this means:
When you sign up for the players club at the casino, you earn comps—free stuff—based on how much action you bring the casino. (Your “action” is the total amount you wager.) The casino wants to encourage you to stay in action, because the longer you play, the more likely you are to see the long term expected results—which means the casino wins your money.
When you play a slot machine or a video poker game, the machine monitors how much you’re betting to the penny.
If you step away from the table to go to the bathroom, the clock’s still running, but none of your money is at risk. If you sit out a hand because of some superstitious reason you just made up, you have less money in action per hour.
If you start off the session betting $100 per hand and drop that to $20 per hand after you’ve been rated, you’ll get credit for the higher dollar amount. If you range your bets, make sure that they have you marked down for a higher dollar amount per bet than a lower dollar amount.
I was playing at a casino in Kansas City once, and I was betting between $10 and $100 per hand at the blackjack table. They had me rated as a $10 per hand player. I had the bankroll to play for bigger stakes, but I was too timid at the beginning, and I couldn’t get them to re-rate me for the higher dollar amount per bet on average.
Those comps add up, and you should include them in your calculations of how much you’ve won and lost when casino gambling.
7- You Should Be Prepared to Leave Precipitously if Things Go Against You Early
“Precipitously” means hastily and without careful consideration. This is another one of those lame pieces of advice that wants you to think that you can change your luck by quitting if it’s running bad. It’s an example of the Gambler’s Fallacy.
The idea behind the Gambler’s Fallacy is that previous events affect subsequent events—even when they don’t.
Here’s an example:
You sit down at the roulette table and start betting on black. You lose 5 times in a row. If you follow Scoblete’s advice here, you just get up from the table and go play at another table or play another game. After all, you’re losing—don’t you want to cut your losses, since you’re having bad luck? No.
If the game conditions haven’t changed, it doesn’t matter if you switch tables or leave. Your luck can literally change on the next spin of the wheel or the next roll of the dice.
You can’t avoid bad luck by quitting because of what’s happened previously.
I’d hoped to write a more positive conclusion where I could point out the pros and cons of these 7 techniques, but after analyzing Scoblete’s techniques, it’s hard to find many pros. Most of this advice is useless or just plain wrong.
The only advice that has a kernel of truth has to do with trying to win in the short run because you can’t win in the long run. Even that advice is of limited usefulness and is somewhat misleading in the way he’s presented it in his book.
If you really want to win at gambling, do some research into legitimate advantage gambling techniques and learn how to implement them. None of the advice above is a legitimate advantage gambling technique, either.
On the other hand, there’s no shame in being just a plain ol’ regular recreational gambler.
Just don’t make the mistake of thinking the advice above will help you win more often, because it won’t.