Why Advantage Gamblers Can’t Pay the Rent: 19 Reasons
Published on May 26, 2017
Advantage gambling is when you play with a positive expectation. This means that when you gamble, you gamble with an edge.
Though most gamblers don’t play with an advantage, almost anyone can do it if they know how. Only a small percentage of gamblers turn a long-term profit.
And an even smaller percentage are able to make a living gambling.
The term making a living is one that means different things to different people. Some people would consider $30,000 a year making a living, while others would put the yearly number at $100,000 or higher.
In this post, 19 reasons advantage gamblers fail to make a living, it doesn’t matter how much you think it takes to make a living.
The 19 reasons listed below can keep you from making a living if you want to make $20,000 or $200,000 a year.
If you’re just getting started on your advantage play journey use these 19 things to help you learn what to watch for and keep in mind as you start looking for advantages. If you’re already gambling with an advantage but aren’t making as much as you want, you can find at least one or two ways to improve your results.
Advantage gamblers find and exploit situations where they can make bets with a long-term advantage. Often this advantage is small, but they know that if they make bets with a positive expectation over and over that in the long run they’ll make a profit.
If you want to make a profit everything you do is based on a simple formula. Once you know the formula you can see that there are only a couple ways to increase your profits.
Here’s the basic formula: Bet multiplied by positive expectation = Profit
Because the formula only has three parts, including your profit, you can only do two things to increase profit. You either have to make your positive expectation higher or increase the size of your bet. For maximum increased profits, you need to find a way to increase both your bet and positive expectation.
This formula is based on each individual decision. But advantage gamblers don’t work with only one decision. They make many decisions an hour, week, month, etc. This means that there’s another variable that gets added to the equation.
Most people think in terms of hourly profit because most of us have been taught that you work for a certain amount per hour. In order to get your expected profit per hour you multiply the result from the formula above times the number of decisions per hour.
You can see how this works in detail in the example using blackjack below.
Advantage gamblers need to know what positive expectation is and how it works. Here’s a quick overview of positive expectation for those of you just getting started or investigating advantage play for the first time.
Positive expectation is the advantage you have in a situation, usually stated as a percentage. Once you know how to determine the expectation, you can determine how much each situation is worth on average. This is useful so you know how much you can expect to win every time you put yourself in the same situation.
The two most common places you can find or develop positive expectation situations are in blackjack and poker.
The easiest way for most players to understand expectation is by running the numbers for a set number of times. In blackjack, this can be 100 times and in poker it’s usually based on the remaining cards in the deck. I’m going to show you an example for blackjack and poker below.
Here’s a blackjack example: When you learn how to count cards you can play with an advantage or positive expectation over the house. This is possible because when more low cards have been dealt than high cards it increases your chances to win. When you keep track of the ratio of high to low cards you can raise your bets when you have an advantage to overcome the disadvantage when the deck has more low cards.
Depending on a wide range of variables, card counters can play with an overall edge of a half percent or higher. For this example, I’m using a 1% overall edge because it makes the math simple.
If your average bet is $20 and you play with an overall 1% edge here’s the results when you plus these numbers into the formula.
$20 X 1% = .20 (20 cents)
This doesn’t seem like much, but when you add the variable of how many hands you play per hour it starts looking better.
If you play 100 hands per hour your expected profit s $20 per hour. This is computed by simply multiplying 20 cents expected value per hand X 100 hands.
Once you have this number, you can determine how much you can make per year based on how much you can play.
If you’re just starting to investigate advantage play don’t make the mistake of overestimating how many hours you can play a week as a blackjack player. While it’s possible to play 40 hours a week or more for a normal blackjack player, an advantage player has to find the right games and jump from casino to casino often.
This reduces the number of hours you can play per week with an advantage.
Some advantage players can play for 40 or more hours per week, but a safe estimate is 20 to 30 hours per week. This may seem low, but when you’re learning how to be an advantage player it’s better to underestimate your potential profitability instead of overestimate.
If you can play 30 hours per week with an average bet size of $20, 100 hands per hour, and maintain a 1% edge, you make $600 a week, or around $30,000 a year.
Here’s a poker example: Positive expectation in poker is based on the same concepts as in blackjack, but it’s determined in a different way.
You’re playing no limit Texas Holdem after the turn and the pot has $1,000 in it. You have four cards to an ace high flush, you win the hand when you hit the flush and lose it if you don’t, and your opponent just moved all in for $300.
This makes the size of the pot $1,300 and you have to call $300 in order to see the river.
You know the value of the two cards in your hand and four cards on the board, for a total of six cards. This leaves 46 unseen cards, and nine of them complete your flush.
This is all of the information you need to determine if calling is a positive or negative expectation situation and how much the value is on average.
Here’s how you do it: Any one of the unseen 46 cards can hit on the river, but on average if you play the same situation 46 times each of the possible cards will be dealt once. So, the best way to continue is determine the financial outcome 46 times; one time for each possible card.
If you call the $300 bet 46 times the total cost is $13,800.
When you lose the hand, which happens 37 times out of 46, you don’t get anything back.
The nine times you complete your flush and win the hand you get back $1,600. So your total return is $14,400.
This means your total expected profit if you played the situation 46 times is $600. To get your expected value per hand you divide $600 by the 46 times you run the scenario. This means your average positive expected value is $13.04.
In other words, every time you play this exact situation you make $13.04 on average.
Of course, you only play the current situation once, but you make the call because it has a positive expectation. You’re going to lose the hand 37 times out of 46, or 80.43% of the time, but it’s still a profitable long-term play.
An important thing to remember is that expectation works both ways. Most gamblers play with a negative expectation. This means that most bets they make lose money on average over time. Advantage gamblers focus on making as many bets as possible with a positive expectation.
Now let’s get back to your bet size and why it’s important.
If you go back to the blackjack example you can see that playing 30 hours a week under the described conditions you can make around $30,000 a year. But what if you want to make $50,000 a year?
Remember the two ways to increase your profit is by increasing the expected value or the bet size.
If you can’t increase the expected value you need to increase the size of your bet. In order to increase your yearly profit to $50,000 you need to increase your average bet size to $33.33 from $20.
Here’s how we came up with the $30,000 a year number:
Bet size X hands per hour X expected value X hours per week played X 50 weeks a year.
$20 X 100 X 1% X 30 X 50 = $30,000
To determine how much you need to make your average bet to make $50,000 a year you replace the $30,000 with $50,000 and make the average bet size an unknown variable. Then divide the$50,000 by the total of 100 X 1% X 30 X 50, which is 1,500.
$50,000 divided by 1,500 = $33.33
Once you know how to do this you can quickly plug in the numbers to see how changing any of the variables changes your profit.
If you want to know the average bet size needed to win $100,000 a year you plug it in and do the same calculation.
$100,000 divided by 1,500 = $66.66
Though this section is about increasing your bet size to increase your profits, recognize that you can use the same formula to determine how changing any variable directly changes the profit.
Here’s an example: If your average bet size is $20, you play 100 hands per hour and 30 hours a week, but you can increase the expected value to 1.5% you can see how much it increases your yearly profit.
$20 X 100 X 1.5% X 30 X 50 = $45,000
If you always bet the same amount playing blackjack the house edge slowly takes all of your money. The only way to get a long-term edge is by betting more when you have an advantage.
This is called a bet spread.
When you start playing and when the count isn’t in your favor you make a minimum bet. This minimum bet can be the table minimum or whatever you decide your base bet is.
When the count is in your favor you increase the size of your bets. As the count goes higher you increase your bets more.
The ratio or difference from your lowest to highest bet is the bet spread.
If your base bet is $20 and your maximum bet is $200 you’re using a 1 to 10 spread.
Beginning card counter tend to make one of two possible mistakes. They either use a bet spread that’s too small or try to use on that’s too big.
If your bet spread is too small you don’t get enough money on the table when you have an advantage to overcome the house edge and your losses when you don’t have an advantage.
A bet spread of 1 to 2 or 1 to 4 isn’t enough to show a profit. It may be enough to break even and profit from the comps, but if you want to make a living as an advantage player you need a larger bet spread.
If your bet spread is too big the casino quickly starts watching you because it looks like you’re counting cards. You can employ many different tactics, called camouflage, to help stay under the radar as a counter, but the bottom line is you have to get enough money in play when you have an edge to be a profitable advantage player.
The proper bet spread is somewhat dependent on the game situations and the counting system you’re using. But it also has a great deal to do with what you can get away with without getting asked to stop playing.
The minimum bet spread suggested by most authors is 1 to 8, and 1 to 16 or 1 to 32 is better. A 1 to 32 spread can be challenging to make work without getting heat, but some players are able to create situations where it’s possible.
If you’re counting cards and aren’t making enough to make a living take a look at your current bet spread and try to find ways to increase it.
One way counters increase their profits is by playing less when the count isn’t in their favor. This has the same effect as increasing your bet spread. You can do this by back counting, leaving games when the count goes bad, or working with a team of counters.
When you play blackjack in a casino there are many distractions. The noise from slot machines is usually constantly invading the space around the tables, the dealer often chats with the players, the floor personnel and cocktail waitresses are always checking in, and the other players are also making noise.
All of this makes it challenging to effectively count cards.
You also need to act and play in a way that makes it hard for the casino to identify you as a card counter. And if you use a balanced counting system you need to be able to convert the running count to a true count before every decision.
All of this can lead to mistakes when you try to count cards. And every time you make a mistake it costs you money.
You have to be able to keep your count perfectly in any and all situations. If you’re making mistakes you need to keep practicing until you can count perfectly every time. And you need to make sure you’re always using the perfect strategy while you’re doing it.
At first, it’s hard to keep everything straight and never make any mistakes. The first time a floor or pit supervisor comes over and starts talking to you while you’re counting you’ll probably forget the count, act nervous, or make another mistake.
But with enough practice and experience you can get to the point where you can play, count, convert, use strategy, and talk all at the same time.
The only way to get real experience is by playing in a casino, but you can practice at home using a wide range of conditions.
Turn the radio and / or television on while you’re practicing. Have a friend or your spouse talk to you too. And if you can get a couple young children to run around and play while you practice it’s even better.
The top advantage blackjack players find and play in the games with the best rules.
Most casual blackjack players simply go to a casino and start playing at the first table they come to with an open seat. But the professional players won’t play in games where the rules aren’t good.
If you know what to look for and are willing to not play the wrong games you can usually find games with a starting house edge of a half percent or less. This is low enough that it allows you to have a chance to overcome the edge with a good counting system and good strategy.
When you start playing games with a house edge of 1% or higher, it becomes much more difficult to gain an advantage. Some games are impossible to beat over the long run, even for the best counters.
Here’s an example of a game with decent rules: Six deck shoe, dealer stands on soft 17, can double after split, can split to four hands, can’t spilt aces again and can’t hit split aces, and blackjack pays 3 to 2. The house edge in this game using perfect strategy is .51%.
Here’s another set of rules: Six deck shoe, dealer hits on soft 17, can double after split, can split to four hands, can split aces again and can hit split aces, and blackjack pays 3 to 2. The house edge in this game using perfect strategy is .495%.
Learn about how each rule changes the house edge and only play in games with good rules. Every hand you play giving the casino a bigger edge than you need to cost you money.
If you want to make a living as an advantage gambler you have to only play games where you can find an advantage. This is usually restricted to poker, blackjack, and sports betting.
This means that you can’t occasionally play roulette or craps or drop a few dollars into a slot machine. This type of activity is counterproductive to your goal as an advantage gambler.
Most of us enjoy some games other than the ones we can play with an advantage, but games with a negative expectation don’t have a place in the advantage gambler’s arsenal.
I love to play Let It Ride, but unless the dealer is sloppy and flashes down card values sometimes I can’t play with an edge. So, I never play it for real money. If I decide I want to play I play for free online.
If you simply can’t stop playing a negative expectation game every once in a while, you need to set a strict budget for play and understand that you’re treating it as entertainment.
This is acceptable because I can’t tell you what to do with your money and your time. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you can be an advantage gambler and play the wrong games.
When you play poker, you have a great deal of control over who your opponents are. You can find games filled with weaker opponents or you can simply grab the first available seat.
Advantage gamblers look for and create situations where they can play against weak players.
You don’t even need to be one of the best poker players in the world. You simply need to be better than your opponents.
If you can’t find games with weak players where you usually play, start looking for a different place to play. You can even start your own game and make sure it’s filled with weak players.
The only form of poker where you can’t choose your own opponents is tournament play. But advantage players have a trick they use when looking for tournaments too.
You can look for tournaments that offer overlay opportunities. Look for guaranteed prize pool tournaments that don’t have enough entrants. Often when a tournament doesn’t sell enough seats to cover the prize pool the average return is higher than your entry fee.
It helps if you’re one of the best players, but even an average player can make a long-term profit if they put themselves into enough overlay opportunities.
You can also gain entry into free roll tournaments with enough play in some poker rooms, and find them online.
Advantage gamblers are always looking for an opportunity to place a bet with positive expectation. They understand that the ore opportunities they can find and exploit offering positive expectation the more they win over time.
But even bets that offer positive expectation can lose. Some of them lose more often than they win, but pay out high enough amounts when they win to show a profit.
You want to be able to place the maximum bet in any positive expectation situation you find or create.
In order to do this, you need a bankroll large enough to let you place maximum bets and ride out the short-term variance.
If you remember the example in the first section about poker and positive expectation it had a situation where you can turn a long-term profit and still lose 37 out of 46 times. Though it isn’t likely, you could lose 25 or 30 straight times before you start winning this situation.
This doesn’t mean the situation isn’t a positive expectation one. It simply means the long-term expectation is taking longer to get to you than you’d like.
In the example, you called a bet of $300. If you lost the first 25 times you’re down $7,500. If you lose 30 times you’re down $9,000.
But if your bankroll is big enough you don’t worry about the short term because you know in the long term you’re going to make a profit.
The problem is that most players don’t have a big enough bankroll so they’re forced to restrict the amount they can invest in positive expectation situations.
Here’s a different example: If you can bet as much as you want with an edge of 51% to 49% and have a bankroll of $10,000 how much would you bet?
You can determine a correct value using a risk of ruin calculation, but you don’t need to worry about that to see my point.
Decide how much you’re willing to bet out of your $10,000.
Most players would probably feel comfortable betting $100 in this situation. Some might even be willing to bet $200, or even $500.
But only a truly reckless gambler would bet all $10,000 on a single decision with such a small edge.
What happens if you have a $1,000,000 bankroll?
Now a $10,000 bet is the same percentage of your total bankroll as the $100 bet with a $10,000 bankroll.
All of us have a bankroll amount that we need to be aware of and use in a smart way. But you need to have as much as possible so you can afford to push small edges. The bigger your bankroll the more you can afford to wager in positive expectation situations.
It’s challenging to develop your skills to a point where you can become a long-term winner as a gambler. The thought of mastering multiple games can be daunting.
But if you want to maximize your opportunities to be an advantage player you need to constantly be looking for more positive expectation situations.
Don’t become so focused on one game or system that you miss other opportunities.
Just because you’re a winning card counter doesn’t mean you can’t win more doing something else or adding a new trick to your game.
Winning sports bettors develop systems they can use to turn a consistent profit. These systems often incorporate things other than simple statistics, but they’re still systems.
But most sports bettors also have favorite sports teams. And it’s often difficult to evaluate your favorite team analytically instead of emotionally.
Many sports bettors, including me, simply won’t place bets on games involving their favorite teams.
I understand that you probably know more about your favorite team than other teams, but unless you can completely ignore your emotions and evaluate games involving them you should not make bets. Your desire to see your favorite teams do well often lead you to over value their possibilities.
Every time you do this it costs you money.
An action junky is someone who always has the itch to bet and gamble on something. This is why many of the top poker players make all kinds of bets that aren’t related to poker or any outcome they can control.
If you read stories about poker professionals you often read about them betting large amounts on golf games or other activities outside of poker.
These are players who have developed their skills to a point where they can make money playing poker, yet they still make bets on other things.
Why do they make these bets?
Many gamblers struggle with anything being fun or interesting that doesn’t involve gambling. This is ok as long as you don’t let it get out f control. But it can also lead to problem gambling.
I’m not in a position to judge any of the professional players that gamble on golf games and other things, but I can speak from personal experience.
Before I started concentrating on playing with an edge I used to be a borderline action junkie. I loved betting on things, especially sporting events, because it kept me interested.
I’d bet on just about anything in order to be entertained.
As I learned more about gambling with an edge my thrill at a true gamble diminished. Now I can’t stand playing anything that doesn’t offer an opportunity to play with an edge.
This doesn’t mean that every bet I place has an edge, but I can’t enjoy playing slot machines or roulette or other games that can’t be beat.
If you aren’t making a living as an advantage gambler, start looking at what you bet on. If you show signs of being an action junkie start taking steps so you can avoid making bets that aren’t part of your winning plan.
Most people have at least a few superstitious tendencies. These may come from what we learned when we grew up or heard our parents or others say.
Our minds also tend to look for cause and effect relationships and assign causes to effects that aren’t really related.
These types of things can lead to things that aren’t profitable as a gambler. Advantage gambling, in almost every instance, boils down to strict mathematical equations and formulas. I talk about more about this in the next section.
The point is if you ever realize that you make or don’t make bets based on superstition or any other reason that isn’t true, you should stop the behavior.
Focus on actual results and numbers instead of what you think might be true or on anything based on superstition.
I’ve mentioned emotions and math a few times already, but they’re both so important that they needed their own section.
In the two examples in the first section about blackjack and poker you learned a couple straightforward ways that you can determine expected value or positive expectation.
The examples used mathematical formulas and equations to give specific and definite results. The outcomes or solutions weren’t guesses. They are exact answers.
Advantage gamblers work with specific numbers and exact predictable outcomes as often as possible. They don’t base their bets on guesses or what they think or hope might happen.
That’s what most gamblers do.
If you want to be a true advantage player you need to find situations that have a strict mathematical edge and never bet with your emotions.
When you let emotions start governing how you gamble you stop using your brain. Any time you do this it costs you money in the long run.
Even professional sports bettors use systems that incorporate math to give them a long-term edge. They often include things they see and learn that aren’t strictly mathematical, but even when they do this they never let emotion get in the way of making profitable decisions.
Counting cards isn’t illegal in most casinos, but the casino can ask you to stop playing or bar you from the premises for any number of reasons.
The casinos don’t like it when a player is able to figure out how to lay with an advantage. So, if they figure out you’re an advantage player they usually stop you from playing.
This is why it’s important to play in a way that keeps the casinos from figuring out what you’re doing.
Card counters often get identified because they change the size of their bet drastically. You have to bet more when the count is in your favor, but you also need to do it in a way that looks natural and doesn’t draw attention.
If you’re trying to see the value of hole cards from a sloppy dealer you need to look like you’re sitting in a normal position. When you lie way back in your chair or lean down toward the felt too much it’s obvious you’re doing something out of the ordinary.
The first part of becoming an advantage player is figuring out how to beat a game or sport. But an equally important part is being able to get away with it.
Blackjack card counters often jump from casino to casino to avoid playing in one place too often. Sports bettors try to spread their bets around at different sports books to avoid moving the lines with their wagers.
The only place you can play with a long-term advantage without worrying about heat is at the poker tables. The casino only takes a rake from each pot so they don’t care who wins and who loses.
Even in poker it can be beneficial for the other players to not realize how good you are. If your opponents don’t think you’re a good player you can often win more from them than when they think you’re good.
One other issue beginning advantage players often have is when they start winning they want to tell someone about it. The best thing you can do when you figure out how to play with an advantage is never tell anyone.
Making a living as an advantage player is hard. You have to work at it and constantly be looking for new opportunities.
This means that if you want to become, and stay, an advantage player takes a great deal of work and effort. In order to do any of this you need to be committed.
If you aren’t willing to make a firm commitment and follow through the odds of you being a winning player over time is small. The best most players can hope for who dabble with advantage play instead of committing to it is break even play.
If your goal is to just learn enough to break even that’s fine. You can learn how to play some games well enough to break even in a few hours.
But if you truly want to beat the casinos you need to be committed to the goal.
When you consume too much alcohol it starts to have negative consequences in terms of judgment. It also often makes you miss things that you’d normally see or hear.
Both of these cost you money when you’re gambling.
The casinos give away free drinks because it makes them money. They understand that gamblers who drink too much gamble more money, gamble longer, and lose more money.
If the additional income wasn’t more than the cost of the drinks the casinos wouldn’t be giving them away.
This should be enough information to keep you from drinking too much in the casino.
The bottom line is if you’re serious about being an advantage player you need to be serious enough keep your drinking to a minimum while gambling. If you enjoy drinking do it after you’re done playing.
In the section about bankroll I explained that you want to be able to take advantage of any positive expectation situation. The same reason is behind staying in the best physical shape possible.
Imagine this situation. You join a poker game filled with bad players. You play for six hours and have been doing well. Just as you start getting tired and thinking about leaving two of the worst players you know sit down at the table, they’re both drunk, and they each buy in for the maximum amount.
You decide to play a little while longer and go on to take most of their money. Now you’re completely worn out but they both buy back in for the maximum again. Wouldn’t you like to play as long as they were giving money away?
If you stay in the best possible physical health it lets you play longer than normal when profitable situations come up. But if you aren’t in good health you might not be able to take advantage of as many positive expectation situations.
Many card counters find that it becomes harder and harder to find good games where they can play because they’ve been backed off or barred for counting in many casinos. Even if they haven’t been barred they start getting heat as soon as they raise their bets.
Then they start to learn about team play and it seems like the perfect solution. One or more players count while making small bets and call in another player when the count gets high and the new player makes the big bets from the beginning.
The casino doesn’t see anyone betting like a card counter so the game doesn’t get a great deal of heat. This works with teams as small as two people and up to as many as can work together.
One of the possible problems with team play is you can’t control the other members. You’re dealing a great deal of money and different personalities.
Any time you incorporate different personalities and large sums of money it can lead to trouble. Even if a team member doesn’t steal from you it can still end up being a bad experience.
If you want to start using team play start small and make sure the other person or people are someone you can count on. I suggest starting with just one other person and building from there.
A team of two to four people who trust each other and work well together is better than a larger team that has problems.
I mentioned in the first section that many card counters don’t play as many hours as you might think. Many things cause this, but when you play with an advantage how much you make is directly related to how much you play.
If you’re playing 20 hour a week making $500 and want to make $750 you need to start playing 30 hours a week.
Poker players don’t have any problem playing 40 hours a week or more because they don’t have to limit their exposure. They can play as long as they can physically and mentally play without the poker room kicking them out.
Unlike blackjack, you can play poker online with an advantage from many areas so you don’t even need to travel to play. You can’t get an edge counting cards online because the deck is shuffled after each hand.
Track your play and results so you can see how many more hours you need to play in order to make more money.
When you work with small margins and limited bet amounts like most advantage opportunities it means you have to play a lot to make a living.
Being an advantage player sounds like a great way t make a living but many players quickly find out that it’s a grind.
A poker player who play 10 / 20 limit and beats it for one big bet per hour makes $20 per hour. This isn’t bad but to make $1,000 a week they have to play 50 hours a week ever week. Poker can be a fun game to play, but if you’re forced to grind out a living at the tables week after week it sucks the fun out of it.
Many players who can beat the game find that they enjoy life more working for a living and playing as a hobby. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s a realistic position that you might find yourself in. Think about it before you quit your job.
The best option may be to play part time as an advantage player before taking the full-time plunge.
Use these 19 reasons advantage gamblers fail to make a living to avoid many of the issues faced by players. You can learn what not to do as you become an advantage player or find ways to improve your current play.