Can You Make Money in a Casino?

Can you make a living in a casino? I remember many years ago, reading about a smart young fellow who financed his college education at Las Vegas. He had reasoned that the roulette wheels in the casinos, would wear over time, and eventually have an imbalance of some kind. If you were to stand by one and monitor the winning numbers, you could do a statistical analysis, and determine which segment of the wheel was likely to yield a winning number. Then, you could place a very large number of small bets on numbers in the “winning” area. Is such a thing possible? And, would the casino tolerate you spending 24 hours at the same wheel? How much do they “allow” you to win before they throw you out?

There are a few games that can be “beaten”–that is, you can give yourself a statistical advantage over the house:

–Blackjack. If you count cards effectively, you can give yourself a decent advantage.

–Certain video poker machines with progressive payouts eventually become profitable.

–Poker. Since you’re playing against other players and not the house, good players can consistently make money from bad players.

–Sports betting and horse racing. If you really know the subject, and know how to bet on it, you can make money.

I’ve never seen any way to “beat” roulette, and I can’t imagine that one exists. Roulette has a house advantage of 5.26% (on a double-zero wheel; half that on a European wheel) on just about every bet. (By comparison, blackjack has a HA of one or two percent, max, if you’re playing correct basic strategy and not counting cards.) For one thing, a fluctuation in the wheel would have to be pretty bad to overcome an advantage that big. For another, if there is anyone watching for statistical fluctuations in a roulette wheel, it would be the casino, and they would fix it long before anyone could make money on it.

As for how much you could win before getting the boot, it depends on where you are. Some of the high roller joints would probably let you sit there and win all day, if you’re playing honestly. Other places (notably the Barbary Coast in Vegas) will boot anyone who seems to be winning very much.

Dr. J

“Seriously, baby, I can prescribe anything I want!” -Dr. Nick Riviera

There are a number of people who make their livings as professional gamblers. In Las Vegas, in particular, it’s not that uncommon. Obviously, you have to be very, very good at whatever your game is, and you have to be willing to play for big stakes – penny-ante gambling, even if you’re good at it, will never yield enough profit to live off of.

My understanding of casino gambling is that craps is the game with the best odds of beating the house. Worst odds are the slots, and have never heard of anyone making a living off playing the slots. Poker and craps are the two big games for this, so far as I know.


Fiat Justitia

What he said. And a little more–I have known someone who claimed to have made a great deal of money off a broken roulette wheel. He was sitting at a neighboring 21 table and was idly watching the wheel when he noticed it was skewing to one side.

He made something like 10K before the house shut it down.

I believe the story, partially because it’s a “right time, right place” thing, but also because the man was a savant. He was a mathematics professor and very talented gambler. I watched him with my own eyes calculate odds on every deal of a 4-deck 21 game. wow.

So IOW, I wouldn’t expect a mortal to be able to make money off an even slightly defective roulette wheel.


Er, what they said. Sorry Jodi.

As an Ex-Professional gambler, I’ll offer my insight into the business:

There are plenty of ways to beat the casino. The real questions are “For How Much?”, and “For How Long?” I’ll list some of them, in order from worst to best:

Video Poker

Video poker machines with good payouts yield a positive expectation with perfect play, but you’re only going to make maybe $7/8 dollars an hour off of them, and your bankroll will fluctuate wildly since a good chunk of your wins come from the rare events like Royal Flushes. A player might get an overall advantage of .5-1%, but that won’t be realized until the royals and straight flushes come in. Without them, your return is more like 75 cents for every dollar wagered. If you are playing a quarter per play, you’re going to put something like 50,000 quarters into the machine between royal flushes, on average.

Progressive Slots

Some progressive slots are beatable when the progressive jackpot gets high enough, but again the bankroll swings are huge and the potential profit is small. Most people who have the bankroll to afford to do this aren’t interested in making the few bucks an hour you can gain from it. There are some slot teams around who will watch for a cluster of progressive slots to go over the magic threshold, then they’ll take over every machine and play the cluster out until they hit the progressive. This is a sure thing, but it can take a long time. In Vegas, there are some slot and poker pros who are hired by people with money and get paid a flat hourly fee to play. If you want to be the employer of a team like this you ca do okay. If you figure your expectation is to make $7/hr off each team member, pay them minimum wage and keep $3/hr. With 10 guys out playing, you’re making $30/hr. But trust and a large bankroll are needed, and it would be pretty easy to get screwed.


I put this in here as a ‘beatable’ game simply because there are people in history who have done it. John Thorp and Claude Shannon designed a roulette computer that could return over 30% by using physics to predict ball locations. The book “The Eudaemonic Pie” describes another group who built roulette computers to beat the game. The problem with this approach is that using a computer in a casino is now a felony, and the casinos are pretty good at spotting them.
There have been other people who have made a living by ‘clocking’ wheels and exploiting the ones that show bias, but improving technology has made this a lot tougher. It’s also extremely tedious and the returns are low. There is also a slight possibility that a human could actually learn to calibrate himself to be able to predict where a ball would drop and gain an advantage over the house. I’m exploring this, but mostly for academic reasons. Again the return would be very small, and the risk would be high.

I do not believe the story about the professor who ‘noticed a skew’ on the roulette wheel. Sorry, but the variation involved in roulette means that you have to make thousands of observations before any meaningful data can be extracted. The professor may even believe his own story - he may have thought he saw a bias and bet big and got lucky. That doesn’t mean the bias existed.

Baccarat is theoretically beatable, but count systems for taking advantage of it are hideously complex, the bankroll requirements are immense, and the hourly return is relatively low. Still, there are some baccarat teams that have made a lot of money by keeping very detailed counts of card combinations, with every team member at the table working on his or her own subset. Very difficult, not for the faint of heart.

There. Those are the lowest-percentage games. In the next message I’ll cover the ‘meat and potatoes’ of professional gambling.



Blackjack offers the best chance among casino games for gaining an edge over the house. Even without card counting, the blackjack game usually offers the best odds with perfect basic strategy play (somewhere between .25% and .7%, with some rare games being outside those limits).

An excellent blackjack player might be able to gain an advantage of 1-1.5% over the house. This may not sound like much, but if you’re betting an average of $100/hand, and getting 100 hands an hour, you’re making $100-$150 an hour.

The key problem with blackjack is longevity of the player. The casinos have gotten very good at spotting counters, and new computer software is going to make it even tougher. However, the larger casinos really won’t bother a counter unless he’s playing green chips ($25) or higher. Some may even tolerate a counter who’s betting anything under black ($100). So, if you’d be happy playing a $5 game and spreading to 2 hands of $25, you could play blackjack to your heart’s content and make roughly $10-$15/hr.

One advantage to learning to beat the house in Blackjack is that the learning curve is low. If I were to give someone lessons, I could turn them into a winning card counter within a couple of days. If you want to learn it on your own, read a couple of the best books for beginners, practice on the PC and with a deck of cards, and you can be making money in the casino in a week.

Card counting is not difficult, despite what a lot of people think. It’s actually easier to count a 4 or 6-deck shoe than a single deck game. Learning the actual counting process is trivial.


Poker is better than blackjack for all but the best, most creative card counters. A good poker player in a typical mid-limit casino game can make about 1-2 big bets per hour. So for a game that has a $5 small bet and a $10 large bet, the player can make $10-$20 per hour. This holds all the way up to limits around $20-$40. After that, the games often get much tougher and you have to be a true expert to maintain that kind of win rate.

There are thousands of mid-limit poker players in the U.S. making somewhere between $15,000 and $40,000 per year. There are maybe a couple of hundred who are making $40,000-$60,000, and a handful who make over $100,000 a year.

To become a good poker player requires much more time and experience than blackjack, but the rewards are typically greater. If you read the right books and have some intelligence, you should be able to beat the lower-limit games for a couple of bucks an hour almost right out of the gate. Maybe a couple of weeks of study, and off you go. From there, you’ll need hundreds or thousands of hours of playing experience, coupled with hard study and thinking, to move up to the point where you can make a serious income at the game.

Sports Betting

This one is tough to categorize. Theoretically, betting sports can make you more money than just about any other form of gambling, and there have been people who have made millions doing it. However, it carries a lot of unique pitfalls.

The basic premise behind betting sports is that the bookies set the lines based on how they think the public will bet, and the public is often wrong. So if you can handicap games better than the public, you can make a profit.

One pitfall of sports betting is that it’s hard to know when you really have an edge, and therefore it’s hard to learn to get better. Let’s say you figure that Oakland will beat the spread tonight, and you’re correct. Does that mean your thinking was correct? Or did you just get lucky?

The bookies make a profit by charging a ‘vig’, either through a money line (i.e. you have to bet $1.10 to win $1.00), or through setting a point line (i.e. the Packers might be 1.5 point favorites, but if you bet the opposite way you’ll have to win by 2 points. The .5 points in the middle is the bookie’s profit margin).

To beat the ‘spread’, you’ll have pick about 53.5% of your games correctly. The best handicappers in the world might maintain a win rate of perhaps 56-58% against the spread. And to get that, they will have to evaluate a lot of games (hundreds or thousands per year), and reject most of them because the line is too close to what it should be. So they might bet 100-200 games a year, picking only 3-5% better than random. That means that bad luck in just a handful of games can ruin your entire year’s profits. An unexpected fumble, a key injury early in the game, etc.

When you’re only betting 200 games with a 5% advantage, to make a decent yearly income means you have to bet a LOT on each game. If you bet $500 on each game, you’d only make $5000/yr, but a bad month could see you losing an entire year’s income.

Casino Comps, Mistakes and Promotions

This is a catch-all, but professional gamblers are always on the lookout for math errors and ill-conceived promotions that have the potential for big profit. Occasionally a casino will offer a blackjack game that pays 2-1, giving a good player over 2% advantage over the house. A sports book might offer the wrong odds on a parlay, or allow you to parlay events that are dependent on each other. One casino allowed players to spin the big-six wheel themselves, and some pros learned how to control the spin and made a bunch of money before the promotion was ended.


Most professional gamblers diversify, just like professional investors. They bet sports, play poker, maybe some blackjack when there are no good poker games, etc. The best of the pros have very good mathematical educations, and are capable of calculating the odds on new games or special situations. A lot of pros work in teams (except in poker, where it is unethical), not to cheat but to share the risk. A team of five blackjack players who pool their bankrolls can each bet five times higher with the same amount of risk, thus vastly increasing their win rates. Sports syndicates spread the risk around, and also use their manpower to spot ‘middles’ where two lines are different enough that betting each one allows a sure profit.

Gambling is easy. Gambling for a living is hard work. It’s definitely not the lazy man’s way out. And most of the people with the intelligence and resourcefulness to be successful at it would do better starting their own company or working in industry. But some people like living on their own terms, like the notion of not having society dictate what they can or can’t do, etc. For them, professional gambling is a risky but viable way to make a living.

Wow! Thanks, Doctor Sam!!

It’s a simple little system, any child could understand…

who went to high school in Atlantic City but whose kid sister always beats her at games of chance

So far as I can see, the easiest way to make a living from a casino is to get a job there. They employ a lot of dealers, change girls, and floor sweepers.

Dr. Fidelius, Charlatan
Associate Curator Anomalous Paleontology, Miskatonic University
Projector Emeritus, Grand Academy of Lagado
“You cannot reason a man out of a position he did not reach through reason.”

You know the best way to leave Vegas with a large fortune? Come with a small one.

No. I really don’t know how you would beat craps, unless you were able to throw a certain way that more often than not came up a winner. (Considering the distance you have to throw the dice, and the fact that you have to bounce them off the wall, I’d be surprised if anyone could do it.) You might be able to get some gaffed dice in the game, but these days I really doubt it.

Of course, I was wrong about roulette (although not really; I mean, sure you could beat it with a computer and a team of physicists. :slight_smile: I was also thinking about nowadays, where the eye in the sky would catch the biased wheel long before anyone else.)

Easier to count, or easier to win by counting? I find it very easy to count into a single deck, but I have trouble keeping up with my count in the shoe games. (Then again, I don’t practice much.) With the single deck, though, you go back to zero every two or three hands, so it doesn’t stay in your favor very long. It’s also harder to cover a spread in a single-deck game, especially if you go back to one unit after every shuffle.

Dr. J

“Seriously, baby, I can prescribe anything I want!” -Dr. Nick Riviera

Sorry to nitpick, but actually it would take 25 times as many people to allow betting five times as much with the same amount of risk. Risk is proportional to betting amount, but inversely proportional to the square root of the number of individual bets.

You know the best way to leave Vegas with a large fortune? Come with a small one.[/quotte]
No, the best way is to come in with a huge one.

I’ve read that some people can make money on side bets, but I’m not sure how common it is that those are allowed.

As far as card-counting goes…don’t.
Though not illegal, all casinos will ban you if they catch you, and they will catch you. They don’t have to prove anything, they just have to suspect. If you want to win at poker, watch the game for awhile to spot the “tells”. Tells are mostly involuntary movements people make when they win or lose. It could be a glance downward and to the left when they hold a high hand, or a twitch of the thumb when they’re holding crap. Just watch for patterns of behavior, and keep a mental note of them for future reference.

Or so I’ve been told. Or maybe I read it somewhere. Never played the game myself. :wink:

Eagles may soar free and proud, but weasels never get sucked into jet engines.

Please reverse that. The crack is going straight to my brain tonight. :slight_smile:

You can make an even money bet by buying into someone else’s odds–if someone bets the line and doesn’t bet the full odds, you can ask them to put your money down there for you.

I don’t know much about craps, so it may be possible to similarly buy into someone’s bet and come out with a positive expectation for yourself. I doubt it, though, and I seriously doubt you’d do it for very long if you could.

Dr. J

“Seriously, baby, I can prescribe anything I want!” -Dr. Nick Riviera

If the House thought for one second that side bets could be profitable, they would be banned.

Eagles may soar free and proud, but weasels never get sucked into jet engines.

TheRyan: Nope. As long as the players are playing different tables, they can each treat the combined bankroll as their own for bet sizing purposes. You’re doing the right math, but for the wrong situation. You’re thinking of the standard deviation decreasing as the square root of the number of trials. I’m talking about proportional bankroll sizes using the Kelly Criterion for optimum log growth of the bankroll.

If I have a $1000 bankroll, and have a 1% advantage over the casino, my optimum bet would be $10. If I pool my bankroll with five other players and we each go off to a separate table, then we can each play the $5,000 bankroll, and bet $50 each in the same situation. Think about it. If the other four sat on the sidelines and let one player bet, he’d be betting a $5,000 bankroll, right? There’s no difference if the other players happen to be playing at the same time. The key requirement is that you get together at regular intervals to re-calculate the bankroll and reset your optimum bet sizes.

Trust me - I’ve played on several blackjack teams.

Slythe: The house won’t necessarily catch you. If you bet small enough, they won’t care. If you bet big, you need a very good act, and you need to stay on the move. One good shoe, and you’re out the door. Most counters who get caught are lazy and will sit and play in the same place for hours on end.

The high limit counters I know lead a very hectic life. They’ll plan out a schedule that takes them all around the world, hitting each casino along the way. If they post a big win in a casino, they’re out the door in less than an hour (before the house really has time to start scrutinizing them), and they won’t set foot in that casino again for months or years. So it’s hit Vegas, make the rounds of all the casinos (one or two shoes in each one), cross off the ones on your list where you hit them pretty good, maybe make the rounds one or two more times at the other ones, then it’s back in the car or on a plane and head for Reno. Then Atlantic City. Then maybe some smaller casinos along the way. Up to Canada for a week. Back on a plane, and over to Europe. Eventually, you do it all over again.

The guys I’m talking about will bet $500-$5000 a hand, make $300,000-$500,000 a year, and have bankrolls in the range of a million bucks. There are maybe a dozen such people kicking around, if that.

Your advice for poker isn’t correct. Tells are actually a very small part of the game. In low limit, they are almost completely irrelevant. And it takes years of experience to really spot them. You can learn a lot more about what an opponent is holding by studying his betting patterns, but again that’s a higher-level skill that you’ll learn after you’re actually playing.

When you’re first starting out, the key skills to learn are hand selection, learning the odds of various draws, and learning when to throw away your hand because it’s probably beat.

High limit counters are getting rarer each year, and for good reason. The Casinos are getting better at catching them, and now they use the internet to share info on which groups are heading where.
Tells can be very useful if you have the knack for spotting them, and you concentrate on one or two players to play against.

Eagles may soar free and proud, but weasels never get sucked into jet engines.

Long before most casinos will give you the boot, they’ll take “countermeasures”–most often “shuffling up”, or dealing fewer cards out of the shoe. Most counters will take this as a good sign to leave. I’ve never been barred, but I’ve had them shuffled up on me a few times. (Then again, I’m a very low roller.)

As I understand it, they can’t bar you just for counting in Atlantic City. As a result, they have really crappy blackjack games.

(Y’all are going to get me thinking about gambling, and I’m going to want to go up to the riverboat tomorrow, and I need to stay here and study pathology. Thanks a lot. :slight_smile: )

Dr. J

Not even…

Your best bet is blackjack. A skilled card counter can turn the odds just enough in his/her favor to make a living, but casinos are forever on the lookout for them. Craps is the worst game, well, the worst table game. There is no way to turn the odds in your favor. The best you can do is reduce the house percentage to a fraction of a percent, but that means you just lose your money agonizingly slowly…

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to catch a roll (the Fremont had a 117 roll hand a few weeks ago- we have counters on the tables) and you know how to play it, you can win big- I’ve seen people who were in a few hundred walk away with thousands- but most people end up losing it all back and then some. Most casinos really don’t mind if someone wins big honestly, because they know that they’ll be back the next day, or later in the year, and give it all back to us. The worst that can happen is they’ll go home and put it in their matress, and tell all their friends how much money they won at a particular casino, then when all their friends come to Vegas, they’ll go to the same casino and lose a bundle…

Personally, I’m in the casino eight hours a day, five days a week. I make an average of $120.00 a day.

Of course, that’s wages combined with tokes…


“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no substitute for a good blaster at your side.” — Han Solo