You can find all kinds of gambling strategies of various degrees of effectiveness on the internet. Most of them are lame. Some of them work some of the time.
Of course, even a broke clock is right twice a day, and even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
My hope with this post is to share some more creative and possibly more effective strategies than that in this post.
1- Counting Cards in Blackjack
Honestly, casino gambling is mostly about luck. Creativity doesn’t play much of a role in it. Even with something like card counting in blackjack, it’s mostly about applied math.
Blackjack, as you probably already know, has the lowest house edge of any casino game. You can also get an edge over the casino, though, just by keeping a rough accounting of the ratio of high cards to low cards that have already been dealt.
Unlike most casino card games, blackjack is a game with a memory. As the cards get dealt from the deck, the composition of the deck—and therefore the odds—changes.
With more aces and 10s in the deck, you have a higher probability of getting a natural (or a blackjack). That’s a 2-card hand with a total of 21.
The only cards in the deck you could use for that purpose are the ones worth 10 and the ones worth 11.
The lower-valued cards—the 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s—hurt your probabilities, too, because they make you more likely to bust. You don’t win any money when your total is 22 or higher.
Since the 52 cards are in random order, sometimes the aces and 10s will be more common in certain parts of the deck than other times.
If you get a natural, you get a payout of 3 to 2 instead of the standard even money payout.
So card counters gain most of their edge against the casino by raising the sizes of their bets when they have a better probability of getting the 3 to 2 payout.
This can be as simple as adding 1 to the count when you see a low card dealt and subtracting 1 from the count when you see a high card dealt. When the count is positive, you raise the size of your bets. You don’t have to memorize which cards have already been played or figure out what’s still in the deck.
Creativity has nothing to do with any of that.
Here’s where your creativity CAN come into play when counting cards:
Casinos don’t like card counters. They ban them from their blackjack tables, and sometimes they ban them from their casinos entirely.
Avoiding getting caught often involves working in teams or engaging in personas. Acting like someone other than who you are, whether wearing a disguise or not, is an act of creativitiy.
Another perk to counting cards in blackjack as a strategy is that it’s one of the only betting techniques that actually works.
If you want to crush it in the casino, blackjack is one way to do it.
2- The Martingale System in Roulette
Most people who know anything about casino gambling already know that the house edge in roulette is insurmountable regardless of what kind of betting strategy you use. The house edge for an American roulette game is 5.26%, and the better version of the game, the European roulette game, has an edge of 2.70%.
No amount of raising and lowering your bets changes this long-term expected loss. It’s based on the payouts versus the odds of winning.
But the Martingale System has its charms.
Many people know about the Martingale System but misunderstand it. It’s easy to implement. You just double the size of your bet after each loss until you win. This recoups your previous losses and leaves you with a profit.
Here’s how it works in action:
You bet $5 on black and lose. You bet $10 on black on the next spin and lose again. Now you bet $20 on black and win.
You lost $15 on the previous 2 spins, so your $20 in winnings gives you a $5 profit.
At first glance, this seems like a foolproof system.
Here’s the flaw most people miss:
The bets get really big really fast. Look at this progression after several losses in a row:
You only have to lose 8 times in a row before you’re making a bet of over $1000 just to catch up.
And most casinos have a maximum bet of $500 at the roulette table, which causes the whole system to break down.
Fans of the Martingale System will point out that it’s unlikely to have 8 losses in a row, and they’re right, as far as that goes.
But there’s a difference between unlikely and impossible.
How likely it is compared to how much you lose when it happen is the determining factor for whether the Martingale System is profitable in the long run.
In reality, the Martingale System can increase the probability that you’ll have a winning session in the short run.
But your wins will be small because of all the recouping of losses that you’re doing.
When you do eventually have a losing session—let’s say 1 out of 5 sessions—your losses will be big enough to wipe out your previous profits.
I like the Martingale System for roulette, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using it, as long as you understand one thing:
You can’t win at roulette in the long run with this system.
But if your goal is to just impress a date on her first visit to the casino, the Martingale System might be just the ticket.
There’s not much creativity involved in this approach, though.
3- World Class Poker
You don’t even have to be a world class poker player to be creative and win money at the Texas holdem tables. You just need to be better than 90% of the other players at the tables. This is easy to do at the lower limits, but it gets harder as the stakes go higher.
Most gamblers understand by now that real poker—the kind you play against other poker players, rather than the kind you play against the dealer at the casino—can be a positive expectation proposition if you’re more skilled than your opponents.
At the lower limits, this involves being able to analyze pot odds versus the odds of making your hand. It’s simply the ability to raise with your good hands and fold with your bad hands. If you get that ratio right, winning in the long run at lower limits poker games is easy to do.
As you move up in stakes, though, more creative strategies are needed. Real poker professionals can recognize ABC poker and counter it easily. They just fold every time you raise and refuse to give you action, because they know you only raise with quality hands.
This means you have to start mixing things up with the occasional semi-bluff and bluff. You need to become unpredictable without giving up any expected value. Estimating how like your opponents are to fold in the face of your aggression is an important piece of this puzzle.
I don’t even categorize poker as a casino game.
To me, a casino game is one in which you’re competing against the casino against a mathematical disadvantage.
Poker is a game where you’re competing with the other players, and your mathematical advantage or disadvantage is entirely up to you and how well or poorly you play.
4- Sports Betting and Handicapping
I’m not an expert on handicapping or sports betting, but I do understand the basic math behind how sports books work and what you’re up against if you want to be a net winner in the long run.
Most books require you to bet $110 to win $100. You can change the amount, but the ratio stays the same. If you want to bet $55, you can, and if you win, you’ll get $50.
That extra amount that you’re risking if you lose is called “the vigorish” or “the vig,” and it’s the main reason the books are profitable.
Think about it this way. The book offers a bet where they have a 50% chance of winning because of the point spread they’ve set. They have 100 customers, and 50 of them bet on one side of the game. The other 50 bet on the other side of the game.
The book collects $110 from all 100 of those bettors, for a total income of $11,000.
When they pay off the 50 winners, they pay them each $100, plus they return their initial state of $110. That’s 210 X $50, or $10,500.
Since the book brought in $11,000, they have $500 in profit.
And it doesn’t even matter who won the game.
But now think about it from the perspective of an individual bettor. What percentage of your bets do you have to win to show a profit?
51% isn’t good enough.
Look at the math:
You win 51 bets and lose 49 bets. Your 51 winning bets get you 51 X $100, or $5100.
But you lose $5500 on the bets you’ve lost.
Just to break even, you need to win over 52% of your bets, and to show long-term profits, you need a win rate considerably north of 53%.
And the best handicappers in the world see a success rate of 60% or less during their best seasons.
How does creativity play into this?
Deciding who to bet on is part science, but you get to decide which factors to account for and how much to weight each factor.
In the long run, this is another exercise in math, but deciding on how to experiment with the math is where you can get creative.
Also, sports betting is the best way to make the most profits as a professional gambler—if you’re good at it.
5- Letting Your Winnings Ride
I’ve written about this before, but Michael Bluejay is a proponent of a system for making a million dollars by playing table games. The odds of winning a million dollars this way are far better than the odds of winning a million dollars playing the lottery or a progressive slot machine game.
One of the principles that affect the Martingale System in roulette is important here. It’s the principle of compounding and how fast it works.
Let’s say you bet $5 on roulette, and every time you win, you let your winnings ride. If you get on a hot streak, your winnings get big faster than most people think. Look at the progression:
Starting with a $5 bet and winning $640 in a single session is a great achievement. It seems next to impossible, but if you’ve tried the Martingale System, you know it happens some of the time—more often than you might think, in fact.
6- Expert Video Poker Play
Video poker games look like slot machines, but the odds couldn’t be more different. More importantly, video poker has an element of skill to it that’s missing from slots. Expert video poker players know how to find the best pay tables and milk them for as much payback as they can.
It’s not enough to recognize the best pay tables. You must also know which cards to discard and replace.
If you can do that, you can play a casino game with a payback percentage north of 99%, making video poker as good a game for the player as blackjack.
With the help of the 0.2% or 0.3% you get back from the slots club, you might even be able to operate at a small edge over the casino.
7- Comp Wizardry
Comps are the freebies you get from the casino in exchange for your action on the gambling machines and table games. They’re a percentage of your overall action, usually 0.2% or 0.3%.
You can get comps for free drinks, free meals, free entertainment tickets, free lodging, and even free airfare.
Some players become so adept at using the comp system to their advantage that they profit from the casino just by combining their comps with a really low house edge.
You can learn how to do this, too, by reading books like Frugal Gambling by Jean Scott and Comp City by Max Rubin.
Jean Scott’s book focuses more on maximizing your comps if you’re a low roller. If you have a bigger bankroll to play with, check out Max Rubin’s book.
8- Getting Lucky on the Slot Machines
Playing slot machines doesn’t do much for your creativity, but you can still come home a winner after playing the slots. Just don’t count on it happening most of the time.
The trick to coming home a winner after playing slot machines at the casino is a 2-parter:
- Set a win goal.
- Get lucky.
A win goal is just an amount you’ll win that will make you happy enough that you’re willing to call it a day. If you win more than that, you can even set aside the amount of your win goal and play with some more of your winnings.
A friend of mine hit a $4100 jackpot a few minutes after sitting down at the Winstar last weekend. His win goal was $2000, so he cashed that out and pocketed.
He went on to set another win goal of $2000, and he burned through the other $2000 in short order. So it goes.
Slots are a negative expectation game, so you should never be surprised when you lose money playing them.
If you want to read an interesting approach to slot machine strategies, a book called John Patrick’s Slots is endlessly entertaining.
The tips and advice are worse than useless, but they are entertaining. You might even argue that his writing is creative, but it’s creative in a cringeworthy, cheesey, old-school way.
9- Dice Control in Craps
Dice setting in craps has enough interest from enough gambling experts I respect that I think it might be worth exploring. It’s not a creative endeavor in the way that drawing a picture or writing a song is, but you still get to experiment with how you hold and throw the dice.
The idea behind dice control is that the house edge is already really low. If you can alter the odds even slightly by the way you hold and throw the dice, you can get an edge over the house, even if you can only influence rather than control the dice.
The comparison I often see is between throwing darts and shooting dice. Everyone understands that throwing darts is a skill-based game, but on one hits the bulls-eye every time he throws a dart. Billiards would be another example, and so would shuffleboard.
What does it take to control the dice in a casino?
Practice—lots of practice is what it takes.
If you’re committed to this strategy, get a video that explains how to do it. Then either build or buy a craps table that’s the same size as you’d find in a casino. Practice and record your results.
Keep in mind that you need results significantly different from the norm on thousands of throws before you can be confident that your efforts haven’t been in vain.
If you succeed at this, you can probably get rich in the casino in short order.
10- High Rolling
My favorite gambling story is about Don Johnson, a high roller blackjack player who won millions from 3 different Atlantic City casinos. He did it playing blackjack, but he didn’t count cards.
He didn’t have to.
Johnson mastered perfect basic strategy. He never made an error in terms of whether he should hit or stand. That cut the house edge to less than 0.5% to begin with.
When you’re betting thousands of dollars per hand, the casinos are willing to negotiate with you about the rules, too. Johnson convinced the casinos to offer him the most generous blackjack rules you can imagine, which probably shaved another 0.2% to 0.3% off the edge.
Now he’s playing an almost break-even game.
Finally, high rollers of a certain caliber get loss rebates. In some cases these might be 10% or 20%.
These loss rebates reduce the amount of money you’re risking versus the amount of money you stand to win. This can give you an edge over the casino.
Pulling this off takes a bigger bankroll than most of us have.
But it also requires a lot of knowledge and skill on the part of the blackjack player.
So there are 10 creative ways to crush it next time you go to the casino. Some of these gambling strategies can get you an actual advantage over the casino mathematically, but not all of them.
Which creative gambling strategies do you use in the casino that I didn’t discuss here?