Are You a Gambling Shark or Sheep?

You might be asking yourself what in the world do sheep and sharks have to do with gambling?

One of my daughters recently returned from a short camp and told me about one of the speakers. The speech was about different animal types and characteristics, and how different people share the characteristics of these animals.

I’ve heard variations of this speech in the past, so I quickly understood what she was talking about. One animal was a beaver, and they tend to think logically and want to have a plan completely mapped out before they start something. This made me think about gambler and animal groups they tend to be like.

The two main types that come to mind are sheep and sharks.

Sheep are often believed to be weak, but that’s not what I’m saying about gambling sheep. Even if you’re reading this and suddenly realize that you’re a gambling sheep, it doesn’t mean you’re weak. The characteristics of a sheep that can lead to trouble for gamblers are following the crowd, being lead by a shepherd, in this case the casino, and not thinking for yourself. Sheep often follow the path of least resistance, and this is costly for a gambler.

Most people like to pretend that they think for themselves, but their actions show something different. Please understand that I’m not pointing any fingers that aren’t pointed right back at me too. We all have at least a few areas where we don’t do a good job thinking for ourselves. And this is ok, but you need to avoid being a gambling sheep because it costs you too much money.

On the other hand, sharks tend to be aggressive, want to control everything, and are always hunting. A gambling shark is always hunting for a way to lower the house edge and/or find an advantage. This is the opposite of how most gamblers act.

The good news is that you don’t have to keep being a gambling sheep. You can learn to be a gambling shark. In the first section you’re going to learn about several things gambling sheep do, and why they cost you money.

This is followed by information about how you can start becoming a gambling shark. While some shark activities require quite a bit of work, there are many simple steps you can take starting today to become more shark like.

Gambling Sheep Activities

Do you know why slot machines are the most popular form of gambling? Do you know that slots are one of the worst games you can play in a casino when it comes to profitability?

Slot machines are one of the easiest things to play in the casino. You just put money in and push a button. You don’t have to worry about making a mistake and you don’t have to interact with a dealer or other players. Slots are safe and easy.

The slots are also designed to feed your gambling senses. They have movement; either by actual reels or by reels displayed on a video screen, and have sound effects to keep your attention.

Slots also feed the mental rush you get when you win. Most gamblers get a chemical rush in their brains when they win, which can become addictive. We feel good when we win so we want to win again so we can feel better.

Slot machine designers have figured this out over the years, and they design their machines to let you win enough to make you want to keep playing while slowly draining your money at the same time. On average, you lose more than you win playing slots, but you win enough spins to keep you playing.

Many gamblers shy away from human interaction as much as possible and/or are terrified of making a mistake at a table game. To you, this might seem foreign, but it’s a real issue for some. I’m not shy, but I’ve felt some embarrassment from making mistakes at the tables over the years. It doesn’t keep me from playing, but I can understand why some players avoid the table games.

I’ve also played at some blackjack tables where players were rude and made fun of or criticized other players. This often happens when the last player to act before the dealer draws a card that would’ve made the dealer bust. This can be quite uncomfortable unless you have a thick skin. Even if you understand that the hecklers have no idea how probability works, which makes them 100% wrong, it doesn’t make it feel better when you’re the focus of their complaints.

I’ve also dealt with a few rude dealers over the years. This isn’t as common as rude players because dealers work for tips, but a rude dealer can ruin your fun.

But when you sit down to play slots you don’t have to worry about these things. You don’t have a dealer and you don’t have to deal with other players. You might have people playing at slot machines close to you, but you can ignore them or you can find a bank of machines that aren’t being played.

The house edge for slot machines ranges from 2% to 10% or higher. It’s difficult to know the house edge for a particular machine because this information isn’t widely available. The house edge for slots makes them terrible games to play. When you combine a high house edge with the ability to take 400 or 500 spins an hour on most machines, it’s bad for your playing bankroll.

Gambling sharks look for and play games with a house edge lower than 1%, and most are able to play with an edge of .5% of lower.

Other games that gambling sheep tend to play fall into some of the same categories as slot machines. They tend to be either safe or easy to play.

Baccarat is another easy game to play, but it does have a dealer. When you play baccarat you can’t make a mistake. You simply make a bet on one of three options and the casino takes care of everything else. You can’t make any strategy decisions and you don’t even need to know how to score hands.

You place a bet on the player, banker, or tie space. The dealer deals the cards and adds the scores for each hand. Once a winning hand is identified, the dealer collects losing bets and pays out winning bets. The banker bet has a house edge of 1.06% and the player bet house edge is 1.24%. Depending on how much the tie bet pays, it has a house edge as high as 14.36%. Even when you bet on the banker, the house edge of over 1% is too high.

Roulette is another game that’s fairly easy to play. It has more betting options than baccarat, but each possible wager is straightforward. The common bets are black, red, even, odd, or on a single number. You place your bet and the casino personnel running the game take care of everything else. They spin the wheel, collect losing wagers, and pay out the winners.

You can find two different types of roulette wheels. Some wheels, called American roulette wheels, have 38 spaces. They have number 1 to 36, a 0 space and a 00 space. The house edge on bets on an American roulette wheel is 5.26%.

The other type of roulette wheel is called a European roulette wheel and it has 37 spaces. It has all of the same spaces as an American wheel except it doesn’t have the 00 space. The house edge for a European roulette wheel is 2.7%. Both types of roulette wheels have a house edge that’s much too high.

Craps is another popular casino game, but it can be confusing to play. The craps table has many different bets available, and they vary in house edge. The lowest house edge available at the craps table is on the don’t pass line. It has a house edge of 1.36%, making it worse than the banker bet in baccarat.

Another casino game that’s easy to play and doesn’t require much human interaction is keno. Many casinos even offer video keno machines so you don’t even need to buy a ticket from a cashier. Keno is even worse than slot machines, because the house edge is usually 25% or higher.

Other popular casino games that gambling sheep play include:

  • Three Card Poker – 37% minimum house edge
  • Pai Gow Poker – 46% minimum house edge
  • Let It Ride Poker – 51% minimum house edge
  • Casino War – 88% minimum house edge
  • Caribbean Stud Poker – 22% minimum house edge
  • Big Six Wheel – 11% minimum house edge

These are the games that gambling sheep play. They all have a house edge of over 1%, with many being much worse. Games with a house edge of 1% and higher are so bad for your gambling bankroll that you’re better off not playing.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a gambling sheep any more. You can find plenty of options for gambling sharks in the next section.

How to Be a Gambling Shark

Gambling sharks look for opportunities to play with a house edge of less than 1%. It’s even better when you can play games with a house edge of less than .5%. The ultimate gambling shark opportunities offer the chance to play at a breakeven level, or even have a realistic chance to win in the long run.

You might think it’s hard to play with less than a .5% house edge; but the truth is that it’s fairly easy. You can even play machine based games with a low house edge if you want to avoid interacting with other players and dealers.

Believe it or not, it’s not impossible to gamble at a breakeven pace or have the chance to play with a positive edge against the house. This requires more work than other games, but it’s possible if you know how to do it.

The gambling games that offer the lowest house edge all involve skill or strategy decisions. Don’t worry; most of the strategy decisions can be easily learned or you can use cheat sheets while you play. The two easiest options are blackjack and video poker.

Video poker is a machine based game like slot machines, but instead of reels spinning, you play hands of poker dealt from a deck of playing cards. This offers some advantages over slot machines, because the house edge can be determined from the pay tables and you can figure out the best strategy based on the cards left in the deck.

You can find many different variations of video poker, and within each variation you can find different pay tables. In order to find the video poker games that gambling sharks play you need to find the right games with the right pay table and use the right strategy.

While this might sound complicated; the truth is that it’s fairly simple once you know what to look for.

Let’s start with using the right strategy. This might seem backwards, but this is what scares many players away from video poker. Each starting hand is a unique set of cards. In most games, the starting hand consists of five cards dealt from a 52 cards deck.

You choose which cards to keep and which cards to discard and have replaced by new cards. Using mathematics or computer programs, you can determine the best play for any starting hand in video poker. While you can do all of the math work yourself, the good news is that you don’t need to worry about it.

The best strategy for popular video poker variations can be found on strategy cards that you can buy online or in casino gift shops and in charts that are widely available on the internet. All you need to do is get a strategy chart or card for the video poker variation you want to play and follow the directions. By using the best strategy on every video poker hand, you keep the house edge as low as possible.

You don’t need to worry about the casino giving you trouble for using a chart or card. It’s perfectly legal and the casinos don’t care. You can use your strategy information whether you play video poker online or when you play in a land based casino. I recommend carrying a strategy chart or card for each video poker game that you might end up playing.

Now that you know you don’t have to worry about using the best strategy, lets’ take a look at the other two things you need to know. The other two things are the video poker game and pay table. While there are dozens of different video poker games, I recommend starting with one of the three listed below.

  • Jacks or Better
  • Deuces Wild
  • Pick’em Poker

All three of these games can be found with pay tables that offer a house edge of less than .5%. You need to know which pay tables to look for, so it’s easier to learn what you need to know if you learn about one game at a time. The reason I recommend learning about the three games listed above is because you might not be able to find a good pay table for one machine where you play, but one of the other games may be available with a good pay table.

Jacks or Better is one of the oldest and most popular video poker variations. Many newer video poker machines are simply variations of the original Jacks or Better game. The name of the game comes from the lowest paying hand being a pair of jacks. The pay table you want to look for on Jacks or Better pays nine for a full house and six for a flush. This has a house edge of .46%.

Deuces Wild is also a popular video poker variation. The two’s are wild in deuces wild, and the house edge can be as low as .27%. Here’s the pay table you need to look for on Deuces Wild video poker. Look in the column for a five coin wager for the following numbers:

  • Natural royal flush – 4,000
  • Four deuces – 1,000
  • Royal flush w/ wild – 125
  • Five of a kind – 80
  • Straight flush – 50
  • Four of a kind – 20
  • Full house – 20
  • Flush – 15
  • Straight – 10
  • Three of a kind – 5

Pick’em poker is a newer game than the other two, but it is easy to play and has a low house edge. You can occasionally find a pay table that has a house edge of only .05%. Another common pay table has a house edge of .31%. Here are the pay tables for both of these machines. Look at the pay outs under the five coin wager.

Hand .05% Pay Table .31% Pay Table
Royal flush 6,000 10,000
Straight flush 1,199 1,199
Four of a kind 600 600
Full house 80 80
Flush 75 75
Straight 55 50
Three of a kind 25 25
Two pair 15 15
Pair nines + 10 10

Blackjack is the other gambling game that offers a low house edge that’s fairly easy to play. Just like video poker, you need to look for the right game and use a blackjack strategy. You can get strategy charts and cards for blackjack the same places you get them for video poker. This means you don’t have to worry about making mistakes. Just follow the strategy chart and you’re always going to make the best play.

Video poker house edge is based on the pay charts, but the blackjack house edge depends on the rules. With a good set of rules and proper strategy, the house edge is under .5%. The combination of different rules creates hundreds of possible outcomes, so it’s difficult to list every possible combination.

Instead, here’s a list of rules that lower the house edge. You won’t be able to find a blackjack game offering all of these rules, but try to find games that have most of them.

  • Blackjack pays 3 to 2 – This is the only rule that’s a 100% must have. Never play at a blackjack table that pays less than 3 to 2.
  • Dealer stands on soft 17
  • Surrender
  • You can double down after splitting
  • You can double down on split aces
  • You can split aces more than two times
  • You can double down on any two cards
  • You can split any pair
  • The fewer the decks the better
  • You can hit after splitting aces

Finding and playing good video poker machines and blackjack games are the main things that gambling sharks do. But if you want to take things to the next level you can learn how to give yourself a chance to break even or win in the long run. Each of the following methods requires more effort than what you’ve already learned, and they’re more in depth. Below I just a summary of each, so if you want to learn more you need to read a few books about each one you’re interested in.

If you play blackjack you can learn an advanced strategy technique called card counting. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and if you learn how to do it you can actually turn the tables on the casinos and show a long term profit.

Poker is one of the best games to play as a gambler because you can learn how to play well enough to make a profit. The house doesn’t have a built in edge other than a small rake they take from each hand.

While it’s not easy, people who bet on sporting events, play daily fantasy sports, and bet on esports can all gamble with a profit. This might be the most difficult skill to learn, but it’s worth it if you learn how to beat the sportsbooks.

Conclusion

Now that you know if you’re a gambling sheep, you can start transforming into a gambling shark. Use the simple tips on this page to become a gambling shark. By taking just a few simple steps, you can quickly find games with a lower house edge and have a better chance to win every time you gamble.

Michael Stevens: Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016.