Is It Possible to Make Money From Gambling?

By in Casino & Gaming on
5 Minute Read
Cash Playing Cards Gambling

If the house always wins then how can anyone make a living from gambling?

If your only source of information about professional gamblers is old movies and TV shows then you must believe they either go around cheating people are they become heroes who save towns and change lives.

Professional gambling is real enough that the Internal Revenue Service has devoted a lot of ink to explaining how gamblers and gambling profits are to be reported on tax returns.

Why would the government care about gambling profits if no one is making money from gambling?

But making a profit is not the same as earning a living from the industry. Not everyone accepts that real professional gamblers exist. Some folks argue it’s all about semantics.

If you’re not staking your own money then are you really gambling?

To that I must ask, at what point are you staking your own money if you win $100,000 in a casino and use that to bankroll your gambling career?

I’m ignoring all the sematic arguments. Here are examples of real professional gamblers.

1 – Casino Owners and Bookmakers

Let’s get the obvious example out of the way first. Casino owners are gamblers just like the players. Yes, the house has an edge in nearly every game but they don’t always win.

In fact you need only look at the recent history of Atlantic City, NJ to see just how risky the casino industry can be for the big operators.

How many casinos did Donald Trump go bankrupt with?

They may be billionaires but guys like Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynne have to accept some risk too. And that goes for their backers and financers.

Winning players may not be the reason why casinos go bankrupt but when they do fail a lot of people lose. I’m not including the employees in this definition unless they buy stock in their employers. Everyone gambles that their job will last as long as they need it.

I was tempted to list bookies separately but they’re a lot like casinos in one respect. Your local casino may host poker games but they may not put any money into the game. Some casinos depend more on the rake.

In theory the bookmakers are leveraging bettors against each other, deducting a slight percentage on the wagers by adjusting the odds. This is technically how most casino games work. In reality the bookmakers are on the hook because they may have to cover some bets out of their own pockets.

2 – Casino Dealers and Croupiers

This is obvious example no. 2.

The blackjack dealers and croupiers at the baccarat, craps, and roulette tables are all gambling for money. The house pays them to run the games and they sometimes lose.

So while they are not technically gambling with their own money they play gambling games all day or night long.

And they do accept tips. If a restaurant worker who accepts tips is a professional food service employee then a casino dealer or croupier who accepts tips is just as professional in my book.

By contrast I exclude pit bosses and other casino staff from this category. They make it possible for people to enjoy the games but they are not playing the games.

3 – House Players

Many poker players talk about these pros. They are often local gamblers who get jobs with casinos to play in the poker games.

They’re not playing with their own money. They don’t get to keep the winnings. Some people question whether they are really professional gamblers. In my opinion they are because they are playing in the games for real money. It’s just not their money but they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t at least competent card players.

Why would a casino hire an incompetent player to lose money to other card players?

These pros are in the game because they need to pay their bills just like everyone else. They’re doing what they love and getting paid for it. There is no sin in that and it’s not a cheat in my opinion.

4 – Tournament Players

The most common route to professional gambling is to become good enough to compete in tournaments.

There are two ways tournament players become professionals. They either win a lot of money and stop earning incomes from any other source or they find sponsors.

Most poker pros rely on sponsors. It only makes sense. You need to pay the bills and that includes paying those tournament fees up front.

There are far more semi-pros than pros in the world of gambling tournaments but I consider these to be like minor league players coming up through farm team systems. The sponsors are willing to back anyone with promise for a while.

In exchange for giving up a percentage of their winnings the sponsored players get to do what they love – gamble. They are playing for prizes in the traditional contest sense, not keeping the money from the games in the various rounds.

If your ambition is to become a professional poker player this is where you want to be.

5 – The Real Lone Wolf Winners

Guys like Don Johnson – who won millions of dollars playing blackjack in Atlantic City – and the members of the various card counting teams outrank professional poker players in many players’ esteem.

The best poker player in the world is only beating other players. Blackjack pros are beating the house at its own game.

How many people really support themselves from gambling like this?

The MIT blackjack team and others like them developed an edge by working together and playing a long game. But once in a while you hear about someone who earned a living for at least a few years from gambling.

They did it without sponsors. They did it without teams. They did it without cheating.

These professionals are few and far between, in my opinion. If you’re hoping to become one of them you’ve got a steep, tall mountain to climb. These people are legendary for good reason.

Millions of gamblers hope to win big every year. Out of those millions you’ll only ever hear about a few dozen at most.

As they say in the industry, the odds are against you if this is the kind of gambling pro you want to become.

6 – Sports Bettors and Gambling Syndicates

This is another grey area because many people do quite well in sports betting but it’s only a hobby for them. And yet there are a few names that pop up as established pros.

Billy Walters is the best known of American sports bettors. Like all sports betting pros he doesn’t share many details about his gambling life but it’s generally accepted that he has made millions from betting on games.

Professional sports betting may depend more on syndicates – where people pool their money together – than on sponsorships. Sports betting is not a game of skill like poker so it doesn’t make sense for sponsors to risk their money on bettors.

Syndicates flourish in other areas of gambling. Some syndicates only gamble on lotteries. It’s tempting to give syndicates their own category but from the gambler’s point of view there isn’t much difference between sports betting and betting on the lottery.

The sports bettor looks at team or athlete performance. And yet no competition’s outcome is predictable. All it takes is one injury or one bad call from an official or a coach and a race or game’s direction can change completely.

Sporting events are still very much affected by random chance despite the skill and training that competitors bring to the games.

Syndicates develop an edge from covering a lot of bets. Sports bettors develop an edge by analyzing performance statistics, weather and arena conditions, and other factors. There are differences between the two types of gamblers but sometimes they overlap.

7 – Gambling Experts

These are the people who publish books about gambling and the gambling industry.

You can chastise me for playing semantic games but most gambling experts claim to have real world experience in the casinos or betting industries. They may be insiders or players, or both.

Anyone who publishes a book on gambling with the hope of getting rich is gambling for real. There aren’t many people who make money from books, and gambling books are even likely to be profitable than a Stephen King novel.

For the sake of fairness I exclude anyone who writes about gambling but who didn’t actually support themselves from gambling in any way prior to publishing the book.

Some authors supplement their incomes with speaking engagements. I suppose if you become famous enough that people pay you a speaking fee, then your gambling book paid off.

Conclusion

As far as I am concerned you’re a gambler if you’re putting something into the game. If it’s not your money then it has to be time you would otherwise spend earning money doing something else.

That is why I accept people who work in the industry and who publish books about gambling as professionals. They have a stake in the game. And if they make a living from it then they deserve to be called gambling professionals.

That may not matter to the Sheldon Adelsons of the world, but I know a few pros who feel they earned the title of “professional”. I agree.

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. ...

View all posts by Michael Stevens
Email the author at: [email protected]