If you want to learn ways to get an edge at gambling without cheating, this is the post for you. In fact, there’s even a name for this activity:
I should point out that cheating can get you an edge when you’re gambling, but that’s not what this post is about. Advantage gambling is considered something different from cheating. It’s a means of exploiting the nature of a gambling game in a way that gives you a mathematical edge.
The first thing you have to understand is that you’re almost always gambling with a mathematical disadvantage. This is true whether you’re a casino gambler, a poker player, or a sports bettor. The means with which your opponent gets the edge varies by activity, but it’s always there.
The House Edge in Casino Games
With casino games, the house gets a mathematical edge by offering payouts that don’t correspond to the odds of winning.
If you’re playing roulette, you might place a bet on red or black. If all the possible outcomes were red and black, and if there were an equal number of each, you’d have a game where you’d break even in the long run. You’d eventually win as much as you lost, because of the nature of the game.
But a roulette wheel has 38 possible outcomes. 18 of them are red, 18 of them are black, and 2 of them are green. Those 2 green possibilities (the 0s) are what give the house its mathematical edge.
Here’s another example from the same game:
You place a bet on a single number. It pays off at 35 to 1. (You bet $100, and you win $3500.)
But the odds of winning that bet aren’t 35 to 1. They’re 37 to 1.
In the long run, you’ll lose more often than you’ll win.
That difference is the house edge. In the short run, you can beat the house edge by getting lucky. That’s just variance.
In the long run, though, the actual results of a game will eventually start to resemble your predicted results. The casino is fielding thousands of bets per hour, 24/7. Their results look like the mathematical prediction.
The Rake in Poker
Poker doesn’t work like casino games. You’re not playing against the casino; you’re playing against the other players. If the game were strictly luck, you’d break even over time.
2 factors prevent this:
The first is the element of skill involved in the game. In the short run, anyone can get lucky and win a hand. But over the long run, the more skilled players have a mathematical edge over the less skilled players.
The second is the rake. Every time a casino hosts a poker game, they take a percentage of each pot in exchange for hosting the game. This percentage is usually around 5%. Pots usually need to reach a certain size before the casino collects a rake, too.
In a home game, there might not be a rake. In fact, there usually isn’t.
But here’s the bottom line about your edge and the rake:
You don’t just have to be more skilled than the other players to get an edge. You have to be skilled enough to overcome the 5% rake, too.
The Vig in Sports Betting
When you place a bet with a bookmaker, they require you to risk $110 for every $100 you want to win. This doesn’t mean your bets have to be in increments of $110. It means that the payoffs match that proportion. You can bet $22 on a game, but you’ll only win $20.
This ensures that the bookmaker will profit. Their goal is usually to get an equal amount of action on either side of a game. The losers pay off the winners. But the payouts are smaller than the amount the losers lost, because of the vig.
To win at sports betting in the long run, you not only have to be good enough to win more than 50% of the time. You have to win often enough to compensate for the vig.
The vig is a lot like the rake in poker.
How to Get a Mathematical Edge in Gambling
With all 3 of these broad activities, you can find ways to get a mathematical edge. If you apply that mathematical edge repeatedly, over time you’ll probably see a profit. You’ll also be that rarest of creatures — an advantage gambler.
Some people make a living via their advantage gambling activities. The ones who seem to do best at it are the gamblers who belong to advantage gambling teams of some sort.
Below, I’ve listed 6 specific ways you can get an edge at various gambling activities. I should point out that there are many games where you can’t get an edge, ever.
But this post concerns the games where you can:
1. Counting Cards in Blackjack
Everyone knows that blackjack is a game where a skillful player can get a mathematical edge over the house. But you have to know more than just how to play each hand mathematically correctly.
However, you do have to know how to do that first, before you can get an edge. The house edge for blackjack for people who don’t use basic strategy is around 4%. This means over time, you can expect to lose 4% of everything you bet at the blackjack table.
Basic strategy can reduce that edge to between 0.5% and 1%. The rules in place also affect the house edge when you’re using basic strategy. For example, if the casino has the dealer hit a soft 17 instead of stand on it, the house edge goes up by 0.2%.
Basic strategy refers to the mathematically best way to play every possible hand in every possible situation in blackjack. It’s easier to learn than you think. The dealer only has 10 possible up-cards, and you only have 14 possible totals to deal with. Most people memorize basic strategy from a chart.
But basic strategy is only the beginning of blackjack wisdom.
If you want to get an edge over the casino, you have to be able to do more than just play each hand perfectly. You need to be able to raise the size of your bets when the situation is favorable. And you need to be able to lower the size of your bets when the situation is unfavorable.
That’s where card counting comes in.
Some people have the mistaken belief that you need to be able to memorize all the cards that have been played to get an edge over the casino. That would help, probably, but it’s entirely unnecessary. All the card counters I know use a heuristic system of measuring how many high cards and how many low cards are left in the deck.
You see, the cards in blackjack have a memory. When an ace is dealt, it’s gone from the deck until the deck gets shuffled again. This changes the probabilities.
Here’s an easily-understood example:
You’re playing in a blackjack game with a single deck, and all the aces came out in the first 2 hands. The probability of getting a natural (a 2-card hand worth 21 points) is now 0. You have to have aces to get a blackjack.
That hand is important because it pays off at 3 to 2.
On the other hand, if a lot of low cards are gone from the deck, and a lot of aces and 10s are still in the deck, the probability of getting a natural improve.
When you have a better than usual chance of getting a 3 to 2 payout, and you raise your bet, you’re putting the odds in your favor.
You’re getting an edge over the casino.
How big an edge can you get over the casino?
Most of the estimates I’ve seen said that counting cards gives you an edge of 1% to 2%.
Every time an ace or 10 is dealt, subtract 1 from the count. Every time a low card (2, 3, 4, 5, or 6) is dealt, add 1 to the count. When the count is positive, the deck’s in your favor, and you should raise your bet.
Casinos make it hard to count cards. One of the ways they do this is by putting multiple decks into the shoe. This dilutes the effect of each card dealt. Card counters compensate for this by converting their running count into a true count.
You do that by estimating how many decks are left in the shoe. Then divide the running count by the number of decks left in the shoe.
The true count is what determines how much you raise your bet by. The higher the true count, the more you bet. Usually, you think in terms of units. If you’re betting $10 per hand, that’s one unit. If the count is +3, you would raise your bet by 3 units, or $30. So you’d be betting $40 per hand.
Here’s something else the casinos do to thwart card counters. If they think you’re counting cards, they’ll ask you to stick with their other games besides blackjack. Sometimes they’ll even ask you to leave the casino.
Some casinos also use automatic shuffling machines. In this case, the discards are fed back into the deck immediately. This eliminates the game’s memory and makes it impossible for you to get an edge.
Blackjack has a variety of other opportunities to get an edge, like hole carding and shuffle tracking. Most advantage players start with card counting before moving on to these other strategies.
2. Betting on Sports
One way to win when betting on sports is to become a better handicapper than the handicappers working for the bookmakers.
Handicappers are the people who determine what the appropriate point spread is for a game that will result in a 50/50 chance of winning.
The most common examples of handicapping occur in football games. To try to get an equal amount of action on each side, the bookmaker requires your team to win by a certain number of points if it’s the favorite.
For example, if the Patriots are a 14. point favorite over the Browns, a bet on the Patriots loses if they only win by 7 points. They didn’t cover the point spread.
3. Combining Perfect Video Poker Strategy with the Casino’s Comp System
Video poker games look like slot machines, but they’re anything but. That’s because video poker machines present you with the same odds you’d see if you were using a real deck of cards. If you want to know what the probability of getting an ace of hearts is, it’s simple:
1 in 52
This has more serious implications than you might think. With a slot machine game, you have no way of knowing what the probability of getting a specific symbol or combination of symbols is. You know the payouts for the possible combinations, but that’s useless without the probability of getting each combination.
But in video poker, computers can calculate the probability of getting each specific hand. When you know the payoff and the probability of getting it, you can calculate the payback percentage for the entire game.
Payback percentage is a metric in the gambling industry that measures how much of each bet you mathematically expect to get back every time you place a bet. It’s the reverse side of the house edge coin. If you subtract a game’s house edge from 100%, you get the payback percentage.
Here’s another thing about video poker:
You have decisions to make on every hand, and the quality of those decisions affects your outcome.
You put your money in and push the “deal” button. You get a 5-card hand. Then you get to decide which cards to keep and throw away, just like you would in a game of 5-card draw.
You have 32 possibilities with each hand, but only one of those possibilities has the highest expected return. If you can get close to the correct decision on almost every hand, you can achieve the mathematically predicted return for the game.
Pay tables vary from machine to machine, but computer programmers and gambling experts have crunched the numbers to figure out which games and pay tables have the highest payback percentage.
A handful of rare video poker games have a payback percentage of over 100%. They’re usually small stakes games. And the edge you have is small and based on playing close to perfectly.
Video poker games where the payback percentage is close to 100% are reasonably common, though. For example, Jacks or Better has a pay table called 9/6. That’s because it pays off at 9 for 1 for a full house and 6 for 1 for a flush.
With optimal strategy, the payback percentage for that game is 99.54%. The house edge is only 0.46%, making this game comparable to blackjack.
If only we could find a way to get a few tenths of a percentage point back in our favor…
As luck would have it, we can.
Almost every casino in the world has a players’ club, or the slots club. This is a rewards program where you get 0.1% or 0.2% of your action back in the form of rebates and comps.
With that in mind, the house edge drops to 0.36% or even 0.26%.
But you still don’t have an edge.
Where do you get the rest of it?
Most casinos also have time periods where they double or triple their rewards program. If you play during those hours, you might be getting as much as 0.6% of your action back in rewards.
If you can get 0.6% back on your action, and if you can face an edge of 0.46%, you can play with an advantage of 0.14% over the casino.
Don’t get too excited, yet, though. That’s a tiny edge.
On top of that, if the game is for low stakes, the amount of money you expect to win per hour is low enough to almost be silly.
Assume you’re playing a quarter game and betting 5 coins per hand. That’s $1.25 in action per hand.
Most video poker players get in 600 hands per hour. This means you’re putting $750 into action per hour (600 X $1.25).
Your edge is 0.14% of that, which means your long-term expected winnings are $1.05 per hour ($750 X .14%).
Of course, you can find video poker machines for higher stakes. You can also find games with a better payback percentage.
But it’s hard to make a living as an advantage video poker player.
What you can do as an advantage player at the video poker machines, though, is enjoy cool casino vacations for practically nothing.
That’s not a bad deal, either.
Jean Scott, aka The Frugal Gambler, has made a career as a gambling writer explaining how to do just that.
4. Playing Poker at an Expert Level
Since poker is a game of skill, you can get an edge over the other players. A lot of poker players have selective memories and think they’re better at the game than they are. The real experts love those opponents most of all.
Getting an edge at poker isn’t too different from getting an edge at blackjack. It’s about putting more money into the pot when the odds are in your favor and putting less money in the pot when they’re not.
Expert poker players start by comparing the pot odds with the odds of winning the hand.
You’re playing Texas hold’em, and you have 4 cards to a flush on the flop. You only need one more card of that suit to make your hand, and you have 2 cards to come. The odds of getting your flush are about 2 to 1.
There’s $50 in the pot, and someone bets $10. The pot is offering you 5 to 1 odds on a 2 to 1 shot at winning, so that’s a bet you should call.
That’s an over-simplified example, but you can see how you’d get a long-term edge by calling that bet.
You then have to account for the likelihood of winning bets by betting and raising against few opponents. You also need to be able to guess at a range of hands that your opponent might have.
Finally, you can pay attention to your opponents’ playing tendencies. These are called “tells”. If you can get a clue about what your opponent has in his hand based on his behavior, you can pick up more of an edge.
The trick is getting enough of an edge to overcome the rake. You can be a winning player, but if you’re not winning at a high enough level to overcome the 5% rake, you’re going to lose money in the long run.
Entire websites have been written about how to become a better poker player. Entire books have been written on the subject too.
You can read all the websites and all the books and still be a losing player, though. It takes practice and the right kind of personality to get an edge playing poker.
5. Learn the Break-Even Points for Various Progressive Jackpots
Progressive jackpots are the constantly-increasing jackpot amounts you see on various slot machine and video poker games. With a slot machine, it’s impossible to know when the progressive jackpot has gotten high enough to increase the payback percentage for the game to over 100%.
But remember our friendly game of video poker from earlier?
We know that we can combine our knowledge of probable outcomes with the payouts for those outcomes to determine the payback percentage for the game.
If the big jackpot on a game gets big enough, the game becomes a positive expectation proposition.
Most video poker games where the progressive jackpot gets that high are swamped with advantage player teams. An individual advantage player can’t usually get a spot.
Even if you do get a spot, it’s possible to miss the progressive jackpot—in fact, it’s not just possible, it’s likely.
Theoretically, when you do hit the jackpot, you’ll make up for all the times you missed it and then some. That’s the entire point behind a positive expectation game.
Here’s one example of a video poker pay table with a progressive jackpot that has a positive expectation:
It’s a 9/6 Jacks or Better game for a quarter. If the jackpot is over $1220, you’re facing a positive expectation game. You should take that action.
You can find multiple pages on the internet explaining the break-even points for the various pay tables and various video poker games.
6. Dice Control in Craps
I’m skeptical of this advantage gambling technique, but I admit it’s theoretically possible. Maybe.
Here’s the theory behind dice control:
The house edge on the basic bet in craps, the pass line bet, is only 1.41%.
But when you combine that with the odds bet, the overall house edge on that bet drops dramatically. For example, when you place an odds bet of 3X the size of your pass line bet, the cumulative house edge on the 2 bets is 0.62%.
That’s really low.
And here’s what your goal is in this situation. It’s to roll the point before rolling a 7.
All you really need to do is be able to throw the dice with a lower probability of getting a 7 than usual. You can screw up some of the time. You just need to improve your odds slightly.
By doing so, you get an edge over craps.
That’s not easy to do, though.
Casinos have specific rules and procedures for throwing the dice in craps. For one thing, you have to throw them a certain distance. They have to hit that back wall.
They’re going to frown on you spending a lot of time setting the dice a certain way in your hands, too.
First, buy a book titled Golden Touch Dice Control Revolution! How to Win at Craps Using a Controlled Dice Throw! by Frank Scoblete.
If it makes sense and sounds like something you’d like to try to learn to do, start thinking about buying a craps table. You might have to build one.
Once you’ve set up casino-like conditions in your basement or garage, you can move on to the next step:
You’ll need to practice and record your results for a long time before you have any statistical surety about your ability to control the outcome of a roll of the dice.
I’m talking about hundreds, maybe even thousands of throws before you can have any confidence in your results.
You probably need to have someone help you keep track of your results. If you have to stop to record your results every time you throw the dice, you’re never going to get in enough throws.
When you’re confident in your statistics, it’s time to hit the casinos.
I wish you luck with this method. I’m not convinced that it’s possible, and I’m not dedicated enough to the idea to try it.
If you want to get a mathematical edge when gambling, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re way ahead of most people who are looking for blog posts of a more general nature — “how to win at gambling” or “how to beat the casino.” That’s because you understand that winning money at gambling is all about math.
The first step in learning how to get an edge in gambling has to do with understanding why most gamblers don’t have an edge — just the opposite, in fact. For the most part, this means understanding the house edge in casino games, the rake in poker, and the vig in sports betting.
Once you grok the math behind those activities, you can start thinking about how to turn the math on its head and gambling with the edge. This isn’t a fast way to make money, by the way. But it’s more of a sure thing than some of the bone-headed “strategies” you’ll see being sold on the internet.
All of the above advantage gambling techniques have been proven to work — except maybe for dice control. I think the jury is still out on that one.
You can find other advantage gambling techniques, too, but the ones in this post should be a good start for anyone.