“Action” is an expression used by casinos and gamblers to describe how much money a gambler puts on the line during a specified period.
For example, if you play 200 hands of blackjack for $10 per hand, you’ve bet $2,000. That’s $2,000 in action.
You won’t lose that entire amount; you’ll win some of it. Action isn’t the same thing as losses; it’s the amount of money that you’ve risked.
Gamblers who love having a lot of money in action are called “action junkies.” They get a thrill out of having money on the line.
What action junkies and advantage players have in common is simple:
They both want to have as much action as possible.
It’s these reasons that cause the big difference.
Action is part of a bigger equation—expected wins and losses.
When you’re placing a bet, you either have a positive or negative expectation. If it’s a bet on a casino game, most of the time, the expected value is negative. This is also called the “house edge,” and it’s expressed as a percentage.
In the example I used in the introduction to this post, if that blackjack player is using perfect basic strategy, the house edge is about 0.5%.
You multiply the amount of action by the expected win/loss rate to calculate the estimated loss on that action.
Put $2,000 into action on blackjack with a 0.5% house edge, and your expected loss is $10.
That’s a projection, an estimate.
So, the more money you put into action where you have a negative expected value, the more money you expect to lose.
Everyone knows that card counters win in the long run against casinos, at least, they do if they’re good at it. This means that their expected value on their action is positive rather than negative.
A good card counter might have a 1% edge over the casino. This means that with $2,000 in action, a card counter’s expected win is $20, which is a significant difference from an expected loss of $10.
If you’re an average casino gambler, you’ll lose more money on average in the long run by playing faster. You’ll lose less money if you play more slowly and for lower stakes.
The formula for calculating your expected loss or win per hour is the number of bets you make per hour multiplied by the average size of each bet and multiplied by the expected win/loss ratio.
If you stick with blackjack tables where you’re the only player, you might get in 200 hands of blackjack per hour. At $5 per bet, that’s $1,000 in action per hour. Your average loss per hour on that action is $5 per hour.
But if you stick with full tables, you might only get in 50 hands per hour. At the same $5 per bet, you’re only putting $250 into action per hour.
And your expected loss per hour is $1.25.
That makes blackjack cheap entertainment.
This is also one of the reasons slot machines are so profitable to the casinos. An average slots player might make 500 or 600 bets per hour. Even if they’re only betting $1 or $3 per spin, they’re still putting as much money into action per hour as a blackjack player.
And their expected loss ratio, the house edge, is considerably higher. Even at a generous casino, the house edge on a slot machine game is at least 4%—probably much higher, though.
Action junkies don’t really care whether the casino has an edge, though. They’re willing to accept the losses just for the thrills of the occasional wins. Action junkies will often put more money into action by placing bigger bets, too.
An advantage player, though, is a gambler who only places bets when she has a positive expected value.
And with a positive expected value, an advantage player stands to win money on average over time, not lose it.
So, the more money an advantage player puts into action per hour, the more she stands to win.
An average gambler making $1,000 in bets at the blackjack table is losing $10 per hour, but an advantage gambler is making $20 per hour.
If both gamblers doubled the size of their average bets, they would double their expected losses or wins. The action junkie would lose an average of $20/hour, and the advantage gambler would be earning $40 per hour.
It might seem like the obvious thing for an advantage gambler to do is bet all their money on a hand of blackjack if they have an edge.
The problem with this is that they risk going broke by putting it all on the line at one time.
Games like blackjack and video poker are still random, even if you play well enough to get a mathematical edge over the casino. What happens on a single bet, or on a couple of bets, or even an hour’s worth of bets, is a matter of random chance.
The bigger your bet is relative to your bankroll, the more likely you are to go broke in the short term before your long-term positive expectation starts to resemble reality.
In fact, if you bet your entire bankroll on a single hand of blackjack, you’d have a good chance of going broke. 53.64% of the time, you’ll lose.
Your edge at blackjack comes from your higher probability of getting a natural, which pays off at 3:2. You still have an excellent probability of losing any given hand.
In fact, you’re more likely to win a single bet at the roulette table than you are at the blackjack table. The probability of winning a bet on black at roulette is 47.37%, which is slightly better than the probability of winning a single hand of blackjack—46.36%.
That seems counterintuitive when you consider that the house edge for roulette is 10X that of blackjack.
The house edge is the same thing as your expected loss expressed as a percentage. In blackjack, the house edge is about 0.5%, but in a standard American roulette game is 5.26%.
How does the house edge get so much higher in roulette than blackjack?
The answer has to do with the frequency with which you get a higher payout for your hand in blackjack. About once out of every 21 or 22 hands, you’ll get a blackjack—a two-card hand totaling 21.
Such a hand pays off at 3:2 odds.
You also have other actions in blackjack you can take which can also increase your payout on a single hand. With the right cards, you can split your hand into two hands, increasing your expected return. You can also double down on some totals, which puts twice as much money into action when you have a favorable hand.
These rules, combined, reduce the house edge in blackjack to 0.5%—even though you’re still more likely to lose a hand of blackjack than you are to lose an even-money roulette bet.
What’s the difference between an action junkie and a gambling addict (or problem gambler)?
Being an action junkie doesn’t automatically mean you’re a problem gambler, although if you’re a problem gambler, you’re probably an action junkie, too.
Some action junkies have lots of discretionary income. If they’re able to stay in action without affecting their life or their other responsibilities, they don’t qualify as problem gamblers or gambling addicts.
You can read about the lifestyles of some of these kinds of high rolling gamblers in a book called Whale Hunt in the Desert: Secrets of a Las Vegas Casino Host. It’s a fascinating memoir written from the other side of the casino gambling coin, but it can give you a good idea of what kind of perks the casinos offer big gamblers.
I’m sure that some of the clients he discusses in his book are also gambling addicts, but not all of them.
If you’re so desperate to be in action that you’re gambling with money you need for other bills, you’re probably a gambling addict AND an action junkie.
In your case, absolute abstinence is probably your best course of action.
What do action junkies and advantage gamblers have in common?
They both want to get as much money as possible into action. They just have very different reasons for doing so.
The action junkie wants to get a lot of money into action for the thrills of it.
Most advantage players don’t attach a lot of emotion to their gambling. That would interfere with their ability to earn money from their gambling.
Those are the big similarities and the big differences.
Over the last several years, sports fans have likely noticed a shift in the way the most popular sports leagues…
The Atlanta Falcons stand at a 7-game over/under as of April 2021. But are they a good bet for the…
It's good to be the Phoenix Suns right about now. That's something we haven't said in well over a decade,…
On Saturday, June 19th, the UFC will return to their Apex Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, for UFC on ESPN…
If you’re not a gambler but want to go to the casino with your friends for a fun night out,…
The first round of the NBA playoffs has commenced, and some of the less competitive series have already wrapped up.…