What Is a Cooler in Casino Gambling or Poker?

By in Poker on
6 Minute Read
Unlucky Gambler Cooler

More than once I’ve been on a hot streak at the tables when all of a sudden a new player takes a seat and my luck seems to be sucked from the air. You’ve likely had similar experiences.

If you’re at all suspicious of casinos like myself, you may have wondered if the casino sent a cooler to slow your roll. Or you may not at all be familiar with the term “cooler”.

In old-school gambling parlance, a casino “cooler” is an unlucky individual, usually a casino employee, whose mere presence at the gambling tables usually results in a streak of bad luck for the other players.

I’ll also go over what constitutes a poker “cooler” in just a moment. Essentially, “cooler” in gambling terms is something, by design or the randomness of mathematical probability, that is a gut punch at the tables.

Urban Legend

Casino coolers are today largely considered mythological beings. Much like Sasquatch roaming the dense forest of slot machines and craps tables.

Today it has become widely accepted that casinos and online casino sites do not employ coolers. After all, the idea that casinos would hire some poor schmuck to walk around the casino floor on the hunt for hot players to slow down sounds ridiculous.

Of course, it isn’t so far out there to be considered unthinkable either. Hence the beauty of the cooler. On one hand it seems completely absurd and on the other, it may be totally plausible.

Whether or not the casino cooler exists or is simply a figment of paranoid gamblers’ imagination is a great source of debate. If you gather 3 or more casino gamblers in a room and throw the topic out, you’re in for an entertaining evening.

It reminds me of the debate on extraterrestrial life. One side makes an argument for intelligent alien life that is unproven, but certainly in the realm of possibility. While the other side points out that it’s unproven and therefore extremely unlikely.

Neither side is categorically wrong, rather the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. It’s the same with “coolers” for me.

I have definitely had what I’d consider close encounters, but they have always been just ambiguous enough to leave me wondering if I was prey to a cooler or if the numbers just caught up to me.

I’ll share one such experience with you shortly, but first let’s take a look at coolers in the mainstream.

The Cooler

In the 2003 film “The Cooler” William H. Macy plays lovable loser Bernie Lootz. Through a series of wrong turns and poor choices Lootz finds himself indebted to the Shangri-La casino boss Shelly Kaplow played by Alec Baldwin, who years earlier cured him of a gambling habit by breaking his kneecap.

Kaplow saw an opportunity and leveraged Bernie’s mountain of debt to put him to work. Cooling off any hopeful bettors chances of walking away from Shangri-La with house money.

It’s a Tale as Old as Time

The unluckiest man in Vegas, whose bad luck is contagious, is in an extremely over-exaggerated sense used by the last of the old-time mob-run casinos to kill high rollers’ action.

That is until he falls in love with a cocktail waitress and “lady luck” comes calling, which throws the situation into reverse.

The Cooler at its core is a love story, but it’s also more than that. It’s a window into a mysterious world of casino gambling’s underbelly.

Obviously, its existence doesn’t confirm that Vegas, Atlantic City, or any other casino meccas use coolers. However, it does provide a glimpse of how coolers are perceived by many casino gamblers and is a basis for some thought-provoking conversation.

Is this art imitating life or just a play on another urban legend? You can decide that for yourself.

I found it to be an entertaining watch that should be enjoyed by anyone interested in casino gambling or just loves a good underdog.

Cool Kid

I’ve never believed in coolers, but a recent encounter left me questioning this stance.

Not long ago I was at a casino in Sin City and hit a hot streak at a $25 minimum Blackjack table. I was up a couple grand and rolling. It was the rare day where I couldn’t bust, the dealer continuously busted and I had countless double down and split hands that paid me.

At this point a guy strolls up and asks if the table is “hot”. I tell him to jump in, the water is great. He takes a seat and buys in for $200. I took notice because the dealer never asked for his player card and this dealer had been particularly militant about asking every player.

I chalked it up to perhaps the dealer, after all, being human. Perhaps it was his comparatively low buy-in to the table average. He did strike up a conversation asking where I was staying, where I’m from, and the like.

I reciprocated and found his responses oddly vague if not outright evasive. For example, when I asked where he was from he told me a small town in Texas. I was living in Florida at the time and don’t have an accent, but I was born and raised in Texas.

So, without tipping my hand, I probed a little deeper while he dipped and dodged my questions. He seemed way more interested in my bets and gameplay than even his own. We played through an entire shoe like this. I was able to walk away with over $5k, one of my best runs to date.

Then I decided to take a break and grab some dinner with a friend that lives in Vegas. After dinner, I decided to “let it ride” at the big boy tables. I rather quickly turned the $5k to just under $10k.

Again, it was just one of those weekends for me. This is by no means the norm in my experience, I was just extremely fortunate.

I see the pit boss making a few calls, but don’t think much of it because the table was hot. I  thought maybe they’d change dealers, I’ve seen that once or twice.

Then, I see my fellow “Texan” walking back up to me. He asked how it was going, I told him I was still doing pretty well and invited him to have a seat.

He doesn’t hesitate and pulls out $1500 out of his wallet. The high-limit table I was playing at was $100 Min $10,000 Max table. I was surprised because I didn’t think he’d have the bankroll to play there. For the second time, the dealer never asked him for his player’s card, although they asked for mine when I bought in. My paranoia began to creep up at this point.

He continued to dodge my questions, yet had plenty for me which I was happy to answer. This continued for 2 full shoes until I took my sizable winnings and called it a night.

Was I a first-hand witness to the attempts of the elusive “cooler”? I can’t be sure, it’s far more likely it was upper-level security making sure I was on the level. The speculating makes it much more fun though.


The poker world has its own version of a “cooler” and it has nothing to do with William H. Macy.

You’ve likely been there, I’ve definitely been there. You make a great hand and play it solid, only to lose to a more incredible hand. This is the dreaded and feared poker cooler.

A poker cooler refers to a situation in which a strong hand, played correctly, loses to an even stronger holding. Your gut may tell you to pass but you just can’t let it go. In a cooler scenario you lose, not because you were outplayed necessarily, but because of the luck of the draw.

With both players holding stronger than average hands, each will want to get the money in the middle. However, someone has to lose. These are not necessarily bad plays but simply bad luck, and it happens to the best players on the planet.

Coolers are a tough fact of poker life but, you don’t have to let it put you on tilt.


Whether “coolers” exist in casino gambling or not is certainly up for debate. While it definitely sounds reasonable that the casinos would take any legal steps possible to secure their bottom line, it’s as preposterous that the casinos would hire some “Unlucky Joe” to spread his misfortune purely by osmosis.

Personally, I think coolers are a fictitious creation of gamblers whose luck ran out. You’ll have to decide for yourself, feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.

We all know that the “poker cooler” is a heartbreaking reality and there’s really nothing to do about it. The best advice I can provide you is when they come, accept it, and move on.

Gamble on.

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]