What’s the Difference Between Cheating and Advantage Play in Gambling?

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Poker Hand Chips Advantage Play

The house always wins because the house plays a long game. Casinos have the statistical advantage in nearly all the gambling games they host. That statistical advantage pays of over time. In this post, I’ll be explaining the main differences between cheating and advantage play.

In a game like poker, the casino makes money from the rake and selling other services, like room nights. All the action stays on the table and the players divide the money.

Gambling experts say slot machine games are more profitable for casinos than nearly any other kind of game because the machines are programmed to pay less money or less often than traditional games like baccarat, blackjack, and roulette.

Designing a slot machine game is like adding extra zeroes to a roulette wheel without the players seeing the extra zeroes. If the casino wants a 40% return on a slot game, they can pick the game that gives them that expected return.

The worst version of roulette, Sands Roulette, has three green slots on the wheel. Although that third green zero increases the house edge, it’s still not as bad as most slot machine games.

The simplest way to explain the difference between cheating and advantage play is to look at how the house always wins. They have the statistical advantage in every game.

The house edge is the result of the difference between the payout odds on the game and the probability of any winning combination occurring. If a probability is 36 to 1 in roulette the payout odds are 35 to 1.

Cheating Ignores the Rules of the Game or the House

A licensed, regulated casino has nothing to gain from cheating its players. They’ve already agreed to play games that give the house an edge.

All the casino needs to do to make money is to entice players to keep making wagers. Over time, the casino retains part of those wagers.

So, why break the rules, and risk criminal charges or loss of license, when all the house needs to do is change the rules?

Players, on the other hand, don’t have the freedom to change the rules, nor can players introduce their own games. If either side has an incentive to cheat, it’s truly only the player who does.

If a player wants to cheat, he must ignore the rules of the game (and hope he isn’t caught). Casinos admit that cheating happens all the time. Most players who are caught cheating are escorted out of the casino.

House rules govern the way chips and dice are managed. The most common forms of cheating involve replacing chips and dice at table games.

Some cheaters try to confuse the casino employees or other players by stacking chips in certain ways, “accidentally” mixing their chips with other chips, and other small ways.

The most amazing fact about player cheating schemes in casinos is that it’s the casinos that document the majority of cheating schemes for other players. Sooner or later, the house figures out the scam.

A New Cheat Provides a Temporary Advantage

I have seen a few people describe cheating as advantage playing. They feel that because they can get away with the scam, they have an advantage over the casino.

Casinos discover the more complex or clever schemes by analyzing game losses. They know how much to expect from their slot machine games and table games over weeks or months.

When the table or machine losses begin piling up, the house sleuths jump into action to figure out what loophole is being exploited.

They count on the cheaters coming back for more money so they can catch them in the act. Players who steal enough money are arrested and charged.

If cheaters only cheated once and never again, more cheats would escape and more exploits would remain undetected. Because a cheating player almost always cheat again, they turn any new advantage into a temporary strategy.

Advantage Play Abides by the Rules

No matter how stringent and unfair game rules may seem, advantage players accept them. One house rule is always the same—the players decide where to wager their money.

The casino picks the games to offer and the players pick the games to bet on.

In this meeting of choices, advantage players look for games that are more winnable. They don’t follow the payoffs, they follow the statistical win percentages.

The classic advantage play strategy is card counting in blackjack. A lone card counter must work harder and longer than a team.

A team of card counters gradually builds up their wins. They avoid drawing attention to themselves as much as possible.

Advantage players should never break the rules. They sacrifice their true advantages by cheating.

The Casino Changes the Rules to Neutralize Advantage Play

Although there are stories of casinos banning or escorting card counters from their floors, the house’s first line of defense against advantage play is to change the rules.

In blackjack, the unofficial house rule was to play deep into the deck or shoe. When advantage play became popular, the casinos added more decks to the shoe, shuffled the cards more often, and replaced older shoes with automatic shuffling machines.

The rules of the game didn’t change, but the house rules did.

Another way that casinos responded to advantage play in blackjack was to change the payout odds of the game. The move from 3:2 payouts on blackjack to 6:5 payouts wasn’t popular with players, but the game is still a better long-term choice for players than slot machine games.

Cheating Must Constantly Evolve to Stay Ahead of the House

I don’t know of any career cheaters who haven’t been caught. I assume there may be someone out there who consistently cheats and gets away with it. Maybe they play a different casino every week.

The problem with any cheating method, as I said above, is that sooner or later, the casinos see what’s going on. They analyze their losses, and they share the new cheating methods they discover with other casinos.

Eventually, word gets around and a new cheating method becomes a bad idea. If you can think of a new way to cheat casinos every month, you have a good chance of staying ahead of the analysts. But they know far more about cheating than most people.

How do you know you have a new idea? I imagine more people are caught cheating for the first time than the casinos let on. They may let really small-time cheating slide if someone does it on a dare for a few dollars.

Advantage Play Doesn’t Need to Change Much

The two biggest shocks I’ve heard of for blackjack players were the change in payouts and the introduction of automatic shuffling.

You can count cards all you want, but if the casino keeps shuffling on you, then your counting doesn’t do you any good.

Fortunately, the change in blackjack payouts doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the game. If the table rules allow splits and other standard blackjack moves, you can still take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

A blackjack player’s best advantage is knowing the rules of the game so well that he makes no mistakes. It’s similar to how the house plays the game automatically.

For the skilled player, the challenge is in beating the long odds and walking away with more money. With a large enough stake and a thorough knowledge of the game rules, time is on your side too.

The House’s Hidden Edge Is Where the Real Profit Lies

The casino’s hidden edge lies in the mistakes gamblers make. Casinos create relaxing environments and provide a lot of alcohol in the hope that players make more mistakes.

Cheating and advantage play share one common goal to reduce the house’s edge in the game. But the house leverages that second, hidden edge against everyone in the casino.

The casino can absorb small losses on many games because players keep playing. Sooner or later, everyone loses. That is what the house wants more than anything.


Advantage play may not help as much as it once did, but it is a better long-term strategy than cheating.

Cheaters may only be escorted from a casino the first time they are caught. If they violate a ban on returning, they can be arrested for trespassing.

Card counters may only be forced to play by special rules or banned from playing blackjack. In the unlikely event that a card counter makes a scene, a casino could lodge a trespassing or disruptive behavior complaint against them.

The consequences for cheating and advantage play are not very different at first assuming the scale is small. But the more you cheat, the more likely you’ll face jail time. The more you use advantage play, the more likely you’ll face frequent shuffles.

I think the easiest way to get by is to enjoy the game and stay within your gambling budget.

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. ...

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