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During my years as a blackjack and roulette dealer I watched a lot of people lose a lot of money. I also saw a few players win money — I’ll get to that in a moment.
Oddly, most of my coworkers loved to gamble. You would think they’d know better, since all of their wages (and all those pretty buildings) are paid from gambling losses.
I didn’t (and still don’t) share their gambling habits. On the other hand, it can be fun to hang out in a casino, especially if they have free drinks.
So I understand why people might budget a little bit of money to lose at the slot machines or table games.
Of course it would be even more fun if you could do better than limit your losses, right? It would be great if you could make money at casinos.
Well, you can! And 44 states have casinos!
Here are ten ways to make money at casinos, along with some ways to save money by going to a casino, and — in case you need to satisfy your inner gambler — a way to risk a little money to win big.
1. Become a Card Counter
Regular blackjack gives the “house” (the casino) an edge of about 0.5% to 3.0% depending on the rules and how well you play. However, at times the game is in your favor as a player.
Specifically, you have an advantage when the remaining cards include more aces and face cards than normal.
To know when this situation has developed you can track the cards using a simple plus-or-minus count, and then bet more when the count is right.
You can learn card counting in a few hours, but to be proficient while playing at a busy blackjack table takes many more hours of practice.
Keep in mind that casinos can ask you to leave, even though card counting isn’t illegal. Where I worked management tolerated small-time card counters.
They probably figured that having a few winners encouraged the less-disciplined players to keep trying. The edge from good card counting is only 0.5% to 1.0%.
So, for example, if you play at a table with a $5 minimum and alternate your bets between $5 and $50 (when the count is right), and there are 50 hands dealt per hour, you might bet a total of $700 per hour, for an expected profit of just $7 per hour (with a 1% edge).
Clearly, to make some serious money you have to be good and bet more.
By the way, having the odds in your favor doesn’t eliminate the ups and downs. I can tell you from experience that even the house, with a larger statistical edge, loses on some days.
So with bets of, say, $25 to $100, you may do well in the long run, but you have to stomach nights when you lose thousands of dollars.
Still, if you do it right, you’ll be ahead in the long run, so you’re working, or investing, not gambling.
2. Try Credit Hustling
Credit hustling is simply looking for leftover credits on slot machines. Players often forget and leave without cashing out.
On slow nights when I had no players at my blackjack tables, I used to watch credit hustlers checking the machines, and they sometimes found credits.
A Daily Mail article on people who live in the tunnels under Las Vegas reports on one couple that survives by doing this.
They once found more than $900 in a single machine, although finding a dollar or two is the norm.
While not illegal (if the credit have been truly forgotten and abandoned), casinos don’t care for credit hustlers, so you’ll normally try to keep a low profile.
3. Join A Players Club
Almost every casino has some sort of “players club” you can join for free.
Apart from earning points as you play, which can be redeemed for freebies of all sorts, you also usually get some rewards up front for signing up.
For example, many casinos offer “match play” money. That might be $5 coupons or chips, for example, but you have to bet $5 of your own along with each one.
You can lose, but when you win $10 for betting $5 of your own money the odds are with you even at the worst games.
If you round up enough of these deals you can be pretty sure you’ll make a profit playing just long enough to use up your match play.
Casinos may offer a free meal or other goodies for joining the club too, which at least saves you some money.
4. Take Advantage Of Promotions
The casino where I worked handed out out $10 in free play to everyone who walked in the door (for a while anyhow).
Some couples came every day to get $20, playing perhaps 50 cents each in the slot machines before leaving with the rest of the money.
When my wife and I lived in Florida we went to a casino where they gave us each $5 in free slot machine play, and a free dinner, and free wine.
The catch was we had to play at least 100 times, but at nickel machines with a 12% house edge the expected loss is only 60 cents (100 x 5 cents x 12%), so, by playing slowly, we left ahead (and full) every single time we went.
Watch for any promotions at casinos near you, and see if there is some way to turn a profit from them.
5. Become A Good Poker Player
When you play against the casino, the house has the edge, but when you play against other players, you can have the edge if you’re good.
There are plenty of online tutorials on how to win at casino poker, but keep in mind that the house takes a cut of every pot, so you have to be significantly better than the other players to come out ahead.
As someone who has won money at poker (and chess) without much skill, I can tell you that the key is to play against weaker players.
Going against stronger competitors might help you prove something, but if you want to make money, look for tables with weak players.
6. Play In Slot Tournaments
Slot tournaments usually involve playing to see who does best in a set time, using machines set up with fake credits.
These events encourage fast play and are meant to get people into the casino, where they might gamble their own money before and after the competition.
Googling “free slot tournaments vegas” turns up (at the moment) a couple options, including one tournament that cost nothing and has prizes of up to $500 in slot play (you may have to play it through a machine, and then you keep whatever you’ve won).
Even tournaments with an entry fee can be money makers, because the prize pool often significantly exceeds the total of the entry fees.
In other words, if you’re good, and you play in a dozen tournaments, you’ll probably win more than what you spent on entry fees.
7. Play A Biased Roulette Wheel
There are 38 pockets on an American-style roulette wheel, and a “straight-up” bet pays 35-to-1 when you win (plus you keep the bet). You can see that this is a losing proposition.
But what if, instead of each number coming up randomly 1-in-38 spins, some numbers came up more often than they should?
When I ran a roulette table one of my customers made a profit of $80,000 over the course of 16 months or so. I met him at a coffee shop after I quit, to get the whole story. Here’s the short version:
He wrote down the winning numbers for 5,000 spins (it took weeks). The number 2 was winning an average of 1-in-28 spins.
He bet $5 repeatedly on that number. On average, he lost $135 for every 28 spins (27 losses), but won $175 (35-to-1 payout) when the number 2 came up, for a net profit of $40 per 27 spins.
There are various possible reasons for a bias, ranging from a sticky pocket (temporary) to manufacturing imperfections (a more durable bias).
The good news is you don’t need to know why a certain number comes up more often to take advantage. You just need to verify that it’s a true bias (which takes thousands of spins).
I’ll let others teach you more about biased roulette wheels, but I’ll warn you that it’s tedious work to find one, and even with an edge you’ll have losing nights (my customer sometimes lost over $700 in a night, even though he was far ahead in the long run).
8. Identify A Roulette Dealer Signature
Some dealers may habitually (unconsciously) repeat certain patterns when they spin the wheel and the roulette ball, which makes the winning pocket more predictable.
My experience? On a slow night with no players a pit boss and I each chose a number and alternated spinning the wheel and dropping the ball, betting a dollar for each win
I came out $14 ahead in couple hours, meaning I spun my number 14 times more than he spun his.
So I strongly believe dealer signature is possible, and even gambling expert Frank Scoblete agrees, but how often it happens in real play, and whether you can take advantage of it… well, who knows? But here’s what you might look for…
Note the number passing by at the moment the dealer releases the ball, and note the winning number. After doing this many times (with the same dealer) look for a pattern.
For example, a dealer might be so consistent (in the speed of the wheel and the ball) that the ball lands in a certain “section” of the wheel (in relation to the release point) more often than it should.
If it lands in a section that covers a third of the wheel, but lands there half of the time, you have a signature.
Now it gets trickier. If the target section is, say, the 13 numbers starting 4 pockets to the left of the release number, you have to identify the release number and quickly place bets on as many numbers as possible in the target section, before betting is closed.
Could it work? If not casinos wouldn’t be so quick to change balls, change dealers, and move roulette wheels when it looks like people are winning. Where I worked they did all three often.
9. Use Casinos For Business Networking
I heard a lot of conversations at my tables. Sometimes they resulted in players getting new clients or developing new business relationships.
And I learned about how to make money from scrap metal from one such conversation.
It’s common for players to talk to other players at a blackjack or roulette table, which makes a casino a great place to network and find new ways to make money.
And watching how players handle those stacks of chips in front of them can tell you a little about whether you want to do business with them or not.
10. Get A Casino Job
In 1994 I was making $14 per hour dealing blackjack and roulette. A BLS inflation calculator tells me that’s the equivalent of $24 per hour in today’s dollars.
And, in fact, a friend who still works at that casino says she makes over $20 per hour.
Dealing table games is just one of the many positions you might find at a casino near you. One of my coworkers started as a surveillance officer with no experience, and used the knowledge and experience gained to later build a successful business selling surveillance equipment.
Other positions include slot machine tech, bartender, waiter, cage worker (handling the money), and pit boss.
Also, working in a casino usually means you’re forbidden from gambling there, which might be a good thing for some readers.
Save Money By Taking Advantage Of Casino Freebies
Some casinos have free events at which they put out snacks or even full meals. Other casinos offer inexpensive meals at their restaurants. Watch for these deals as a way to save money on a night out.
Even the free drinks offered by many casinos can make for a cheap night out if you know what you’re doing.
For example, my wife and I play 5-cent slot machines, set the speed to “slow” (keno machines usually have three settings), and, by the time we have lost a couple dollars we’ve had a few drinks and some fun.
Turn $60 Into $600 By Betting The Right Way
Maybe you like to gamble, and you’re smart enough to limit your losses. But how you play still matters.
For example, with a $60 bankroll, if you bet $5 per hand at a blackjack table you can often play all night, but you’ll never be very far ahead at any point.
That’s great if you want to sit there and enjoy the free drinks.
But to win big you need to make bigger bets at some point. For example, if you’re $20 ahead, bet $10 per hand, and if you get further ahead, bet $20 or $40 per hand. To summarize:
Bet the table minimum when you lose, and bet more and more when you’re winning.
Most of the time you’ll lose your $60 faster this way (because you’ll often those big bets), but it gives you a chance to win big from time to time.
I saw many people turn $60 into $600 over the years, and not one player did it by always betting the table minimum.
You have to “press your luck” to win big. Just be sure to bring a limited amount of money, so your losses are not a big deal.
You may like to gamble, and if you limit your losses, it’s affordable entertainment. Even better, if you time your casino visits to coincide with promotional events you might get some free food and drinks.
And finally, if you’re willing to do the necessary work, you can even make money in a casino, and without really gambling.
If you know other ways to make money in a casino, share your ideas below … and keep on frugaling!