How Do Professional Casino Gamblers Make Money?

Image of Man in Suit With Split Casino Background Image

So, what exactly is a professional gambler?

A professional gambler is a person who lives from gambling and spends most of his time at the casinos. Professional gamblers are actually earning their paychecks by making the right bets when they play at the live casino tables.

In this article, I will go over some general misconceptions about casino gaming as well as go over a few real-world examples, gathered from several friends of mine who are professional Advantage Players. We won’t give out real names or when these “adventures” occurred, but rest assured this is about as truthful as an accounting of what real-world play is like.

The gambler lifestyle has been portrayed by Hollywood, and more so, by commercials for casinos, to be a glamorous one. Men are always dressed sharply and women are in their best gowns and, both seem to be having a wonderful time. They are winning money, eating at 5-star restaurants and drinking the best champagne.

This is all done to entice the average person to come to the casinos and gamble, but more importantly to lose the maximum amount of money they can. The reality of the casino gaming world is very different.

What Makes a Pro

The term “professional gambler” is sometimes used interchangeably for both people who earn part-time and full-time income through gambling.

But I keep a much tighter definition of a professional gambler.

Real pros not only make a profit through gambling, but enough to pay all of their living expenses. This includes housing, utilities, car payment, insurance, food, clothing and anything else deemed necessary.

A semi-pro is somebody who makes enough to supplement their income but doesn’t earn a full-time living through gambling.

Sometimes when players don’t have good results they question their skills. The reality is Advantage Gaming is a gloomy business when you’re on a losing streak.

But, when you are on the positive side of the spectrum it’s like taking candy from a jar labeled “free candy”. The hard truth is that the mentality of a professional casino player is equal to a manic depressive.

The gambling world doesn’t offer an abundance of opportunities to make a living, but there are a few different games where you can earn some nice profits. If you play smart and stick to the plan.

Game On

Let’s take a brief look at the most common games that you can make long term profits with and I’ll then go into each with more detail:

  • Blackjack
  • Daily fantasy sports (DFS)
  • Poker
  • Sports betting

Blackjack sees you try to win money directly from the house.

Casinos do everything in their power to hinder successful card counters. This includes using continuously shuffling machines, multi-deck shoes, and vigilant security measures.

Anybody who’s caught counting cards is often kicked out of the casino and banned. This is why it’s so important for card counters to blend in with normal players.

Closeup of Hands Dealing Cards

DFS and poker both see you compete against your fellow man. The house merely takes a small cut of tournament fees or cash game pots for poker.

Sportsbooks create lines in an effort to get equal betting action on both sides. The sportsbooks make their money by taking 10% juice from the losing group.

Every form of advantage betting has its pros and cons, but the key is that each of these activities offers the chance to make a healthy income.

Counting on It

People have been making a living through card counting since the early 1960s, and despite all the obstacles that casinos have put in players’ way, it remains possible to earn a living with card counting today.

You need a sizable bankroll in order to properly spread your bets and survive variance. The recommended minimum you should aim for is $20,000, but it’s better to have closer to $40,000.

How much you make depends upon several factors, including the following:

  • Skill level – Successful counters have between a 0.5% and 1.5% edge on casinos.
  • Hands per hour – 50 to 200 depending upon dealer speed & table size.
  • Bet spreading – Difference between your lowest and highest bet.
  • Deck penetration – The further into the shoe you get, the more confidence you can bet with.
  • Counting system – Some systems are more accurate than others.
  • Game rules – You want the best rules possible in order to lower the standard house edge.
  • Tips – $5 per hour for the dealer is standard.

The final step is to figure out how many hours you’ll play and convert this into an annual salary.

The key is keeping an accurate count amidst casino distractions and blending in with normal players.

Fantasy

DFS is the newest game that offers skilled gamblers an opportunity to make money.

Daily fantasy sees you pay an entry fee to enter contests and compete against other players. The goal is to create lineups that score the most points and rank the highest in tournaments.

Daily fantasy sports experienced a big boom in 2015, thanks to clever marketing campaigns that make it seem like any sports fan can win.

The truth, though, is that only a small percentage of those who play actually win. A study from 2015 showed that 1.3% of daily fantasy baseball players collect 91% of the winnings.

Saahil Sud, profiled in a WBUR piece, said he made over $3 million in profits in a single year. Former poker-pro Aaron Jones switched over to DFS and won a DraftKings contest worth $5 million in early 2016.

Of course, the average professional DFS player doesn’t earn quite this much. To determine a standard DFS salary, let’s consider the following factors:

  • Entries per day— Most DFS pros enter several hundred contests every day.
  • Stakes – Typical entry fees range anywhere from $1 up to $1,000.
  • Fees— DFS sites tack on a 10% fee to each buy-in, which is where their profits come from.
  • Skill level— Some pros have a bigger edge than others.

Of course, DFS is filled with variables, which is why it’s key to have a large enough bankroll to survive the ups and downs.

Poker

Poker has long been one of the most viable options for becoming a professional gambler. The reason why is because you’re competing against other opponents instead of the house.

It’s tougher to make a living in poker these days because the strategy is more prevalent. Real money online poker gives players a chance to rapidly accelerate their learning curve by seeing more hands per hour.

Closeup of Man Sifting Through Deck of Cards

You can still become a profitable player with enough hard work and experience though. In fact, some pros still make six or seven-figure annual incomes with the game.

However, the vast majority of pros these days earn between $40,000 and $100,000 per year.

Poker is unique in that there are essentially two types of professionals: tournament and cash game pros.

Let’s look at the different considerations for cash vs. tournament play:

Cash Games

  • Profit measured in big blinds (BB) made per hour.
  • House takes 5% rake from cash game pots for running games.
  • More control over annual salary than tournaments.

Tournaments

  • Profit measured by rate of return (ROI) on buy-ins.
  • House adds 10% fee to buy ins (e.g. $10 + $1 fee).
  • Only the top 10-15% of the field makes money.
  • Tournaments have more variance than cash games.

A cash player must figure out what stakes they must play to make a comfortable living based on BB earned per hour.

A tournament pro must decide what buy-in level they must choose to make a high enough ROI to live comfortably.

One more consideration here is whether you’ll dedicate the bulk of your time towards live or online poker.

Online cash games and tourneys offer more volume because you can play multiple tables. Plus hands and tournaments go much faster, giving you an opportunity to boost your hourly wages.

Nevertheless, many players find that their win rate is higher in live games. The most lucrative tournaments are found in land-based casinos, too, such as the World Series of Poker events.

Sports Betting

The good thing about sports betting is that you don’t need to have a massive win rate just to book profits.

Sportsbooks only take 10% juice from the losing side. This differs from DFS and poker tournaments where you must pay an extra 10% fee regardless of whether you’re a winner or loser.

The juice can be lowered or adjusted based on where the sportsbook is trying to push action, but 10% is generally the amount you’ll see taken from the losing side.

Professional sports bettors typically win anywhere from 53% to 55% of the time.

Pro sports bettors must be very keen at handling their bankroll since they’re dealing with such small profit margins. They also need to make larger wagers than “Gary the CPA from Ohio” to increase potential profits.

Some sports bettors have made millions of dollars with this model. But the average bettors are looking at more modest salaries ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 annually.

Conclusion

Being a pro gambler has some obvious benefits, including flexible hours, being your own boss, and the ability to increase your income.

Some gamblers, such as Saahil Sud and Bob Voulgaris, have even gotten rich with their skills. Of course, you may be perfectly happy making mid-5-figures, as long as you get to enjoy the aforementioned benefits, but there are also some downsides to be aware of. These include risk, highs and lows, no sick days, and the potential to lose everything.

The potential rewards can be great in the case of card counting, DFS, poker, and sports betting, but you also have to be disciplined and good at handling risk.