I recently read part of a book that discussed how the author and one his friends were both advantage gamblers. They regularly taught classes and sold books to aspiring advantage gamblers or to recreational gamblers who wanted to at least improve their chances of winning.
But they also occasionally consulted with the casinos about various aspects of their operation. This included how to create promotions that would attract players without creating an expected loss for the casino.
Is it ethical for these guys to offer consulting and information to both sides in this way?
Some people think not, but I think it is ethical. In this post, I explain why.
Casinos and Gamblers Are Naturally Codependent
Many gamblers have an “us versus them” attitude toward casinos, and that’s an understandable attitude. After all, if the casino wins your money, you lose. If you win the casino’s money, the casino loses.
The truth, though, is far more complicated than that. For one thing, you’re not the only gambler in the casino. If you were the only gambler in the casino, the casino wouldn’t be willing to give you any kind of game with what you’d consider reasonable odds of winning.
Gamblers want to learn how to win more often, and that’s created a big industry of just offering them information about how to do that. In my own small way, I’m participating in that side of the business myself.
It’s tempting to characterize casino gamblers as heroes and casinos as villains, but the reality is more complicated than that.
Casinos, too, want to know how to attract more customers. They do this with promotional offers, but they know that they can’t continue to offer promotions that lose money on a regular basis.
They might hire consultants to help with this. They might even hire savvy employees who understand how advantage gamblers win money.
How Gambling Experts Might Help Players Win at the Casino
Here are a few examples of how gambling experts might help players win more often at the casino:
They might write blog posts with tips for how to find the games with the lowest house edge. I’ve written many such blog posts myself. I’m sure if you’ve read many of my columns here, you know that blackjack, craps, and video poker offer you better odds than roulette or slot machines, for example.
They might write books about strategies for reducing the casino’s edge or even eliminating it entirely. You can find books about how to get an edge at blackjack by counting cards, for example. The authors of these books are helping players eliminate the casino’s edge and get an edge for themselves instead.
They might produce videos explaining various gambling concepts. You can find plenty of free videos on YouTube explaining how to play various casino games. You can even find videos explaining how to spot poker tells. Such videos aren’t always offered free on YouTube, though. You used to be able to buy them on DVD, but you could also pay for online courses.
They might teach in-person classes or seminars. Some open-minded casinos might even host such classes, although other casinos might not be interested in that sort of thing.
They might even offer private consulting or coaching to gamblers. It’s more common to find a poker coach than it is to find someone who’s willing to teach you how to win at blackjack or video poker one-on-one, but it’s not entirely unheard of.
How Gambling Experts Might Help Casinos Attract More Gamblers
Here are some examples of how gambling experts might work for a casino to help them make more money.
They might help develop gambling promotions that attract more gamblers to the casino. Since a gambling expert probably has a background of their own as a casino gambler, they’re going to know what kinds of promotions will draw players to the casino.
More gamblers on the floor means more money for the casino, assuming that the casino isn’t giving away too much of their edge. A gambling consultant can help them avoid that.
They might help casinos identify advantage players so that the casinos can back them off. This is one element of consulting for a casino that borders on unethical, though.
If you’re teaching gamblers how to get an edge against the casino, those gamblers assume a certain amount of discretion on the part of their teacher. Advising the casino that you recognize player A as a card counter because you taught them how to count cards is definitely unethical.
If it becomes known that you’re consulting for casinos as well as players, you can expect some accusations to fly your way. That’s just something you’ll have to deal with.
How the Casino Really Makes Money
You might think that the casino makes its money from your losses. The truth is more complicated than that because it’s not just you versus the casino.
Casinos deal with hundreds or thousands of gamblers per day. They expect to lose money to some of those gamblers by sheer chance. They even know that some gamblers are better than other gamblers and have a chance of walking away as winners.
In fact, they expect a certain small percentage of gamblers to have a small edge and be able to win against them.
But here’s where they really make their money: they use the money they win from the unskilled players to pay off the skilled players.
They make it easy for unskilled players to gamble. Look at how easy it is to play a slot machine game compared to how hard it is to play blackjack.
The house edge for slot machines is between 6% and 25%, and you don’t know where it falls on that scale. The house edge for blackjack, even if you play badly, is between 1% and 4%.
It’s a lot easier to walk away from the blackjack table as a winner even if you’re not a skilled player. In fact, casinos use the money they win from unsophisticated blackjack players to help pay off the good players.
If you survey casino gamblers as they leave the casino, only 20% of them are leaving with winnings. This means that 80% of the gamblers lost money while they were at the casino.
It’s easy to see how casinos can make a profit even when some gamblers are winning money.
This interdependent relationship is what makes consulting for both sides ethical.
Gambling Experts Who Have Consulted for Casinos and Offer Value
I don’t have a comprehensive lists of gambling experts who have done consulting with casinos. In fact, some gambling experts have probably done such consulting without anyone knowing. These are just off the top of my head.
Michael Shackleford runs one of the most popular gambling math and strategy websites on the internet. He’s written at least one book about casino gambling—Gambling 102. But he’s also consulted with casinos and even designed slot machine games for online casinos. If you’ve ever played It’s Good to Be Bad, a popular slot machine from RealTime Gaming, you’ve enjoyed the benefits of Shackleford’s work.
I don’t know of any recent consulting he’s done for casinos, but in reading his books, it’s clear that he did a significant amount of consulting for Bob Stupak and Vegas World. He helped analyze the math behind some of the new games that casino offered as well as making sure the various promotions still favored the casino.
Our Conclusions About Consulting for Casinos
Yes, it’s ethical to consult for both casinos and casino gamblers, but it also depends on how you do it. The most important thing is that you don’t lie to people or violate their confidence. If you do that, you can comfortably consult for both casinos and gamblers without guilt about being unethical.