How to Become a Professional Gambler – The Best Games and Tips

Gamble Dice

This is the 1st post in a 2-parter about how to become a professional gambler. I introduce the idea of gambling for a living here, and I provide some observations about blackjack, horse betting, and sports betting. Part 2 will cover poker, progressive slots, and video poker games—as well as casino promotions and tournaments.

Most people view gambling as entertainment. That’s how it should be, because most people don’t have the temperament or the skills to become a professional gambler.

But it’s possible to become a professional gambler, and that’s what this post is about.

And when I say a “professional gambler,” I mean someone who makes her living from her gambling activities. It’s not enough to be a profitable amateur. To qualify for this status, you must make an income that pays your bills.

This post is intended to take a hard-nosed, realistic look at the ways you can gamble for a living. I don’t advocate cheating, either. I’m writing about using the rules of the games themselves to get an edge every time you place a bet.

How much can you earn as a professional gambler?

I’m not sure there’s an upper limit, but I think it’s realistic to want to earn at least $100,000 a year as a pro gambler.

The How and Why of Professional Gambling

If you’ve done much reading about gambling and casinos on the internet, you probably already realize that the house “always has a mathematical edge.” If you play long enough, you’re bound to lose, right?

This is true for a lot of gambling activities, but it’s not true for all gambling activities all the time. You CAN beat some games if you know how. And sometimes it takes little more than a tiny bit of skill combined with a heaping helping of ambition to do so.

The nature of gambling in the United States has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. That’s part of what’s made professional gambling a real possibility. For one thing, casinos and poker rooms are now commonplace. That wasn’t true 20 years ago—you had to travel to gamble legally.

Now, most Americans live driving distance from a casino and/or poker room. I live in Texas, and it wasn’t long ago that you had to drive to Louisiana to play in a casino. Now, the biggest casino in the world (the Winstar) is less than an hour drive from Dallas.

Possibly the most profitable opportunity at many of these casinos are the poker games that are now available. Progressive slot machines and video poker games with generous pay tables are also now available in many places. And, of course, you can still find opportunities to count cards in blackjack.

Besides those games, most gambling games now have tournament opportunities available. If a tournament has the right set-up, even negative expectation games can become positive expectation opportunities.

Horse racing has also become more commonplace than ever. Not only are most people driving distance from a horse, but most tracks now offer you the option of betting on multiple races at multiple locations.

Sports betting is still only legal in Nevada, but that’s changing fast. I’d guess that within 2 to 5 years, almost everyone in the United States will also be driving distance from a legal sports book.

Finally, you can gamble online like never before. Sure, it’s harder to find a good place to play online poker for real money, but it’s not impossible. Sports betting is widely available on the internet, too.

Where You CAN Get an Edge Gambling and Where You CAN’T

You cannot make a living at certain gambling games. It’s impossible, although you might find some debate on some of these.


Baccarat has some of the best odds in any casino, but the odds still favor the house. There’s no way to overcome that math. You can’t even get an edge at baccarat by counting cards.


Craps is a negative expectation game. Some people now sell products that purport to help you learn to influence the outcome of the dice. Unlike many gambling writers on the internet, I’m skeptical of this possibility. When casinos start banning dice shooters for being too skilled, I’ll start to change my opinion.


Keno is almost as bad as the lottery. In fact, that’s basically what keno is—a casino-run lottery with drawings every 10 minutes. The house edge isn’t only insurmountable in keno—it’s also huge.

Let It Ride

Let It Ride is an example of some of the many new card games being rolled out in casinos now. (I say “new,” but it’s one of the oldest examples.) Most of these games are casino-banked versions of poker, and none of them are games where you can get an edge. This includes games like “Casino Holdem,” “Pai Gow Poker,” “Three Card Poker,” and “Ultimate Poker.”


Roulette has a huge negative expectation for the player, and I don’t think it’s practical to find a biased roulette wheel in a modern American casino. I enjoy reading stories about people who beat the wheel as much as anyone. I just can’t imagine that you’d be able to get an edge at a modern roulette table in a modern casino.

On the other hand, you can find profitable opportunities with other gambling activities:


Blackjack is still beatable, but not at all casinos and not under all conditions. If you’re playing in a casino with a continuous shuffling machine, it’s impossible to get an edge at blackjack. Some casinos have tighter safeguards in place to protect themselves from advantage players than others.

Horse Racing

Horse racing is an opportunity to get an edge, but you must become knowledgeable about the sport before you can expect to make a profit from it. It’s not as hard as you might think. In fact, it might be easier to handicap horses than it is to count cards in blackjack.


Poker is my favorite way to get an edge at gambling. You’re not playing against the casino. You’re playing against the other players. In Oklahoma, at least, most of the other players are pretty bad at the game. If you play well, then every mistake they make is an opportunity to profit.

Progressive Slot Machines

Progressive slot machines offer a tricky way to get an edge, and they require a huge bankroll and lots of patience. But yes, there’s an opportunity there.

Sports Betting

Sports betting might be the activity where you can make the most money gambling. Getting an edge is harder than some people think, because of the need to overcome the vig. I’ll write more about that soon.

Video Poker

Video poker is probably hard to make a living at, but if your standard of living is low enough, you could probably pull it off. I think the days of winning a million dollars in a year are behind us now, but Bob Dancer’s memoir of winning a million dollars playing poker is worth reading for any aspiring professional gambler.

You can also use casino promotions and casino game tournaments to pad your bankroll. For some activities, like video poker, the casino’s promotions are an integral part of your advantage gambling strategy.

When you’re trying to decide which activity to pursue for a living, I suggest looking at 2 factors:

  1. How much you enjoy that game or activity
  2. How profitable that game or activity is

I’m not one of those “follow your bliss” guys, but they have a point. Life’s too short to make a living being miserable. If you hate counting cards in blackjack, you might as well be working a job somewhere.

And part of the point of gambling professionally is getting away from the 9 to 5.

How to Play Blackjack Professionally

We’ve known that blackjack is a game you can get an edge at since the early 1960s when Edward O. Thorp used a computer to put together a mathematically-accurate basic strategy and a card counting method that gives the player an edge over the house.

If you don’t believe that blackjack is a beatable game, read some of the many pages on the internet about the countermeasures casinos have taken to try to thwart card counters. Logic will tell you that casinos don’t take countermeasures against gambling strategies that don’t work.

I’ll assume you already understand the basics of the game—you get 2 cards, the dealer hits on a 16 and stands on a 17, and your goal is to get a higher total than the dealer without going over 21. You probably also know that a blackjack (or “natural”) is a 2-card hand totaling 21 that automatically wins—unless the dealer also has a blackjack.

The casino gets its edge in this game by making you play your hand 1st. If you bust, you immediately lose your bet, even if the dealer busts when it’s his turn.

There are a couple of important subtleties to understand about blackjack:

The first is that the basic strategy for the game is not necessarily intuitive. For example, you might try just mimicking the dealer’s strategy. That’s simple, but it increases the house’s edge to 5% or higher.

On the other hand, if you learn the correct basic strategy, you can reduce the house edge to less than 1%. In some games, it’s less than 0.5%. The rules are what determine this—how many decks are in use, can you surrender, what circumstances can you split during, etc.

But you can’t make a living on a game where the house still has an edge, no matter how small it is. You must find a way to get an edge over the casino.

In blackjack, counting cards is the way to do this. You must have a good-sized bankroll to pull this off, because even when you’re counting cards, your edge at blackjack is small. You’ll see big swings in terms of winning and losing, and a big bankroll will help you avoid going broke before your edge kicks in.

Why does counting cards work, though?

And how do you do it?

Counting cards works because it enables you to bet more when you have an edge over the casino. The probabilities of the game change as the composition of the deck changes. And the composition of the deck changes as the cards are dealt.

Since a blackjack pays off at 3 to 2, if the ratio of 10s and aces in the deck is higher than usual, you gain an edge. You have a greater than usual probability of getting dealt a blackjack. You raise your bets in these situations.

On the other hand, if a lot of aces and 10s have already been dealt, the deck has a proportionally higher number of low cards in it. This means you’re less likely to get a blackjack, and you’re also more likely to get a stiff hand and go bust. You lower the size of your bets in this situation.

That’s the why of card counting in a nutshell. The how is even easier.

You simply assign a point value to each card in the deck depending on whether it’s a low card or a high card. Every time a low card leaves the deck, your edge improves. Every time a high card leaves the deck, the house’s edge improves.

The most basic card counting system is the Hi-Lo System, in which the low cards are 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Each of these count as +1.

The high cards in this system are 10s and aces. Each of these count as -1.

When the count is positive, you raise the size of your bets. The higher the count, the more you should bet.

When the count is negative, you lower the bet sizes.

That’s card counting in a nutshell. I have other pages on the site devoted to explaining the subject in more detail if you’re interested in really getting into it.

Card counting is simpler than many people think, but it’s also harder than it sounds when I describe it, too. You need to be able to count cards without being detected, so your skills at watching the cards and updating the count need to be mastered. You can’t look like you’re thinking about the game while you’re playing.

There are other ways to beat blackjack, too. Dealer tells is one opportunity. This relies on the dealers’ subtle body language clues to help you decide what to do next. Tracking aces is another opportunity. This is a way of predicting when the aces will appear. Since you need an ace and a 10 to get that 3 to 2 payout, it’s helpful to know when that’s about to happen so you can raise your bet accordingly.

Shuffle tracking is another advantage play technique. You can follow clumps of cards through the deck if the cards aren’t being sufficiently randomize, and this can help you decide when to raise and lower your bets, too. Looking for warped cards and trying to spot the dealer’s hole card are also legitimate advantage play techniques in blackjack.

How to Make Money Betting on Horse Racing

It’s not easy to make money betting on the ponies. That’s because the “take out” is so high—around 20%, in fact. This makes it an even tougher game to beat than regular ol’ sports betting.

But it can be done.

Like betting on sports, horse racing offers a huge advantage in that you don’t have to bet on anything unless you think it’s a positive expectation opportunity. If you’re playing a casino game, you might as well be forced to bet on every spin of the reels or every roll of the dice. After all, the odds don’t change from one spin or from one throw.

With horse betting, though, you’re dealing with horses and their riders. These aren’t machines. That means you can analyze situations and make predictions that are impossible with even the simplest of machines that determine results in other gambling activities.

That 20% take out is the amount you would lose if you just bet on any series of random bets. If you’re accounting for factors other bettors aren’t, it changes things dramatically. Most of the public over-bets the long shots, for example, and they lose accordingly. If you skip the longshots and only bet on the favorites, you cut the negative expectation in half almost instantly.

That’s still not enough to get an edge and make money, but it’s a step in that direction, just like basic strategy in blackjack.

You don’t even have to be especially skilled at handicapping to start getting an edge. It helps, and you should, but you can do well at horse betting even without those skills.

When you visit the track, your goal is to find a handful of good opportunities. You won’t find a good bet on every race, but you should be able to find an average of 2 good bets per day. Some days, of course, you won’t find any opportunities. That will average out over time.

I don’t have space to list all the ways to get an edge at horse betting, but here’s a big one: overlays.

Your goal when looking for overlays is to find horses that have reasonably high odds and a reasonably good probability of winning. If you can find a horse that pays off at 8 to 1 but has a 4 to 1 chance of winning, you have an overlay. There are multiple reasons why such a horse might be under-rated.

You can read entire books on betting horses professionally. Many of them are good, which is unusual, because in many gambling areas, the literature is awful.

How to Bet on Sports Professionally

Most of my readers already know that the most popular game in almost any casino is the slot machine. It accounts for probably 80% of most casinos’ revenue.

But the most popular form of gambling overall is almost certainly sports betting.

And many sports bettors don’t realize that sports betting also has a house edge—usually 4.54%, but sometimes more and sometimes less. This is because the sports books charge what’s called a “vig.” To win a bet with a 50/50 chance of success, the book requires you to risk $110 for every $100 you stand to win. The difference is the house edge.

This edge can be overcome. You just need to have a higher than 50% win ratio. Since there are so many factors involved in determining the odds for a sporting event, opportunities arise. (The odds never change in games like baccarat, though.)

Sports betting also offers an advantage over other forms of advantage gambling like blackjack and horse racing. You can raise the sizes of your sports bets when your bankroll increases. When you do this in blackjack, you’re more likely to attract the attention of the casino. When you do this in horse racing, it affects the odds and payouts.

But with sports books, especially the big ones in Vegas, you have to start betting 5 figures on a game before you start to affect the odds and lines.

The tricks to winning at sports betting consistently come down to some basic attitudes and approaches to the activity. You need to keep records, for one thing. You need to treat your sports betting as a business, not a hobby. You need to study the game and watch as many sporting events as you can.

The good news about sports betting is that it’s probably potentially the most profitable betting activity on this list.

The important thing to understand is that you only want to take bets with the sports book when you think you have an edge. Sometimes the line will be off, because of a mistake on the part of the oddsmaker or because of the public pushing the action in one direction or another.

When that line is off, you place a big bet with an edge over the house. And if you want to succeed at making a living betting on sports, you must only bet when you have an edge. You can’t and shouldn’t place bets just to be in action. You should only places when you spot profitable opportunities.

I’ve written other posts on this site that go into more detail about the nuts and bolts of getting an edge when betting sports.


This is just the 1st post in a 2-parter about how to become a professional gambler. The other posts will cover some of the other ways you can get an edge when betting. I covered blackjack, horse betting, and sports betting in this post.

The next post will cover poker, progressive slots, and video poker.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.