How To Gamble in Tough Economic Times

How To Gamble in Tough Economic Times

By Dan Pronovost


Dan Pronovost is the owner and president of DeepNet Technologies, makers of a wide range of advantage gambling training products and software (blackjack, poker, craps). Their web site is:, and all products are available for free trial download. Dan is also the creator of the easy-to-use card counting system Speed Count, taught in the Golden Touch Blackjack course which is now available in Frank Scoblete's book and DVD, "Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution!":

The stock market is falling, house prices are falling, the sky is falling! Lock up your wallet and don’t let it get near any casinos!

Casino revenues are down, way down, anywhere from 15% to 20% from last year, depending on the location. No gambling jurisdiction is immune, not even the infamous "Land of Money," Las Vegas (14.62% downturn from January 2008 to January 2009). It’s no surprise that in these tough economic times, people are gambling less.

And if you are not advantage gambling, then perhaps this is good thing to do especially if you don’t have the spare entertainment income to spend in casinos. My adage has always been, "if you’re going to gamble, why not gamble with a positive edge?"

But for many players, gambling is entertainment, and the complexity of advantage-play strategies like card counting in Blackjack are beyond their capabilities. So, let’s pull a Suze Orman here for a moment, and take a look at typical gambling through the lens of good personal finance.

If you’re going to lose…

Most gamblers play casino games in a manner that they will, in the long run, lose money to the casinos. In fact, this is how casinos make money, and even if you have no knowledge of mathematics, common sense tells you that it must be true, or the casinos would not be in business.

If you’re one of the above gamblers (and if you’re not sure, then that means you definitely are), then counting on Lady Luck to turn your fortunes around is a very bad idea. But that doesn’t mean you can’t slow down the Grande Dame of wallet stealing, if you’re smart. Here are some tips on how to do this.

First, play only games where the casino has the smallest edge over the player. Novices are often surprised to learn that the casino’s edge in different games can vary from a high approaching 20% to a low of only one half of a percent (excluding those few actual beatable games, like blackjack with card counting). The casino’s edge, like the dangerous part of a knife, is definitely something to watch out for! For example, if the casino has a 5% edge over you in some game this means you’ll lose $5 for every $100 you bet. Consider a traditional 25 cent slot machine, played with three coins (75 cents), where you’re averaging 600 spins per hour. You’ll be losing $22.50 an hour on average. That might not sound so bad, but suppose you win a couple lucky breaks, then graduate up to dollar slots with a 2.5% edge (traditionally, casinos have "looser" slots at higher denominations). Winning at slots is just luck: now you’re handing over $45 an hour to the casino, or about $900 for a solid weekend of play for 20 hours. Can you afford that?

So, pick the games where you are better off from the start.

Blackjack with Perfect Basic Strategy

Blackjack, played with perfect strategy, generally reduces the casino’s edge to 0.5% (but, never play a blackjack game where they pay 6 to 5 on a blackjack… always ask, and make sure it’s the traditional 3 to 2 payoff). The number of decks and most rules (like DAS, H17/S17) don’t impact the edge much for a basic strategy player. The few exceptions worth avoiding are: only allowed to double on limited hands like 10 or 11, and dealer doesn’t play with a hole card (ENHC). Don’t worry if the casino uses a continuous shuffle machine in play… this only matters to advantage-play card counters. But keep in mind you’ll end up playing more hands per hour with a continuous shuffle machine, and therefore your hourly loss rate increases (typically 20% more).

Memorizing perfect basic strategy takes some practice (there are about 300 patterns to memorize). But you can buy software to help you learn this with a few hours of practice, or you can buy strategy cards to take with you in the casino while you play (yes… casinos generally don’t mind if you refer to a printed strategy card while you play blackjack). Here are two good sources for both basic training software and strategy cards:

Blackjack training software:

Strategy cards:

Now remember… even with perfect basic strategy (which means no mistakes), you’re going to lose money because the casino still has the edge (albeit a small one). So avoid jumping your bets, regardless of your wins or losses (all betting schemes don’t work). Play one hand only, flat bet (the same bet every time), and avoid tipping until the end of your session (and then only if you’re up… I’d rather be cheap than poor).

Let’s say you’re flat betting in a 6-deck, DAS, S17 blackjack game, playing perfect basic strategy. The casino’s edge over you is only about 0.38%. You want to go have fun for the weekend (playing 20 hours, at 100 hands/hour), flat betting $10 per hand, playing until you exhaust your bankroll, or the weekend is done. If you bring $1,100 as your bankroll, you only have about a 5% chance of busting out under these conditions. 95% of the time you’ll walk away with something left, and your average loss will only be around $80. That’s a pretty cheap weekend’s entertainment, and you still have a 44% chance of walking away with a profit.

Something to be careful about is that this requires you to play perfect basic strategy. In reality, casinos actually realize an edge in blackjack of 5% or more. This just shows how poorly most players play, and the need to memorize perfect basic strategy or use an accurate strategy card when you play.

Another caution is if you start increasing your bets. Maybe you do it when you win, maybe when you lose: regardless of the system, it won’t work. What it will do is increase your average bet size, which increases your losses. Suppose in the above game you increased your bet size to $20, but played with the same bankroll. The casino’s edge over you doesn’t change, and you’ll only lose $160 on average over the weekend. But, your chance of busting out is now about 33%! If you’re on a tight budget, play the minimum bet size you can afford.

For the curious, all of the above math was computed using Blackjack Audit, a blackjack simulator and calculator from DeepNet Technologies.


Craps is a dynamic and fun game once you get comfortable with the somewhat daunting personality of the table game. But it can be a dangerous place for a gambler on a budget. While a few bets have a low house edge, most of the thrilling and exciting bets have a house edge of 5% or more.

Playing craps on a budget is simple: bet the pass (or don’t pass) line, back those bets up with modest odds if allowed. For a little more fun and excitement, occasionally make few place bets on the 6 or 8 bets. Do not make any other bets. A common mistake in craps, especially for gamblers on a budget, is to make "opposite" bets to minimize their risk. For example, making a pass and don’t pass bet on the same roll. Or betting on a pass line bet and than placing all the points other than the point number. No matter what scheme you cook up or get sold on, each bet is independent, and if they have a very bad edge, then that just makes you lose money faster.

The pass and don’t pass bets in craps (without odds) have a house edge around 1.4%. The place 6 and 8 bets are 1.5%. Every other bet in craps is worse to stinking bad!

Suppose you bet the pass line for $10, and back up each come out roll with one place 6 bet for $6 (to win $7). Not surprisingly, the casino’s edge is between 1.4% and 1.5%. Assume you’ll make about 30 bets an hour, and play for 20 hours over a weekend. You have basically the same risk of ruin as with the previous blackjack game: with an $1100 bankroll, you’ll only bust out 5% of the time. You end up losing about the same amount over the weekend on average ($68), even though the house edge is higher. This is because you’ll be making less bets in an hour in craps (about 1/3 as many), compared to blackjack.

For the curious, all the above math was computed using Smart Craps, a craps simulator, dice set optimizer, and calculator from DeepNet Technologies.


If you’re on a tight budget and want to play in a casino, don’t play slots. Slots are designed to suck your money, and leave you broke!

First, they generally have the highest edge of all casino games (10% or more is not uncommon).

But worse still, is that slot machines are designed to get you to make as many bets as possible in the least amount of time. Making a few hundred 50 cent bets in one hour at a 10% house edge is far worse than one hundred $10 bets in blackjack with a 0.5% edge!

Suppose you play a 25 cent slot machine, with three coins (75 cents), with a generous 97% payback schedule (i.e. the house edge is 3%). For example, if you make 600 spins an hour and play slots for 20 hours over a weekend, you’re going to lose $270 on average.

Note: There is a way to get the edge on a few select slot machines but the technique requires scouting and patience. The details are in the e-book Advantage Play Slot Machines by Jerry Stickman.

Video Poker

Many blackjack players have migrated to playing video poker especially when the economy is in the doldrums. Why? Cause this is when the casinos roll out their best promotions. The return on these promotions plus the return from playing select video poker games (such as 9/6 jacks-or-better, and certain high-paying Deuces Wild games) often exceeds 100%! Here’s a recent example. The South Point casino located at the south end of the Strip had a promotion where they were giving slot and video poker players $50 Chevron Gas cards equal to 0.6% of their coin-in. They offer video poker games with a return of 99.5% to 99.9% (for perfect play which is not hard to do), so the gas card promo gives the smart video poker player a return of over 100%. And that doesn’t even include the comps and bounce back coupons that the casino mails to players.


Even in these tough economic times, if you play smart, you can manage to enjoy a fun weekend of gambling at an average cost of $100 or so, on a session budget of about $1000 (the bankroll you bring with you to play at the casino). Stick to blackjack and basic strategy, good video poker games, and basic craps bets. You’ll have fun, earn a few casino comps in the process, and at least have a couple days of not worrying over your deflated 401-K (possibly a more risky form of gambling!)

In a future issue, we’ll take a look at advantage gambling in tough economic times. Specifically, we’ll look at tight-budget players employing those rare strategies in games that give them the edge over the casino, like card counting in blackjack. Even here, there are things you can do to keep a tight reign on your bankroll, and maximum your return with a minimum bankroll.

In the mean time, if you want to master card counting, from the super-simple Speed Count to the advanced High-Low system, check out our blackjack training software available for Windows, Palm OS and Pocket PC: