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Gambling to Pay the Bills

Two Mathematicians Write the Book on How to Beat the Casinos and Kiss Your Boss Goodbye
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

"Professional gambler." It's a contradiction in terms on the magnitude of "civil war." There's no such thing, right?

In the long run, according to conventional wisdom, frequent gamblers are losers. The more time these degenerates spend in a casino, the more money they eventually give away. To be a "professional gambler," then, is to be a full-time loser.

The seductive gambling advertisements in the classified section of most major metropolitan newspapers--"I'll show you how to make big money at craps!!!"--are frauds. Your Uncle Murray, who threatens to quit his dry cleaning business (since he claims to win at roulette every time he visits Atlantic City), is a congenital liar. And that friend of a friend of your wife's who has figured out "a system" for picking "hot" slot machines is soon to be admitted to Bellevue. So much for this farfetched career of "professional gambler."

There's no such thing, right?

Meet David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth--authors and, believe it or not, professional gamblers.

Most days you will find them at The Mirage poker room (see Cigar Aficionado, Spring 1996), in their hometown of Las Vegas, playing anything from $40-$80 Stud to $75-$150 Omaha. Some days you might find them in the legal card rooms around Los Angeles, where there's a juicy game of Lowball. On others they might be prospecting the poker games at a new casino in Mississippi or Connecticut. When a profitable promo-tion (blackjack paying 2-1, for example) crops up, they'll be there to take advantage of the casino's generosity. If a sports or horse-racing book posts odds that are dramatically "wrong," they're ready to pounce. And if the progressive meter on a video poker machine has become mathematically attractive, they might even park themselves in front of a glowing screen for a few days. Wherever Sklansky and Malmuth gamble, you can be sure of this: they will be playing with a positive expectation. And, in the long run, they will be winning.

Year in and year out, they will be winning. Their "salary" is in the six figures, and they enjoy many of the perquisites of the good life. Plus, they have no boss to answer to, no business hours they must keep. They don't go to work if they don't feel like it. And they don't have to wear a tie. Their "office" is the casino.

How many Americans long for such a life? How many people dream of making their own rules, getting by on their wits, being free? Here's the truth: like any "glamorous" profession (actor, athlete, magazine publisher), being a professional gambler can be frustrating, heartbreaking and enormously difficult.

But it can be done.

Sklansky and Malmuth--and countless others--are living proof. For the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of honest working people who wish that they, too, could replace their buttoned-down collar with a comfortable crew neck, stay out late on a Wednesday night, and owe a reasonable explanation to nobody, being a professional gambler remains nothing more than a frequently recurring fantasy.

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