The idea of being a professional gambler is a dream for many recreational players. The top players in betting earn millions as they fly around the world competing in tournaments or hitting it big at the sportsbooks. But the vast majority of those lucky enough to make a living as a pro gambler don’t live that way.
The true life of a pro gambler often involves a relentless grind for profit. It takes incredible knowledge, discipline, planning and never-say-die fortitude. It requires countless hours of experience and hard-earned lessons from gambling losses. Only the elite of the elite have what it takes to forge a professional gambling career. That said, those who make it happen will say it is worth it.
What is a Professional Gambler?
A professional gambler is a person whose primary source of income is gambling profit. There’s no official license or test required to become a professional gambler. You just need to know what you are doing and accept the risk and go for it.
There are many avenues to take to achieve pro status, from sports betting, to casino games such as blackjack, to other table games such a poker. There are even slot machine pros.
Professional gamblers have their own gaming strategies and wagering and money management systems. And they stick to them. For professional gamblers, it’s a numbers game. The margin for error is small and the house edge is such that gut instinct and the urge to push all the chips in at the poker table isn’t a sustainable way to play.
But becoming a pro isn’t just about starting with a huge bankroll. It isn’t akin to a Vegas weekend trip where you may bounce from machine to table to sportsbook. It takes discipline and the mentality that it is, indeed, a job. Taking it seriously and abiding by guidelines that maximize potential are key traits of any pro bettor.
Why Aspire to be a Professional Gambler?
Making the decision to become a professional gambler can be challenging but enticing. Most gamblers who have hit the poker or blackjack tables or placed a sports bet have at least wondered if they could make a living at it. It’s easy to see why. In many ways, pro gamblers are living the dream, taking a favorite hobby and turning it into a solid career.
A successful gambler can make a lot of money doing it. Pro gamblers can rake in seven figures annually, living in a posh style comparable to movie stars and pro athletes. Steak dinners, VIP tables, courtside seats – it’s all there for the taking if you make it.
It’s also a cash business, assuming you work out of casinos and aren’t doing it through online gambling. The appeal of cash is certainly there. Anyone who bartends or waits on tables knows how good it feels to leave a Saturday night rush with their pockets stuffed with cash. Professional gamblers take it to the next level. You don’t have to wait for a paycheck as profits are in your wallet or bank account almost instantly. You’re handing out cash and taking care of those who take care of you. That doesn’t go unnoticed, and it’s why a lot of pro gamblers get special treatment wherever they go.
That’s not the case for every pro gambler. Many pull modest salaries and pay their bills like any other middle-class suburb dweller. But they also enjoy many of the benefits that come with the territory. And now it can be done online. Legal and licensed online casinos are available in many states, offering live online poker and blackjack tables. Legal sports betting in the U.S. has also exploded in popularity since the Supreme Court allowed states to partake in 2018.
You can’t beat the freedom of being a professional gambler. You set your own hours, there’s no expectation to sit in dull meetings all day and count down the minutes until the clock hits 5 p.m. You don’t even have to start work until 5 p.m. if so inclined, or you could be done by lunch. If you hit real tables, most of the top brick-and-mortar casinos have far better views and ambience than the typical gray walls of the office. If not, you can toss on the sweats, stay home and do just as well.
You can’t discount the cool factor either. It can be a grind. There are good days and bad days. But when someone at a party asks what you do and you respond “gambler,” you became the cool kid in the room. You’re achieved the dream of many by making a living at one of America’s oldest pastimes.
Downsides to Being a Professional Gambler
For every successful professional gambler, there are countless others who tried, but learned the hard way how difficult it is.
Even if you’re good at what you do, the financial uncertainty can be too stressful. There is no paycheck every two weeks being directly deposited into a bank account. There’s no guarantee enough money will come in at all to pay your rent. Even the sharpest of players have cold streaks every now and then. They can last weeks or even months. Casinos make billions for a reason – the house always wins.
It’s certainly never easy, and often not comfortable. The stress can put you on an island, as few understand the profession or lifestyle and fewer still will be very sympathetic if you bust out. It’s quite different than for those who get laid off from typical day jobs.
For many pro gamblers, the thrill of the big win loses its luster as the grind takes precedence. Some casinos will ban great players from winning big – that’s especially true in sports betting.
Where Do Professional Gamblers Typically Live?
While online casinos are growing in popularity across the nation, the majority of professional gamblers still call Las Vegas home. In Vegas, there is immediate access to dozens of casinos, sportsbooks and poker rooms, all open 24 hours a day.
But Sin City isn’t the only viable option anymore. There are an increasing number of professional sports bettors, poker stars and blackjack sharps who can get it done from the comfort of their own homes.
5 Steps to Become a Professional Gambler
There are myriad paths to go from recreational gambler to professional gambler, but regardless of the journey or even the game played, there are five directives that apply for any and all angles:
Build a Bankroll
You can’t sit at a poker table, lay down $100 and expect it to be the start of a new million-dollar professional poker player career. In fact, it takes significant startup capital to last in the game. You can rake in profits if you hit, but nothing is guaranteed, and you must be prepared with enough money to weather the cold fronts that are coming.
Create a Money Management Strategy
No professional bettor walks up to a table, throws down a wad of cash and throws caution to the wind. Successful bettors not only need to be good at what they do, they require a system to handle their bankroll. Sports betting systems provide a calculated strategy to maximize winnings or prevent major losses. It takes a lot of self-control not to chase losses or attempt to win big on an unneeded risk. Sticking to the system and leaving emotion out of the equation creates a higher likelihood you can play the long game.
Know Your Game
Pro gamblers know the house edge for every casino game and sports odds, and the top strategies for each. There’s always a risk, but the way to build a wage-living profit is to minimize the challenges by knowing the games you play inside and out. Pros play the percentages, not with their gut.
Practice, Then Practice Some More
Before going all-in with a huge bankroll, hit the online casinos or the local brick-and-mortar establishments and play some low-stakes games, even some free ones. Keep track of how you do and alter your play and your money management system until you’re absolutely ready to make the big leap. If you’re getting crushed at free social casinos, it’s not time to go pro.
Stick to the Plan
You’ve come this far with extensive research and hard work. Don’t veer off course now that you’re playing for real. Stay true to the game plan and push emotions off the table, even when the dealer drops a 5 next to their hand of 16. Those who have managed a career as a professional gambler stay efficient and keep track of success and failure.
Is Gambling Skill or Just Plain Luck?
Many casino table games are entirely luck – roulette and craps, for example, require no true strategy other than where to place your chips. The ball and the dice determine winners. You don’t find any professional gamblers regularly in that corner of the casino.
Blackjack is a different story. You make decisions based on your cards and the card shown by the dealer. The house edge for blackjack is smallest of any casino game.
Poker is absolutely a game of skill, which is why many of the world’s most famous gamblers come from the world of poker. There is also a ton of money to be won in the game. Sharp sports bettors can consistently win make a lot of cash, regardless of the vigorish attached by the books.
Gambling Games to Choose From
Professional gamblers play a variety of games, even slots. But there are a select few that the vast majority focus their efforts and bankroll on to be successful.
From Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negreanu, who are each worth an estimated $50-75 million, to Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey and Jennifer Tilly, many of the rich and famous of the pro gambling world sit around poker tables.
Poker is undeniably a game of skill. Being a professional poker player is about more than knowing hands and even percentages. It’s about reading opponents, analyzing situations and knowing when to bet how much. Because of the size of some prizes, poker might be the quickest avenue to being a professional gambler – many big-time poker events have top prizes in the six figures, and several are worth millions.
Blackjack is trickier in that unlike poker, there is a house edge. It’s smaller than other casino games, but even if you do everything right in a hand, there remains a real chance of loss. Thus, it can be challenging to build a steady bankroll. But it’s certainly doable. Some of the legends of the game made millions in gambling winnings at blackjack before casinos put an emphasis on stopping card counting.
Blackjack tournaments can be a different story. Card counting isn’t as scrutinized because you’re playing against other players instead of the house.
Winning at online blackjack is considerably harder, if not impossible, due to random card generators.
The house has the edge at sportsbooks due to the juice is often close to 10% (even odds set at -110). But many professional gamblers make big-time money on sports. Bettors are becoming more sophisticated, creating systems and algorithms to find the top odds and pick from the massive variety of sports and games.
Nobody wins all the time, and at -110 odds bettors need to hit on 52.5% of bets to make a profit. But sharp players can build a steady profit over time and earn a living at the books.
Should You Try to Become a Professional Gambler?
Even if you have a knack of winning at a particular game, there is more to consider before trying your hand at being a professional gambler. You need a bankroll to survive an early losing run, and you need a wagering and money management system, plus the discipline to stay the course even when hitting rough stretches.
Making a living betting is difficult, but it’s not impossible. Just remember that a lot of pro gamblers earn a modest amount. It’s possible to become a millionaire playing poker or sports, but those who do are rare exceptions.
But if you have the startup money and are intent on working hard to develop a system, it can pay dividends. Part of any money management plan is to not wager more than you can afford to lose. Even if it doesn’t work out, you can at least say you gave it a shot. If you succeed, you’ve achieved a dream.
FAQ for Becoming a Professional Gambler
Is being a professional gambler a real job?
Yes, many people make a living being a professional gambler. Gambling income is taxable, like anyone working on the clock. That means mileage to the casino is a business expense, too.
How much do professional gamblers make?
Top professional gamblers can earn millions a year. Many others earn incomes closer to $50,000 per year.
What is a professional gambler?
A professional gambler is a person who earns the majority of their income from gambling profits. They can even write off business expenses on their taxes, including some gambling losses.
Do professional gamblers pay tax?
Yes, professional gamblers do pay taxes. They are classified as a business and taxed differently than recreational or casual gamblers, who often don’t reach an income threshold.
Can gambling make you rich?
Yes. Top poker players travel the world and make millions per year. Pro gamblers can get wealthy off sports betting and other casino games. But the professionals making more modest salaries outnumber the multi-millionaires at the top of the profession.
Who is the richest gambler in the world?
Bill Benter is believed to top the list of the richest gamblers in the world. The former Las Vegas card counter earned a reported $1 billion betting on Hong Kong horse racing thanks to an algorithm he developed in the mid-1980s.