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The Toughest Way to Make An Easy Living

Should You Consider Playing Craps Professionally? 

That is the most oft asked question when I get together with other Precision-Shooters who have learned the skill, but are still working on improving other aspects of the game.

“What advice would you give to a person who is considering becoming a full-time professional player?”

With a few exceptions for remarkably talented people, I think "professional player" is a great second job and a lousy first job. By that I mean that a good Precision-Shooter can and will make money, but there are a lot of lifestyle and financial issues that make it tough without some other means of support, or a serious nest egg sitting somewhere for back-up.

When you are just starting out to play professionally, there is a big psychological leap that you make from being a casual or regular player who makes some decent money from his session wins; to relying solely on the income that your craps play will generate.

For most people, that adds a stress element that usually has a negative effect on their game.  Just as most college athletes never make it to the big leagues, most craps players who COULD make it professionally NEVER ACTUALLY DO.  In most cases, it’s due to the added stress, plus the lack of extraordinary skill, discipline, maturity, and commitment that is required to maintain that level of professionalism.

“What is a proper bankroll to start out with?”

No bankroll is sufficient for a losing player, of course, because the ALL the money eventually goes!   If you can play full-time in Vegas at the low-limit tables, I would say that an adequate bankroll of $25,000 for a proficiently skilled winning player seems reasonable.

That bankroll is made up of money that you aren't going to need or touch for the rent or other expenses.  It is strictly your gambling stake.  Why so much?   It has to do with the previous paragraph.   The added stress that going professional brings to your game, plus the additional playing time that you put in, actually increases the volatility of your income for the first little while.  It’s a phenomenon shared by every other Precision-Shooter that I know of who derives their income solely from this game.  In starting out, every one of them, including myself, found that there was a drop in performance for up to sixty days.  Hopefully you are the exception to this rule, but if you are not…welcome to the club, because once you’ve earned your stripes, you’ll be glad to have the additional character that that particular experience brings.

“I’m interested in making more money that I currently earn.   What is the money like?

As far as earning power, I think that $50,000 per year is the absolute rock bottom limit for someone to support himself in any sort of reasonable lifestyle. Yes, the perks and comps are good, but there are other expenses that are incurred.  Those expenses do not go away when we play craps, and in some cases, they increase.  Costs that may have previously been taken care of by your employer like health coverage, company car, expense account, airplane and other travel expenses, are now entirely under your umbrella of financial responsibility. 

The amount of hours that you have to put into this new career depends on how much your play generates on an hourly or daily basis.  If you have to play 16 hours every day of the week to make ends meet, you just can't make enough money to make it worth the number of hours you have to put in.

Is it possible to be on a three-month “lucky streak”, and think to yourself that it is all skill, and then quit your current day-job, only to find out that your throwing ability is marginal, at best?  

Sadly, the answer is, YES!

Even if you have been having a good six-month winning run, you’ll want to determine how much of that winning profit is derived from “luck” and how much is due to “skill”.  We sometimes underestimate the amount that is due to luck, and overestimate that which is attributable to skill.  This is when the naked truth is required.  The only lie that you can tell here is to yourself.  If you can’t be brutally truthful to yourself at this critical juncture, there is an overwhelming chance that you lack the maturity, discipline and commitment will prevent you from making it professionally.

“How man y hours do I have to work, and how much can I earn per hour?”

If you figure out that your play alone is worth $20 per hour, then it's probably more realistic to get and keep a $20 per hour job.  Playing craps for $20 per hour, with no benefits (health insurance, paid vacation, retirement, etc.) isn't such a terrific job. Figuring a 40-hour week, that's $40,000 gross a year, before all the taxes and living expenses. That doesn’t leave much room to handle unexpected expenses or savings in that budget.

Occasional losing sessions destroy good hourly rates pretty fast. You might have three or four sessions where you average $50 per hour, but after losing in session #5, you find your net rate is only $20 per hour. If you have a bad run for a few days or even a few weeks, as even the best players often do, you might suddenly find your hourly rate is only $10 per hour.  That’s scary and pressure-packed without another means of support.

Most players who play for a living need to earn at a higher rate, and NO, INCREASING THE SIZE OF YOUR BET IS NOT THE ANSWER!  

At the lowest $1 Las Vegas table, your income should be around $35 per hour, day in and day out!  The low limit tables provide the highest flexibility at the lowest risk.  At a $5 table, your hourly profit has to be a consistent $50 per hour.  If you can’t produce this most of the time, you are probably best advised to keep your day job, and continue practicing your throwing as much as possible.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with augmenting your current full-time income with additional part-time money generated at the craps table.

Is there “opportunity for advancement” in this new career?

Certainly if you turn out to be a great player, you can wind up making more than $300,000 to $400,000 per year, and well beyond that. The hard reality is that very few players have the talent and the emotional self-control to win more than that.  I count myself in that group, however while I am satisfied with that level of income, I am constantly trying to improve my game.

Let’s re-visit the basketball player analogy.  Should a good high school basketball player ignore his college classes in order to focus entirely on basketball, in the hope of making it in the NBA? I’m not talking about one of those high school superstars who get drafted in the first round. I’m talking about someone who is the second best player on a good high school team, and who winds up as a non-scholarship player at a small school. This kind of player is certainly a talented basketball player, far above average when you consider the general population, yet the odds against him making it in the NBA are huge. Even the odds against him making it in the CBA or the European professional leagues are huge.

I think the odds of the typical good amateur craps player making it as a well-paid professional craps player aren’t all that different. In the vast majority of cases, the good high school player, IF he decides to stick with basketball, will be doing well if he can land a job as an assistant coach in a college program or perhaps as a high school coach. In the craps world, the good amateur player will probably be doing much better than average if he manages to eke out a living, working at that benchmark $50,000 per year range in a normal 9-to-5 job instead of in the casino.

If you are really serious, I would suggest that you play as a part-time professional for at least a year, to see how you like the lifestyle, and to see, with accurately kept records, how good your performance really is.  Again, you need to be brutally honest with yourself about your vulnerability to going on “tilt”, your actual skill and expertise, plus whether the mistakes you make, are likely to be repeated over and over again.

If, after a year or so of playing lots of part-time hours, you find that you win at an acceptable hourly rate, and that you like spending lots of hours hanging around with other players, you can then think about making the move.

“Yeah, but playing Craps seems a lot more exciting than my current job, and “professional gambler” has a lot of sex appeal, doesn’t it?”

I believe that anyone who is truly capable of making a living as a professional craps player is capable of making a better living doing something else, although the choice to play professionally isn't necessarily a bad one if you like the lifestyle. But the lifestyle is a good deal less glamorous, and a good deal harder on one's health, than you're likely to see from the outside, which is why I recommend not diving in head first.

The casino lifestyle may seem glamorous to you, but you may find many women fleeing when they hear you are a professional gambler.  It takes a special partner to understand not only what you are doing, but for her to give you the latitude and space in which to do it.  Some of my most nervous and anxious play was not caused by over-zealous box-men or “money sweating” Pit Bosses, it has been when my lady is hanging on my shoulder, and literally breathing down my neck.  In other settings that would be romantic, but at a craps table, it is a distraction that I don’t need.

“What else do I have to give up?”

A lot depends on what you are giving up to make the move into the professional ranks in the first place. Some blue collar jobs pay very well and aren't easy to return to once you leave; others pay poorly and someone willing to work them can always find work in that industry.

Some white-collar jobs are easily transportable and transferable to different regions of the world, while others are so highly specialized, there are only a few companies that have that type of particular position.  If you are thinking about moving away from a locale where you have family and friends to try your luck in Atlantic City, Las Vegas or Mississippi, you're giving up quite a lot.

There are over a dozen people that I personally know who are fully capable of playing full-time, and making a great career out of it.  However, they like playing as a second job, and have zero interest in using craps as their sole source of support.  They like the security of a regular paycheck, combined with the thrill and excitement that craps brings to their primary “hobby”.

“Then what is your best single piece of advice?”

What separates the successful pros from the 99+% of other players and wanna-be pros is their ability to handle themselves when things aren't running so well.  And I assure you, no matter how talented you are, that that time will come... and go... and come... and go. You need a lot of mental toughness to make it in the craps world. There's a lot more involved than just throwing the dice well.

What would my best advice for someone considering leaving the working world to be a full-time professional craps player? I don’t recommend it. Just like in basketball, only people who have been hugely successful as “amateurs” have a realistic chance to make a great living at it. 

It’s the toughest way to make an easy living!

In a future article, I’ll share with you my Player’s Diary from the past year to provide a little more insight into the day-to-day activities of a professional craps player.

Good Luck & Good Skill at the Tables…and in Life.

By:  The Mad Professor

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