What’s Your Best Bet for Betting
Some people call playing the stock market a form of gambling. There are lots of arguments for and against this mindset, but there is no denying the fact that the stock market is filled with uncertainty. If there is a magic bullet or a fail-proof trading method, why do professionally-managed hedge funds and actively-managed mutual funds often fail to beat the market?
In many ways, Wall Street is not unlike Las Vegas. Skilled investors, like skilled advantage gamblers, can tip the odds in their favor so that they can score profits in the long run. Sure, suit-wearing Street experts probably wouldn’t want to be put in the same category as cigar-chomping card-counters, but, expensive suit or not, these two types of gamblersare arguably part of the same school of chance-takers.
Thousands of books cover ways to educate yourself and create a winning strategy for buying and selling stocks. Like becoming a skilled advantage gambler, it takes time to hone your Street skills. So, what if you spent your stock-studying time studying to become something more sexy than an anonymous middle-class eTrade account holder? A gambler.
Here is how this fantasy might play out.
“Advantage gambling” is using whatever tricks and gimmicks you have at your disposal to gain a statistical advantage over “the house” or over other gamblers in peer-against-peer games like poker and parimutuel betting. The most glorified form of advantage gambling is probably blackjack card counting. Books, movies, and drunken frat house story-telling sessions have celebrated card counting teams from Ivy League schools and other high profile East Coast genius factories.
Card counting seems easy enough: learn a particular system and then practice and, finally, rake in the profits. The problem is that casinos are constantly on the lookout for this type of advantage gambling and have taken steps to foil sophisticated counters. Novices have little chance against multiple-deck shoes, automatic shuffling, and God-like surveillance. And even if the novice has perfect counting skills and an ideal strategy, his advantage is slight, meaning that it’ll take a long long time to accumulate any wealth. Likewise for craps. Dice control specialists are highly skilled, and while some advantage gambling experts, like the pseudonymous Stanford Wong, swear that it is possible to throw the odds in your favor, it takes years to perfect this skill. hat said, perfect play, if you believe the experts, results in much more than a 1% edge over the house that card counters enjoy. It is also harder for casinos to pick up dice setters on surveillance.
Getting roughed up, like advantage gamblers do in the movies, is probably not going to happen to counters or dice control players. But you will more-than-likely be barred from a casino if you are caught. Casinos are well aware of wannabes who don’t have the skills to gain a statistical advantage in real life. These people will always be allowed to continue playing until all their money is gone.
Over the past decade, poker has enjoyed a high profile, with some people even elevating it to “sport” instead of labeling it as a mere card game. TV coverage and million-dollar payouts to seemingly Average Joes have attracted plenty of wannabes to the real or virtual poker table. Some of these players become skilled rounders, usually in the discipline of Texas Hold’em (the most TV-friendly form of poker).
The problem with poker, besides the fact that its internet fate is in limbo in the US, is that so many people know how to play the game with a correct strategy that profits have become harder and harder to come by. Lesser known games are out there (seven card stud high-low or even old games like lowball and 5-card draw). Honing your abilities in one of these games could lead to easier profits over players who are good at community-card games like hold ’em, but lack the chops and experience to excel in draw or stud games. Still, poker is a game where skilled players earn money over the long run, so it takes months, or even years, at the real or virtual poker table before the profits start piling up.
This is, arguably, the form of gaming where the highest profits are possible. Sports-bettors and horse players can earn pretty consistent profits by finding when the odds are not truly correct and then betting to gain a statistical advantage. Yes, being a genius can help with this task, but anyone can teach themselves to be a successful handicapper. Even complete mathematical morons can succeed, thanks to handicapping services.
Some reputable handicappers (reputable being the un-ignorable word here) can crunch the numbers for you and give you a statistical edge in the long run. With this approach, your main concern is managing your money in a way that maximizes your profits and minimizes your loses. In any form of gambling, from the stock market to Vegas, money management is paramount. So focusing only on this task, instead of on the math part of handicapping, can be an advantage. The catch: legit handicappers charge membership fees, so to come out on top, you need to be betting a decent amount of money so that the edge that the handicapper gives you surpasses the fees.
Yes, for most people, trading a conservative stock portfolio for casino gambling, poker, or handicapping is not a good idea. But trading and gaming might not be as different as you think.
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About Josh Lew Josh Lew lives in the Midwestern US when he is not traveling. He is a columnist for Gadling and has contributed to Hackwriters and Skive Magazine.