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Q: I’m a good slot machine player. Could I make a post-retirement living in Las Vegas? LRW, Chicago IL

A: Basically, there’s really no way for you to consistently win in Las Vegas, nor at any other casino. With electronically-set slot machines, odds for the gambler are slim. Casinos advertise that for every dollar put into slot machines, they return from 70 to 90 cents. Translation: If you keep playing, you lose.

You have a better chance at blackjack, poker and other table games. Odds are better than on the machines, but statistics prove that in all casino games you’ll lose. However, winning at blackjack did happen in at least one very publicized instance about ten years ago. Some brilliant math students from Harvard and MIT came to Las Vegas with a method to count cards in blackjack. They were able to predict some sequences of dealt hands. To improve their chances, teams of two or three members secretly signaled each other on when to bet or not. It isn’t illegal, and technically not cheating, but casinos forbid it.

In the old days in Las Vegas, gamblers caught counting cards at a blackjack table were hustled out of the casino and beaten. If they were lucky, they just got some bruises and broken fingers. Others just disappeared into the surrounding desert in unmarked graves.

The math students got away with it for several months. When inevitably caught, they were barred from all Las Vegas casinos. Their names and photos became part of an electronic system that warned casinos worldwide. That ended the short, happy career of the Vegas card counter students, and probably all similar attempts since. 

Casino managements like highly-publicized stories of successful winners, true or not, because it attracts players. The bosses didn’t build all those magnificent resorts that put on Broadway shows and serve fantastic food because they love to pay out winners.

All of that glitz and glitter are investments to get you to come to Vegas to gamble. And because the odds are heavily in favor of the casino, you’ll lose. Of course, there will still be occasional stories of people who literally hit the jackpot, and they keep the losers coming back.

If you really want to make a living in gambling in Las Vegas, the only way to do it is to get a job there as a dealer, pit boss or waiter/waitress. Not only are the salaries good, but gamblers, whether winning or losing, are known to be very heavy tippers.

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