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5 Must Read Books for Casino Gamblers

By Randy Ray in General
| January 26, 2016 12:00 am PDT
Stack of Books With Glasses On Top

If you’re a casino gambler, you should read all of the following books. None of these are fiction, but some are as compelling as any novel.

The key to maximum enjoyment is maximum understanding. Want to enjoy your casino gambling trips more?

Understand what’s happening better.

These books will help you do that.

1. Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling: Winning Ways by Andrew Brisman

This is the best book about how to play casino games you’ll ever read. Even though it was published in 2004, it’s not at all outdated. (There are some new games that should be included if they ever publish a new edition.)

This is also one of the most readable explanations of casino game math and probability I’ve found. The book is organized according to which casino games you might play. I found chapters on blackjack, slot machines, video poker, craps, baccarat, roulette, Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride, Pai Gow poker, poker, sports betting, keno, and “other casino games”. The “other casino games” chapter covers bingo, Three Card Poker, casino war, and “sucker games”.

The best parts of the book are the chapters about “Becoming a Smart Player”. These two chapters are presented at the beginning and the end of the book.

Part I has subsections titled “Understanding Odds and Probability”, “Understanding the Casino’s Advantage”, “A Peek Over the Edge”, “Avoiding Pitfalls”, “Luck”, and “The Essentials for Understanding What You’re Up Against”.

Part II has subsections titled “You and Your Money”, “What It Really Costs to Play”, “Money Management: Myth or Reality”, “Systems”, “The Eternal Questions”, “Money and Psychology”, “Casino Freebies”, “Comp Strategy and Smarts”, “Other Offerings and Perks”, “Trip Planning”, “Taxes”, and “The Essentials for Playing Like a Genius in Any Casino”.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

You don’t have to be a genius to win at the casino. In fact, no matter how much of a “genius” you are, you’re more likely to lose than win when gambling. Unfortunately for us, that’s the way the casino designs their games–it’s what keeps them in business. But that’s not to say you can’t apply intelligence to make your gambling more successful. Applying intelligence doesn’t mean you have to invest in a slide rule or concoct computer algorithms. It simply means you are willing to acquire and use knowledge–the knowledge that is set forth for you in this book.

Brisman has a breezy, clear writing style.

What’s the best thing about Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling: Winning Ways?

You can buy it used for pennies on Amazon. In fact, since it’s out of print, that’s the only way you can buy it. The best deal I saw when researching this page was a Very Good softcover copy available for 4 cents plus $3.99 shipping. I promise it will pay for itself multiple times if you read it thoroughly.

2. Gambling 102: The Best Strategies for All Casino Games by Michael Shackleford

The pitch for Gambling 102 is that lots of books explain the basics of casino games, but Gambling 102 goes to the next step—how to play with the best strategy and the least effort. The book consists of 19 chapters, which are similar to the chapters in Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling: Winning Ways—they’re focused on specific casino games.

Here’s a list of the chapters, which are (more or less) in alphabetical order:

  1. The Ten Commandments of Gambling
  2. Baccarat
  3. Big Six
  4. Blackjack
  5. Caribbean Stud
  6. Casino War
  7. Craps
  8. Keno
  9. Let It Ride
  10. Pai Gow Poker
  11. Racetrack Betting
  12. Roulette
  13. Sic Bo
  14. Slot Machines
  15. Sports Betting NFL
  16. Texas Hold’em
  17. Three Card Poker
  18. Video Poker
  19. Frequently Asked Questions

The book also includes the following appendices:

  1. Blackjack Basic Strategies
  2. Spanish 21 Basic Strategies
  3. Keno $1 9-Spot Returns in Las Vegas
  4. Pai Gow Poker House-Way Strategy
  5. Slot Machine Return Percentages
  6. Probabilities of Winning Hands in Texas Hold’em
  7. Gambling Etiquette
  8. Resources
  9. Index of Tables

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

This book is the product of years of mathematical analysis, computer modeling, and actual casino play. In 1997 I began analyzing several popular casino games as a mental challenge. Having just completed the actuarial examinations, I was eager to put my mind to use on other practical math applications. After arriving at what I felt was the best strategy for several games, I searched the Internet for a source to compare my work against. My search led to absolutely nothing of value. All I found were charlatans pitching worthless systems to alledgedly(sic) beat the casinos. I felt that I could easily provide information better than anything on the Internet at that time, so I did.

Shackleford’s not as good a writer as Andrew Brisman, and his book is also significantly shorter and less detailed. The brevity of the book might be considered a pro by a lot of people, but he’s clearly got more than enough content to flesh out a longer book. His website includes far more detail on all of these subjects than this book.

That being said, Gambling 102 is a no-nonsense, clear guide to the best strategies to use at various casino games. Anyone interested in casino gambling should own a copy.

3. Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One by Edward Thorp

Beat the Dealer is the blackjack book that started the card counting phenomenon. Some of it is dated, but any and every serious blackjack player should own a copy and read it. It’s good to be aware of the history of what you’re trying to do, and this is the place to start when it comes to the game of “twenty-one”.

The book is well-organized and includes the following chapters:

  1. The Rules of Blackjack
  2. The Basic Strategy
  3. A Winning Strategy
  4. My Ideas Are Tested in Nevada
  5. The Simple Point-Count System
  6. The Complete Point-Count System
  7. A Winning Strategy Based on Counting Tens
  8. Beating the Casino Countermeasures
  9. How to Spot Cheating
  10. Can the Cheating Be Stopped?
  11. Science versus Chance

The book also includes an addendum and an appendix: “Blackjack in England” and “Basic Probabilities of the Complete Deck”.

One of the entertaining aspects of this book is reading the actual experiences of the first real card counter. I also enjoy the interest that gambling writers of the time had in whether or not the casino and/or dealer were cheating. This is a subject that rarely comes up in more modern gambling books. I think it’s possible that casinos are more closely regulated and, since cheating is unnecessary, most reputable casinos don’t bother with it. But it’s interesting to note that there was a time when this wasn’t so.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

The basic strategy does not involve counting cards. However, after mastering the basic strategy, the reader will learn a simple modification, using a card-counting system, that identifies many situations in which he has an advantage over the casino of more than 3 per cent. Most people who are advised to count cards say, “But I can’t keep track of all the cards in the deck. I can’t even remember telephone numbers.” They may be surprised to learn that they must count only four cards per deck used by the dealer (the fives)and that this additional information, combined with minor strategy changes, is enough to give the player a comfortable 3 per cent edge!

Thorp is the least competent writer of the three so far recommended on this page, but some of that is just a matter of changes in how we write and read. The book was first published almost 50 years ago, after all.

It’s also a remarkably short and affordable book. Every blackjack player should have a copy in their library.

4. The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book by Lance Humble

I first learned about card counting from an attorney I worked with. He recommended The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book to me, and I read it from cover to cover. The explanations of basic strategy are some of the best I’ve read, and the author is entertaining as can be. I especially enjoyed his anecdotes about one of his card counting contemporaries, Lawrence Revere. Like Thorp, Humble is often worried about being cheated by the casinos. A lot of that information can be safely skipped in today’s casino environment. The rest of his advice about counting cards and basic strategy is probably as relevant today as it was when the book was first published in 1980.

An unknown philosopher once said that there are three kinds of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wander around braying, “What happened?” The purpose of this book is to keep you from falling into the “What happened?” category when you play Blackjack.

This book describes and teaches you how to win money in casinos. Strategies, techniques, and moves are explained that will enable you to win even under adverse conditions. After reading this book, you can approach a home or casino game with complete confidence. The methods that follow have won millions of dollars for our students in the last ten years, with the total growing daily.

As you can see, the author is a bit of a salesman. It’s a lengthy book, and the lack of humility on the author’s part might be off-putting, but it’s still a great book on blackjack.

5. Whale Hunt in the Desert: The Secret Las Vegas of Superhost Steve Cyr by Deke Castleman

Whale Hunt in the Desert is a book about how Las Vegas casinos take care of their high rollers. Steve Cyr is the main character, a young casino host who’s really good at his job of taking care of “whales”. Cyr’s an interesting character, a born salesman and a schmooze artist of the highest magnitude.

The book does a nice job of describing what goes on at a casino when you’re dealing with players willing to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a trip. I read a book a few years ago called Lifestyle of a High Roller. It was awful. Read this book instead.

It probably won’t make you a better gambler, but if you’re interested in casino gambling, you’ll find it informative and entertaining.

Here’s an excerpt:

Somewhere along the line, the term whale was also inserted into the gambling lexicon to describe the biggest bettors in the casino universe. In the lingo, “whale” denotes the world’s richest men and women (but mostly men) who play casino games at the highest allowable stakes.

No one knows for certain how many of these highest of high rollers there are. The largest table-game bet currently taken in Las Vegas is $250,000, but only seven or eight human blue whales can handle that kind of action. The second stratum tops out at $150,000 per hand, a level manageable by up to 50 players worldwide. A hundred more can fade (afford) $100,000 a hand.

Theirs is a firmament of 35-person entourages, flown in to Las Vegas on business jets, private aircraft, or chartered jumbos. They’re shuttled by fleets of stretch limousines–stocked with Dom Perignon and beluga caviar–to places such as the Mansion at MGM Grand, among the world’s most exclusive accommodations. There, concierges, VIP hostesses, casino hosts, casino executives, limo drivers, butlers, personal chefs, and hookers cater to their every whim.

Whales can receive as much as $250,000 in free play simply for walking through a casino’s door, with the promise of up to a 20% discount on their gambling losses.

I defy anyone to read those three and a half paragraphs and not want to continue further into the book.


The list of books above is obviously incomplete. More books will be written, for one thing. For another thing, I’ve only been able to read a limited number of books on the subject of casino gambling in my 45 years. Don’t think I’m finished.



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