Many people play casino games on a regular basis. They have a decent chance to win with certain games.
Blackjack, for example, can feature less than a 1% house edge with the right rules. Jacks or Better video poker only has a 0.46% house advantage when perfect strategy is used.
The problem here, though, is that the casino still has the better long-term chance of winning. This is why some aspire to become professional gamblers who have an edge on the house or fellow players.
Poker pros have achieved this goal. They’ve developed the skills that can help them consistently beat opponents over time.
Nevertheless, some professional players blow a lot of money betting high stakes in the casino. Despite having an edge in one form of gambling, they choose bigger risks that are long-term losing propositions.
Why do successful pros put themselves into these situations? Keep reading as I cover poker pros who’ve bet big on casino games and the psychology behind their actions.
Examples of Poker Pros Who Gamble Big in the Casino
Poker players who enjoy playing casino games on the side come in all different varieties. Some have been able to balance their gambling addiction with their poker careers, while others have lost everything.
Archie Karas is perhaps the best-known example of the latter. The Greek-born gambler became famous for turning $50 into $40 million through a combination of pool, poker, and craps.
Karas earned half of this fortune through skill-based pool and poker. He got lucky on the Binion’s craps tables and added another $20 million or so.
Feeling lucky, Karas switched to high-stakes baccarat and lost $11 million. He proceeded to lose the remaining $29 million through craps and baccarat.
Of course, not every poker player’s fall is this extreme. David “Chino” Rheem, who’s earned nearly $11 million in live tournaments, is a good example.
He’s a habitual money borrower who doesn’t always pay back his debts. He loses a fair amount of the cash that he borrows in casino games.
Joseph Cheong, a 2010 WSOP Main Event finalist, noted that Rheem is willing to pay back debts when he has the money. However, one must “see him before he sees the pits.”
Despite Chino’s gambling problem, he’s managed to maintain a successful poker career that continues today.
Other pros’ careers are on life support after a history of problem gambling. Erick Lindgren, who was one of the faces of Full Tilt Poker, is definitely one of them.
Lindgren was once on top of the game, thanks to his tournament winnings and lucrative deal with Full Tilt. Unfortunately, he began gambling away his success.
“E-Dog” has a severe sports betting problem that’s seen him wager as much as $100k per game.
Sports gambling, unlike casino games, can be beaten over the long term. But it’s very difficult for a full-time poker pro to simultaneously beat sports wagering.
“Children learn from observing and interacting with their parents how to identify and talk about feelings,” writes Sonkin.
“If their parents are good at talking about feelings the child will most likely learn constructive ways of dealing with their emotions. If parents are not good at those skills, chances are their children will also have problems working out their emotions in positive ways.”
Sonkin goes on to describe how this scenario causes people to naturally self-destruct as adults, whether it be through alcoholism or another addiction.
Many of the same poker pros who struggle with casino gambling may have had parents who weren’t good at dealing with problems or success. They then, as Sonkin notes, “act on autopilot” and refer to the self-destruction that they saw growing up.
Karas’ father, for example, was a construction worker who struggled financially. He threw a shovel at a then-15-year-old Archie during an argument, with the latter leaving home for good afterward.
Karas later grew up without a care for money, hence why he was basically fine with gambling away $40 million.
I can’t speak to the backgrounds of all poker pros who gamble too much on casino games. However, many of them probably have similar stories of parents who had a difficult time dealing with emotions.
Can Poker Pros Remedy a Casino Gambling Problem?
Not every poker player who plays casino games on the side has a problem. Gambling can be an entertaining way to experience thrills, so long as it’s done within reason.
Poker pros shouldn’t be completely discluded from enjoying this type of entertainment. But some players develop a habit because their workplace is filled with temptation.
It doesn’t help matters that professional poker players, by nature, tend to gamble more than the average person. For example, they often play credit card roulette to see who’ll pay for everybody’s meal.
Can players overcome this constant temptation, especially if they’re already predisposed to gambling?
Yes. The problem, though, is that many people never confront their self-destructive tendencies until it’s too late.
The key is to understand that there’s a problem and think about solutions for dealing with it. Here are some helpful suggestions from ZenHabits’ Leo Babauta on how to do this.
Feel the pain when you’re at a low point and make a plan for change
Don’t distract yourself from the problem — turn and face it
Make one small, specific change at a time (e.g., lower gambling limits, rather than just quitting cold turkey)
Commit by telling others about your goal or even joining an accountability group
Learn to believe that you can accomplish your goal
Use failures/setbacks along the way as learning opportunities
Avoid negative thoughts
Create the right environment
Most of these tips come down to one thing — putting work into changing a bad habit. For some poker pros, casino gambling is a bad habit.
The tip about changing one’s environment is a great step towards kicking casino gaming, or at least doing it within reason.
Live poker pros can’t change the fact that they must be around casino games as part of their job. However, they can control the people they hang out with.
Any pro who’s buddies with fellow players who gamble on baccarat, blackjack, roulette, or slots might want to find a new crowd. After all, not all professional players engage in casino games on the side.
Just like with learning poker strategy and becoming skilled players, some pros must put the effort into kicking their self-destructive tendencies for good.