It feels amazing to beat casino games. Beyond the money you make, there's an emotional reward and a physical rush that comes from it. Nobody else at the table knows what you're doing. They're all playing on the square. They're not keeping count of the big cards and little cards being dealt, they're not tracking aces or sneaking peaks at the dealer's hole card. They're suckers, and you're out-housing the house.
When I first started beating the house, I was manic, and that fed into it just perfectly. Between my mental state and being among the only girls who beat the games, I was one of the happiest people you'd ever meet. That all changed over time, but back then, when I was 30, in 2008, killing games on the regular, living and playing and traveling with people who were just like me, life seemed pretty ideal.
Early on, I made good money working in a casino in Southern California, but beating casinos was a lot more fun. Initially, I dealt all week and spent weekends card counting in Las Vegas. Using my manic energy, I'd hit the tables for 32 hours over the course of two days and then drive back to California for work on Monday. I averaged $800 to $1,000 per weekend. On one of those Vegas trips, a professional gambler I met online showed me my first hole-card game.
Card counting allows you to play with a 2% edge, which has room for a lot of unexpected losses but is still pretty good. If, say, your average bet is $500 and you play 100 hands per hour, you can make $1,000. It's sweet, but hole carding can give you a return of 12% with less volatility. You achieve it by finding sloppy dealers who inadvertently show you all or part of their cards. It's not always perfect, and you need quick eyes.
My first time was at a casino called Binion's Horseshoe in Downtown Vegas. The dealer's name was Jaio. From the middle seat, scooched down low, I saw that she had a black nine in the hole. It was a complete revelation. Think about how Tiger Woods felt when he hit his first really good drive. That was how I felt. It changed my life. The reality is that you needed to look at maybe 200 dealers to find one giving it up, but once you found that dealer, it was Christmas every day. You went and played until the casino threw you out, or fixed the dealer, or fired her.
Not long after I spotted Jaio's hole card, I had my first serious run-in with casino security. A partner and I were playing at a low-stakes dump called Ellis Island. We were card counting and looking for hole-card games. We had already gone up and down the Vegas Strip, playing different casinos together, sitting at the table and pretending to be cousins or boyfriend and girlfriend. At Ellis Island, we felt heat -- that is, a casino manager seemed to be watching us really closely -- so we left. A couple of casino security guys followed us out. One slammed me down onto the parking lot. The other grabbed my partner.
The guy had one of my arms, but with my free hand I managed to grab my phone and call 911. "Help," I said. "I'm being kidnapped by Ellis Island casino security."
They handcuffed us, took us into a back room, held us there, and wouldn't let us use the bathroom. The ridiculous thing is that we were only card counting, betting like $30 per hand, and we had lost $200. But apparently somebody had a big problem with us. Cops finally came and sided with the casino. One of them told us that we wouldn't do well in jail -- even though we had done nothing illegal.
Finally, hours later, we were released by the casino. The next morning we called Bob Nersesian, the go-to lawyer for players who've been abused by casinos. We told him what happened and he was floored. He loved it. He said we should sue. But we were scared of making a big deal over this and wound up settling for just $40,000. Bob took his third and my partner and I split the rest. It was dumb to settle, but we were afraid. Looking back, we might've been able to take Ellis Island down altogether. What they did was totally uncalled for -- complete bullshit. It was such a good case. Bob still teases me about it.
That experience, as it went down, made me feel like a complete criminal. It was awful. But not awful enough to make me quit playing.