Books, Geek, Reviews

InfiniGEEK Reviews: Scarne’s Complete Guide to Gambling

Over the past couple of years, gambling has hit the mainstream. In part, that’s due to changing attitudes and in part it is down to the fact that legislative reform and online tech have combined to make casino games accessible to all. The net result is that there are more rookie gamblers out there than there are experienced ones, and there is as big a market for guides and training tools as there is for the games themselves.

Naturally enough for the 2020s, that has spawned a whole lot of online resources. But it also means that some of the classics are just waiting to be rediscovered. John Scarne’s Complete Guide to Gambling is arguably the definitive title on the topic and deserves a place on any gambler’s bookshelf. 

A gambling legend

John Scarne knew nothing about online betting, Bitcoin casinos or eSport gambling. When he died in 1985, his grandchildren were marveling at their Commodore 64s and the world wide web was still a decade away. But he was the greatest gambling expert of the 20th century. 

Scarne was born in Ohio but grew up in the gambling heartlands of New Jersey. By the time he left school in the eighth grade, he was already a competent card sharp, but his devoutly religious mother urged him to put his card playing skills to a different use, so he started to learn magic tricks instead. He blended a natural flair with an insatiable curiosity, and he soon developed a reputation as an authority on all aspects of gaming and gambling. 

As well as working as a stage magician, Scarne was in constant demand as an advisor and consultant, not just to America’s casinos but also to the US army, where he advised soldiers on the dangers posed by card cheats. He was also a prolific writer and Scarne’s Complete Guide to Gambling distils the key points from his dozens of books into one definitive title. 

Something for the novices

This is a weighty tome, in every sense of the word. Its encyclopedia-like dimensions are appropriate, as this book really is the ultimate reference for all things gambling. From strategy tips to gambling math to rules to common scams and sleights of hand, you’ll find it all here. 

It means this is a book for all seasons and all readers. For those who are just discovering gambling games, there is no better resource. Whether you are learning basic strategy at blackjack or trying to get your head around all the different areas of a craps table, there is simply no better guide. Scarne’s voice might be speaking to us from half a century ago, but he is still the best teacher in the gambling business. The odds tables are a reference that you’ll return to time and again and the period photographs are a nice touch that transport you back to Scarne’s era.

And plenty for the experts

More experienced gamblers will also learn a lot from Scarne. Even if you already understand your game of choice and its strategy, Scarne will have you looking at it from a whole new perspective. Understanding how fraudsters manipulate certain games is not about teaching you to imitate them. It’s not even about helping you avoid being drawn into their web. Beyond that, it has the effect of lifting the hood on the game so you can see its inner workings and truly understand what makes it tick. 

Whether your game is poker, dice, sports betting or even the slots, Scarne’s Complete Guide will provide all the evidence you need that there is always something to learn. 

Every story, guide or anecdote is sprinkled with real-life anecdotes from Scarne’s remarkable life and career, with tales of his colorful adventures and the bizarre people he encountered on the magic, gaming and betting circuits.

All of Scarne in one place

Don’t be put off by the age of the book. Scarne’s Complete Guide to Gambling might not cover online free spins and it has practically nothing to say about Texas Holdem, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant. After all, gambling is really all about two things – statistical probabilities and human nature. From the first line of the first page, it soon becomes apparent that neither of those have changed so much over the past few decades. 
John Scarne was, as has been stated, a prolific author. His first book, Scarne on the Cards, was referenced by Ian Fleming in Moonraker, while other books take a deep dive into dice, sports betting or specific card games. Many of these books are still in print today, but for all but the most obsessive students of gambling, Scarne’s Complete Guide to Gambling is a book that can be taken at face value and provides all the insights you could wish for.

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