Gambling Your Way To Prosperity At Lucky Chances Casino

Lucky Chances Casino Poker RoomOn the way home from dropping my friend off at the airport, I took a 10 minute detour to Lucky Chances Casino. Lucky Chances Casino is located in the foggy city of Colma in South San Francisco. If you love to play poker, blackjack, and paigow, this place is for you.

I go about once a quarter on average to play $1-2 no-limit poker. I used to be hooked on the game three years ago, but after one too many bad beats on the river, and the launch of Financial Samurai, I no longer crave playing.  In fact, before this visit, I hadn’t been in over 18 months.

The one thing that always piqued my curiosity was how every time I went, no matter what time during the day, I would always see the same 10-15 people there!  At first, I thought that perhaps they were all gambling addicts who just couldn’t stay away. Sometimes I’d go in the morning.  Other times I’d go at 1:30pm like this time, and other times I’d head over at midnight and they’d always be there!  What gives?!


After writing over 1000+ articles here on Financial Samurai as of 2/3/2015, I’ve realized that I was being overly concerned about my fellow poker players. Everything is rational, and my conclusion changed from “they are addicts“, to “the reason why they are always there is because they have lots of money and don’t need to work!

If you don’t have money, you can’t gamble. If you needed to work, you wouldn’t be gambling at 1:30pm on a weekday with money you can’t afford to lose. I carried this logic into Lucky Chances this afternoon to test out my theory.

Dressed in track pants, a sweater, and a cap, I purposely created an image of an out of work freelance writer looking for some action. Everybody was very friendly at the table, especially after my pocket 9’s got cracked on the river by a Q3 with a runner runner straight on my very first hand! I mentioned to everyone how I was looking to write a story about the economy, and whether anybody knew of anybody who used their $1,800 a month California unemployment benefits to gamble?

Immediately, three people out of the ten person table raised their hands! Of course, they didn’t admit to doing so.  Instead, they all said they knew someone who was gambling with their unemployment benefits now.  One guy said, “Yeah, my brother-in-law hasn’t worked for 15 months and all he does is play poker with his benefits.  In fact, he’s right over there!” as he points to a table out yonder.

He continues, “He’s really afraid of making over $5,000 at the tables, because if he does, the Casino will report his winnings to the IRS!” The implication being, the unemployed bro-in-law would then have to pay taxes and probably get all his unemployment benefits wiped out.


As the discussion started going, I asked other people what they did for a living to allow them to play poker at 1:30pm on a Friday.  Remember, I already told everyone I was a freelance writer.

Seat 2: 47 year old Filipino lady.  One of the regulars I see all the time, no matter when I go.  She mentioned she works in “food services” at the international terminal at San Francisco International Airport three days a week.  I ask her what she does the other two days of the week.  She scooted back her chair and showed me her badge.  It was a Lucky Chances Casino badge!  She said she works part-time at night serving food, and figured she might as well play some poker before her shift.  Unfortunately, she said she never wins.  At that moment, she went all in and doubled up her chip stack to $280, but proceeded to lose half of it in another hand with pocket jacks vs. pocket kings.

Seat 3:  60 year old Filipino guy who is a very passive player.  He said he has a small restaurant which opens up for dinner at 5pm.  Didn’t say a lick to us.

Seat 4: 26 year old Filipino guy with a wedding ring.  He’s the one who runner-runnered me with a Q3 vs. my pocket 9’s with no card higher than a 7 on the board.  He apologized and said he was on tilt after losing a big hand earlier.  I asked him what he does for a living, and he was a little cagey.  He said, “I work as a sales blah, blah, marketing, blah, blah.”  Seriously, I didn’t understand what he was mumbling about.  But, the bottom line was that he was between shifts.

Seat 5: 24 year old Filipino guy with a University of Hawaii Warriors sweater on and Dr. Dre head phones over a shaved head.  Looked like a baller given he was probably around 6 foot 3 inches and was quit fit.  I went all in on him on the turn after an Ace of diamonds hit, making my flush, and he didn’t call.  Damnit!  He didn’t say much, except for the fact that he was looking to finish up school.  In other words, he was unemployed.

Seat 6: 54 year old Caucasian American guy who all the dealers knew by name.  When I got to the table, he was moving his chips to a different seat at the same table.  He too, said he was in between shifts.  “Delivery services” he said.

Seat 7: 33 year old Russian guy who is someone I always see as well.  Couldn’t get jack shit out of this stone cold man.

Seat 8: 58 year old Filipino guy who is also always there when I go.  His K9 of diamonds cracked my KJ of clubs with a flush when I went all-in on the button with my remaining $35 bucks.  Crap.  Said he owns an auto mechanic store and doesn’t have to work.  That’s what his employees are for.

Seat 9: 48 year old Chinese woman.  She kept buying in for $20 or $30 dollars after going all-in three times.  The average chip-stack was about $150, so she either clearly doesn’t know how to play, or is just a gambler.  Couldn’t get any info out of her as she kept on busting out and talking in nervous gibberish.

Seat 10: 50+ year old Vietnamese guy.  Occupation and style, unknown.

Note: I was in seat 1.


I was honestly hoping to sit down next to some 26 year old Facebook millionaire who was taking the day off like myself.  Even a supermodel from Ford Modeling agency would have sufficed.  Alas, everybody I sat down with were either working relatively craptastic jobs for under $20 an hour, or owned small businesses.

It occurred to me that gambling perhaps doesn’t lead to prosperity.  For the 3+ hours these guys end up playing a day, they could be doing so much more with their lives.  However, poker is fun, and there’s nothing wrong with playing for fun with money you have.

After 45 minutes I said my good-bye, partly because I had just lost $100 bucks when my opponent hit his flush on the river, but mostly because I had to rush back to the city for an eye exam.

Readers, do you play cards and gamble?  Have you ever surveyed your fellow gamblers to find out what they do?  Do you think gamblers generally have more money rather than the average person, since it is logical to conclude one doesn’t gamble with money they aren’t willing to lose?

Photo: Lucky Chances Casino at 1:30pm on a Friday.



Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. cashflowmantra says

    Gambling does lead to prosperity. Just ask Steve Wynn or Sheldon Adelson. Same is true of Wall Street. It pays to be the house.

  2. Darwin's Money says

    Gambling is a net loss to 99.5% of the people doing it. House games it’s a net loser hands-down; poker, a small % can come out ahead over long periods of time (but then again, they have to give some portion of winnings to house [dealer]). It’s a big transfer of wealth from people who gamble to the local community and state essentially, through casino taxes and also, to shareholders of the casinos. The earlier in life you realize it’s a net loser (regardless of how great you think you are at poker or how many books you’ve read on counting cards), the better off you’ll be!

    • says

      For most, yes gambling is a net loss. Poker is different, its really not that hard to get to a point where you can sit down in any 1/2 No-Limit game as mentioned above and know you’ll have a significant edge in your favor. The house take you speak of is negligible, I’d compare it to saying you cant make money investing because of the trade commissions you pay your broker.

      • Darwin's Money says

        Doesn’t the casino take like 5-10% of each hand? That’s pretty high compared to trading commissions. If anyone’s paying more than like 0.5% of expenses investing they’re doing it wrong (i.e. trading too few shares for a fixed $12 trade commissions or investing in actively managed funds that don’t beat the market).

        • Michael says

          A good player is not playing many hands. The losers pay most of the rake since they are playing more hands. But yes, it’s a fairly high percentage at the lower stakes.

        • says

          I pay literally 1 cent per share to place trades. On a $20 stock, that’s a .1% cut round trip. Trading commissions and their affect on investors are overstated by magnitudes.

        • says

          It varies from casino to casino, but the actual % varies depending on the size of the pot.
          The casino I frequent takes a flat $3 for every hand that sees a flop. The more action in the hand the smaller % it works out to be.

          I made the comparison to a trading commission because they’re both just small fees that represent the cost of doing business. Unless they’re outrageously high you don’t really pay attention to, or notice them very much in the grand scheme of things.

          As Michael stated, the rake is getting paid by the losing players. As a winning player it may have a small effect on your overall hourly rate, but I like to think that’s offset by the free drinks consumed while playing anyway.

  3. says

    I have definitely never assumed people gambling have more money than the average person.

    And no, I’ve never surveyed any gamblers to see what they do. Whenever I see people at the casino, it’s always pretty clear to me that they don’t have a lot of money.

  4. says

    As with anything, it depends. I play a lot of poker & at the smaller games the people are usually like the ones you describe or college kids who play poker instead of waiting tables or something. The bigger games, as you can imagine are where you’ll find the more successful people.

    At my local casino you’ll regularly see pro hockey players, and well known doctors and lawyers playing in the bigger games, while a current NFL running back is a regular in the 1/2 games just because he likes playing for the social aspect of it.

    I don’t think you can make generalizations about how much money gamblers have any more than you can the people who you’ll find at the gym in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon

  5. says

    I just listened to a story on NPR about black jack. It sounds like you can make money gambling, but it’s a lot of hard work. I’m sure some of those player make money, but I wouldn’t want to spend all my time in a casino. I think many of those regulars are addicted to the action and really couldn’t quit.

  6. Virginia says

    Oh, I love this post because I have often wondered about this. I like to try to figure people out when I am playing with them. I usually play with friends but I will head over to the casinos about once a year with a self-imposed $300/day limit (and I usually only stay for a day).

    I’ll see folks pull out a large wad of bills and loose it all quickly. I’ll wonder “are they rich, or just addicted?”.

    I think you can sort of weed out the addicts and the rich folks depending on how they react when they lose. If you see someone get real upset, they’re probably an addict.

    • says

      Yeah, you’re probably right on those that are fuming. Gambling money they can’t afford to lose. Everybody at my table was pretty mellow. A lot of them come for the bad beat jackpot which grows to $100,000 eg quad 8s lose to quad 10s and the loser wins 50% of the jackpot!

  7. Michael says

    I’ve played poker several times per week for almost 10 years – before the hold’em craze. My main game was a soft home game in my neighborhood with no rake (tip the bartender at the end of the night type of game) and won a few thousand per year after playing 2 nights per week. At the casinos I probably broke even or lost a little, partly because I was playing against better players and partly because of the rake. Across the 10 years of playing, I probably broke even. One time, I was playing in an illegal poker room and it was raiding by the police. Crazy stuff. I have to run … will finish this later.

    I eventually quit because the money wasn’t important to me – i

    • Michael says

      I eventually quit because the money wasn’t important to me – or rather I couldn’t win enough to quit work or justify the time spent – and probably most important of all, it wasn’t fun anymore.

      Half of the regulars I played with at the home game were retired. Several of them became too old, got sick, and stop playing. At least five guys I played with died – one in particular from chain smoking all his life. He smoked two packs a day – one pack alone at the table (which was another reason I quit playing) and eventually didn’t show up one night. I think he was in his 80s. Some other guys were “suckers” and dropped a few hundred every night. They were working guys – some union, others in construction. A teacher played too and few software guys (including myself). As a whole we were just regular people who enjoyed playing cards.

      There were many other games I played in – and bad beats. If you play long enough you will eventually have aces-full and get beat by a four-of-a-kind. I’ve seen straight-flushes dealt in 5 card stud and have been dealt at least one myself. But I also know people who have been able to buy new cars from playing poker online – very good mathematical players. This one guy in particular plays 4 games at the same time.

      IMO, the best games are those played with a few friends as a way to pass time. Keep the limits small so no one gets burned. Use it as an excuse to share a good bottle of wine.

    • says

      What happened after the police raid? Any penalties?

      I play $1/2 because it is more friendly and not that painful. Problem is, a lot of my crew buy-ingot $500+ and fireworks start flying!

      Losing and winning $500 is common.

      • Michael says

        Police tackled and cuffed the owner. We all sat at the tables as they check our ids for priors. Most were let out of the card room a few hours later including me.

        $500 a is a lot to lose in one session for those stakes.

  8. Joe S. says

    Blelieve it or not, when I go to any of the casino, I try to see if they are mobbed and how people are betting (big or little) and if they are dressed well…My reason is to see if I can gauge the economy, can you believe that? The Economy!….ah I am glad that I invest my money…lol

  9. says

    I think I gambled maybe 6 times! I went to Atlantic City (1), Las Vegas (1), Reno (1) and Santa Anita Race track (3). I notice many of the people who bet at these places look like they are using their rent check money. My gambling experience was for entertainment only! In most cases, I limited how much I was willing to wager and never exceeded it. I think I am a poor gambler except when it comes to a business risk.

  10. says

    As a kid whose parents gambled away the rent constantly, I don’t gamble at all. I assume most people in there are broke and digging themselves more in debt, just like my parents. I haven’t been proven wrong when talking to those who do gamble regularly.

  11. says

    I go to the horse races with some regularity. Given the nature of the beast, it’s mostly older people. The regulars are generally exceptionally wealthy, having been taken for a ride (heh) on the best 30 years of financial market performance straight through retirement.

    The racetrack obviously attracts heavy gamblers – all gambling parlors do. But I think you’re more likely to find “millionaire next door” types at the horse races because it really is the most frugal way to gamble. You can put $100 through the slot machines in 10 minutes with the max bets at the smallest penny or nickel denominations.

    Yet, at the horse races, you’re looking at $2 a race. Even if you bet 5 tracks, it would take you nearly 7 hours to make $100 worth of bets, assuming one per race.

    Of course, there are plenty of people who live it up. Next to my grandpa’s box used to sit a local entrepreneur who owned a very successful chain of liquor stores. He’d go throughout the meet, and be there no matter what day of the week it was. I’d guesstimate that on the average day betting only 5-6 races he and up to 5 other friends would drop $2,000+. Every single day. That doesn’t begin to include the pricey cigars that were chain-smoked one after another.

    It was always funny to be sitting next to them with my 80-year old grandpa who doesn’t drink, hasn’t smoked in a half-century, and who won’t bet much more than $6 on an average day.

    tl;dr: Gamblers come in all types, but I think that in general, gamblers do have a lot more money than average.

    • says

      I’ve been twice. A total crap shoot!!

      I don’t like betting when I have no control over my destiny after betting. I feel like I’m really wasting my money and gambling. Fun with friends and clients but nothing more.

      • says

        Without question. The odds are terrible too, as the take from the pool can be as much as 20-25% after state taxes and rounding.

        It’s fun. But not for betting more than the minimum. I like the New York tracks for this reason – $1 bets make my $20 limit last a heck of a lot longer.

  12. says

    I am a HUGE fan of gambling but I am too much of a wuss to go high stakes or too aggressive on anything.

    “Do you think gamblers generally have more money rather than the average person, since it is logical to conclude one doesn’t gamble with money they aren’t willing to lose?”
    – Nope you are giving people too much credit. There are just some people who don’t understand repercussions i.e. I get sucked out I won’t eat type of repercussions

  13. says

    Thanks for the article! I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since you mentioned it on Twitter. I do gamble from time to time. I used to gamble quite a bit more, but I ultimately decided that it wasn’t as important as other things I wanted to do in my life (not to mention one can only take so much losing).

    The only people I assume to be rich are the ones sitting at the high-limit blackjack tables, especially if they’re the only people at that table.

    In regards to going out to lunch from the other conversation we were having, I must decline because I no longer live up in the Bay Area. I got my MA at SFSU, but I’m back to living full-time in San Diego.

  14. Mike Hunt says

    If it’s the same people playing holdem then it will be a lose for everybody since the house ‘rake’ will be eating into the chip stacks over time. You need new money coming in to make it worthwhile as a player.

    My favorite holdem haunts are Atlantic city on a weekend with the college kids coming in, or the same in Vegas.

    Macau is pretty good for holdem, lots of Chinese players who are playing way against the odds. The trouble is some of these guys have some crazy lucky charms, because they are often getting paid out on some very crazy gambles (inside straights, catching on a runner-runner). That makes it tough. Along with the fact that they are all chain smoking so my eyes get watery and instead of booze they are all drinking Chinese tea and eating dumplings.


  15. Aloysa says

    I love poker. So once in a blue moon we go to Nevada (1.5 drive from Salt Lake) and play poker in one the casinos. Or roulette. Or Black Jack. I consider gambling a form of entertainment. Not a way to prosperity. It can be an expensive entertainment, but fun. At least when I lose, I don’t feel bad. :)
    So, in the casinos we play I am usually the only girl at poker tables. Most guys (I am generalizing here) look like cowboys and red necks. I alway wonder where they come from.
    Once Beaker almost got beat up for winning $600. We had to leave the table in a rush because some of the cowboys were getting upset and yelling at him “Why are you betting so much?!” Hello, it was a no-limit table. LOL We try to be more careful since then.

  16. says

    I don’t really enjoy gambling. I’ve been to a few Casino’s and the Bingo hall once and I leave saying the same thing every time. Why did I just throw my money down the toilet. It’s been years since I’ve been to the Casino. I don’t know how to play poker and maybe that’s a good thing. I’ve only ever played the slots.

  17. says

    Fascinating insights on the players. I always wonder what type of backgrounds the frequent gamblers have. I certainly am far from being a gambling addict and I’m thankful for that because I’m a terrible poker player! I’d go broke in a heartbeat.

  18. says

    The house always wins. :) I know, I work for the house. The table you sat down at sounds fairly typical for a local market. I love to play, but can’t play where I work (one of our rules) which means I only play once or twice a year if we travel.

    I look at it as entertainment. If I’m having fun, it’s good. When it stops being fun, it’s time to leave. And I go with only the amount of cash I’m willing to lose. Then if I take any home, I’m happy.

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