Teaching Gambling with Behavioral Skills Training

Alden Gartrell

Guest Author

Research has shown that a high percentage of the American population gambles recreationally. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of these recreational gamblers are at risk for losing a great deal of money. One way to address this problem, and increase the likelihood of profiting, is to learn how to count cards. However, many find this to be a controversial topic. Teaching Blackjack Skills can easily be taught through using behavioral skills and video rehearsal.

In 2015, Speelman, Whiting, & Dixon conducted an experiment to determine whether training recreational gamblers to count cards made a difference in their ability to profit from recreational gambling. The purpose of this experiment was to teach the skill of card counting and see if the use of that skill led to a higher percentage of profit.

Four women who play Blackjack recreationally participated in this experiment. Participants had to pass the South Oaks Gambling Screen assessment, proving they were not pathological gamblers, before completing the experiment. The experiment took place in both an office setting and a mock casino. During baseline, there was one experimenter in each room. The dealer closely mimicked blackjack in a realistic casino environment. Each subject completed between thirty and one hundred twenty hands of cards for baseline. The independent variable for the experiment was the behavioral skills training used to teach Blackjack skills. Blackjack skills were learned through video rehearsal, training and testing. Behavioral skills training included as many instructional videos needed for each participant to master card counting. The dependent variable for the experiment was the amount of money earned by each participant. A Multiple-Baseline design was used for the experimental design.

Results showed a positive correlation between the number of correct cards counted and the amount of money earned. Teaching card counting in Blackjack did, in fact, increase the percentage of profit for 75% of the participants in this study. The participants earned $875 combined after the intervention was implemented as opposed to losing $265 combined before training. All participants except one earned a substantial profit after intervention.

The participants each had normal gambling skills and unexceptional card counting capabilities before intervention. This study technically does increase the chances of making profit in Blackjack which could be very helpful to recreational gamblers. However, the question remains as to the degree to which such a skill could reinforce gambling to inappropriate levels as a function of increased profit.  Nevertheless, the findings could mitigate the risk of losses for recreational gamblers.


Speelman, R.C., Whiting, S.W., & Dixon, M. R. (2015). Using behavioral skills training and video rehearsal to teach blackjack skills. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48(3), 632-642.

Alden Gartrell is a Sophomore at The University of North Texas. Alden is studying Behavior Analysis and is a current member of UNT Serves. Alden also spends her time volunteering with Buddy League in Garland.  You can reach Alden at aldengartrell2@gmail.com.


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