Winners & Losers: Gamble to Pay Off a Debt? Only if it’s Not Gambling

graduation hat

A story ran in the Wall Street Journal this week about a kid who came up with the harebrained idea of randomly gambling, by betting sports, to pay off his college loan.

For those of us in America, college loans are no joke. It’s not unusual for people to graduate from university with loads of debt, since college in the US can be pricy.

The idea is that you pay it off slowly, with low interest rates and minimal sting. I know this, because I did it.

It’s not designed for you to owe, say, 20K and put it all on red to see what happens.

But, in a slow leak way, that is what this kid seemed poised to do – and he bragged about it on TikTok. Bad judgment all around.

The story took young men to task for gambling recklessly. Luckily, the kid lost a little bit of money and stopped pushing results out to 1-million page viewers who checked him out.

He had ups and downs, claims to have a lost a measly $30 and gave up. Good idea. Like most illogical sports bettors, he probably would have gotten crushed.

That said, his brief stint brings to mind a reality that the smart move is to find a game, figure out a way to beat it and then apply yourself. That’s anything but gambling.

Billy Baxter, one of the all-time great poker players and sports bettors, learned how to not gamble when he just a teenager.

He was good at pool and terrible at poker, but that didn’t keep him from wandering into the backroom of a hometown bar and putting his pool winnings at risk.

Time and again, he lost at cards. Undaunted and mindful, Baxter kept at it until he learned the game. By the time Baxter entered college, majoring in dentistry, regulars at the backroom game feared him.

“Pre-med books were so hard and the poker was so easy,” he told me.

Baxter didn’t stay in school long enough to acquire debt. But he taught himself how to beat a game, used it as a foundation for overcoming others and grew up to be a legendary all-around Vegas gambler.

Baxter is not alone.

James Grosjean was attending grad school – after earning Phi Beta Cappa honors at Harvard – and successfully card counting to pay for books.

By keeping his eyes and mind open, he discovered hole carding on a Chicago riverboat. Grosjean swapped a future on Wall Street for one as a casino pro.

Erik Seidel made money playing backgammon while a high school kid, didn’t bother with college and landed a job as a trader on Wall Street, working for a fellow backgammon guy.

Then the market crashed and he lost his job. Backgammon was dead and poker was boiling over. He took up poker. Now Seidel is one of the winningest tournament players in the world.

Surely, there are canny geniuses I don’t know of who are kicking around, maybe not paying off college debts, but definitely winning brilliantly.

As for the kid who got written up in the Journal? I’m betting that he quit too soon.

Hell, if he’s cagey enough to corral a million hits on TikTok, he’s sharp enough to find a game and erase his college debt before moving on to the next money grabbing opportunity.

Now that’s something I’d like to watch on TikTok.

Michael Kaplan
Gambling Author and Journalist

Michael Kaplan is a journalist based in New York City joined Techopedia in November 2023. He is the author of five books ("The Advantage Players" comes out in 2024) and has worked for publications that include Wired, GQ and the New York Post. He has written extensively on technology, gambling and business — with a particular interest in spots where all three intersect. His article on Kelly "Baccarat Machine" Sun and Phil Ivey is in development as a feature film.