Here are four reasons why your gambling effects suck.

On online magic forums, I hear magicians preach that audiences want magic effects and that gambling effects are boring. I believe this stems from these magicians trying out some gambling material and it bombs. So now they have “experience” and therefore, in their mind, their opinion is valid. (And, then there’s the folks that have never done any gambling material but still offer their opinion that no one want to see it. My favorite kind of expert.) My act typically has 3-4 gambling effects in it, and they get great reactions.

Here’s why your gambling material sucks:

  1. It doesn’t fit your character and performance style. If you don’t have and style or character to begin with, the audience is trying to figure out what and who you are. If your act consists of you doing sponge balls, rope magic, then linking rings, and then a blackjack demo, do you really think your audience will be able to follow what’s going on? How do you have any credibility as a card mechanic demonstrating how to cheat at blackjack? You haven’t established yourself as a card expert. That’s why that gambling effect isn’t going to work with your audience. I saw a magician in Boston perform an act that was just a variety of magic you can buy online. I saw everything from mentalism, to him making goldfish appear in his mouth. In the middle of this act, he did some Ace cutting routine and it just got no reactions. This performer was just all over the map with his style and material. Each effect started with, “Okay, check this out. Here’s a normal glass…” Or, “Here’s 5 ordinary metal rings….” Or, “Here’s a regular deck of cards.” Basically, everything he did was some sort of puzzle that he narrated what he did as he did it. There was nothing connecting the material into an act. Gambling material just won’t work if you’re trying to shoehorn it into a variety act.

  2. I’ve seen some gambling routines where the effect is so specific to a particular game. You shouldn’t be doing material that’s specific to Whist, (I’ll wait while you Google that) Faro, or Pot limit Razz. You should stick to popular games like Texas Hold ‘em, draw poker, and blackjack. The winning hands should be a suited Ace and Jack if you’re playing blackjack or a suited royal flush in numerical order if you’re playing poker. In poker, a royal flush or four of a kind are obviously strong even to someone that doesn’t play cards. Basically, the effect should be that your opponent got four Kings and you somehow managed to get four Aces against all odds. Also, you can’t do Kings-lose-to-Aces effects all night. Your gambling material must be a variety of plots. You can talk about palming cards, tracking, stacking, counting cards, switching cards, three-card monte, etc. etc. If you do three 10-card poker deals in a row, it won’t play.

  3. You think that gambling effects are you just demonstrating gambling sleights. My social media posts are typically me just demoing gambling sleights. That’s purely just content for social media. A gambling effect you do for a live show can’t be just you executing a second deal and then teaching what it is. A gambling effect must have a premise with build and a strong finish. Perhaps you’re telling a story about how you double duked in a recent game. Or, you’re telling a dramatic story about two cheats playing against each other in the same game. The story allows you to demo particular gambling sleights, but that’s just a small part of the effect. The audience will react more to the outcome of the story than just watching you manipulate the cards. A gambling effect should get the same reaction as a magic trick. Don’t believe me? How would you react if you shuffled your deck of cards, dealt the cards yourself, turned the cards face up yourself and you had the four Kings and I had the four Aces? That’s seemingly impossible and it would play as strong as any magic trick. Make sure your gambling material plays BIG.

  4. You’re not reading your audience. I don’t do kids shows. I did one as a favor for a friend back in 2008 or so and I’m still suffering from PTSD. However, if you do get booked for a kids show, gambling material just isn’t going to work. At every show I do, very early on in my act, I start to read my audience to see what kind of group I’m working for. I always have a predetermined set of effects I plan on doing, however, if I sense the audience is really enjoying the magic effects, I’ll make adjustments as I go. If it’s a show for a group of NYC hotshot lawyers that play poker every weekend, I’m certainly not going to perform Twisting the Aces.

Finally, I’m not saying gambling material is superior and you must add it into your show. I’m just saying that if you’ve tried it and you don’t like how it plays, think about what I’ve explained so far. Was it good gambling material, was it in the right place in your show, what came before and after it, what kind of audience did you have? And, perhaps at the end of the day, maybe gambling material is just not a good fit for your character. For me personally, a typical show is an equal split of magic and gambling material and all of it resonates with my audience. Watch a few gambling effects here and see the reactions they get:

Magic Castle Set:

Royal Open:


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