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Is Pool Hustling Illegal? (or Dangerous)

A lot of people enjoy a friendly (or competitive) wager when playing a number of sports or games. This is true for players of all abilities as it either adds an extra incentive or motivation during a game to increase competitiveness. 

What happens though when the basis of the wager is made on uncertain terms? Well, this is something that’s incredibly common with pool and billiard based games. What I’m alluding to is known as pool hustling. 

You’ve likely heard the term before – pool hustling is when a player disguises their playing ability, pretends to be bad in order to lure someone into a wager and then displays a significantly better standard of play during the game when a wager is active. This seems like poor etiquette and maybe even a crime but, Is pool hustling illegal? 

Pool hustling is not illegal and it is not a crime (though this will depend on the state) as long as it’s a wager between two parties. If other parties bet money on the outcome of a game of pool then this becomes gambling and will be illegal in most areas depending on state laws.  

In this article, I’ll cover the legalities of pool hustling and why it’s something that could land you in trouble with both the law and the person you’ve placed the wager with…

How Do You Play Pool?

There are a few variations of the game of pool, though the rules remain very similar. For example, there are rules for if you play with 9 balls or 8 balls or that address fouls that occur during the game. In short, players take turns hitting the white cue ball with their cue sticks.

The goal is to knock either solid-colored balls or striped balls into the pockets around the perimeter of the table. The 8-ball must not be knocked into a pocket until a player has sunk all the rest of their solid or striped balls. The first player to send all of their solid or striped balls plus the 8-ball into the pockets wins the game.

The rules are, obviously, a bit more detailed when actually playing a game but you get the gist. The World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) or Billiard Congress of America (BCA) are great resources for rules and regulations, tournament information, and more. 

What Is Pool Hustling?

Pool hustling is a type of waging or gambling. Players disguise their skills in order to lure in an opponent who they are confident they can beat. At some point in the game, the more talented player reveals their skills to the other. Essentially showing their cards.

At this time, the less skilled player realizes that they have been hustled but the damage is already done. The less skilled player has already wagered a bet that they’re now forced to pay because they’ve lost their game of pool. Not paying the waged amount is an entirely different can of worms.

Pool Culture

Some movies about pool hustling and the culture surrounding pool or billiards are:

  1. The Hustler
  2. The Color of Money
  3. Poolhall Junkies
  4. Snooker
  5. Turn the River

These movies are older and provide a lens into the world of pool hustling that we don’t commonly see demonstrated in more modern films, shows, and books. 

Not that pool isn’t a popular game today because it’s still very much played as a means of income. But, pool hustling isn’t as revered for its mobster-like culture in comparison to other types of adventure or action content. 


Pool hustling takes a certain level of skill in pool and in acting. You need people to believe that you aren’t talented in pool and that your advances on them are a fluke. If your opponent believes you’re just having some luck, they’re more likely to pay the wagered amount without confrontation. 

This acting also requires a great deal of patience. If you decide to hustle someone in a game of pool and win, you can’t be greedy. Trying to hustle multiple people in multiple games of pool in the same location will absolutely blow the narrative you’ve created. You must be patient and strategic when hustling in pool. 

It’s not uncommon that people who are hustling or gambling in games like pool would need to change locations frequently in order to actually hustle an opponent. But this also requires patience because the narrative that is created takes time to establish in order to collect the winnings. 

The below video clearly shows how to convincingly hustle someone in pool:

Is Pool Hustling Illegal?

There’s a gray area between pool hustling and gambling, and it may depend on where you live whether or not pool hustling is considered gambling. For the most part, pool hustling isn’t considered illegal because it’s just viewed as a wager between two people. 

However, pool hustling becomes gambling when other observers wager on a game or when the “house” (meaning bar, club, etc.) takes a cut of the money that was wagered. Gambling without properly following your state’s rules is illegal.  

Not to mention that some wagers are for more than money, and as the stakes grow the players can become more confrontational.

Is Pool Hustling Dangerous?

While pool hustling may not be illegal in your state, it can definitely be dangerous. There are arguments that the sport is much safer than other games because it isn’t as physical. Football, soccer, and countless other sports require players to tackle each other or play rough to win.

Pool or billiards doesn’t include any physical roughhousing, but it comes with its own risks. A person isn’t going to be happy that they made a bet just to find out they had no chance of winning. If you pick a loud and confrontational person to hustle in a game of pool, you are going to get a loud and confrontational response to the game.

It’s also dangerous to wager large amounts of money at once. You risk losing everything you have if your opponent surprises you. If you win a large sum of money, you risk a confrontation with an opponent who is unable to pay. Pool hustling requires observation and tact when choosing an opponent. 

What Is the Difference Between a Pool Shark and a Pool Hustler?

If you’re looking into a pool hustle, you might also have come across the term pool “shark”. A pool shark is different from a pool hustler but both use deception tactics to win a wager. A pool shark is a more aggressive hustler as they use tactics to distract or enrage an opponent and generally put them off their game. 

A pool shark doesn’t rely on their own level of deception to conceal their own skill at the game, instead they try to keep their opponent distracted and make them play worse so that they don’t get accused of hustling. 

Both terms are essentially the same though – a pool hustler and pool shark both try to unfairly win a wager by using specific tactics that are not based solely on skill. 

Final Thoughts 

Pool halls were a big thing in the 1960s-70s and part of that involved a level of pool hustling. People found that after alcohol wagers were made more freely and there was an opportunity to unfairly win the wager – through hustling. 

This proved to be a very popular money maker for many pool hustlers and some people even hustled as their full time job! The definition of pool hustling is quite blurred though and as such, it’s proven to be difficult to enforce pool hustling by law meaning that it’s not necessarily illegal in most states. 

While that may be the case, pool hustling will get you into more trouble outside of the law. If you try to hustle the wrong person or get found out to be hustling, it could result in a dangerous and violent situation so it’s not really something people should look to do in modern day society – especially when you can easily be caught out on social media!