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June 24, 2004 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Most gamblers will laugh at the idea that there exists a scientific method to (legally) beat a casino roulette.

Well, it turns out that they are wrong. (Here is a PDF file with more details, in Spanish)

Mileage may vary
posted by magullo (30 comments total)

 
But despite this week's ruling he has no plans to return to Madrid's roulette tables. "I'm too well known," he said. Instead he plans to sue the casino for €1.2m (£800,000) in lost earnings.

Later he'll sue under the Disabilities Act for most of us being unable to accomodate the enormous balls he must have to say that.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:11 AM on June 24, 2004


You can also do it with cell phones, reaffirming my strongly held belief that they are tools of the Devil.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:51 AM on June 24, 2004


The problem with his method (observing the roulette wheel for statistically significant imperfections favoring one number over another) is that casinos are wise to it. In the U.S., at least, casinos deal with it by a) monitoring the wheels themselves and replacing the wheel when it appears it has developed such an imperfection and b) expelling any customers that they suspect of monitoring the wheels to use this method. Apparently in Spain they're a little behind the curve, but I have no doubt they'll catch up quickly.

IshmaelGraves links to a more interesting approach. The article says that some U.S. states have banned computers in casinos. However, I would guess that in 10-15 years personally-worn computers will be so ubiquitous as to be unbannable. At the same time, there will probably be enough processing power that a camera mounted in a customer's glasses could send info to a computer which could accurately judge the ending position of the ball. When that day comes, the casinos will have to change the game somehow to stay ahead.
posted by tdismukes at 7:21 AM on June 24, 2004


Interestingly, neither paper noticed the connection with Joseph Jaggers, aka The Man who Broke the Bank in Monte Carlo, who used precisely the same method in 1873.
posted by raygirvan at 7:30 AM on June 24, 2004


Apparently in Spain they're a little behind the curve, but I have no doubt they'll catch up quickly.

I for one would rather not "catch up" if it means having the Spanish justice system bow to the corporations that own the casinos 8?(
posted by magullo at 7:36 AM on June 24, 2004


Counting cards in blackjack or a statistical analysis of a roulette wheel's history is breaking the rules of the game. The casino sets the rules—if you don't like the rules, you don't have to play the game.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:45 AM on June 24, 2004


Interesting post.
And thanks, raygirvan, I was looking for that.
posted by spazzm at 7:53 AM on June 24, 2004


Counting cards in blackjack or a statistical analysis of a roulette wheel's history is breaking the rules of the game.

"Rules" like this remind me of those signs on the street that say "Don't Even THINK About Parking Here."

Oh yeah? Well, I'm THINKING about it!
posted by deanc at 7:54 AM on June 24, 2004


Counting cards in blackjack or a statistical analysis of a roulette wheel's history is breaking the rules of the game.

I don't believe that's correct. I do believe that the casinos maintain the right to kick out anyone they catch doing it, but it's not like they sieze their winnings first.

Anybody who plays roulette or blackjack for more than entertainment value without some sort of "unfair" advantage would be better off putting the money towards a statistics class.
posted by callmejay at 8:01 AM on June 24, 2004


Can't you just bet 1 on black and when you lose double your bet and when you win bet 1 again?
posted by ODiV at 8:04 AM on June 24, 2004


magullo: I for one would rather not "catch up" if it means having the Spanish justice system bow to the corporations that own the casinos

What an absurd reach. It never fails to amaze me how people can see Noam Chomsky in anything. He's appeared on more potato chips and in more oil slicks than the Virgin Mary. For god sake's, these guys were cheating - using an unfair advantage to beat the house (which employs a 'fair' advantage - I know, I know). What does the big bad big business boogeyman have to do with this?

tdismukes: I would guess that in 10-15 years personally-worn computers will be so ubiquitous as to be unbannable.

The future is now. These guys were using nothing more futuristic than a cell phone to do their calculations.

the casinos will have to change the game somehow to stay ahead.

And the answer, obviously enough, is to not allow betting once the ball has been thrown. As it is, you can bet up until the ball has spun three times around the wheel, which allows the speed-measuring cheats to work.
posted by ChasFile at 8:07 AM on June 24, 2004


The Martindale System & variants.

I was in Vegas last month & worked a $5 stake (the minimum) up to $160 at Binion's over the few days I was playing roulette. I got free drinks for myself & my friend for playing, I covered the costs of the room and had a good time with the other players.

Hardly a high roller - especially compared to the World Series of Poker side games that were going on - but I always wanted to take some money off the Binions. There is something very satisfying about winning in Vegas.

You do have to have the bankroll to cover a few losses. I only lost four times on the trot & had to make a $80 bet to get it back but I did see tables that had runs of 10 losses & IIRC the record is 27.

Worth pointing out that US roulette wheels have 0 & 00 whereas European ones just have 0 so the odds favour the European punters.
posted by i_cola at 8:08 AM on June 24, 2004


Counting cards in blackjack or a statistical analysis of a roulette wheel's history is breaking the rules of the game.

Do you really believe that? Of course it's not. The rules of the game are quite simple: in blackjack, take a card or don't take a card. Split, double, take insurance. There is nothing more. If you vary your bet based upon your perceived chances of winning, that's certainly playing within the rules.

Would you suggest that I am cheating if I bet heavily into a poker hand when I hold a straight flush and fold when I have a low pair? I should hope not.

Casinos, of course, have every right to choose their bettors, and if you're winning "too much," whether it is because you are counting cards or analyzing the roulette wheel or are supernaturally prescient, they should send you packing. But to insinuate that smart betting is cheating is silly.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:11 AM on June 24, 2004


Counting cards in blackjack or a statistical analysis of a roulette wheel's history is breaking the rules of the game.


You're not breaking the rules of the game. You're breaking the rules of the casino.
posted by jpoulos at 8:22 AM on June 24, 2004


Can't you just bet 1 on black and when you lose double your bet and when you win bet 1 again?a

I use to think as you mate but do the maths with a spreadsheet - find out how much you will need to cover the final bet on average (after you lose say ten times in a row) and realise why they have maximum bet limits on gaming tables.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 8:37 AM on June 24, 2004


What does the big bad big business boogeyman have to do with this?

This thread has at least 3 links that show how casinos in the US, NZ and UK can legally kick out whomever they feel like without any reason. I, for one, am glad that this is not the case in Spain. Just as I, for one, am glad that casinos in Spain are regulated in an extremely tight manner*.

Then again, there is a chance that you might be right and the corporations that own the casinos (and casinos are owned by corporations - look it up) have nothing to do with how the laws are set up. A very slim chance, if I may say so.

*The reasoning being that, hey, the games already have built-in advantages for the casino; so there is no reason for further abuse to the -admittedly volunteer- customers. ¿Not interested in setting up a casino under these circumstances? Then move out of the way, because the line of people behind you waiting to do just that is enormous. (I know all this because I'm Spanish and the issue is widely discussed). Having said that, casinos in Spain can ban proven cheaters and MUST comply with self-exclusion requests from their customers (Ahem).

Bottom line: I'm more of a potential customer than a potential corporation - so you can also chalk it up as defending my own interests.

posted by magullo at 8:41 AM on June 24, 2004


Casinos that don't allow counting cards are defining how customers are allowed to play the game. Those are "rules". It's a variation on the traditional blackjack rules, but it's a rule just the same.

"Smart" betting isn't cheating if it isn't specifically forbidden by the casino. Many casinos specifically forbid card-counting, and that by definition makes it cheating. Yes, even then, casinos can ban customers that win too much; but that's a different thing. The ones that forbid card-counting explicitly forbid card-counting. Did they let that guy who used a computer in his shoe keep his winnings when they caught him at it? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't. I wouldn't be surprised if Las Vegas law or something specifically deals with card-counting.

Card-counting and wheel-profiling are "exploits" in the massively-online-computer-game sense of the word. They're not "smart" playing, they're finding a loophole and exploiting it. Yeah, the exploiters often try to claim that they're playing within the rules; but most people can tell the difference between an exploit and skill. Also, the game designer gets to define what's an exploit and what's not. Even if people aren't inclined to think that something's an exploit, if the game designer specifically defines something as an exploit, then it becomes one. They write the rules. I don't think that's "unfair". It's just the way it is.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:37 AM on June 24, 2004


Have you ever tried counting cards at blackjack? I think it's probably smart playing. I, for one, thing the MIT Blackjack team was/is a thing of genius.
posted by The God Complex at 10:21 AM on June 24, 2004


Ethereal Bligh Is playing according to the basic strategy an exploit too? It was devised performing statistical analysis on computer-generated blackjack games.

Also:

"From the objective view of the law, if there is such a thing, card counters are merely players who have enough skill to beat casinos at their own game. This does not mean the law is always going to be on the side of the players. Casinos, like most other businesses, in general have the right to exclude anyone, so long as they are not discriminating on the basis of race, gender etc.

(In New Jersey, the Supreme Court ruled that the state's control of Atlantic City's casinos is so complete that only government regulators have the power to make rules to exclude skillful players).

The problem for card counters is that the law never remains an outside, objective dispenser of justice. In Western democracies, laws are not handed down as the word of God (as interpreted by high priests), but are made by human beings. Casinos are much better at playing politics than any group of gamblers."


And


Casinos spend an enormous amount of time and money attempting to foil card counters. Some of these counter-measures are aimed not only at card counters, but are part of the industry's continuous attempt to speed up the velocity of money. Among the many tactics casinos have used:

1. Identifying known counters through photo books and face recognition computer technology.

2. Linking computers with imbedded scanners in blackjack tables. The most sophisticated of these systems can even recognize which system a player is using.

3. Dealing out only a few hands before shuffling. Dealers sometimes shuffle whenever players greatly increase the sizes of their wagers.

4. Changing the rules, often in the middle of a game. These include lowering the stakes and limiting the right to double-down, split or play more than one hand at a time. Sometimes the restrictions are imposed on the entire table and sometimes only on the card counter.

5. Harassing skilled players. Skilled players have been subjected to such crude tactics as having drinks spilled on them. One was even arrested in Atlantic City on trumped up charges, leading to a civil suit and a large jury verdict against the casino.

6. Bringing social pressure against the card counter. Casinos are social settings. Slowing up a game to measure where the cut card is can turn the other players at the table against the card-counter.


posted by magullo at 10:43 AM on June 24, 2004


Bligh, Vegas and Atlantic City laws don't even regard card counting as cheating. They define cheating as doing something that materially affects the outcome of the game. That's why they have people who cheat arrested and just get rid of the card counters (actually, in Atlantic City they can't even do that--they just change the dealer, the shoe, or do other things in order to throw off the count or otherwise discourage the counter from continuing to play).

In my opinion, card counting is just like remembering cards that have already been dealt in a 7 card stud game or a bridge game--smart playing. Granted, it has a sleazier reputation, but all they're doing is remembering information that has been given them.
posted by lackutrol at 10:47 AM on June 24, 2004


Whoops, I guess magullo covered my points pretty well.
posted by lackutrol at 10:51 AM on June 24, 2004


magullo: I for one would rather not "catch up" if it means having the Spanish justice system bow to the corporations that own the casinos
What an absurd reach.

Las Vegas is not owned by the mafia or movie stars as it once was. It's now big corporations which is why it's a family vactaion spot now -fyi.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:59 AM on June 24, 2004


Card-counting and wheel-profiling are "exploits" in the massively-online-computer-game sense of the word. They're not "smart" playing, they're finding a loophole and exploiting it.

Huh? When it comes to card counting at Blackjack, it's the nature of the game. What are you doing in blackjack? You making a decision about whether to hit or stay based on whether you think it is a good idea to do so or not. You would typically hit on a 10 because you would never bust. You would typically refrain from hitting on a 19 because the odds are that you would bust. Card-counting is just a means of getting a better quantitative idea about whether one should hit or stay.

You seem to argue that hit-or-stay decisions by blackjack players should be completely random.

Claiming that it is against the rules to make decisions in blackjack based on your odds of success is, as I said, much like telling someone not to "think" about parking somewhere.
posted by deanc at 11:55 AM on June 24, 2004


Las Vegas is ... a family vactaion spot now -fyi.

Not anymore.
posted by deanc at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2004


Nothing like corporate efficiency

And, according to casino insiders like Rappaport, don’t bet this trend will reverse any time soon, especially as many casinos tighten rules on games like blackjack, which now pays only 6-5 for a natural in many casinos.

Squeezing blackjack players by lowering the payoffs or hitting soft 17 or reshuffling early in the deck are all designed to increase the game’s "hold percentage," which usually runs about 12 percent of the table’s total handle.


/Over and out
posted by magullo at 11:59 AM on June 24, 2004


If anyone is interested in a fun, light read about this, in the vein of Bringing Down The House, but a bit geekier, I recommend finding a copy of Eudaemonic Pie. Fun book about a bunch of kids who figured out how to beat Vegas (and one of whom went on to be the physicist mentioned in the New Scientist article linked by IshmaelGraves.)
posted by louie at 12:03 PM on June 24, 2004


Card-counting and wheel-profiling are "exploits" in the massively-online-computer-game sense of the word. They're not "smart" playing, they're finding a loophole and exploiting it.

Nope. Card-counters are more like "power gamers" who min-max their characters and activities to wring every last bit of advantage out of a game. Working within the system, but spending more time with formulas and spreadsheets to track down the saddle points, where they can get the best return for the least risk/effort. Using an exploit is straight-out cheating, whether it's abusing a bug to double your gold, or tweaking your video card to see through walls. An exploiter in a casino would be the one rigging the roulette wheel, or using some mechanical device to tamper with the slots.
posted by majcher at 2:41 PM on June 24, 2004


Card-counting relies on flaws in the way that blackjack, as a game, is designed - each deal is (unlike in most forms of gambling) not independent of the last, which could be considered a big mistake by the casino. Although technology can assist it, it isn't on the most basic level requried - just mental power, the same that's used when people are making decisions when playing poker. Claiming that using past knowledge about the game is "cheating" is therefore quite strange. In the end, it's the casino's fault that the game is winnable, and they have ample opportunity to change the game to avoid this - indeed, using multi-deck shoes is a common practice.
posted by Jimbob at 7:59 PM on June 24, 2004


Can't you just bet 1 on black and when you lose double your bet and when you win bet 1 again?

If you have an infinite amount of money, and there's no bet limit on the table, sure.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:57 PM on June 24, 2004


I think card counting may well be a thing of the past thanks to new technology. I was in the Bellagio casino about a year ago and they had a continuously shuffling shoe. It held about five decks, approximately four of which were shuffling at any given time. On demand the shoe would spit up a packet of cards more than sufficient for any single hand. Old hands were placed back into the hopper to re-shuffle in. Therefore, you never saw the bottom of a shoe; the only card that you knew were not in the current deal were those that were in the immediately proceeding one.

It had the added advantage - or disadvantage - of allowing the dealer to deal hands without any breaks for shuffling.
posted by rtimmel at 10:20 AM on June 25, 2004


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