Video slot machines pull a lot of tricks to make it hard to tell how fair the game is; one of them is to ring up "wins" that are actually losses (you put in $1 and get $0.75 back, say), with a lot of fanfare and hoo-rah. These tricks are calculated to hook players into the game by stimulating their reward centers with intermittent stimulus, a powerfully addictive combination. Read the rest
Claude Shannon is one of the great, heroic titans of the computer science revolution, a brilliant scientist and Feynman-grade eccentric whose accomplishments fill several excellent books. Read the rest
UK betting site Paddy Power is taking bets on a number of Trump related possibilities, including suspending the 1st Amendment (40-to-1), repealing Obamacare (1-to-2), banning abortion (3-to-1), re-opening Alcatraz as a prison (14-to-1), outlawing the theory of evolution (50-to-1), and banning stairs (500-to-1). Read the rest
In 2009, then-PM Vladimir Putin engineered a Russian ban on slot machines in a bid to starve Georgian mafiyeh of funds, the resulting glut of used slots gave Russia's own criminal gangs cheap testbeds to use in a project to reverse-engineer the machines and discover their weaknesses -- now, Russian gangs roam the world's casinos, racking up careful, enormous scores. Read the rest
In a first, an artificial intelligence named Libratus has bested top-tier players at no-limit Texas Hold 'em. This is especially notable because imperfect information games are notoriously challenging to program. Read the rest
In July 2012, professional poker-player Phil Ivey won $4.8M from the baccarat tables at Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in 17 hours; on other occasions, he took a total of $9M out of the Borgata: he did it by asking the house to deal Gemaco Borgata cards, whose backs contained minute asymmetries in their patterns. By asking the dealer to turn some cards upside down, Ivey's partner, Cheng Yin Sun, was able to track them as they moved through the deck. Read the rest
Katrina Bookman was excited when her slot machine hit the jackpot: $42,949,672.76. Resorts World Casino in New York was happy to take her money while she was putting it into the machine, but weren't as happy about giving her the prize. MACHINE R BORKED, they told her. Read the rest
“The Fantasy Sports Gamble” is a must-see Frontline documentary investigated with The New York Times about fantasy sports and online sports betting. Read the rest
Somebody will win the $1.3 Billion Powerball lottery, but it won't be me and it won't be you. Read the rest
In 1913, George Julius installed a building-sized, all mechanical odds-calculating computer at Auckland, NZ's Ellerslie racetrack, powered by huge iron weights that slowly pulled down bike chains over sprockets, driving the clockwork device as it "totalised" all the bets laid on horses at the track, keeping the odds in constant balance so that all the bettors were effectively betting against one another, in a system called "pari-mutuel" betting. Read the rest
Apropos of Rob's post yesterday about the plight of card counters in casinos, Mental Floss has a number other methods for improving your odds at a casino. They interviewed Bill Zender, a former professional card counter, dealer, and casino floor manager. I think Zender's most useful tip is finding a sloppy, drug-addled dealer who regularly flashes their hole card. This probably doesn't happen often, but when it does, you can rake it in.
Zender estimates there are fewer than 100 professional blackjack card counters in the world. If you happen to be one of them, you might nab a 1.5 percent advantage. So save your energy, Zender advises; instead keep an eye out for the sloppy blackjack dealer who will accidentally flash the face-down card. Zender once made a living exploiting this, keeping a notebook of 35 weak dealers from 16 different casinos. The strategy is called “card holing,” and it can give you a 6 to 9 percent edge over the house. (That’s like standing in front of an ATM that spits out twenties!) The best part? “It’s totally legal,” Zender says. “They may throw me out of the casino, but they’re not going to arrest me.”
Image: Daniel J. Prostak Read the rest
What in the unknown world is Jason Rohrer up to now?
Stefan Lanka, a "vaccination skeptic" who claims that measles are a psychosomatic condition brought on by "traumatic separations," publicly challenged people to prove that measles was caused by a virus. Read the rest
A Chinese property development executive, known as the "Red King of Gambling" owes $160 million in gambling debts to casinos in Macau. Read the rest
John Kane, who'd lost a fortune to Video King machines, discovered a subtle bug that let him win big -- so the casinos put him in handcuffs. Read the rest
The Borgata Hotel Casino & Space is suing World Series of Poker star Phil Ivey for nearly $10 million for using what they claim are "imperfect" playing cards that gave Ivey a leg up. Borgata is also going after Gemaco, Inc., makers of the playing cards. From NorthJersey.com:
The suit alleges that the some of the cards made by Gemaco turned out to not have a perfectly symmetrical design on the back of the card. Ivey, the suit claims, was able to figure out what the first card to be dealt was – giving him a significant advantage over the “house,” or casino.
Ivey contacted Borgata officials in April 2012 and sought to play mini-baccarat for up to $50,000 a hand on the $1 million he would wire to the casino, according to the suit. Given Ivey’s high-roller status, the casino agreed to his request that he would be given a private area in which to play as well as provided with a card dealer who spoke Mandarin Chinese. The casino also agreed to let Ivey bring a guest to the table as well, to provide one purple deck of Gemaco playing cards for use, and for an automatic card shuffling device to be used.
According to the suit, “The pretext given for some of these requests was that Ivey was superstitious."
"Famed poker star Phil Ivey sued by Borgata for almost $10 million over alleged playing card scam" (Thanks, Gil Kaufman!) Read the rest
Tim "Undercover Economist" Harford's column "Casinos’ worrying knack for consumer manipulation," takes a skeptical look at business and markets -- specifically their reputation for offering a fair trade between buyers and sellers. Inspired by Natasha Dow Schüll's book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, a 2012 book on the calculated means by which gamblers are inveigled to part with more money than they consciously intend to, Harford asks a fundamental question about capitalism: are markets built on fair exchanges, or on trickery? Read the rest