The Tech That Beat The Casinos
If riding rollercoasters or sky diving aren’t your thing, casinos are places you can get real rushes of adrenaline.
A big win is always a spin/card/roll away but more often than not they don’t come. At least for most players. There are some who have discovered methods to gain an advantage over casinos and their games.
While they haven’t hit the casino industry hard like Brexit might, for example, they are still dangerous. If you’re caught, you can face a lifetime ban and even prosecution. But for these selected players, their use of mathematics, technology, and hours of practice have helped them rake in millions. Here are 6 examples of technology that beat the casinos.
You might have heard of card counting from the film, Rain Man. Although the depiction of it wasn’t 100% accurate, the concept is very much real and was created by a mathematics professor. Ed Thorp lectured at institutions such as MIT and UC Irvine but in 1963, he wrote a book called Beat the Dealer, where he proposed an idea known as “card counting” that allowed players to calculate the best strategy in blackjack, based on what kind of hand they had.
Certain cards are assigned numbers and the total determines the next move. Thorp tested his theory in the wild and beat the casino until the casino caught him out. How? They caught him using special computers to “spy” on the dealers. He was later banned for life in Las Vegas’ gambling establishments but he turned his talents to “discovering and exploiting a number of pricing anomalies in the securities markets”.
Ed Thorp used hidden cameras to spy on dealers but he wasn’t the only one. No matter what the casinos do, they can’t completely stop players entering their establishments with the most sophisticated cameras. One example is known as “card-cutting schemes”.
Baccarat players place hidden cameras under their sleeves and record values of each card on the table. This data is then used to determine optimal betting strategies. But hidden cameras aren’t restricted to use by players. Employees have their own ways of trying to beat the casino, as accomplices to scamming or general theft from their employers.
Here’s a scenario: you play at a slot machine and you win a prize. The coins start to drop out. You wish more coins could have dropped. But what if they could without winning more? You’d need a device that allows coins to keep dropping coins without detection. And such devices exist.
Known as “remote jackpotters”, the handheld remotes can empty out more coins than you’ve actually won at the click of a button. They’re small enough to hide in non-descript places like cigarette packets and purses and are sold online. Naturally, this is illegal and more reputable establishments can spot them.
They confuse cats and intensify raves but lasers can also be used in casinos for more nefarious purposes. In 2004, a pair of gamblers won over £1m using laser technology. What makes this story even more remarkable is they got to keep their winnings.
The scam took place at the Ritz Casino in London where a laser scanner was used to “gauge numbers likely to come up on the roulette wheel”. The incident was investigated by the casino and the police, but they deemed no law was broken and they were released without charge and £1.3m in their pockets.
Older slot machines used random numbers to determine how reels stopped but their algorithms were primitive in comparison to today’s machines. People calculated their formulas and used them to judge when payouts were likely to happen. They did this by waiting for other players to spin them closer to the “payout sequence” and pounce at the right moment.
Online slot games aren’t quite as prone to this kind of strategy and while newer machines aren’t as predictable, they are still vulnerable to someone with the right data. Someone like “Alex”, a Russian mathematician and programmer who used random number generation to beat the casinos. He used pseudorandom number generators, or PRNGs to reverse engineer the slots and predict the likelihood of a game’s payout. Alex used “agents” who scoped out vulnerable slots across the world and sent the footage back to him. It’s claimed a four-man team of this calibre could earn over $250k a week.
More mathematics now, this time from Harvard. James Grosjean has spent countless hours studying casinos and players to try and minimise and beat the casino’s edge. Because casinos always have an edge.
In an article for Wired, Grosjean told them how his degree in applied maths helped him to beat their games. He used a team to beat the dealer using physical and verbal cues and spying on other players’ cards. But his work is more than glimpses of cards and play adjustments.
Grosjean’s analysis involves a host of mathematical techniques such as statistical modelling, probability analysis, advanced algebra, and combinatorics. His strategy isn’t for the uninitiated which is why he is the perfect person to place it.
Global casinos has a forecasted gross gaming yield of around $130bn (USD) this year. That’s about how much Jeff Bezos had to split with his ex-wife in their divorce settlement. It’s a lot of money and you might question the morality of it all.
Some of the examples above were fuelled by this mentality and with the use of technology, their motives became financial gains. Casinos continue to clamp down on offenders who cheat their systems but the algorithm warriors always fight back. And it’s not just strategic players who try to beat new casinos.
NFL’s Pacman Jones was caught cheating in February. His attempt was more ham-fisted – stealing chips from other players to increase his wins – but not far removed from the principle of cheating devices. No matter who they are or what their ideas may be, beating the casino still remains a dream for some and a reality for others.