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A Casino Odyssey: Part Four

By localroger in Culture
Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 12:41:37 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

We were living a life many people dream of, jet-setting to exotic locations, staying in huge hotel suites, eating like royalty, watching prizefights and concerts and dazzling shows from seats so exclusive you couldn't buy tickets if you wanted to, and handling tens of thousands of dollars in cash as if it were pocket change.

And it was all starting to feel very, very wrong.

This is the last of a four-part story.
In case you didn't see them, here are Parts One, Two, and Three.

We begin to realize what we've stepped in

The casino fairy-tale jumped the shark for me in mid 1999 at the New Palace casino in Biloxi. The Old Palace had gone bankrupt and the New owners were offering a pretty good game to lure people in. Y was playing aggressively, figuring to get in as much play as possible before getting the inevitable boot. The count was going up and the dealer could do no wrong.

Across the table was a guy in his mid-50's. He was overweight, and nursing both a beer and a cigar. I wasn't betting, and neither was the guy's wife. I was doing the act I usually do while watching Y lose big. "I've seen this movie before. Hey, could you get me a waitress? Now I really need a drink." Across the table the guy with the beer and cigar was betting several hundred bucks a hand and losing almost as quickly as Y. After a disastrous hand in which both players lost multiple splits and doubles, the wife met my gaze, shook her head just a bit, and rolled her eyes.

There was just one problem with this moment of shared suffering; I was an imposter. The $20,000 Y lost on this shoe was meaningless, because it would be offset by $22,000 won somewhere else in short order. But the guy with the cigar and the beer and the sunken features was cruising toward destruction. He might already be playing with money he couldn't afford to lose; and if he wasn't, he would be eventually. That's the real movie I'd seen before, too many times.

Y likes to make the point that gambling is the worst form of addiction, because there is a limit to how much coke or heroin you can put into yourself but there is no limit to how much money you can piss away in a casino. The same place that takes your money on average ten cents a hand at the $5 table will happily arrange to take it $100 a hand at a private, ten thousand dollar minimum table opened just for you.

Casinos "work" (in the sense that they are effective tools for separating customers from their money) by exploiting two universal human misperceptions. The first of these is a tendency to perceive patterns in randomness. The cruel losing streak with which I began my gambling career was no deliberate taunt by god or evidence of crooked games; it was a perfectly ordinary run of random numbers. As Knuth wrote with regard to random number generators, if your RNG can't pump out a string of 20 zeroes then it really isn't random. That is a perfectly valid result which must happen just as often as any other arbitrary string of 20 results. But when it happens, we don't think "hmmm, that is a perfectly valid if unusual result." We think the game is fixed or biased, and if we're gambling we might smirk and place a bet.

The second misperception has to do with the house edge. It seems so reasonable, just a few percent tax to pay the dealer and build the casino. But most of us think of that percentage with regard to the drop rather than action. The typical 25-cent slot or $5 blackjack player thinks of the $100 he's bought in for, not of the thousands upon thousands of dollars in individual bets he can make before losing that stake. The exponential nature of the math turns that tiny percentage into an all-devouring black hole, which can eat the world a nibble at a time.

The people who run casinos know this. This is why they are so paranoid about card counters. The truth is that most card counters lose. They either don't play perfectly, they piss their winnings away at other games like Craps where they don't have an edge, or they are underfunded. Casinos spend far more in detection, tracking, and harrassment than they would ever lose if they just let counters play. But card counters take away their sacred edge, faith in which is the backbone of the entire industry.

If we have noticed the depressing tendency of green and black chippers to suddenly stop coming around, it's hard to imagine that the casino personnel who track their play are unaware of it. When you are a low roller, the fellow who shakes your hand and remembers your preference in beer and writes you the occasional buffet comp seems like any other service employee. When you are a high roller he seems like a source of redemption, offsetting your losses with a nice dinner and tickets to the fight. When you are outside the system and as familiar with it as we are, you realize he is the worst sort of vampire. Behind the glitz and the chance to win is a snaggle-fanged monster ready to cast you aside as soon as it has sucked you dry.

Newbies are often amazed at the hypocrisy of casinos vis-a-vis their treatment of card counters. "You mean they kick you out just because you used your BRAIN?" Yes, they do. Because when you reach into their game and seize their edge, you become the monster with all its mighty stealth and power. The local swings of variance become your ally, masking the slow steady trickle of their wealth into your hands. They know exactly what the edge does, exactly how variance masks its effect until it's too late, and it puts the fear of God into them to find you have it instead of them.

We began to wonder about the gladhanding suits who congratulated us on our wins and sympathized with our losses and plied us with food and free airfare and jacuzzi suites. How do they sleep at night? As they shake your hand and check your action in the computer they are sizing you up, wondering what it will take to bring you back. No doubt wondering how long you'll last. They are more likely than anyone to be able to foresee the broken family, the busted business, the jail time, the suicide that might be in your future. There is only one word to describe the kind of person that can shake your hand and smile in the face of such understanding, and that word is evil.

Flatness of Aspect

None of us gambles any more recreationally. In 1999 I had my first official losing year; we were scheduling our visits to casinoland around Y's card counting, instead of opportunities for me to get low-level advantage play. And as X's aggregate win crept toward the million dollar mark, regular play lost its appeal. We could see with great clarity how meaningless a fifty-thousand dollar swing was in the face of a percentage edge. It no longer felt like a fun thing to let the casino do that to us, even for chump change.

X doesn't even play much Blackjack any more, and claims he has been cured of his gambling addiction. The action is no longer exciting; the short-term wins elicit no feeling of triumph, the short-term losses no sense of doom. Counting itself is simple and unchallenging; X and Y can both walk past a table full of dealt cards and mutter "plus six" without even thinking about it. It's just practice.

The logistical problems of running his team and managing the bankroll have taken up much of his time. The exciting game of cat-and-mouse has turned into a job, with the unusual caveat that you get fired for doing it too well.

Y has vowed to play as long as possible despite increasing difficulties. "I'm gonna get everything from those vampires I can." Most of X's other players have expressed similar sentiments.

The greatest obstacles to continued play ironically don't involve the great expense put by casinos into surveillance and detection; they have been erected by the Government. Anti-money-laundering laws require the casino to fill out paperwork whenever more than $10,000 in cash changes hands; and while it's legal to lie to a casino about who you are it's not legal to put false information on a CTR. At the level X plays $10,000 can change hands very quickly, and X and his players are sensibly unwilling to commit felonies to keep playing. This makes it entirely too easy for the casino to cross-reference your information and learn that you're the guy who was barred on swing shift two weeks ago.

Card counters have to deal in cash because you can't use the casino credit system without revealing your true identity either. But draconian forfeiture laws make it dangerous to carry around large amounts of cash. At the airport and at the traffic stop it makes you a drug dealer until proven otherwise. Ex-team member B had $24,000 stolen from him by a local police department in North Carolina. Try proving that you won your money at the casino sometime.

The Company We Keep

You'd think the casinos would welcome the push to marginalize cash and help identify their patrons, but they've accommodated the CTR requirements as late and grudgingly as possible. The reason is that a lot of their patrons are drug dealers. And organized criminals. And embezzlers. The casino really doesn't want to know where the money came from, any more than they want to know what happens to you once they've extracted it from you.

We spent a few hours in Caesar's Palace on New Year's Eve 1999. Many of the tables required minimum bets of five hundred dollars, and minimums of less than $100 were not to be found. And the place was packed. There were lots of Italian gentlemen, some of whom spoke little or no English. There were lots of Japanese and Chinese gentlemen, ditto. They were throwing orange ($1,000) chips around like Mardi Gras doubloons and having a grand old time. And the usual opening questions of casual casino table conversation, "Where are you from" and "What do you do" were not to be heard.

(Y did make the mistake of asking one Chinese gentlman who was betting about our level where he was from. After several seconds of hard thought, he answered "carriphonia," or something like that.)

There was some worry that terrorists would strike Las Vegas on that evening. If they had blown up Caesar's, they would have solved the international organized crime problem in one swell foop.

This has all worked in our favor. The fact that we keep returning and playing at these levels after more than three years is highly suspicious. The casinos know we are lying about the money coming from "my business," but they let us play because they don't care that the money might be stolen or earned selling smack to kids. They only start caring who we are when they begin to suspect we won the money from them.

Through the Looking Glass, Backward

We have a lot of photographs of ourselves in suites most people only see in movies, dining on five-star meals amongst the Picassos and Renoirs, and holding big fake checks. We have a lot more money. And we have seen the darkest side of human nature. We have seen men smile and feign friendship even as they are sharpening knives for the slaughter. We have become familiar with the faintly bewildered expression of the busted-out loser as he staggers back to the real world. We have looked into his eyes and turned away, because it takes too long to explain, it's too late, and he wouldn't believe us anyway.

This is the story I want to tell my other friends, the people I work with, and the random folks I see entering casinos. It's not what it looks like, I want to tell them. But it's like trying to describe nausea. It's like describing the feeling when you stick your hand into a dark space and find some rotting maggot-ridden dead thing. We actually went there. We overcame obstacles whose height we never realized, and we didn't understand how rare a thing that was. For years we won and I thought the casinos were just wonderful and I told so many hundreds of people that they were. And all the time I had no idea.

When the long-suffering wife shot me a sympathetic glance, and I responded in kind, for one brief awful moment I was the gladhanding sack of shit. In that moment I knew. But how do you put such an awful feeling into words?

Sometimes, foolishly, I do try to tell them.

But not often. Because

I had such great luck the other night, I hit four hundred quarters, I split tens and drew two aces and I just KNEW the dealer was going to bust and you know the seven is coming when the dice go off the table and I never start with full coin, you have to see how a machine is going before you commit, it's not gambling when you count, I'm down twelve, how do you remember all those cards, that shooter was so hot the dice were on fire and we cleaned the table out of green chips and the machine never hits if you use the buttons to spin the reels and wow that's wonderful how you've won so much. But I really just like to play the slots.


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I go to the casino to...
o Be entertained 10%
o Score comps 0%
o Be around smokers 2%
o Get drunk 2%
o Be away from kids 0%
o Win Money 8%
o I don't know why I go to the casino, it's just fun 4%
o I don't go to the casino 74%

Votes: 50
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o One
o Two
o Three
o Also by localroger

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A Casino Odyssey: Part Four | 77 comments (74 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Where Are They Now Dept. (4.85 / 27) (#1)
by localroger on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 10:38:43 AM EST

Since 1997, X and his team have won about 1.5 million dollars. X has paid about half of this to his players; much of the rest is invested, and about $200,000 is kept liquid as the team bankroll. Risk-of-ruin calculations indicate that this bankroll is all but unbustable; he cannot play at levels which really risk it because of the CTR mess.

We are aware of three other teams which have won similar amounts in the same timeframe. Since Ed Thorpe published Beat the Dealer we figure less than a hundred people have ever managed to do this. And nearly all of them started with investment comparable to their eventual win. We aren't aware of anyone who ever started out playing red chips, as X did, and won a million dollars.

A lot more people have tried and failed. (You will find a lot of these in Blackjack forums on the Internet.) As X found out, if you don't do everything perfectly, you join the ranks of the losers.

Meanwhile, in 1998 alone the casino industry won fifty billion dollars.

Countermeasures and cover have eaten more and more time as X and his players seek beatable games they are allowed to play. I figure it has cost between ten and fifteen man-years of full-time effort for the team to realize its win. That isn't so impressive when you break it down. Most of X's players have earned less than $100,000 a year.

It took X almost a decade to hit on the formula that worked. During that time he abandoned job after job to pursue his dream of beating the system. He was able to get those jobs because, when he applies himself, he is a gifted and highly successful salesman. Had he simply stuck with one of the many opportunities he had to enter a career, he would likely have been making $100,000 or more per year since the early 1990's.

As it stands, he is in his early 40's and all but unemployable. (Would you hire someone whose last job was "professional gambler?") His team is still playing and earning money but he is being squeezed by increasingly paranoid countermeasures. An additional problem is that many people in the industry are now too young to remember the lawsuits and judgements which resulted when card counters were beaten up by casino staff in the early 1980's. This year there have been several incidents of assault on counters (including X himself) by casino staff. We are worried that one day soon somebody is going to end up in the hospital. This was totally unheard-of in the 90's, when the corporate line was more like "we aren't run by organized crime any more and we don't risk our shareholders' money by doing things like that."

Y's identity has been burned out nearly everywhere. Y is currently taking a break. We don't know how long this break will be; "indefinite" is a possibility.

I have had a standing offer to join the team myself ever since X formed it, but I think you've guessed by now that I'll never take him up on it. It's fantastically difficult for him to find players who will both play correctly and account honestly for the money. (No, I'm not going to put you in touch with him.)

My coworkers still think of me as the local gambling expert, and ply me with stories about their latest adventures. Nobody has noticed how uncomfortable this makes me lately. They also still ask for advice, which (as always) they promptly ignore when I make the mistake of giving it.

It has been almost a year since I even entered a casino, and almost two since I actually placed a bet.

I can haz blog!

Great series of articles, thanks (3.75 / 4) (#2)
by paxtech on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 10:55:02 AM EST

I'm a little sad that it's over.. ;)
"Eggs or pot, either one." -- Ignignot
[ Parent ]
I think you've hit the nail on the head (4.66 / 6) (#5)
by FlinkDelDinky on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 11:39:33 AM EST

I'm pretty impressed by X's smarts, intellect, creativity, persistance, orginizational ability, and a host of things I probably can't imagine.

Had he aplied himself to the 'normal' business world I'm confident that he'd be in the tens, and perhaps hundreds, of millions. I think this is accurate because in regular business you aren't going against such incredible odds. Basically it's like a single programmer fighting MicroSoft.

This story reminds me of a series of shows I saw on Discovery or maybe it was TLC. It was about the rise and tactics of gambeling syndicates.

On the one hand I like the idea of beating the 'system', but I don't think I could do it for a couple of reasons. 1) I'd need to be taught by somebody who does it succesfully to get the confidence to do it in the first place. 2) I don't enjoy gambling, I just don't 'get' the idea that it's fun (because I always loose?). 3) Even if I could do it I stick out like a sore thumb because of my muscular condition so people have an easy time remembering me.

Still, Casino's can be pretty decadent I imagine and that could be kind of fun. I'd like to hear about this aspect of your experience. You told us what you did to play the game, learn the math and play statistically (but what about team play strategies?). But you didn't tell us the play after the succesfull play. Okay, you said you got great comps but what about parasites and scammers of high rollers? Stuff like that.

[ Parent ]

Meaning (4.00 / 4) (#7)
by ThePlague on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 11:47:07 AM EST

If I understand correctly, the nature of your epiphany was that in order to beat the casinos, you had to become part of the casino system, which no doubt lead to a net gain for the casinos despite your winnings? Coupled with the distasteful notion of actually helping the vampires, it made the whole profitable enterprise not worthwhile? Very powerful, particularly the description:

When the long-suffering wife shot me a sympathetic glance, and I responded in kind, for one brief awful moment I was the gladhanding sack of shit.

Well done, sir, well done.

[ Parent ]

Plain question (4.66 / 3) (#31)
by mami on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 06:17:03 PM EST

First kudos for your story. It was really fascinating to read. I think I didn't get all of it, but I am rereading it.

There is something I am a bit curious to understand now. Do you think of yourself as someone, who was addicted, but is not anymore or not ? If you think you are not, what made you quit it ? Really the sudden realization that there are people's families screwed for good and a sense of guilt ?

The end comes a bit as a surprise and somewhat too easy to convince the reader that a story could end like that. I just can't help thinking that someone, who has gambled so successfully for so long can stop out of the blue, because all of the sudden you look into a woman's face and realize she suffers.

I also wonder if you have seen in your longterm experience a gender difference in the ease, depth and speed women versus men get addicted. How is the distribution, you think, among couples of the woman being the primary addicted gambler and the man being codependent versus the other way around ? Or is it more a cooperation between two addicted people forming a couple or pair ?

I wonder how much the feeling of being smarter than the other gamblers is the real trigger for a male to become addicted ? And what the trigger for a female addict is. If there is a difference in cause, you think ?

Your story is really very interesting. Considering that so many coders are very good bridge and card players in general and good in math etc., as well as being a group who gets its highs for being smarter than other folks, I am asking myself if that is not the more addictive power behind it than the money.

Suffice to say that I am a complete naive person, who has not entered a casino once and played. I was once for a stop-over in Las Vegas and basically horrified by pictures of crying women and very desperate looking men all over the place already in the airport, obviously people who lost and were on their way home. What I saw in the place I stood over night was even worse. So, apologies for asking such a plain question.

[ Parent ]
Plain Answer (4.50 / 2) (#64)
by localroger on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 09:49:09 PM EST

Sorry to take so long answering this, but it has been pure hell getting onto K5 recently. I can hardly wait for the new server to be installed.

I was never addicted, because I lost early on. If anything I was "anti-addicted" because even going into an advantage-play situation I had to force myself, because I really expected to lose. That's one reason I can understand how the losers are sucked in; I got the other end of the bell curve. You can overcome that feeling but it takes a lot of strength. People shouldn't be destroyed because they aren't superhuman.

I have not seen a difference in male and female tendency to get addicted. Males seem to prefer games with social interaction and choices to make a little more than women, who are a bit more likely to prefer the depths of the slot machine banks. The addiction itself is universal, not only among humans but throughout the animal kingdom. What a rat does in a Skinner box is exactly the same thing a human does before a slot machine. Sex differences affect how the addiction is manifested, but not the possibility of addiction itself.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

It's hard to understand for me (3.00 / 1) (#65)
by mami on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 10:57:35 PM EST

You had to force yourself to join your friends, because you expected to lose. So, you say it is the desire to overcome the feeling of being a loser (in the literal sense of losing money) that is sucking someone in ? You lost once, so you have to make it up and gain it back, you start playing til the moment, which might never come, of winning comes around ? Losing more, wanting it more to gain back, etc ? That would be terrible.

I don't understand it completely. For example, I couldn't see myself playing, because I couldn't stand loosing my money. Consequently, I don't do it. You did lose in the very beginning and knew you would loose. How do you explain yourself that you nevertheless joined ? Even if you had to force yourself, there must have been something what did pull you too it, or not ? Wouldn't you otherwise had quit in the very beginning ? It seems to be very clear that you have a lot of strength to be able to quit.

Please don't take this answer as an offense. It's just that I still see a hole in your argument's logic. And it seems to me that your writing is a way to analyze all of it. So, again, kudos !! I also think it's quite amazing that you answered my question.

Thank you for commenting to my gender question. Your exampel of the rat in a Skinner box (what's that BTW) doesn't quite convince me, because it's a human, who forces the rat into that situation taking it out of the natural habitat. We are supposedly master of our destiny, nobody puts us in a cage under an experiment with whatever kind of box.

Hmm, I thought there are distinct differences for example in alcohol addiction among men and women (women getting much faster addicted). May be others have some more knowledge about it ?

[ Parent ]
It's not rational (4.00 / 1) (#70)
by localroger on Tue Jul 24, 2001 at 06:15:15 PM EST

I lost early, and I quit. I went back because there was an advantage situation -- the casino was giving away effective value, and it made mathematical sense to go. I then learned that winning was possible, though I was always suspicious of negative-EV recreational gambling.

99.9% of the casino are not acting rationally. They are acting based on their feelings, which have been manipulated by experts. How you feel about gambling depends on two factors. One is whether you become attracted to the adrenaline rush of being "in action," and the other is how well you do when you start out.

The skinner box is a perfect example because the slot machine is just as unnatural an environment for the human as the box with the lever and reward system is for the rat. All I can say is that psychologists and advertisers use these theories of human behavior day in and day out and they work a lot better, when you are trying to understand what real people really do, than assuming that people are rational and usually act in their own enlightened self-interest.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Sigh (3.00 / 1) (#76)
by mami on Wed Jul 25, 2001 at 01:37:08 PM EST

They are acting based on their feelings, which have been manipulated by experts

Just wonder in which entity these days you are free from the influence of manipulating experts. Seems to me they are all over the place, media, churches, the whole lobbying net sustaining your electoral system, the electorate manipulating *their* legal system.

I just wonder under what manipulative expertise the military is. Oh, God, now I hear already the gun nuts crying for the militias. This experience on K5 really gets under my skin. No wonder with such an influence of manipulating experts around here.

I am going Amish now. The only place free of manipulative experts. :-)

[ Parent ]

Going Amish...maybe not enough (3.00 / 1) (#77)
by localroger on Wed Jul 25, 2001 at 10:05:06 PM EST

Similar to the Amish are the Mennonites, who have a nearly identical family and group structure but who do accept the odd bit of technology now and then when it is proven useful.

A few years back a Mennonite commune in northern Mississippi was busted by weights & measures for using antique, inaccurate scales that just didn't give legally acceptable results. They called a salesman known to me about getting a state of the art system. This system cost $250,000. The salesman offered to make a sales presentation, and he cautiously offered that he had a video of the machine in operation.

The Mennonites do not believe in TV. The salesman carefully explained that what he had was a tape which had nothing on it except information about the company that made the machine. The Mennonite elders agreed that they could see it. The salesman brought his TV and VCR to the plant and all 100 or so members of the group watched it in rapt attention.

The 60-minute tape featured a full exploration of the company's line of products, only 10 minutes or so was about the machine they were thinking of buying. Nevertheless, they insisted on watching the entire tape. They watched, fascinated, as grading machines selected product and hopper scales cycled and robotic flow lines analyzed the productivity of humans who filleted fish.

Then they brought out a big box and paid for the machine they wanted. In cash.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Wait (1.55 / 9) (#6)
by Desterado on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 11:44:43 AM EST

You guys are rich from gambling!? Nice job! You guys obviously played it smart.

You've got the flag, I've got your back.
perhaps, but.. (3.40 / 5) (#20)
by Zero Whitefur on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 01:49:18 PM EST

The tone of this entire series, especially this last segment, seems to be that yes, this group of people used intelligent means and made a good amount of money gambling, but in the end, it was a pyrrhic victory.

This series also gave me a new perspective on gambling and casinos. There are no casinos here in north-central Indiana, nor in my future city, Cleveland. (The latter based on a websearch, correct me if I'm wrong) The closest casinos to here are on Lake Michigan in Michigan City and around the state line on the lake close to Chicago. I used to hear the ads and snort with contempt, but now, I'm just ambivalent.

I've far too much of a practical turn to ever even set foot in a casino, and I would have great reservations about having one in my community, but I don't feel nearly as morally indignant, now that I've seen the other side of things through this series. It was well-written and I hope to see more content from the author, be it more on gambling or on other topics.

[ Parent ]

Why I don't gamble (4.28 / 7) (#8)
by buzco on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 11:51:09 AM EST

This final episode states quite well the reasons why I no longer gamble.

I had my own (much shorter and simpler) similar Odyssey.

In 1960 I was in Germany, in the Army. Having little to do many evenings I played quarter-limit poker quite a bit. I won $25 or more a month for about a year until I got married and stopped playing. This was a significant amount of money for a soldier at that time.

Later, in Korea, I played rubber Bridge, with a steady partner, against a foolish Lieutenant w/ pick-up partners. My partner and I had a superior bidding system which we drilled between playing sessions. Even though we were mediocre when it came to actuall card play, the bidding system was so precise that we very rarely overbid or underbid. It also told us enough about each other's hands that we knew when to stop the bidding and let our opponents play an underbid and when to double and penalize our opponents for overbidding. Note that this is perfectly legal according to the rules of Contract Bridge; our opponents, had they troubled to learn how our bidding worked, could have known just as much as we did about each hand. Anyway, the upshot of this play (which lasted about six months) was that we won about $25/mo (each) from this Lieutenant.

Then, in the late 70's I got quite good at Backgammon. I played in tournaments and won regularly. I also played $.25/pt games (and mostly broke even because I was playing against a friend who was about an equal match).

Finally I played Poker at a $2.00 limit with a house rake. Here I generally was able to stay in the game until it broke up (because most of the buy-ins had gone to the house) even though I started w/ a minimum buy-in.

Please note that these games (Poker, Bridge, and Backgammon), even though they involve cards or dice, are really games of skill. Some players win regularly, others lose regularly, and there books about skillful play at each. I had studied carefully some of the books on each game.

Finally, around 1984, I gave up all gambling games because I came to the conclusion that playing such games (if you won steadily) was taking advantage of other people's weakness and was not ethical. Of course, if you lose steadily, more than you could comfortably spend for a show, sporting event, or some other evening's entertainment, you are very foolish. I never had this problem, but some of my opponents did, which is a main reason I quit.

A bit of advise? (2.00 / 4) (#9)
by MicroBerto on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 11:52:51 AM EST

Now that my friends and I are all 19, we have been talking about driving to Casino Windsor.

Although I have way more money than my friends, I'm also one of the cheapest in our group. Any recommendations on what I should do to minimize losses? I know I can't learn to count cards or anything in TWO weeks...

My best friend (he hates losing money too) and I were considering just going to the bars and getting hammered and letting that be our stakes :)

Any other recommendations for people to not lose a lot? Thanks!

- GAIM: MicroBerto
Bertoline - My comic strip

Casino Windsor (4.00 / 3) (#11)
by localroger on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 12:15:16 PM EST

In 1995 I was in Detroit on business, and our hosts took us out one night in two groups -- one to the casino, the other to a strip club. Naturally, being the big gambling expert I was by that time, I went with the Casino Windsor group.

Big mistake.

CW became the first casino I ever entered without placing a single, even symbolic bet so I could say I gambled there. The table minimums were high, the rules sucked, and the slots were noticeably tight. Since the place was packed with clueless wonders from across the river who were eager to show how rich they were by displaying their ability to lose at the tables, I'm sure they have had no incentive to change the situation.

There are casinos I'd recommend for low minimums and relatively good games, but Windsor is the last place on Earth that would appear on that list.

My advice is to go to the bar.

For a good cheap gambling vacation you need to go to a place where there is competition, such as Las Vegas or the Gulf Coast, and visit a joint which caters to locals (such as Sam's Town in Vegas or the Copa in Gulfport). These places want repeat business and aren't poised to wipe you out ASAP. They offer low-limit games like $3 blackjack and $1 Craps (especially at off hours) and often have tournaments and aggressive coupon promotions.

OTOH remember that going in the casino for the first time is like playing Russian Roulette with more like two bullets in the chamber. An early win might give you an unrealistic sense of expected value which, unless you have superhuman strength of character, you may never be able to shake. Canimal was quite right; the luckiest thing that ever happened to me was the disastrous losing streak that started out my gambling career.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

i'll drink to that (2.50 / 4) (#12)
by MicroBerto on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 12:47:10 PM EST

My advice is to go to the bar.

Thanks buddy, and thanks for these stories!

- GAIM: MicroBerto
Bertoline - My comic strip
[ Parent ]

Now that it's all up... (4.73 / 15) (#13)
by localroger on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 01:13:48 PM EST

I would like to thank everybody for the positive comments and votes. Your reaction means a lot to me, especially because I know how quick K5'ers can be to jump on something that isn't up to snuff.

If I had had any idea at all that part One would have ended up FP, I'd have posted the whole thing as one piece. I really expected the first three to go section and that four might make FP.

I think it's better this way, but I've been biting my nails all weekend wondering if the series would get broken and end up a big clusterf**k. As you can see, there is a large shift in attitude between the beginning and end of the story, and I thought it might be confusing or overwhelming to have comments about all the parts all mixed up.

As you might guess, there is a lot left unsaid in this piece; it's already twice as long as anything I've ever seen on K5 and it just scratches the surface. I wrote it because I've noticed that nearly everything written about card counting seems to be focused either on how to do it and make a lot of money and how wonderful it is, or on how it's impossible because you'll be barred for life and have your kneecaps broken if you try it. Obviously, none of these reflect my experience.

To the question "Why on K5," I've been thinking of trying to publish this ever since mid-2000 when the team win officially hit $1,000,000. The treatment it actually cries out for is a book. (I could write an article much longer than this one just on the period when we were playing tournaments.) The problem is that it's almost impossible to get a mainstream publisher (who will pay well) to read a manuscript, regardless of how good it is, unless you have an inside track to the editor. And while there are smaller, gambling-oriented publishers who would readily pick up a book like this, their circulation is limited and they don't pay well.

I figured if I was gonna give it away, I might as well do it here. The possibility of a differently focused or longer treatment in print still exists. And I certainly wouldn't say no if, say, Reader's Digest decided they wanted to reprint it.

Meanwhile, it's gonna be hell thinking of new stories that won't look purely embarrassing by comparison...

I can haz blog!

Thank you (2.75 / 4) (#15)
by mcherm on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 01:25:27 PM EST

Like several others, I just want to chime in and say "Thank you, that was an excellent story." And well told also.

-- Michael Chermside
[ Parent ]
A book (3.66 / 3) (#17)
by belgarath on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 01:30:23 PM EST

I know that it's difficult to get published, but this is an excellent article, the story behind it is quite fascinating, and your writing is done in an entertaining, professional manner.

I strongly urge you to try to go for it, because I'm sure that it would do very well as a book. If it's anywhere near as popular in print as it was on K5, you'd very quickly become very widely read. I'd certainly buy it and recommend it to my friends. Good luck.

[ Parent ]
kudos (2.66 / 3) (#23)
by Sunir on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 02:32:44 PM EST

I can't credit you enough for a well-written, fascinating story.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

well shit, this is another "me too" (3.33 / 3) (#25)
by Defect on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 02:53:57 PM EST

This series kicked ass, i ignored the first couple, and when i noticed the third got to FP along with all the others, i started and read all the way through (by that time the fourth was in the queue).

I definitely think links to the parts should be placed in a permanent or semi-permanent box on the front page, as it would be a shame for the audience for this piece to diminish once all the individual parts get pushed off the front page.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
[ Parent ]
publishing a book (3.50 / 2) (#35)
by adamba on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 06:47:02 PM EST

Well if failure is the best teacher than I know a lot about getting a book published...but it is possible for an unknown person to do. I may bitch about the system but a truly interesting and unique book does have a chance of being published.

Books like 24/7 and Double Down show that there is a market for personal tales of casino gambling. But anybody who is going to publish the book will want to know your unique angle that will make people buy it (unfortunately, the ending "we didn't get caught and got rich" doesn't work as well as "we lost our shirts"). Is it just a story or is it also a how-to for others? And you will want to dish some dirt if possible -- naming the casinos, yourself, X and Y if they allow it (that's not critical), as much gossip and remembered (or half-remembered) dialog as you can muster.

To get a major publisher interested you need an agent. An agent wants to see a full book proposal, which there are many books on (mostly written by agents). What you have written now could act as a sample, although normally they want to see a whole chapter. What you have written now is about 8500 words according to the K5 counter -- a book would be about ten times as long.

Don't knock smaller presses though. The pure gambling ones like Conjelco may be too small, but there are a lot of mid-size presses that are more willing to take a chance and still get you national distribution. The size of the press that is interested will in some sense depend on the perceived size of the audience for the book. Will it get you on "Oprah"? Will it be excerpted in a major publication?

I discourse at much greater length on this subject, but we have guests over right now (talk about yer addictions...).

- adam

[ Parent ]

Book Publishing (4.00 / 2) (#41)
by localroger on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 09:34:23 PM EST

It just isn't reasonable. The heyday was the 70's when there was a lot of speculation in the fiction market. There were plenty of publishers competing against one another and a the slush pile was regularly perused. Nowadays there are only a few actual different publishers left (as in mainstream) and if you don't Know Somebody the chances of having your manuscript read are about zero. Yeah, you can submit it, but it will most likely end up in File 13 without an actual human being even reading the first paragraph.

Y has herself been a much more prolific writer than I, and published several short stories. But the novel market is basically closed to People Like Us. We know this from hard experience. Y, who has been there in many situations where I was at home, is really the person who should write this. But her attitude is "why bother," and I can't really fault her.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

wait, this is non-fiction right?!? (3.50 / 2) (#44)
by adamba on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 10:07:08 PM EST

Don't tell me you made this all up!

Anyway assuming it is non-fiction:

1) Non-fiction and fiction are two separate worlds in terms of how books are accepted for publication.

2) Non-fiction books are accepted for publication before they are written. The agent likes the proposal, shops it to publishers, it gets accepted, then the rest of the book (beyond the sample chapters in the proposal) is written according to a negotiated deadline.

- adam

[ Parent ]

Yes, I telescoped the argument a bit there (4.00 / 1) (#63)
by localroger on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 09:35:52 PM EST

It was the boom in fiction that ran up advances in non-fiction and genres as well. Nowadays the problem is pretty well universal, as the sharks have eaten the tuna that ate the carp that ate the guppies, and there are really only three or four companies in control of the major publishing houses.

The problem in the scenario is getting the manuscript read, either by a publisher or by an agent with the proper connections. They don't want to hear from you unless you're named Monica Lewinsky or something similarly marketable. It doesn't matter how well you write if nobody bothers to read it.

I am intimately acquainted with this since, when not counting cards, Y brings home the bacon writing freelance fiction and nonfiction.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

So is Y = me = localroger ? (3.00 / 1) (#66)
by mami on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 11:02:29 PM EST

It would make sense and it would explain where your strength came from to quit... :-)

[ Parent ]
No, I am not Y (3.00 / 1) (#71)
by localroger on Tue Jul 24, 2001 at 06:16:38 PM EST

We have both sold our work, but Y did so full-time before joining the card-counting team. I have held a full-time regular J.O.B. for the last twenty years.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Hey localroger! (2.50 / 2) (#40)
by Lord13 on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 09:00:57 PM EST

Can I get a loan? =)

Thanks for the great series, I really enjoyed it.

I think you should reconsider writing a book. The community response here on K5 should be validation enough to at least consider it.

Growing half a tree, water it everyday.
[ Parent ]
Thanks, localroger! (2.80 / 5) (#14)
by haiiro on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 01:24:46 PM EST

This series totally rocked. I really wish there were more, as they fascinated me. :)

Thanks, and a question. (3.75 / 4) (#16)
by mindstrm on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 01:29:20 PM EST

I really enjoyed these articles, thank you very much.

Regarding the forfieture laws you mentioned... would it be possible for you to tell us a little story about what happened to your acquantance?

I am curious to know just how far these laws go; I know that much can be taken during a drug bust, and that large sums of cash are used in profiling... but I wasn't aware that merely having $10,000 in cash that you don't have a banker's receipt for was grounds for confiscation... what's the deal? And can't you simply turn around and have the police in civil court for grand theft?

Forfieture (3.50 / 4) (#21)
by b0ris on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 02:07:02 PM EST

Again, like everyone else has been saying: This series of articles were absolutely amazing. Extremely interesting, and well-written. I would love to see a book based on this -- I'd buy it in an instant.

That aside... due to the "War on Drugs", police really can steal practically anything from you! All they have to say is that it was "drug-related". And even that doesn't have to be confirmed -- mere suspicion is enough! (Yes, they are insane. Yes, this happens every day. Yes, it gets abused like hell.)

There's many cases of the police lying in wait for an out-of-state vehicle, pulling them over for either a technical violation or a phony voilation, and then seizing money, cars, and other valuables because "they likely were the proceeds of illegal drug sales" or some such bull.

A page that looks into this more: Police Corruption: How to catch a cop. (It's a bit slow to load....)

Of course, I shouldn't need to say to take everything you read about this kind of corruption with a grain of salt or two (occasionally an entire shaker is required!). Whatever small portion of it you do believe, however, will still utterly (amaze|disgust|provoke) you.

(If you can't figure out how to e-mail me, then perhaps you shouldn't...)
[ Parent ]

boredom and blackjack (3.00 / 4) (#18)
by adamba on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 01:32:44 PM EST

A friend I sometimes go gambling with prides himself on his ability to play "perfect" blackjack, always following the precise rules for when to hit/stick based on how many decks and various other local rules. This limits his loss to something like 1% I think. Of course, you don't have to memorize it: casinos let you bring in a "cheat sheet" if you want to and consult it on every hand.

To me this seems pretty dull. What you have achieved through hard work is the ability to play blackjack as well as a robot. When I play blackjack, I like to "gamble" a bit...hit that 13 with a dealer 5 (or whatever)...why not?

I mean if you just want to sit and plunk money down and enjoy the ambience, why not play Baccarat where you don't have to make any decisions at all?

Of course I'm not knocking someone who counts cards and goes in with a positive expectation -- that is something different.

Anyway I usually play poker, where a good player can actually win some money over the long term (not that I would know much about that...). And the game is infinitely variable.

Sometimes the poker games seem a bit less social than blackjack or other games where the players are each individually against the dealer. But then you have people bitching because you hit when you were supposed to stick and messed them up...at least at a good poker game everyone realizes it is just for fun and starts kibbitzing strategy and stuff.

- adam

Three's a minister that I know that (2.50 / 4) (#19)
by eclectro on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 01:37:35 PM EST

said "casinos are carpeted sewers."

I think he's right.

Am I the only one... (4.82 / 23) (#22)
by DJBongHit on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 02:31:32 PM EST

... who thinks that we need a "Best of k5" page, and this article (along with the first 3 parts) needs to be in it?


GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

you are not (4.25 / 4) (#27)
by h2odragon on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 03:19:41 PM EST

altho, there could be drawbacks... the rest of "the Best Of" is going to have to really shine.

[ Parent ]
The Kuro5ions? (4.00 / 1) (#74)
by turtleshadow on Tue Jul 24, 2001 at 10:36:26 PM EST

I'd think at minimum a yearly Kur5ion award is warrented. This is definately a nominee.
K5 should do its best and do something say like maybe not even give one out every year?


[ Parent ]
Nice. (3.00 / 4) (#24)
by nebby on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 02:36:10 PM EST

Hands down best series, or story in general, I've ever read on k5. Each time I was more excited to see the next one hit the queue.

Nice to see a realistic non-romanticized portrayal of the casino bigwig life.. very, very, interesting.

Thanks so much!

Half-Empty: A global community of thoughts ideas and knowledge.
A spellbinding story.... (4.07 / 13) (#26)
by John Miles on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 03:15:55 PM EST

.... that unfortunately takes a sharp left turn towards Sillytown at the end.

There is only one word to describe the kind of person that can shake your hand and smile in the face of such understanding, and that word is evil.


What you're calling "evil" is just another exchange of value for value: in this case, monetary value for entertainment value. The casino might be evil if it were, in fact, true that its patrons were children or uniformly slow-witted adults who don't realize how casino gambling works. I can see how someone with your skill and experience could start to believe that, but you don't want to go there. Not unless you just want to sound like the second coming of Carrie Nation.

If a patron becomes addicted to gambling and loses everything s/he owns, that's nobody's fault but the patron's. A good bartender will stop serving alcohol to someone who's already past his limit, but a dealer can't check your Schwab balance with a portable breathalyzer. The casino has no choice but to assume that you're playing within your means. Why? Because unlike your state of intoxication, your personal financial condition is none of their business. That puts the responsibility -- all the responsibility -- on the man in the mirror.

It's a shame that you allowed your sudden attack of conscience to steer your tale off its tracks. If he weren't losing his proverbial shirt at the New Palace, that guy with the beer and the cigar might have been drinking himself to death in an alley, fucking his way to a nice case of herpes, drifting into a happy lifelong oblivion on a cloud of ganja smoke, or just frittering away his career playing too much Quake at the office. None of those apparent vices are "evil" -- a word used almost exclusively by people who don't have a clue what it means -- nor are most of them illegal. They're just a few of the many ways that human beings can wreck their lives by taking a good thing too far.

Casinos "work" (in the sense that they are effective tools for separating customers from their money) by exploiting two universal human misperceptions....

... neither of which would earn the casinos a single crooked dime if there weren't a third human perception at work. Unlike the first two you mention, this one actually does seem to hold true for the vast majority of casino customers: Gambling is fun.

The act of hubris you should be repenting doesn't actually have anything to do with being a former blackjack shark. It has to do with projecting your own guilt and shame onto everybody else. Cut that crap out, keep your cautions at the subtextual level, and I'll bet you end up with a really kickass book.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.

politely and completely disagreeing (3.00 / 2) (#36)
by el_guapo on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 06:53:39 PM EST

i think the point is that they're not interested in *you*. OK, that's easy to pick appart, so let me elaborate a bit. The guy is shaking your hand, knowing full well that you may be spending money you don't have. The implied "Oh, you're broke now? Well, have a nice day and don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out" is what makes it evil. Anyways, I could have probably said that a lot better, but "understand what I meant, not what I said" if you would :) Now, that said, I also think they should be legal - this is easy for me to say since I have no desire to gamble. However, the fact is that it *does* ruin people's lives (oh man, I'm about to run 180 degrees from my usual libertarian stance) seems to me that the ethics should be looked at by someone more clued than myself. I've been to the boats in SE Louisiana (for the wife, we limit our betting to a total of 20 bucks)and I've seen with my own eyes poor people betting their last 50 bucks on the hope of scoring it big. I don't know what the fix is, but man I'd like to prevent/reduce that.
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
Education (4.50 / 2) (#42)
by daedalus on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 09:41:53 PM EST

I understand your dilemma. On the one hand you have a desire for personal freedoms to remain untouched and on the other you have a desire to prevent people coming to harm, in one way or another. You don't necessarily have to give up the former to get the latter.

I live in Australia, not the US, and casinos are not as prevalent here as they are there. We do have some ridiculous percentage of the world's poker machines (slots), however. We have a similar situation where there are those who want people to keep the choice of whether to gamble or not and those who want the machines banned "for the greater good". I don't think banning them will help for the same reason it doesn't help anything else else which is banned, limited, censored, etc. The solution, as always, is education.

If people were taught from an early age what statistics were really about, in a way that didn't make them yawn, then perhaps people would have a greater understanding of what is really going on with casinos, poker machines and the lottery. Saying "You have a one in 6 billion chance" just doesn't mean anything to most people. It's a big number, but then, so is 500,000. Number Numbness, I believe it's called. It has to become instinctive, the same way you know how much a pound or kilogram is, before people will truly understand that to play the casino (or lottery) at their own game is to throw your money away. It would probably also be worthwhile teaching them card counting so they can see how hard it is to get even the slightest edge over the casino.

Don't expect to have it imposed by government dictum, though. In my country at least there's a massive tax on gambling proceeds and they're not likely to bite the hand that feeds them.

-- Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're NOT after you.
[ Parent ]

They DO know financial condition... (3.00 / 1) (#54)
by Blarney on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 02:55:31 AM EST

A good bartender will stop serving alcohol to someone who's already past his limit, but a dealer can't check your Schwab balance with a portable breathalyzer. The casino has no choice but to assume that you're playing within your means.

So the casino doesn't know how much money the patron has? Then why do they offer credit? If your theory that casinos will behave like good bartenders is correct, when a customer is begging for credit, the casino will boot him out the door, as he obviously doesn't have enough money to continue gambling. Instead, they'll loan him money because they can rack up a huge debt from him and increase their profits.

The casinos are not behaving like your ethical bartender.

[ Parent ]

That's all well and good, and I enjoyed it, but... (4.44 / 9) (#28)
by Wondertoad on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 03:25:44 PM EST

You've gone a long way to describe the casinos as being evil. But be fair; when you set out to start this life of yours, the conceit was not that you might be taken advantage of, but that you might be the one to take advantage, eh?

You schemed, you planned, you researched how to make a life through taking advantage of an edge. You spent years practicing this and developing systems whereby YOU could take advantage of THEM. You determined your own edge to within many significant decimal places. How then, can you conclude that the casinos are evil for doing basically the same thing?

You say that the casinos are evil because they take advantage of people's delusions - because when presented with the opportunity to take someone's money, they don't ask where that money comes from. But when North Carolina takes that VERY SAME money and doesn't ask where it comes from, that's just a sidebar to your story. There's a lot in common with those two transactions, but the biggest difference is that in the case of North Carolina, there's no "opt-out" of the system. In the casino, you are the one to initiate every single bet, and can walk away at any time. In North Carolina, and all over the world really, the authorities take that money and you don't have any options. Where's the four-parter on that story?

(How about the states that offer a 60% house advantage in their own lotteries, rigidly controlling their own monopoly through the legislature and advertising newly-wealthy lotto players with multi-million-dollar TV campaigns? The poor they prey on aren't even going to get comped a free meal, even though they would stand the most to benefit. Surely that's worth at least a two-parter?)

The truth of the matter is that we all have free will, dammit, and every one of those degenerates has set things in motion by their own hand. Your thoughtful consideration of the co-dependent wife is touching, but I'm sure that if the casino were not around to give him a road to destruction, there would be a mail-order scam, a scuzzy real-estate deal, or a life in politics to achieve the same thing. The casino just accelerated what would have happened anyway, and put it out in public for you to cluck your tongue at the sadness of the situation.

Finally, your conclusion is unfair. I'm convinced that most people DO understand that there is a house edge and that they are not infallible. I believe Las Vegas and Hollywood are in the same business. People entering a movie theatre or a casino go for the same thing: a willing suspension of disbelief for the purpose of dramatic entertainment.

It is with that understanding that (full disclosure here) I myself wind up putting a tidbit of my earnings into gambling. Not much, say, about .5%; it's an entertainment expense. Win or lose, I measure my experience by whether the fun I had was worth it. Even if I lose, I feel it should have been FUN, and it usually is.

So please DO give those people advice; you'll be giving them a little bit more fun for their money, without making any assumptions about the nature of their character or their ability to think logically. Gee, maybe they just want to have fun?

You're making the same mistake I did ten years ago (4.40 / 10) (#30)
by localroger on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 04:38:14 PM EST

Well, at least I can take my browser out of Sally Field mode.

The whole point of the article is that what you see as a low roller ain't what you get when you actually open a casino. Your point about free will and these people finding another avenue to self-destruction is simply wrong. That's the point of the article. What I found when I started hanging around in high-rollerland is completely different than what low rollers think, and way different from what the casino would like you to believe.

The casino environment is unique in many respects. It is finely tuned to encourage both overtraining on early luck and to get you to associate gambling with the excitement of being "in action." A certain percentage of guests (actually pretty high) will not have the early luck or won't be attracted to the excitement. A certain percentage of those who are left will be destroyed. It's no different than if you went through the crowd and picked out everyone with blue eyes and seized their property through forfeiture.

No, it's not right when North Carolina takes your money. It's even worse when Louisiana runs a lottery. The article wasn't about taxes or lotteries. It was about my personal knowledge of a particular thing that is mostly hidden.

Casinos are not so particularly evil simply because they exploit universal weaknesses; they are so particularly evil because there is no limit to the damage they can do. There is a limit to how much money North Carolina will take from you. There is a limit to how much you can spend on drugs. There is even a limit to how much a confidence man can likely scam you for. But no fortune is large enough to be safe from gambling addiction.

Ten years ago I thought like you do. Today I don't. The difference is experience, and this article was an attempt to share that experience. When I have a similar experience which reveals the hidden machinery behind taxes or lotteries, I'll start to work on those articles. Meanwhile, I write what I know.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Ten years ago I thought like you do. Today I don't (3.00 / 3) (#33)
by adamba on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 06:34:55 PM EST

The article was fascinating but I really did not get the sense for the big difference between what a *well-informed* low roller thinks, and how an experienced high-roller thinks. Please elaborate...thanks.

- adam

[ Parent ]

OK (4.80 / 5) (#39)
by localroger on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 08:53:32 PM EST

I really did not get the sense for the big difference between what a *well-informed* low roller thinks, and how an experienced high-roller thinks.

It's simple. Low rollers sometimes win. A significant fraction of them are simply treating the casino visit as entertainment, similar to going to a movie. They know they're going to lose in the long run, have a fair idea of about how much, and can handle it. They don't have to be criminals to be sustain their play.

At the black chip level, there are basically three types of players.

  • Losers. They will lose everything they have, and everything they can go in debt for, and in a few years at most.
  • Criminals. They can sustain this play because their income sources are off the map. They are drug dealers, pimps, mafiosos, yakuzas, and so on. Yeah, they can afford it.
  • Celebrities. They don't want to chat, they want you to go away. You're watching them masturbate.
There are no recreational players in the low-roller sense at this level. That is the entire point of the story. And it is these people, not the entertainment-seeking free-drink artists nursing $5 chips who really keep the casino going.

Please re-read part One. During the time when I thought gambling was the best thing since electricity it was, for me, a very social phenomenon. High rollers, by contrast, are very secretive and isolationist, because most of them are hiding something and it's usually something that they are eating or that is eating them.

It's not anything subtle or some trend that required analysis. The high limit players are nothing like the red chippers. It is one of those rare one-hundred-percent phemomena. The common low-limit recreational gambler has no idea what goes on at the green and (especially) black chip minimum tables because, in fundamental ways, it is completely different from their experience.

It's not "fun" to have your business riding on a blackjack session. I've seen this. I've seen grimness and near-panic that you never see in low-roller-land. I have seen a local celebrity throwing five hundred dollar chips around like confetti, then two years later spied him begging for a thousand-dollar marker, which he blew in 15 minutes, and then later him holding his weeping girlfriend in the depths of the five-cent slot machine bank. (And this was before X made big, I will add.)

And it's not "free will" if your operating system has basically been hacked by something that exploits a basic weakness. In my experience only a vanishingly small minority of people are able to look past their own perception and act on the mathematical reality beneath. This is true even of people like Y, who have scientific training and have no attraction to the thrill of "action" and every reason to intellectually understand what casinos do.

I am certainly no superman in this respect myself; I owe my outlook to the fantastic luck of losing like mad when I began gambling. But even then, you overtrain. To this day I expect to lose even when I enter an advantage-play situation. Frankly, I think it's a better state; your only surprises are pleasant. But I didn't choose this outlook. Fate chose it. I think we have an ideal in this country that you don't destroy people because of the whims of outrageous fate. As I said in another comment, it's no different than picking out all the people with blue eyes in the audience and seizing all their property.

This was not intended to be a criticism of red chippers who play within their means and have a good time. It's meant to pull the curtain away so you can see exactly what the Wizard looks like. And he's not Mister Rogers. He looks a lot more like Nosferatu.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

People are not computers. Deal with it. (2.85 / 7) (#47)
by John Miles on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 10:37:58 PM EST

It's not "fun" to have your business riding on a blackjack session. I've seen this. I've seen grimness and near-panic that you never see in low-roller-land. I have seen a local celebrity throwing five hundred dollar chips around like confetti, then two years later spied him begging for a thousand-dollar marker, which he blew in 15 minutes, and then later him holding his weeping girlfriend in the depths of the five-cent slot machine bank. (And this was before X made big, I will add.)

Sigh. You left out the story about the guy pointing his concealed pistol at the victim's back, forcing him to blow his life savings at the table.

Oh, wait. Maybe that's because there wasn't a guy with a gun.

And it's not "free will" if your operating system has basically been hacked by something that exploits a basic weakness.

People aren't programmable devices, and they don't have operating systems.

The very notion is one I find exceptionally offensive, not to mention frightening.

Why? Because if you're right, there's no limit to the degree of involvement that government, religion, and other organizations are entitled to assert over our lives.

In my experience only a vanishingly small minority of people are able to look past their own perception and act on the mathematical reality beneath. This is true even of people like Y, who have scientific training and have no attraction to the thrill of "action" and every reason to intellectually understand what casinos do.

So your whole thesis comes down to this: I can't be trusted not to gamble my life savings away, because I might have an addictive personality. Therefore, society should provide some form of legal or other external control to keep me from ruining my life.

(Yes, I know I'm putting words in your mouth with that last sentence, but really, where else can we go with an argument like yours?)

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

You know... (2.00 / 1) (#48)
by John Miles on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 11:25:40 PM EST

... instead of modding this down to goatse.cx troll territory, how about posting a reply or two rebutting the points it raises?

Do you guys actually feel more comfortable thinking of people as automatons running some hideous cerebral version of Windows 3.11?

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Controls? (4.50 / 2) (#49)
by sigwinch on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 11:25:41 PM EST

So your whole thesis comes down to this: I can't be trusted not to gamble my life savings away, because I might have an addictive personality. Therefore, society should provide some form of legal or other external control to keep me from ruining my life.
Nobody was saying that gamblers should be prevented from pissing away money they cannot afford to lose. The question was whether or not it was evil to entice someone to do it. People may very well be free to take the path to Hell, but that doesn't make it morally correct to personally drive them there in a limo and help them attach the hooks to their flesh.

I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

"Programming" people (4.33 / 3) (#51)
by spiv on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 12:08:34 AM EST

People aren't programmable devices, and they don't have operating systems.

The very notion is one I find exceptionally offensive, not to mention frightening.

Why? Because if you're right, there's no limit to the degree of involvement that government, religion, and other organizations are entitled to assert over our lives.

It was just a metaphor. He was simply pointing out that if you do certain things to someone, they will probably react in a certain, predictable, way. It's called "manipulation", and it happens all the time.

Ever wondered why advertising companies exist? It's because advertising, even with blantant sexual images unrelated to a product, works. This is manipulation, it's pushing people's "buttons" with the intention of getting a particular reaction from them, or at least a percentage of them. The better the ad, the higher the percentage.

If you still don't believe me, do a Google search on Jane Elliott's "Blue Eyes Brown Eyes" experiment. And don't assume that her work only applies to school children -- she has run workshops which produced exactly the same results in adults, who knew what was going on and were still powerless to stop it. And I agree with you, it is very frightening.

I'm not saying "we have no free will". What I'm trying to show is that we are not perfectly rational, and that makes us vulnerable to manipulation. Some people and organisations take advantage of that.


[ Parent ]
I know what you're saying.... (3.00 / 1) (#55)
by THoliC on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 04:53:26 AM EST


Assuming this story is genuine and truthful (the fact it was great to read notwithstanding) - Who are you going to believe?

For a description of what being on the surface of the moon was like, I'd be far more inclined to heed the opinions of Armstrong / Aldrin / Bean et al. over the musings of any theoretical astronomer.

has got us both,
looking for a bed today..."

[ Parent ]
whatever (4.00 / 3) (#68)
by delmoi on Tue Jul 24, 2001 at 12:43:32 AM EST

People aren't programmable devices, and they don't have operating systems.

The very notion is one I find exceptionally offensive, not to mention frightening.

The amount at which people actually are controllable and even 'programmable' is very high. You would know this if you looked at the actual scientific information, rather then your own biases and fears.
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
"I am not a number! I am a FREE MAN!" Ri (3.00 / 1) (#69)
by EWillieL on Tue Jul 24, 2001 at 02:13:14 AM EST

*Sigh* Saying humans can't be programmed is right up there with the notion of "I can't be hypnotized -- I'm too intelligent!" Thing is, the smarter you are, the more easily you go into a deeper trance.

The more you're in denial about the basic mechanisms of the human mind, the more easily you fall prey to the influences around you. Witness advertising. Witness used-car salesmen. Witness corrupt politicians that manage to convince their constituents time and again to vote for them so they can continue to pander to special interests. And especially witness casinos and lotteries.

For more offensive, subversive screed on this subject, check this out: Meme Central

[ Parent ]

my opinion of high rollers (4.00 / 1) (#50)
by adamba on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 11:49:42 PM EST

You state that there are only three types of high rollers: losers, criminals, and celebrities. You also state "There are no recreational players in the low-roller sense at this level" and "The high limit players are nothing like the red chippers. It is one of those rare one-hundred-percent phemomena."

First of all I know of at least two types of high rollers that you didn't mention. The first is people like X and Y. The second is people who can play blackjack for $1000 a hand and simply treat it the way other people treat $10 a hand blackjack.

Let's say you play $1000/hand, 60 hands an hour, your expected loss is something like $1000 an hour. Let's say this is your main entertainment and you go one weekend a month and play blackjack for 16 hours total. That works out to about $200,000 a year, and there are a fair number of people who can afford $200,000/year on their main source of entertainment.

One time my brother-in-law saw Evander Holyfield playing blackjack, two $10,000 hands at a time. At one point he was down half a million, then he wound up ahead, whatever. The point was he could afford it and wasn't too stressed about it. Same thing when you see the "whales" like Larry Flynt play high stakes blackjack on those Discovery Channel shows about gambling.

Saying "this is how I viewed casinos when I was a low roller" and assuming everyone sees it that way is false. My expectation of the high roller action was basically what you described, modified by what I said above.

Sure high rollers keep the casinos going -- no surprise there since their expected losses are higher. Yes there are addicts who lose everything, and criminals and celebrities fall into the greater class of people who can simply afford the losses and treat it as expensive entertainment. But that's not all there is and I don't think high rolling is as grim as you describe it.

- adam

[ Parent ]

I guess Evander is a bad example... (3.00 / 1) (#52)
by adamba on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 12:11:16 AM EST

since he is a celebrity! But there are lots of people with a lot of cash who you have never heard of, who don't get a thrill unless there is some real "pain" potential in how they gamble, but they can easily afford it.

- adam

[ Parent ]

This is covered b ya great fairy tale (2.00 / 1) (#72)
by balls001 on Tue Jul 24, 2001 at 09:00:13 PM EST

Haven't you ever heard of Robin Hood? =)

[ Parent ]
Sort of "me too" (3.25 / 4) (#29)
by cyclopatra on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 04:07:38 PM EST

...but this was a really *fine* series. Like almost everyone else who's commented, I've been rushing to k5 every time I'm sitting at a computer, checking to see if the next installment is in.

I have to agree with a few people here who said go for a book. Your writing is more than good enough, the fact that you made FP 4x in a row here (and have roughly 1/10 of the usual "shut up" comments of a normal k5 story) says that I'm not the only person who thinks that. I know I'd buy it in a minute.

All your .sigs are belong to us.
remove mypants to email

Indeed (2.66 / 3) (#37)
by skim123 on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 08:16:27 PM EST

A book would be a wonderful thing. People like reading about heights they could never hope to experience. I think the guilty conscience thing might be a bit of a let-down for the majority of readers, though. People like hearing stories of people making large social or economic jumps in their lives - which direction, though, they oftentimes do not care. You have the wealth and glamous and excitement increasing in the first two thirds, and then, if you could paint the demise... I dunno, just think you could make a really gripping (and well-selling) book from this tale.

(Oh yeah, and, if you couldn't tell, I've really enjoyed reading these four parts. I have to admit, like others, I've rushed to k5 a number of times over the past couple of days just to see if you'd added a new segment. :-)

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

[ Parent ]
Excellent series (3.00 / 2) (#32)
by ZanThrax on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 06:22:02 PM EST

and the ending was nicely foreshadowed. A guilty conscience is a much better ending than simply being wiped out (which would not really have fit well with the rest of the article, despite how many people seemed to think that was the inevitable outcome.) Making the point that these people, especially X have earned far less money doing this than they would have if they'd spent all those years working for a living was a very good thing, even though it seems that not all the posters are really getting the point of the series.

If there's nothing you'd die for, then what do you have to live for?

Want more of the same? (3.66 / 3) (#34)
by plastik55 on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 06:37:35 PM EST

If (like me) you're sad this series is over, you should find a copy of The Eudaemonic Pie (also called "The Newtonian Casino") by Thomas Bass. It's the story of a bunch of hippie physicists and engineers who built the first roulette shoe-computer in the early '70s.
I recommend Eudanomic Pie too (4.80 / 5) (#38)
by localroger on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 08:22:05 PM EST

The kids in EP also take away a hard lesson from their casino experience, but it's a different one; they overcomplicate everything, and become so engrossed in the process that they never manage to acquire a result.

Their fate is similar to the warning given in Peter L. Manly's Unusual Telescopes about attempts by astronomy clubs to build star-tracking clock drives for photoastronomy; many begin, but few finish because the engineering wonks get so enmeshed in the technical stuff they stop actually doing astronomy.

I thought the kids in EP did several very, very stupid things which contributed to their failure and the poignant ending was contrived. Unlike X, they never really accomplished anything, and their group just fell apart in the wake of their ongoing failure.

But it's a unique document, another glance at a world most people never see. BTW, while card counting remains legal, the use of computers as portrayed in EP most definitely is not in every American jurisdiction except (possibly) Louisiana. Here in the Pelican State, our highly competent and expensively bought politicians simply forgot to include an anti-device law in the legislation that legalized gaming, and when they realized their error anti-gambling forces prevented them from adding it. I still wouldn't test this with my own freedom, but you may have larger yarbles than I do.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Horrorshow (2.00 / 2) (#46)
by John Miles on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 10:27:19 PM EST

but you may have larger yarbles than I do.

LOL. I thought I detected a hint of Anthony Burgess in your writing...

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Croupier (3.00 / 1) (#59)
by ODiV on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 12:41:09 PM EST

If you're a movie geek, you might want to check out the film Croupier. It stars Clive Owen (from the BMW shorts).

I think I'm going to have to rerent it after all this gambling talk.

[ odiv.net ]
[ Parent ]
Might I suggest that an editor (3.00 / 1) (#43)
by ZanThrax on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 09:52:19 PM EST

insert links in the first three episodes to the later ones? (Assuming the author doesn't object of course...)

If there's nothing you'd die for, then what do you have to live for?

Just finished doing that.. (3.00 / 1) (#53)
by driph on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 02:29:16 AM EST

Now all the stories link to each other. What a great series.

Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
[ Parent ]
Shuffle Tracking (2.66 / 3) (#45)
by FuzzyOne on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 10:18:29 PM EST

LocalRoger--did you and the crew ever get involved in shuffle tracking? I recall reading a book about 10 years ago that covered this technique. It seemed to attempt to increase the expected return of counting through better table selection, but it required more of a team approach to make it work.

No shuffle-tracking (3.00 / 1) (#57)
by localroger on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 09:52:12 AM EST

X never did get into shuffle-tracking, though he did look into it at one time. Trackable shuffles are much harder to find than games which are simply countable. Shuffle tracking was particularly effective in Atlantic City where penetration was poor. We concentrated on other jurisdictions where counting was effective enough.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

As a former casino insider... (3.75 / 4) (#56)
by digitaltraveller on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 09:29:11 AM EST

For a short time I worked in a casino. One mentioned in this discussion. The experience was an eye opener. The reason it was a short time was because I couldn't work in a place that fed off of human compulsive behavior for it's business. I agree 100% with localroger that casinos are a place of evil. I am not religious in the slightest but I've seen evil.
I think some people would be suprised to find out that table games account for a relatively minor portion of a casino's profits. The great majority come from slot machines. Slot machines tend to administer rewards in a way that has been scientifically PROVEN to reinforce certain behaviours. If your curious, do a search on both B.F.Skinner and Pavlov (yeah, the dogs guy).
The effect this behind the scenes psychology has on the "normals" is chilling. It's a common day when a casino porter answers a few calls on the radio to clean up a slot seat where a patron has shit in their pants waiting for a machine to pay out. Or a nurse called when a senior has fainted from exhaustion.
As an acquaintance of current casino employees I regularly hear the most heinous stories. Why do these things keep occuring? Why aren't the casino's banning these obvious addicts? Because they are their best customers.
If localroger and his friends were able to suck some money out then I congratulate him. I just hope they quit while they are ahead.
In the meantime, I have to say I really enjoyed the series and I strongly encourage localroger to look towards publishing a book! You obviously have a skill for writing. Though I would give "X" and "Y" names for the book :) Possibly fictional names based on one of their character attributes....

Slots & the Psychology of "Close" bu (3.00 / 1) (#73)
by turtleshadow on Tue Jul 24, 2001 at 10:28:14 PM EST

I believe its been pointed out in a few of the prior articles that Slots are now modernized embedded computers that are networked to the House.
Thats precisely how the House can do the million dollar payoffs as the whole casino is paying into various "payout funds."
When a winner hits the network records the hit resets the funds balance & the House can do other measures to make sure the payout doesn't happen again anytime soon.

Its not deceptive but when what the last time you really saw a sign that read: Payout needs 104 days of suckers paying in before the odds will allow it to pay out. Put in that quarter someone other than you won just last night sucker!!!

Dont believe me do the math how long will it take you to guarentee hitting 1:1.5M doing 1 pull Operation every 6 seconds? (((1.500.000*6)/60)/60)/24=104* days and at .25 USD it would take 375.000.00 USD

Also the Reels in the Slots are driven by embedded computers. Because its a state machine "Values" on the Reel are truely either A or B. So why does the Reel stop soooo shy of the line? Its a proven psychological ploy. The Normals believe they almost won a binary output and keep playing. Hope is a wonderful marketing ploy just ask Revelon they dont sell makeup they sell hope!!!

I was in an AIX class with a guy that claimed to have worked for a major casio. Per his urban legand the last SA did a stupid act and broke the 3 way disk mirror "wrong" and had when he realized his mistake utterly high tailed it out of town. He took his PC and left his cloths and most personal items. After losing a few Million for the casino I'd think I'd go underground too.

* Im no mathematician but I think thats accurate for the general case.

[ Parent ]
+1, However... (3.00 / 1) (#58)
by AgentGray on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 10:43:45 AM EST

resection to lit.hatori42.com

True or fictional, it's good stuff.

Yah! (3.00 / 1) (#67)
by delmoi on Tue Jul 24, 2001 at 12:02:00 AM EST

I like that Idea :) And we do have a non-fiction section.

Of course, he never would have gotten the depth and breath of responses that he got here, unfortunately. Perhaps in time...
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Forfeiture (3.00 / 1) (#60)
by trhurler on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 02:44:45 PM EST

Admittedly, I know little about law and nothing about North Carolina law, but a lawyer friend of mine claims that in most places, if they take a large enough amount from you, it is easily worth it and generally feasible to get a high priced attorney and get it back. I'd guess $24,000 would qualify as "large enough" to be worth it.

Proving you won the money at a casino really isn't necessary; the truth is, forfeiture laws, while they're heinous and should all be abolished completely, do in fact contain provisions for the return of property if you aren't charged - they just make it so difficult that almost nobody bothers. However, it sounds like you and your friends can afford to throw some weight around; personally, even if it were only a break-even, which almost certainly isn't true, I think I'd do it just to get one in on the cops:) (Not to mention that if they 'slip up' and make a false statement anywhere in the proceedings, you can then try to get them nailed for that too... a guy I knew in high school put a cop in prison for something like 8 years for perjury over a fairly trivial marijuana arrest. Why the cop lied in court, I don't know, since the case against the kid was solid anyway, but he did, and the kid's lawyer went apeshit, and that was that. The kid gets off, the cops goes to prison. Whee...)

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

It's worse than you realize (4.50 / 2) (#62)
by localroger on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 07:45:24 PM EST

What you say is not always true. Under the drug war forfeiture laws, the courts have upheld that:
  • You can have an extremely short time limit, such as 5 days, after which no recourse is possible if you don't file an objection;
  • The cops don't have to tell you either what the time limit is or what the procedure is for filing the objection;
  • You face the burden of proof in the proceeding.
Now I hear you thinking, "That can't be, why, the Fourth Amendment guarantees due process in this sort of thing." The legal fiction which has been used to justify this is that the case is not against you, a U.S. citizen; it is against your property, e.g. "The United States vs. $24,000 cash." Cash, they then point out, does not have civil rights.

Stop laughing. It's really true. I'm serious. The Supreme Court has actually ruled that they can charge your property of a crime as if it has some kind of independent existence in a vacuum, and your civil rights have nothing to do with the proceeding.

It is possible, if you are both vigilant and lucky, to sometimes get your property back -- but it usually costs tens of thousands of dollars. For something like your just-cashed paycheck or an automobile or a mere $24,000, no, it isn't worth it.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Publishing alternatives (4.50 / 2) (#61)
by UFOHoaxer on Mon Jul 23, 2001 at 06:54:39 PM EST

I know that you are hesitant about getting your story published, but might I suggest you try getting it on the radio (TV?). I first thought that your writing had the suspence of a 60 Minutes story. My suggestion, however, is to go with public radio, in particular This American Life. This may interest you, if you do decide to proceed that way. Anyway, thanks for the good read.

Why I don't gamble or take cheap casino deals... (4.50 / 2) (#75)
by xfollower on Wed Jul 25, 2001 at 10:49:26 AM EST

To me, lottery and casino winnings, cheap or free casino meals and other "perks" of visiting a casino are all tainted by one thing: someone somewhere has lost money they couldn't afford to lose and you're taking advantage of that, either directly or indirectly.

Whether or not "it's their own fault" you're still profiting from someone else's loss.

I like to be able to sleep at night. (Ignore the current insomnia caused by reading the series... :-) )

A Casino Odyssey: Part Four | 77 comments (74 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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