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Math Games

Computer-Based System To Crack Down On Casino Card Counters 597

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Yahoo Tech outlining a system currently being researched: "Card counting is perfectly legal — all a counter does is attempt to keep track of whether the cards remaining in a deck are favorable to his winning a hand (mainly if there are lots of tens and aces remaining in the deck) — but it's deeply frowned upon by Vegas casinos. Those caught counting cards are regularly expelled from casinos on the spot and are often permanently banned from returning. But given the slim house odds on Blackjack, it's often said that a good card counter can actually tip the odds in his favor by carefully controlling the way he bets his hands. And Vegas really doesn't care for that. The anti-card-counter system uses cameras to watch players and keep track of the actual 'count' of the cards, the same way a player would. It also measures how much each player is betting on each hand, and it syncs up the two data points to look for patterns in the action. If a player is betting big when the count is indeed favorable, and keeping his chips to himself when it's not, he's fingered by the computer... and, in the real world, he'd probably receive a visit from a burly dude in a bad suit, too. The system reportedly works even if the gambler intentionally attempts to mislead it with high bets at unfavorable times." It's not developed in Vegas, though, according to the brief description (the other projects are also interesting) from the University of Dundee's release, but rather in conjunction with the Dundee Casino.
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Computer-Based System To Crack Down On Casino Card Counters

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  • I will never play Blackjack in a casino environment, unless it's for negligible amounts of money.

    "How dare you attempt to win one of our games!"

    • Look at it from their point of view - all they want to do is win their games, too. The only difference is, instead of bet/no bet, their choice is bar/don't bar from the premises.

      • Ummm ... if they have this computer thing then why don't they count the cards too?

        Besides, I thought Casinos only played half the cards in the deck these days (ever since the MIT card-counting club) to avoid the counters from getting any real edge.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Ummm ... if they have this computer thing then why don't they count the cards too?

          Because they can't. House doesn't play like a player does; that's why the house has an edge. House always plays by a set of fixed set of rules, generally hit on 16 or less, stand on 17 or more, no hand splitting, doubling down, or insurance. However, the house doesn't start playing until you decide to stand, or go bust. If you go bust, the house wins without playing.

          Besides, I thought Casinos only played half the cards in

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Fuck them.
      • Why don't they just get it over with, and just take your money?

        It's not like making a game, with rules and all, really makes that much difference if they just decide that because you are playing the game by the rules, that you are somehow bad because you succeed? So, you can play the game by their rules, so long as you lose?!?!?

        This is retarded. I've given the casinos less than $10 of my money for gambling. I'll never give them more than $20. Fuck them and their stupid "you can play by our rules so long as

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          They basically only want stupid people to play.

          The game has been carefully designed to statistically create a profit for the casino, assuming that the deck of cards is too complex for players to memorize.

          For really smart people who can count really well, assumption is false, so the system fails.
          But for stupid people, the assumption is true and the system works.

          So, they want only stupid people.

          ~I prefer to spend my money in the bar: enter being smart, and become stupid as a result of spending money.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jimicus ( 737525 )

          Fuck them and their stupid "you can play by our rules so long as you lose!" mentality. Nevermind their billion dollar profit margins...

          Little secret for you - in most reasonably respectable businesses (and yes, I know the gambling industry is frequently far from respectable), a "billion dollar profit margin" requires a trillion dollars of turnover.

          In other words, while your gross profit may be huge (which it would be for a casino - the product essentially costs nothing so every penny you get out of your customers is gross profit), your expenses (staff, "complimentary" drinks which aren't because you're hoping to get at least that much mone

        • by TerribleNews ( 1195393 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @07:48AM (#29767219)

          It's not like making a game, with rules and all, really makes that much difference if they just decide that because you are playing the game by the rules, that you are somehow bad because you succeed? So, you can play the game by their rules, so long as you lose?!?!?

          I'm sorry, I got a little confused there; were you talking about casinos or the entire financial industry?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jonadab ( 583620 )
          > Why don't they just get it over with, and just take your money?

          That's what they're doing. That's what casinos have always done.

          But they can get *more* of your money if they can get more of you playing and/or keep you playing longer. (By "you" I of course mean people who are bad at math; people who are good at math, as a rule, don't buy lottery tickets or play casino games.)

          So in order to get more of you playing and keep you there longer, they take your money gradually, a little at a time, while maint
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Casinos have an obligation to follow the outlined rules. They do not however, have any obligation to lose money.

    • They use 8 damed decks for blackjack. Poker is a joke. The perpetually spinning roulette wheel is an abomination. Video slots are stupid. It does not pay to play at all.

      There are two reasons to go. For the whores...oh wait Vegas can't stand the competition so you have to drive an hour north for that. So the only reason to go there is so you can say you've been there and paid 8 bucks for a V8.

      A friends wife sums it up nicely:

      "Vegas is like Monte Carlo as re-imagined by white trash." --blkkitty mzmadmike's wife []

      • The main reason people go to Vegas is because they're stupid.

        Well, ok, they do have some good shows there. If you avoid the casinos and just see the shows I might let you off the hook.

        • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @04:43AM (#29766595)

          Great shows.

          I watched the various games rules explanation in the hotel tv and laughed at the atrocious stupidity one must suffer to even consider playing with the objective of winning money.

          During the small part of my honeymoon I was there, I spent the considerable quantity of 0$ in games. However I did spend several hundreds of your cheap (at that point) bucks in fantastic shows.

          I plan on going back soon (EUR-USD parity willing). I know I won't play a single chip and I know I'll still have a wonderful time with the shows.

          About the whores. They are, by a large margin, better this side of the pond. Not that I'd even consider one, taking into account they give even worse odds than a casino.

          • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @05:35AM (#29766795)

            Well then your chance should come soon... I don't know when you went, but the EUR is nearing all-time highs against the USD again. And has been rising for months on end now. So assuming your money is in EUR and you want to buy USD then it's getting pretty cheap by now.

            Or of course you could consider Macau. Their currency (the pataca) is coupled to the Hong Kong dollar, which is coupled to the USD. And casinos there just use HKD all the time. No idea if it's as good as Vegas, it is at least very different. I like the city - especially it's historical Portuguese-looking centre.

      • by Phurge ( 1112105 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @03:17AM (#29766313)
        Monte Carlo is like Vegas as re-imagined by Euro-trash
      • There's actually one very good reason to go to Vegas: to climb the excellent sandstone of Red Rocks [], just a couple miles off the city. But for all I care you could nuke the city; it would certainly lower the amount of car break-ins while we are out climbing.
      • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @05:31AM (#29766775) Journal
        I've visited Vegas a couple of weeks ago... Lots of fun! No need to gamble either, we put a buck or two in the 1c video poker machine and played a bit for a couple of free beers. But there's plenty to see outside the astounding tackiness of the Strip. Trips to Red Rock, lake Mead, Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, etc. Some very good restaurants there, and there's plenty of shows to go to in the evening.

        Monte Carlo (or Monaco in general) is a playgfround for the rich... you are allowed to walk around and gape at a 90 year old corpse clambering out of a Ferrari with his young blonde trophy wife going for a night at Baccarat, but that's it. Oh, it's interesting to see the roads where they have the F1 race, and there's a nice botanical garden. For the rest it's boring as hell. If I had a choice to spend a week in Monaco or Vegas, I'd pick Vegas any time.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by EdIII ( 1114411 ) *

        For the whores...oh wait Vegas can't stand the competition so you have to drive an hour north for that.

        You are so very very wrong. Two Words: Happy Finish

        Get it?

        Oh, and it's not an hour. 45 minutes tops.

    • Well of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:48AM (#29766231)

      Casino's would go broke if the odds weren't in their favour. The whole way they stay profitable is because the odds are for the house. Not a whole lot in most games, and what the odds are is tightly regulated (at least in Nevada), but they are ALWAYS in favour of the house. Even if they were slightly in favour of the players, even 1%, the casino would lose money in the long run.

      If you gamble in a casino with the belief you can win in the long run, you are an idiot. Winning is an anomaly, it has to be for the business to work.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )

        If you gamble in a casino with the belief you can win in the long run, you are an idiot.

        Well, not exactly. If you have an infinite supply of money, then you can always win in the long run, but you can only win a small amount. The strategy for doing this is to double your bet every time, and eventually you make a profit of your initial stake. Then you stop playing.

        In a game like roulette, if you place a bet on red, for example, then there are 18 winning positions and 19 losing ones, so your probability of losing in the first round is just over 0.51. Bet $1 and if you lose, you double you

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by selven ( 1556643 )

          Technically that strategy gives finite gains (ie. 0% return on investment). If you have a finite amount of money, however, the steady gains will be (in a fair game exactly, in a casino game more than) counterbalanced by the slim possibility of losing everything.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Although I'm not a gambler myself, I find the ban on "skilled" gamblers repulsive.
      The casinos themselves try to have croupiers that are skilled at tipping the odds in the casinos favor, so the fact that they go to such lengths to stop gamblers from doing exactly what they themselves do is quite off putting.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:17AM (#29766123)

    Then they shouldn't have the game on the casino floor. Don't get all pissy when people figure out how to put the odds in their favor.

    • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

      Ever played Blackjack in California? It's crazy. The "bank" is some guy who works for a mob called "The Corporation" and you pay tribute to the "house" every hand.. working out the odds is a waste of time as basically they're under 50%.. it's a horrid game.

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:17AM (#29766125) Homepage Journal

    In a much fairer way, this is what I think they should do with FPS games.. there should be a ladder, at the top are the absolute best players, they get there by starting at the bottom and scoring more than a standard deviation of points over all the other players. That way the rest of us average (or, in my case, terrible noob high ping bastard) players don't have to put up with being continually schooled. In the case of blackjack, they should just cap your bets. You wanna count cards? Sure, but you don't go off the $10 table ok?

  • by tangent3 ( 449222 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:20AM (#29766141)

    The few casinos I have visited (around East Asia) use continuous shuffle machines with multiple decks. Seems like a far cheaper method of defeating card counters without having to confront them with big burly dudes and earning bad PR.

  • The article (Score:3, Funny)

    by CoolGopher ( 142933 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:20AM (#29766145)

    If you're new to slashdot, don't bother reading the article. Especially in this case, where the article is already contained in the summary here.

  • The casino doesn't like the way you play, so they're taking their ball and going home.

  • Pointless in Vegas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by evel aka matt ( 123728 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:22AM (#29766149)

    Las Vegas has made card-counting a non-factor. Between high deck-count shoes, variant games with unfavorable rules ("Super Fun 21"), and early shuffle thresholds, even a player keeping a perfect count cannot create a significant edge. And the million people who show up to try their hand at it and fail far make up for the cost of the few who can eek something out anyway.

    • by jjohnson ( 62583 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:25AM (#29766169) Homepage

      I've also heard Vegas bigwigs say that they love card-counters because very few of them do it well enough to actually make money. A lot of money is made off of gamblers who think they have a winning system.

  • False positives (Score:4, Insightful)

    by razvan784 ( 1389375 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:23AM (#29766163)
    Do they say something about the reliability of the method? Percentage of false positives? Those can mean angry customers and lost business.
    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      I'm pretty sure banning winning customers (no matter whether they count, cheat or are just damn lucky) isn't losing business. And since when do companies care about angry customers that don't affect their bottom line?

  • by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <> on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:26AM (#29766173)

    The very premise of a casino is that it's a business that plays games for money. These games are conducted fairly and have public rules set out in advance. The profit comes from structuring these games such that the casino has a slight edge. Everyone knows that.

    The problem comes when the casino breaks its own rules. It's a fundamentally deceptive business practice in any field to tell public that one set of rules applies, then to actually enforce another. If Blackjack is not profitable, the game should be modified or dropped. "You are not permitted to win" is not a fair rule, especially when it's a hidden rule. It's no different from rigging the odds of slot machines, and there are laws against that [].

    • by TheMCP ( 121589 )

      Moreover, doesn't this constitute unlawful card counting on the part of the casino?

    • by ztransform ( 929641 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @03:16AM (#29766307)

      "You are not permitted to win" is not a fair rule, especially when it's a hidden rule.

      After all, if the computer is keeping a count of when conditions are favourable, the casino could quickly expel any winners even if they are not counting cards.

      Thus there is no more element of chance in the game. The casino will accept all bets that lose, and eject any winners.

      Sounds like the insurance industry to me (who never deny an insurance application, but always investigate the application when you make a claim).

      • by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @03:32AM (#29766365)


        The point of a casino is that they make money by running games of chance where the odds are in favor of the house. Card counters are just a scapegoat used by casinos to get rid of anyone they want with an accusation that can't be disproven.

        All this system does it automate the already extremely easy process of detecting someone that doesn't fail miserably at blackjack and give them an even better "computers don't lie" excuse to get rid of that person.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jay L ( 74152 ) *

      "You are not permitted to win" is not a fair rule, especially when it's a hidden rule

      True, but why worry about small-time scams like casino gambling? There are larger issues at stake; this is a matter of principle.

      I say we take on the thermodynamics lobby. Who's with me?

  • They really don't give God a chance to prove its existence, do they?
  • Burly Dude (Score:5, Informative)

    by _newwave_ ( 265061 ) <slashdot AT paulwalker DOT tv> on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:52AM (#29766243)
    Um, casinos don't send burly dudes anymore. This isn't the 70's. In fact, if they suspect you of counting they simply politely ask you to stop playing. If you are caught playing again, then they may ask you to cash out your chips and walk you out.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hab136 ( 30884 )

      In fact, if they suspect you of counting they simply politely ask you to stop playing.

      The person politely asking is usually burly. Or at least well-muscled.

      I would not take on any of the security folks I saw in Vegas.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Imsdal ( 930595 )
        The person asking you to leave often isn't burly. However, that matters little. The three people he will call on if you don't follow his directions will be. And you are right that it is a supremely bad idea to try to "take them on".
  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @03:00AM (#29766257) Homepage

    FTA: "By comparing the cards and gambling patterns, the computer can identify a card counter inside 20 hands - even if the gambler starts off with a run of high bets to confuse the system."

    Yeah, right...

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @03:22AM (#29766329) Homepage

      I thought blackjack cart counting schemes only worked when you already had a significant number of cards pass by? How could a computer identify a card counter inside 20 hands when a card counter hasn't even started using their count by then?

  • by dgun ( 1056422 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @03:34AM (#29766373) Homepage
    make casinos plenty of money. Every time I hear about bullshit like what is reported in this article, I always suspect that the casinos are behind it. I wasted years playing blackjack, counting cards, and losing money (great recreation, losing money), and I never once witnessed anyone being banned at the blackjack tables. The idea that this is common is a lie. So, get good at counting cards, go to the casino, count your way to a measly fraction of a percent advantage over the house and still watch your money burn. Too bad you didn't consider risk of ruin. Give me a 100x more bankroll and I'll give anyone a fraction of a mathematical edge.
  • by nuckfuts ( 690967 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @06:17AM (#29766929)

    It doesn't take any real skill to "count cards". There are easy-to-learn systems that only require incrementing or decrementing a running total in your head. They're by no means perfect, but given a favourable shuffle they can give you an edge. The strategy is to sit there making minimum bets until a favourable shuffle occurs.

    In practice, here's what happens: Casinos deal from a multi-deck "shoe", which has a "cut card" inserted toward the bottom of the stack after shuffling. The cut card is there to ensure they never deal to the bottom of the stack. (If they did, there could be times that a player could bet with absolute certainty). However, they are under no obligation to keep dealing until they reach the cut card. A competent dealer can recognize a shuffle that would play out in your favour, just as well as you can. So whenever the count starts to swing in your favour, there's no need to "send over a burly dude in a bad suit". They simply shuffle the cards!

    This is what a couple of friends and me learned when we tried to play a card-counting system in Reno back in the 80's.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by HEbGb ( 6544 )

      This is totally untrue.

      The dealer does NOT have the ability to decide to shuffle early. The dealers are not allowed to make any decisions at all.

      If they're doing this, they're cheating, and can lose their gaming license over it.

  • It's the numb3rs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @09:44AM (#29767959)

    They brought back a lot of single deck last time I was there years ago, but in single deck a blackjack now pays 5:4 instead of 3:2. Sounds subtle to the amateur, but it's a huge hit to the player. A lot of the player's side of the math is that occasional 3:2 payoff. I can still do well with double deck with a modified single deck system, but Blackjack is pretty dead now. Cripes, they used to have prime time promotional hours where they'd pay 2:1 for blackjacks.

    The whole place has lost its identity anyway. First they tried catering to families for a while, and then they went after the "high end" market- whatever. I make nearly $200K a year and the place feels ridiculous now. Vegas used to be a place where Joe Average could feel like a champ. In my dad's day they'd comp you stuff if you just stood still long enough. He once got a coupon for a free buffet at a casino he walked into just to use the rest room. True story.

    Now I would not be surprised if you told me they started charging for the air in the rooms. I knew it was really over when I was walking through the Hard Rock Casino (*gag*) and saw a big crowd of people looking at something, and there was Paris Hilton in a shop (excuse me, a Shoppe- no, wait, a Boutique) trying on hats. Also true story.

  • by Bobtree ( 105901 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @10:11AM (#29768229)

    is to not gamble at all.

  • by HEbGb ( 6544 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @11:02AM (#29768851)

    Systems like this have been around for many years, and have been used commercially in various casinos. There really is nothing new or unique about it. I also see no evidence at all that it's reliable enough to use in a real casino environment, or to be of any help at all.

    Remember, this is just some kid's college project. I'm sure he's enjoying the attention, but this is not an innovation.

    The commercial units combine video tracking with RFID for measuring chips and betting. These systems are very expensive, and don't work all that well. They're also easily defeated by skilled card counters using various techniques. This system is too.

    As for card counting itself, there is really a lot of misinformation on here, but here's the gist:

    - It's totally legal, and it's totally legal for the casino to ask you to leave if they don't want your business.
    - They don't do this often, because most people are losers, even if they're trying to count cards.
    - They don't care if you win a ton, if you're just lucky.
    - It only gives you about a 1-2% advantage overall. That's really not a lot.
    - The MIT team didn't invent any of it, including team play. Nor were they all that successful or profitable overall. Disregard the movie, guys.
    - It's not that hard to learn, but it does take practice, a strong stomach, and a huge bankroll to ride out the inevitable swings.
    - Expected earning is around 1-2 units per hour. So if you're playing $25 units, you'll make $25-$50/hr in the long run.
        Not bad, but not great either. And you should have at least $25,000 (1000 units) as a disposable bankroll to do this, or you risk going broke fairly easily.
    - Lots of people think they can do it, but few really can. The ones who think they know what they're doing are subject to lose a lot of money in short order, so the card counting hype is of benefit to the casinos. They've known this since Thorpe's day.
    - Casino rules vary wildly from location to location, even with a casino. Same thing for card counting conditions.

    Yes, I've studied this quite a lot. Anyone have any questions?

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