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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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  • by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) * <> on Friday October 16, 2009 @02:13AM (#29766111) Homepage Journal

    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!"

  • 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?

  • Luck (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Mr.P1ckl3s ( 1531833 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @03:21AM (#29766327)
    I made 300 dollars playing blackjack the first time i ever played anything in a casino and i will never play again.
  • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @03:38AM (#29766387) Journal

    I saw once a report about that in TV, as it was english I was not sure if I understood it correctly.

    So: if you "track" the hands played out in your mind and are "counting" the remaining cards, you are cheating? I can't believe/understand that. Every child plying with cards is taught to keep the remaining stock in mind. Most german card games like "Skat" and similar games require you to have a good idea which cards already got played and which are still on hands or in the stock.

    How is a person supposed to play black jack if he is not "allowed" to track the cards in his mind?


  • by EvanED ( 569694 ) <> on Friday October 16, 2009 @03:47AM (#29766413)

    The "our house our rules" mentality is bullshit. They are taking peoples money, not offering a fair game. Whenever someone starts to win- they kick them out. That just simply isn't fair to whoever was winning.

    "People who come to win but cut short their stay if they start to lose is bullshit. They are taking the casino's money, not playing a fair game. Whenever the house starts to win, they just leave. That just simply isn't fair to whoever was winning."

    Not that I think that the tables should be necessarily even between the gambler and house, which is why things like minimum payout laws and such are probably a good idea.

    But I don't think that applies here. I agree with the sibling post: If the gambler can, at will, get up and leave, I think the casino should be able to as well.

  • 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.
  • Re:Discipline (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jorghis ( 1000092 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @04:46AM (#29766601)

    I read that book, but I have a very difficult time believing it is true. The numbers just do not make sense. You will burn an awful lot of money betting the minimum over and over again waiting for that rare opportunity when your odds improve to about 50.5% or so. And then for a couple of hands you can make a .5% return after waiting around and burning money all night. So for a couple of hands a night you bet thousands of dollars a hand, risk a huge amount of money, for an expected rate of a few tens of dollars per hand. And this is after all your teammates burned their money betting the minimum for hours on end. Oh, and you have to somehow win enough to pay for all the overhead of a vacation to Vegas. It is all garbage. The casino does not spend gobs of money employing elite security teams to track down card counters. (and lets not even think about how ridiculous the idea of a multi-billion dollar organization exposing itself to lawsuits by roughing up a customer who scammed them out of a few bucks is)

    I can believe a story about guys who went to Vegas, played basic strategy and managed to get some nice comps. But there is no way they were bringing down millions in net profit. At least not until they started doing book/tv/movie deals. That I can believe is profitable.

  • by Imsdal ( 930595 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @04:50AM (#29766615)
    Only if the casinos don't reshuffle often enough. I can't for the life of me understand why they don't use eight decks and reshuffle after four or five. Then the card counting edge will almost never be big enough to give the counters an edge. And for the non-counters it obviously makes little difference.

    Does anyone know why the casinos don't do this? It seems so fantastically obvious to me, and the casino operators are not stupid.

  • by Imsdal ( 930595 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @05:15AM (#29766699)
    So? Most times through the decks, there will be no opportunities to exploit the count. Thus, it could easily take five or ten turns through the entire shoe before a card counter would play differently from someone who just plays each single hand statistically correct. I call BS on the claim in the article.
  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @05:52AM (#29766851) Homepage

    I'm a mathematician. I find the whole concept of gambling quite hilarious - people actually expect to come out better off? It's craziness.

    That said, the only time I've ever "gambled" was on a very exclusive cruise ship where they had a "free night" (they were in port, so the laws said you couldn't play for real money). You were given $50 worth of chips but obviously couldn't take your winnings home with you or cash them in.

    Myself and my wife sat at a few poker tables out of interest and played for several hours on that measly sum on the low-cost tables. Obviously, we lost all of the "money" but then we realised - we'd just had several hours of fun for $50. Sure, there are cheaper ways, but it was actually quite pleasant, no worse than putting some money into a pool table while in a bar, etc. It *seemed* good value for money, that's the point. We knew we wouldn't win, but it was fun whenever we did win, it was a good social event and we only "lost" $50 (of someone else's money, admittedly, but I've spent more on that quite a few times and had much worse evenings). It'd also been an intellectual exercise for me because I *was* trying to work out the best odds for myself, and that made it a little more interesting.

    So I can get the attraction, but still have never gambled with my own money, and I can also see why those who *don't* understand the basic concepts of probability enjoy it even more and feel compelled to spend money on it. Yes, most of the people in a casino are stupid - but look at the edges on the low-stake tables - you'll see the people who have fun *knowing* they are going to lose $10, $20, $50... they factor that in from the start. But they still have a good time, usually for several hours, cheaper than they could in many modern entertainment venues.

    And I once had a driving instructor try to explain his "super-theory" about gambling - wait until there's a long run of losses and the next one *has* to be a winner! Great. You go do that. Don't call me when you're bankrupt.

  • 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.

  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Friday October 16, 2009 @06:28AM (#29766965)

    I had heard before that for the most part they don't care about people trying to count cards because it's hard to do correctly

    That seems to be true with most casinos in Las Vegas. My friend would tell them he was going to count cards and most of the time the pit bosses actually come over smiling. They want to see if you can actually pull it off.

    99/100 dumbasses that say they can do it are full of shit, screw it up, and ultimately look foolish in front of the casino. That was straight from the pit boss. They really don't seem too worried about it.

    My friend was the 1/100. He kept it small though and we just ending up getting comped into a couple of shows and buffets since he was bringing a lot of other action to the table.

  • by jaffray ( 6665 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @06:34AM (#29766977)

    the casino operators are not stupid.

    You haven't spent much time in casinos, have you? They're among the most inertia-driven bureaucracies you'll ever see.

  • Re:Burly Dude (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:33AM (#29767429)

    Actually, in the 70's they were willing to accept players who could win. Seems like they are discriminating against smart people. I used to like blackjack. The casinos liked cute, popular girls with spender friends. I'd make my hairdresser money and have fun, all dolled up and even wearing purple hot pants. But now casinos are boring and their decor and entertainment is geared to the lowest common denominator.

  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:48AM (#29767527)

    Atlantic City laws say you can't be kicked out for being a card counter.

  • by phoenix321 ( 734987 ) * on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:52AM (#29767553)

    People who play at casinos don't really deserve some sympathy. Everyone knows that the house always wins, anyone with half a brain can figure out the odds and should not play.

    Why people play with their money against clearly unfavorable odds is beyond me. For some, it may be because they have so much wealth that they don't really have any other challenges in life. For others, it may be craziness or the simple thrill of gambling. But to me it seems worse than investing in real estate property in suburban Detroit.

  • by anagama ( 611277 ) <> on Friday October 16, 2009 @09:10AM (#29767677) Homepage
    I have a lifetime $1200 positive average at roulette (I don't bet large amounts) in my local tribal casino. I've never been to vegas, but I'd imagine the casinos have better resources there. When I play roulette, I look for wheels that aren't level or on wobbly tables (tilt reduces randomness), watch for croupiers with a habitual spin pattern (also reduces randomness), and observe for a long enough time to feel reasonably comfortable with the pattern. Then, and this is the absolute most important part, I walk away when I hit my goal, usually $50 or $100. I've failed to walk away letting the emotion of winning overcome me, and have usually lost my winnings that way.

    The thing is, it turns out to be so much work that it feels more like a second job than an entertaining Friday night. As a result, I think I've only played twice in the last two years. Gambling is about a mental state where one thinks about "easy money". When you have to work at it, the easy money glitter goes away and it quickly becomes boring repetitive work. Anyway, to your question, a skilled croupier could easily destroy all the work a player makes at observing wheel/croupier patterns. I know there were certain croupiers I simply would not play against.

    As for the math, if a croupier is dropping the ball on one half of the board 75% of the time, and playing every number in that sector gives you a 47% chance of winning (double zero wheel), you'd be an idiot not to bet. But it takes a while to find the lazy croupiers and you have to watch over many visits to make sure it wasn't a fluke. Toward the end, Friday morning began to feel almost exactly like Sunday night does when you hate your job. So I quit.
  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @09:44AM (#29767953)

    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 the deck these days (ever since the MIT card-counting club) to avoid the counters from getting any real edge.

    A casino may do this as a defensive measure if they suspect card counting, but they don't like it. It slows down play and cuts into their profits.

  • 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 virg_mattes ( 230616 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @10:02AM (#29768149)
    Well, keep in mind that in the world of today and the place of New York City, Shakrai is right. What (s)he lacks is historical perspective. In NYC in 2009, any business that put up such a sign would indeed be driven out of business posthaste, but that's because the racial climate is very different than it was forty years ago, and NYC is racially progressive (compared to other parts of the U.S.) to begin with. Shakrai, the reason the law exists is because when it was written, it needed to exist because the marketplace did nothing to prevent racial discrimination, and the attitude of the general public was much more accepting of such discrimination. In fact, in the '60s such signs did exist and businesses survived just fine, which is why the laws got put into place to begin with. I consider it a very good thing that you don't see the point of such a law, because it means that we've progressed as a society to the point where at least some of us have never been exposed to systemic prejudice that would show you the worth of anti-discrimination laws. That said, if you think that a sign like you describe would be a death sentence for a business, you should take a trip to Georgia. There are lawsuits filed there constantly because business owners blatantly discriminate based on race and have to be forced by the courts to stop because "the marketplace" doesn't apply any such force on them.

  • 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?

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court