Tote Boards: the Impressive Engineering of Horse Gambling

Horse racing has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks. Often called the sport of kings, it was an early platform for making friendly wagers. Over time, private bets among friends gave way to bookmaking, and the odds of winning skewed in favor of a new concept called the “house”.

During the late 1860s, an entrepreneur in Paris named Joseph Oller invented a new form of betting he called pari-mutuel. In this method, bettors wager among themselves instead of against the house. Bets are pooled together and the winnings divided among the bettors. Pari-mutuel betting creates more organic odds than ones given by a profit-driven bookmaker.

Oller’s method caught on quite well. It brought fairness and transparency to betting, which made it even more attractive. It takes a lot of quick calculations to show real-time bet totals and changing odds, and human adding machines presented a bottleneck. In the early 1900s, a man named George Julius would change pari-mutuel technology forever by making an automatic vote-counting machine in his garage.

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Beating the Casino: There is No Free Lunch

When you are a hardware guy and you live in a time of crisis, sooner or later you find yourself working for some casino equipment company. You become an insider and learn a lot about their tricks. I’ve been in touch with that business for about 30 years. I made a lot of projects for gambling machines which are currently in use, and I had a lot of contact with casino people, both owners and gamblers.

Now I’m sure you expect of me to tell you about the tricks they use to make you spend your money. And I will: there are no technical tricks. This isn’t because they are honest people, but because they don’t need it. Mathematics and Psychology do all the work.

Does the risk of gambling pay off? Mathematically speaking, no – but it’s up to you to decide for yourself. One thing is for certain – whether you decide to gamble or not, it’s good to know how those casino machines work. Know thy enemy.

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Raspberry Pi Coin Dozer Won’t Make You Rich

Raspi in a coin dozer case

[SoggyBunz] lucked up and scored an Ultimate Raspberry Pi Bundle from Element 14. His idea was to use a Raspberry Pi to make a retro-mechanical arcade Coin Dozer game, and decided to build his first prototype inside a vacant Macintosh Plus shell.

The game is based on a Raspberry Pi running a small Python script. The Raspi operates a small servo that moves a piece of acrylic back and forth in a somewhat random fashion. The coins are inserted into slots cut into the Macintosh shell and eventually pile up. The moving acrylic lever pushes your winnings out of the machine and deposits them on whatever it’s sitting on, unlike this coin dispensing machine.

[SoggyBunz] concedes that the build is a bit rough and a servo is not the best choice of an actuator. But he aims to build a much improved version, and we can only hope he puts it on and tips us in! Stick around after the break for a video of the Pi Dozer in action.

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Dispensing change for low-stakes gambling


Every year, [Nathan] hosts an Oscar party with a lot of drinking, adoring the off-color comments of [Joan Rivers] and some low stakes wagering. Everyone throws a dollar into the pot for a particular award, and when the winner is announced, [Nathan] splits the pot between the winners and begins counting out coins. As convenience stores have discovered, there’s an easier way to dole out pocket change, so this year [Nathan] created a change machine that dispenses coins for the winners.

The change machine is just like the ones you would find at a supermarket or convenience store; load up the machine with a few rolls of coins, and a few solenoids fire in response to serial data received from a computer. [Nathan] used an Arduino, Serial shield, button matrix, and LCD display for his change machine interface, allowing him to dispense pocket change to each of the winners after an award is announced.