# 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.

## The Typical Gambler’s Financial Chart

Let’s see how the amount of gambler’s money fluctuates over the course of a typical slot machine game. Player starts with credit S and usually has small loses, but also small gains. Sometimes he wins a larger sum, but in the long run, it’s clear that he is moving towards zero. This is just an example of an average game and while it will not always look like this, most of the time it will. Even if he wins on a good day, you can simply scale the same diagram and apply it over a longer period of his life.

The gambling machine does not “draw” this diagram in advance, it does not even plan more than one step ahead. There is no “secret plan”, but only the simple arithmetic rule which determines the amount of gain, or, in some cases, the probability of winning. When you combine it with the randomization process, you get the diagram, and that’s all.

Formally speaking, the game is fair, and in accordance with the regulations. The odds are fair for both sides, although the casino has a small edge on its side, as it has expenses to cover.

If the game is truly fair, then why are there so many rich casino owners, and even more poor gamblers? There is no special reason, we all know that a small portion of input goes to the casino, and we agreed that it’s fair, but that’s where the mathematics and psychology kick in. First, that “small” amount of money is taken from the player every time he presses the button, or runs the new cycle, whichever game he plays. That cycle can run for just a few seconds, so the cumulative effect can be significant. If you are the game development engineer, keep in mind that if the game is faster, the casino owners will love it more. Guess why?

This diagram illustrates why the game has to be fast. Let’s assume that, after the first hypothetical game, the losing/gaining chances are similar to Gaussian distribution. The greatest odds are in the center of Gaussian bell curve, but there are also the small chances for a big gain or a big loss, especially if the player has a risky style. It’s important to note that the diagram is not balanced, as the chances of losing are slightly higher.

The left hand diagram is valid only for the first game, after which the player presses the button again. After five games, the cumulative effect becomes visible, and after 30 games everything is clear. Even after that, the game goes on until the system collapses, which usually means that there’s no money left on the player’s side. He knows how this works, yet he continues playing till the end. Is it still fair? I have my doubts.

A long time ago, I was asked to make a modification for an old poker video game. After each succesful round, a player could perform an action where he had a chance of 50-50 to double or lose his last winnings. He had to push one of two buttons, guessing if the card (with the back side visible) was smaller or greater than 7. I had to reverse engineer the firmware for an 8-bit 6502 microprocessor, so I had to disassemble the code and see how it works. I was truly surprised to see that at that moment the card number still does not exist – instead, there is a decision, made by the system, whether the player will win or lose! When the player presses the button, the card number is randomly generated (inside the range of the desired result) and its bitmap gets written into the video memory.

I witnessed a lot of players who, when they would lose, shouted “Damn, why didn’t I press…”. How could I tell them that the outcome would have been the same?

## Psychology of Gambling

Everyone who has spent some time in a casino, knows that every gambling machine reacts very theatrically to winning, with loud music and jingling sounds, and every loss is quiet and promply followed by an invitation for the next game. Great winnings are remembered and frequently mentioned for a long time, and the losses are forgotten. That’s how the illusion that gambling pays off is created. This feature is called selective exposition, and it plays an important role, not only in gambling addiction, but also in the belief in the supernatural, psychic ability, astrology, quackery and so on.

Look again at the first chart. There are a lot of good winnings, which are marked with smileys. Each of them brought pleasure and hope to the player, and only the last one brought him dissatisfaction. The gains are great and come by surprise, and losings are small and gradual – you could say they are hardly noticeable. Does it pay off, to feel a lot of happiness and only a little bit of discomfort? It’s up to the gambler to decide, but the delusion obviously works, as he never sees himself as a loser, even when he had lost everything. He knows that, as soon as he gets more money, he will come again and it will, undoubtedly, be his lucky day.

Looking at the first chart, it’s hard to resist the feeling that he should have ended the game at the moment his credit was twice of what he had at the start. Looking back, it would be clear to the player as well, but it was the heat of the moment – he got his dose of serotonin (hormone of happiness), and it’s not a good thing to be high on when you have to make a smart decision. It has led to the narrowing of his consciousness, he experienced it as his “lucky moment”, which is a trap for every gambler. Did you ever wonder why there is no daylight and no clock in the casino? The time has stopped in the whole world and all you have to do is to gamble.

Very few players can tell when it’s wise to quit gambling. It is really hard to stop when it has just started going well, and when the new gain is just around the corner. There is only one situation when the player gets the idea to stop playing, other than running out of money: when he gets the super jackpot. Then it’s time to enjoy, not to play. He takes his money and leaves, but there is always tomorrow, when he comes to take more. Of course, with a larger bet, as he is a high stakes player now. He won’t settle until he gives back everything he had won.

Recently I was installing some equipment in a nice casino in southern Macedonia which sees a lot of Greek visitors. Everyone got excited when a Greek woman won a 24.000 € jackpot. My first thought was that, if she is clever enough, she will leave and never step into the casino ever again. When I was there again after two weeks, the staff from the casino told me that she had already “returned” about half of the sum. Another two weeks passed, and her count was way below zero.

## I’m Not Superstitious, It Brings Bad Luck

Most, if not all, gamblers are superstitious. They have their lucky day, lucky garment, lucky number, whatever – there’s always an obvious reason for winning or losing. So, the good winning from the first chart was because of a player’s lucky t-shirt (it was blue, his lucky colour), but everything went wrong when he crossed his legs unintentionally. Also, he must not forget to do his lucky ritual tomorrow before entering the casino.

Being superstitious usually means being bad at mathematics and logic, and especially at critical thinking. After all, if passionate gamblers knew how to think critically, they would probably never step into the world of gambling.

As the illiterates in the theory of probability, gamblers are frequent victims of the logical paradox known as the “Gamblers Fallacy”, expecting that a series of the same results will correspond with the opposite outcome. For example, if a roulette wheel lands on black for a number of times in a row, they expect it to land on red. It’s also amusing how the players of bingo and lottery games often draw the opposite conclusion – if a certain number had been drawn more frequently than others, that means it is predestined to be drawn, and it should be used even more.

These two “schools of thought” mutually exclude each other and, of course, both of them are wrong. If the roulette wheel lands on red 10 times, the next turn has the exact same odds of landing on red or black. As the mathematicans say, dice has no memory.

Many gamblers that try to hack the lottery, casino or online games, create numerous betting systems. Unfortunately for them, mathematic algorithms in most games are very simple, which makes it hard to find any weak point which could be exploited for a gambling strategy.

When a gambler scores a large win, which is just a step short of the “superbingo”, that step appears to be much smaller than it really is. For instance, if he plays the 7/39 Lotto (translated) and has 6 numbers matched, he feels he was very close to the ultimate prize, but in fact he was pretty far. There are 224 possible 6’s and only one 7, which is 99.6% versus 0.4%. Doesn’t look so “very close” anymore!

The human brain is good at making snap estimations in a lot of real life situations, but when it’s about the probability theory and large numbers, it easily gets fooled. If you combine it with selective exposition, it can lead to very bad evaluation and then to bad decisions. Someone who organizes gambling events of any kind, knows this and he tries to spread the story about winners, and never mentions thousands, or even millions of people who got nothing for their money.

## Can You Hack the Casino?

But, never say never! The well known exception to everything that was said here, is the blackjack game. Players can use tactics to gain a certain edge in the game, but it assumes using either illegal devices, or special mental techniques, which include intensive memorization and computation, with a risk of being permanently blacklisted. Some players are also hunting for bugs in online games, but it is more likely that they will lose a lot of money experimenting, rather than finding a viable weak point.

Do you think you can hack the casino, even an online one? To accomplish this, be prepared to outsmart a team of well paid professionals, who spent a lot of time and resources to make sure you don’t. You probably won’t score with one simple project, but if you have a solid knowledge background and spend a lot of time studying the problem, you might stand a chance.

The most vulnerable gambling machines are those with mechanical randomizers and automated reading. Optical readers (bar-code or cameras with OCR software) may be fooled by excess light (modified laser pointer or similar device), and RFID readers with 125 KHz or 13,56 MHz jammers. Anyone who knows how to use it, can sabotage the machine with the device, if he does not like the ball or dice which was just drawn. I have seen a lot of casinos that are not equipped with sensors which could prevent this kind of attack. Anyhow, it is too dangerous to use this idea in its raw form, so an attacker would need to carefully consider his approach, and of course, keep an eye out for surveillance cameras.

Albert Einstein once said: “No one can possibly win at roulette unless he steals money from the table while the croupier isn’t looking.” He was probably the greatest hacker of all times, but everybody has the right to be wrong.

[Illustration by Bob Zivkovic]

​​Voja Antonic works as a freelance microcontroller engineer in Belgrade. His first microprocessor projects, based on Z80, date back to 1977, just a few years after the appearance of the first Intel’s 4004. He assembled the firmware manually, by pen and paper. In 1983, he published his original DIY microcomputer project called Galaksija, which was built by around 8000 enthusiasts in the former Yugoslavia. To date he has published more than 50 projects, mostly based on microcontrollers, and released all of them in the public domain.

## 82 thoughts on “Beating The Casino: There Is No Free Lunch”

1. Hill strong says:

As a child of 8, I was given a book thta had a section on gambling. It laid out the rules for winning and even with a perfect 50/50 odds, as long as the bank has at least 10 times your amount of currency, then you will always lose in the long run.

1. Myndale says:

Back in college I once saved a group of friends from what would have been a rather costly exercise, they claimed to have come up with a secret betting system and were putting together a syndicate to take on the local casino. They’d even gone so far as to print out dozens of pages of simulations, run on software they had developed themselves, that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt their system worked every single time. When I stated that their code had to be faulty I was angrily placed in a car and driven to one of their houses to independently verify the code myself.

As it turned out, their radical breakthrough was just a basic Martingale scheme, and their code contained not one but two serious flaws. First, they hadn’t programmed in a table limit. Second, they weren’t initializing the random number generator…they had in fact been running the exact same simulation every time and by chance it had been one with an exceptionally long run. Needless to say fixing either of these flaws substantially reduced the subsequent lengths of their simulation runs!

1. Max says:

Perhaps it’s just me, but sadly the Wikipedia page on the Martingale strategy utterly failed to impress on me why it wouldn’t work for a reasonably large sum available to play. It seems it is indeed an idea very often reinvented that just “sounds intuitively right”, once one assumes really long continuous streaks “simply don’t happen”. Of course, statistics and intuitiveness don’t really mix and eventually the best insight I could come up with was that what the strategy does under real-life limited-money circumstances (for the classical 50-50 chance, double your bet if you lose) is basically deforming the probability distribution of the game: instead of an equal chance to win or lose an equal amount, it gets you a large chance to win a small amount coupled with a small chance to lose a large amount. Overall, the EXACT SAME outcome as the initial 50/50 over a large number of games, but a better chance to win (even if not much, compared to the amount needed to play) over just a single game – which I suppose is why it was (is?) as favoured a strategy as it was: it likely does indeed seem to work in the short run, but in the long run it absolutely isn’t a “sure to win” strategy any more than random single bets in a 50-50 would be. Adding in the small but non-zero advantage of the house in real-world games (not to even mention tables without betting limits don’t really exist), it becomes just as sure of a losing strategy as any other against a casino…

1. Myndale says:

Betting a constant amount each time is essentially a 1D “Random Walk”, there’s a good page about it on Wiki. Basically if you start anywhere on a 1D line and randomly move one step at a time in either direction then you can mathematically prove that sooner or later you will hit the origin as well as every other point on the line, ultimately. With Martingale the number of steps for any given move changes based on your past history but that doesn’t change the outcome, it just temporarily adjusts the scale of your line. And unlike a random walk, hitting the inevitable and ultimately inescapable “0” means you’re now bankrupt and your walk is over.

2. Josh says:

3. Alex Rossie says:

Vija’s articles are always great, personally I am a gambler in that I frequent casinos with my friends who play poker and slots. I sit at the blackjack table and play a perfect game.
I expect to loose money, but by using the blackjack optimal strategy I can spread that loss over a long period.

It’s just entertainment to me, like going to the cinema or hitting a club. In fact it’s cheaper than your typical club night… If you play your cards right.

Well if you’re not thinking and playing blackjack by the rules printed in a handy card where’s the fun? The atmosphere, the opportunity to feel like James Bond and maybe the odd free drink.

Everyone who works at the casinos knows people like me, they even make a decent amount selling the optimal strategy rules for their particular breed of blackjack. It’s a nice safe way for them to make money too.

In the past combining this optimal strategy with some card counting apparently got you ahead of the game.

Casinos are there to make you rich they are there to entertain you. You wouldn’t blow your life savings on a wow sub you shouldn’t do it with poker money!

1. Alex Rossie says:

Voja sorry and aren’t there to make you rich!

More embedded talk please Voja!

4. Ophidian says:

I only play slots as a way to pass the time. I have a set amount that I allow myself to spend, and if I lose it all it isn’t a big deal as it was about enough to cover a single nice meal. I figure that if I have to wait in a casino, it isn’t spending money any faster than if I were in a video arcade with the prices these days. That is the only gambling that I do at all. I do know just how against me the odds really are, especially played over long term.

I generally tell people to pick an amount that they are comfortable giving away to the casino. Go ahead and play until you either get ahead, or reach this point. If you are ahead, you can either walk away or play until you break even. If you are behind and hit your predetermined limit, walk away period.

1. Greenaum says:

Yeah but what if just one more dollar could be the one that wins big? It’s only one more dollar. And the next one.

And that’s how addiction works.

1. Shpoople says:

And that’s why you take out some cash for the casino and leave your cards at home.

1. Greenaum says:

Nice if you can do that. Probably best for some of us to just stay at home!

2. Peter A. says:

If you play for entertainment only, just to kill the time, why wouldn’t you install one of the many free slot machine simulators on your PC or handheld device? You’d get the same pastime for free…

5. xorpunk says:

The fact there is any “edge” at all suggests fixed-entropy. If there were true randomization say from particle or analogs there would be ZERO patterns. It’s designed to let you lose slowly just so casinos can legally say they aren’t running rackets. Why do you think organized crime organizations invested in controlled gambling in the first place?

The thing is, as was shown with blackjack a lot but not with other games even though spread-average exploits exist for all, fixing entropy actually allows you to cheat the system. You only need to know the algo this is why it’s hard to get modern machines.

>>Casinos will actually pull you from the floor and blacklist you if you profit at a certain rate so dumping machine firmware to RE the algos is pointless. If you wanted to though I bet they re-use code..

1. Greenaum says:

You could still use real randomness, then just scale the numbers. IE for a 50:50 bet, generate a real random number from 1 to 10, and 6 and below loses.

To put it another way, it’s just shifting the bell curve left an inch, like the diagram in the article.

It’s in a casino’s interest to use real randomness. Any patterns at all could be exploited, even if it’s unlikely. If it’s truly random, nobody can predict it. And then you set a handicap, as I said. Mechanical games like Roulette are truly random, far as I know. The handicap is the slightly lower than even odds.

1. xorpunk says:

True.

I’d imagine casinos want more control though. This is why they are so protective of modern casino machines. It’s actually easy to protect them physically and they are under constant human and electronic surveillance. I think they are even on an intranet and are flagged if they go offline or drop packets..

I bet where they DO use simple slanted odds it’s not even a big spread probably like 3/5. If their RNG isn’t good, which it’s probably not it’s probably just code in small SDRAM, it can be gamed just with a bigger time-spread.

Stock markets have a similar weakness. From what I’ve seen algorithmic trading actually scrapes media data and correlates it to trends in trading windows.

1. Greenaum says:

I don’t see why they’d need to rig their RNGs. When they can just set a winning percentage the easy way. In fact slot machines have payout% as an owner-configurable parameter. But if there was any predictability in the machine, they’d be weak to rogue programmers, geeks with disassemblers (it’s not THAT hard to rent a slot machine, many pubs and bars have them), inside men, and quite possibly the law. I’d guess gambling regulations are quite big on actual randomness.

Since you don’t need to rig an RNG to set the odds, why would they? It’s needlessly complicated, and of course unreliable. I dunno what the state of the art is in random sources for slot machines.

Stock markets have operated on voodoo and bullshit for decades now. Wouldn’t surprise me if somebody thought he could, and actually did, make money from observing the media. That and a million other theories. They probably all operate on the principle of the stopped-clock. It’s known that the best hedge funds operate significantly less well than you’d do from throwing darts at a listing of the Stock Exchange.

2. Here in Australia, the random number generators for electronic gambling games are designed to be as close to random as possible (They are tested by regulators, line by line of code and statistically) but they are also designed so that in the average game returns a minimum of 87% goes back to the player, teams of mathematicians and statisticians tune to that number. So on average every dollar you bet will give 13c to the house.

The maths sucks after N number of tries:
After 10 games .87^10=0.248 you should have on average about a quarter of the money you started with
After 20 games .87^20=0.061 you should have just over a twentieth of what you started with
After 40 games .87^40=0.004 you would have 40c on average if you came in with \$100 note

3. Jonathan Wilson says:

Back in the old days of electromechanical slot machines (before digital came about) the outcome of each of the 3 wheels was picked randomly by the machinery so there was an equal chance that wheel 1 would come up with the lemon, cherry, orange, bar, bell or whatever. And an equal chance that wheel 2 would come up with any of the symbols. And an equal chance for wheel 3.

If we assume 7 different symbols on the wheel, there are 343 possible combinations. So in the old machines there was a 1 in 343 chance for each 3-symbol combination to appear (and an equal chance of each 3-symbol combination appearing). The chance of “bar-bar-bar” (jackpot) appearing was exactly the same as the chance of any other 3-symbol combination appearing.

The modern digital machines dont have this, they have a big internal table that has every possible 3-symbol combination with some combinations (say the combination that wins the big progressive jackpot) only appearing once or twice and others appearing many times. The RNG in the system then picks one entry from this table.

1. Greenaum says:

Back then jackpots weren’t as high, since obviously if 1 in 343 is the best you can do, you can’t afford to give away more than 343x the entry price, which would be something like 10c.

Though I think 7 symbols is a bit low. Did reels have more than one of certain symbols? Like cherries? And there’s rules like a single cherry gets a (low) payout, two or three getting more.

How did they work, anyway? I’m guessing electrical contacts on the reel, or on a separate wheel on the same axle. Then a really complicated wiring job. What about purely mechanical ones? Must’ve been works of art, bordering on computers. Unless there’s some simple trick to it.

1. Galane says:

There was a short lived TV show which revealed the inner workings of things by literally cutting them open, with things like chop saws and chainsaws. One episode hacked open a very old, all mechanical slot machine and a newer one from when they began to get electrical parts.

The older one had been rigged by the casino with a metal wedge bolted into the notch for the 7 on one reel so that if it stopped to drop the lock roller there it would rotate on to the next symbol. It would never hit a jackpot. If the Nevada gaming commission had wanted to get sticky about it, I bet they could’ve traced the machine’s serial number back to when it was in use, then traced ownership of that casino (or its name/assets) to a current owner then stuck them with a huge fine for the rigged machine.

When computers were stirred into the mix in the 90’s and the machines still had the mechanical reels, what you could see on them was not all of what the machine was using. They used virtual reels with a much larger “diameter” holding many more symbols in a loop. The mechanical reels were merely a display device which the computer knew the mechanical position of and would rotate to match what aligned in its software. Another trick this made possible was randomizing the virtual reels with every lever pull or button press. Then they added networked machines with massive virtual reels shared among them.

Eventually they dispensed with any pretense at being mechanical with computer monitors. They don’t take or pay out cash or physical tokens anymore. You pay to put credit “on” a magnetic stripe card (like credit/debit cards the card is only an account number, the data is elsewhere) and the machines “pay” with a bar coded receipt that can be scanned into another machine or by the cashier. This was brought on by a man in Rhode Island who counterfeited tokens for every casino in the USA and made a huge profit, until he ignored the bad feeling he had before taking that one last trip to Vegas before he was going to quit. See “Breaking Vegas” for that and other true tales of people who beat the casinos, for a while.

6. “Do you think you can hack the casino, even an online one?”

Yes!

I never gamble (call it a life hack), so I win! I get to keep all of my money!
(until I look at all of my other bills…)

Excellent article, and an enjoyable read. I should send a link to this over to my sister, who is an avid gambler.

7. thomas says:

I pretty much play Poker. Occasionally Craps and then Blackjack if I am bored.

He mentions psychology and briefly touched on the topic. My mother used to play the slots and would always talk about winning… Then I would ask her how much she came home with. None, almost always. He touches on this aspect. But there’s another side. If she walked away when she was up, she’d have been a relative winner nearly every time she went.

But for her, it was psychologically inferior to the possible winnings she would make if she hit it big.

I remember one time she was up \$300-400. I reached over and pressed the “Cash Out” button. I said, “This is now your money if you walk to the cashier”. Her husband wished he could do that to her. She left home with money that night. But it’s the rush of trying to get that bigger payout. With willpower, you have the chance to leave ahead. Without it, they will always get your all your money. People typically leave when they run out of money or when they hit it “big” (whatever their definition is).

1. Galane says:

I’ve been playing Konami Slots on my phone, just for fun. Not spending any real money on the IAP. I have over 15 million points. How? The game gives free points each day and I set limits every 500,000 to not spend below. The Jumpin’ Jalapenos game has 100 pay lines and I use the 10,000 a spin selection. When it hits it tends to hit pretty big. Its free spins hit is also the largest, 12 freebies. During the free spins it has the potential for even bigger hits.

Dunno what I’ll do with the rewards points I’m building up for food and hotel room discounts. No plans to go to Vegas to use them.

8. xorpunk says:

I sum my experience up with gambling to the time I caught a major tv network giving sweepstake prizes to friends and family by monitoring property deeds..

It’s ONLY 1:200000000 for \$20,000,000.00 for state lotteries..

1. Greenaum says:

Out of all the addictions I never got gambling. At least with drugs, you get the drugs. At least bulimics get to eat something nice and sometimes look thin. Gambling is all of the down side, with nothing as the reward.

They don’t care about winning money, it’s all just going to go back in the machine anyway. A study I read of said it was actually the losing that drove the gambler’s brain, not the idea of winning. Winning doesn’t feel like much to them, it’s the rush of not knowing as the reels spin.

Addictions I can understand cos they at least have a positive side, a tangible reward. Gambling is just st00pid. Nearly as bad as freemium gaming, damn you Canadian Devil!

1. nitePhyyre says:

Gambling all down side? It has blinking lights and beeping bells and whistles. So much better than drugs! Especially for the HaD crowd?

2. Quin says:

You do get the drugs with gambling, though. Those prone to addictive behavior will get a rush with each win, and that small win when they have only a few plays left is a huge rush.

Never underestimate the power of endorphins. Even drug addicts feed off the endorphins with each hit of their choice, and feel the lack of drugs more harshly because of the same.

1. Dan says:

Usually when I take a break from caffeine it’s right to capsaicin. A scorpion a day keeps the caffeine withdrawal migraine away :)

9. Greenaum says:

Just a note but it’s usually dopamine that’s the pop-science gambler’s reward chemical.

In any case, it’s best to leave the whole field alone. You can’t boil the human brain down to just a couple of chemicals (unless you’re making dinner for Jeff Dahmer). Pop-dopamine and pop-serotonin seem terribly addictive to magazine writers. But it doesn’t really explain anything useful, if it’s taken seriously at all there’s a much better chance of spreading misinformation and lack of understanding.

All I’m saying, is leave the neurochemistry out of it. It’s a hack cliche, by now only fit for homeopathy and Deepak Friggin’ Chopra.

Apart from that though an interesting article, it’d be nice to know more about gambling hardware.

1. nitePhyyre says:

Yeah, screw all this talk about serotonin and dopamine. Everyone knows the brain isn’t driven by chemicals. It is driven by the soul. Obviously.

If the brain doesn’t run on neurochemistry, that’s about all that’s left.

1. Greenaum says:

While the brain runs on neurochemistry (and electricity), it’s just not as simple as “this chemical=happiness, that chemical=motivation” etc.

Neurochemistry, from what little I know, is really complicated. Far too complicated to tie single chemicals to complex behaviour, or even simple behaviour.

That’s my problem. Not the existence of neurochemistry (duh!), but it’s inappropriate, wildly inaccurate use in articles that aren’t even about the subject.

Then again I don’t think that was ever ambiguous to people who don’t have problems with reading comprehension. I usually save my more remedial tone for Facebook.

2. John says:

If you spend your whole life studying it, you can get a rough idea of how some parts of the brain work.
If you get your information from articles and think one chemical or one part of the brain is responsible for happiness or motivation what you have is a model that has no connection to reality.

10. RandyKC says:

Joshua: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

1. dave says:

Glad someone got it in there.

11. Whatnot says:

What I don’t get is people trusting online gambling outfits. It’s all based on trust on somebody on the internet being honest. It’s like me saying “I have a number in my head if you guess it right you get €100 but each guess is €5…”

And it’s even worse if they are online gambling outfits who send e-mail spam, you have to trust a spammer to be honest.. I mean; what the hell?

12. echodelta says:

I had to play the lottery once. The one ran by the military. The number was 340, it said I didn’t have to go to Vietnam.
I won.
I don’t play.

1. piotrsko says:

mine was 164 I got to kind of go. I cheated and enlisted. MINOT ND for this boy.

1. Greenaum says:

Ah, Ulillillia comes from Minot.

2. k-ww says:

I was living on Long Island during that lottery: A local newspaper found someone with the number “1”.

His comment: “It’s the first time I ever won anything.”

13. steve says:

Damn, that was an interesting article! Bravissimo! Thanks a lot!

14. Jay says:

“Do you think you can hack the casino, even an online one?”

I did this once. For fun I was building bots that could pass as humans, and I regularly tested and refined them using the free money options (designed to get you hooked before inserting your credit card). One day I finally talked myself into playing a single real money game, just so I could know it worked against real players. Up until then a voice in me always wondered if it was winning because I was going against those people who didn’t consider themselves good enough to play for real cash.

The bot won, and I was happy to go back to my usual free money stuff. After it ran for a few more days, I was shocked to see its money had dropped down into the thousands! Somewhere in the past few days it must have been losing like crazy! To my horror, I had forgotten to switch it back to free money so it had been winning paid games! My heart hit my stomach, I deleted everything, and fortunately no one ever came after me for it. I’m sure after enough time, the money in that account absorbed back into their pockets.

Probably one of the scariest mistakes of my life.

1. Greenaum says:

So your bot won thousands of dollars for you? And that was scary? Dude, I dunno what would have made more money, either letting it continue, selling it to gamblers, or asking for money from the casino NOT to sell it to gamblers!

Although I believe gambling bots are a big underground market for online casino players. Of course the casinos try and detect and ban them. But really how much do the casinos care who’s taking the money from poker games? They get their share, it’s only the punters who lose.

Actually writing your own might be a good idea, since most of the online bots are commercial products, with lots of people running the same code, so they’re more likely to give themselves away. A custom bot might get away with a lot. And I think the worst that usually happens is you’re banned from a site, or maybe several. Online casinos are all based in island nations, where the laws are slack and they’re not answerable to the governments of the countries their players inhabit. That cuts both ways!

1. Jay says:

As soon as its winnings passed the first thousand dollars, it enters into a whole new legal bracket beyond fraud. I wanted NO part of that what-so-ever.

1. Greenaum says:

Hmmm… I might’ve taken the money. But probably switched the bot off forever after that. I didn’t know what you’ve just said about fraud. Then again out of all the ways of making illegal money, probably the safest.

1. Jay says:

I’m a lawyer myself, but after this scare I talked to a lawyer on my wife’s side of the family. In his opinion, they could have come after me for fraud, and he said something about there being a higher charge they could place on me because my fraudulent winnings had exceeded \$1,000. I didn’t stay to ask additional questions, since I was playing the “what is your professional opinion on this hypothetical situation” game, which he probably saw though but I did anyway.

While thousands of dollars is nice, it’s not nearly enough money to risk jail time over, even if the risk is small. Had I been a lawyer myself, I may have been able to judge my risks, but since I’m not I went with the quickest way out.

I’ll happily share the big trick though. I’d been doing this with paid money for years, having my fun until a place would catch and ban me. For a while I collected the emails they’d send, coming up with excuses for why I was being kicked out. When they had no real proof, it was usually something along the lines of “we believe you’ve surpassed what our free games can provide and require you to play with real money in order to continue using our services.” Basically I was stealing the free money from tons of potential customers, who weren’t likely to then whip out their credit cards. The various security companies they used for anti-bot detection kept getting better over the years, but by the end I had it just about perfect in my opinion. Some would call it overkill, but then again once I switched to this method I was never caught.

Set up 2 computers, with a webcam fixed to the monitor of one. The computer being watched (with the cam) would run the online games without anything running on the computer. No special programs that could be discovered. The second computer ran the bot, and used the web cam to “see” the screen of the second. This was before it was so easy to simulate a mouse with an arduino, so a hacked mouse let the bot computer control the cursor of the plain computer with stepper motors. Increasing the mouse sensitivity got around it being slower to move, and I even had code in place to mimic the natural curve, acceleration, and deceleration of the cursor. I used data collected from a program that monitored the cursor while I used my mouse to play a few games.

As you can imagine, parsing the webcam feed to understand what was going on in the game was the hardest part, but even that wasn’t very hard. I’d say the whole thing took about a month from concept to the version that won all that money.

So consider this a tip for anyone wanting to go down that road. I’m sure it’s still overkill even with the most recent anti-bot security, but you’ll know you never have to worry about it no matter how much they upgrade.

2. Jay says:

I mean to say I’m NOT a lawyer myself…

3. Greenaum says:

Wow! Doing it the hard way. I’m impressed that the actual poker playing doesn’t seem to have been the hard part!

Is the key basically that a computer can keep a cool head, isn’t misled, and just plays the percentages? I can imagine releasing code for a poker-bot, a good one, would be legal, but would cause havoc with the world of online poker!

4. Jay says:

Yeah it’s amazing how much of an advantage can be gained just because a bot never gets tired, bored, and can obviously do the math faster than its human counterparts. Play enough games and you start coming out ahead.

I’ve always told all of my friends and family to stay away from any online gambling. I’ve insisted that those places will ultimately come down to you facing off against bots, even if the site swears up and down that they use security that catches them.

15. grounded says:

The Eudaemons come to mind.

16. Elenor says:

Thanks alot for this interesting article!
One question: How have you drawn this nice plots?

1. Thanks Elenor!
I used CorelDraw and exported the vector graphics as bitmaps. I also defined the backgroud colour as #1a1a1a (R 26, G 26, B 26), which is also HackADay’s background colour, so that bitmaps look like “embedded” in the text.

1. Elenor says:

Thank you very much for the explanation!
Greetings Elenor

17. Blackjack is no longer viable; the casinos have learned that they don’t need to offer a beatable play to lure in the suckers. Counting cards doesn’t work if they only pay 6:5 for blackjack or shuffle half way through the shoe.

20 years ago there were numerous ways to game the casinos. There were progressive video poker machines and even some slots which were positive EV if you waited and only played them when the progressive was high. The comp system could be gamed to offset minor money losses with major rooms, meals, and travel. And they simply gave stuff away for showing up, from rolls of quarters to double payout blackjack coupons to free tournament entries. In the 90’s it could be a sweet source of secondary income if not a living.

But the industry has consolidated to a huge degree and most casinos are now owned by just a few megacorps which don’t really feel the need to compete that aggressively. The bargains and freebie come-ons are mostly gone and the advantage play opportunities have dried up. Even straight poker, which the house doesn’t care if you beat because you’re beating the other players and not them, has largely dried up because the recent economic bubble-pop has drained a lot of blood out of the poker economy.

18. Mike says:

Hi guys,
I won thousands of \$ in one casino, 3 jackpots with slot machines (25000\$ won in 3 JP) in less than a year. It was the beginning of a sad story. My story.
I also lost thousands of \$. When you win, you think about nice things you’ll do (for yourself or your friends/family). But one day, you loose more than expected. You try to win back that lost cash. You feel guilty because you see the price of a steak and the money you lost on the night. You feel guilty because you wife hesitate for a shirt (a 15\$ value). You are unhappy because of your losses. Sometimes, you win again and you’re happy again. Sometimes, you loose and you want to spend all your remaining money until there is no money left. You’re sad when you loose and you want to hide that sadness to anybody else. You’ll cheat everybody, including yourself. You’re depressed. You spend any money you have. You think Casino everyday. You don’t sleep well.
I won 25000\$ in 6 months, I lost 45000\$ in 6 other months. I lost in final 20000\$… A lot of t-shirts… A lot of steaks, a lot of hapiness. A need to reimburse that money I didn’t have. A mental jail. Every talk about money make you feel bad.

The worst in Casino ? Win some money, win a jackpot. I won 3.
If you win at Casino, take your cash and never go there again. Never.
Spend your wins anywhere with your friends, your family. But never go back to Casino, you’ll loose your cash and your soul.
Unfortunately, in 2 minutes, you’ll forget that wise reply :-(
Mike

1. Whatnot says:

This is a techblog and not a support group for your issues, nor a place to tell your lifestory.
There are other places online for that.

1. Greenaum says:

Ah shut up, it’s relevant to the topic. And gods help us, it might save somebody. Coversations digress, it’s normal. We’re a chat group, not a technical manual.

1. Whatnot says:

I don’t care if it saves a million people, take it elsewhere I say. And I’m fine with normal somewhat off-topic stuff, but this post was just over the top.

2. Joe says:

What the actual fuck, Whatnot? I bet you wouldn’t be saying that if someone said “let the soldering iron hit the floor instead of grabbing it”.

2. Wat Wat says:

I once read a story about a man who won big playing blackjack. The casino started sending limos to his house and having a private jet on call for him to give them a chance to take it all back.

19. Galane says:

A man I worked for 15 years ago had a woman friend he’d go gambling with. If they didn’t go together they always lost. If they went together they would come out of the casino with more money than they went in with. Every time, without exception. They were each other’s ‘good luck charm’.

I rarely go to casinos. When I do, I decide how much I’m willing to spend on the entertainment. That money is in one pocket. Any winnings go in another pocket and none comes out. When the first pocket is empty, I’m done. If more ends up in the second pocket than was in the first, yay, I won.

Look up the documentary TV series “Breaking Vegas”. You’ll see many of the reasons for changes in how casinos operate over the past 30~40 years. The reason they quit using tokens in slot machines was because of one guy from Rhode Island who was counterfeiting slot tokens from every casino in the US. You’ll also find out why the blackjack shoes hold so many more decks than they used to. It’s to foil the card counters.

You’ll also find why the shoes have little projections at the sides where the card slides out. A couple of guys were using a camera up a sleeve to see under every card as it was dealt, sending to a van outside where the brains of the pair talked back through a headphone telling the inside guy what to do. They got busted because the inside guy was wearing a heavy coat to hide the camera gear.

Another episode is on a pastor who decided to punish the evil casinos by beating them at blackjack – with a computer in his pants.

Card counting is NOT illegal in the USA or Canada. One guy who has been banned from every American casino always demanded to be arrested and taken to court. The casinos would just ban him. Then he went to Canada, same story until one casino decided they were going to squish him and did take him to court – where they lost. So word up, Canadians. There’s a court decision that it is NOT illegal to use the power of your own brain to beat casinos at blackjack. I assume to deal with good counters, Canadian casinos just set table win limits. “Sir, you’ve maxed out the table limit. Blackjack is closed until further notice.” Much nicer than a punch in the gut and being tossed out the back door, eh?

1. Greenaum says:

AIUI, card counting, using your brain, isn’t illegal. Using machines is. But nobody has a right to play at a particular casino, they can refuse service for any reason they like.

There are some great, great stories though. I think the leg-breakers were made redundant when corporations started owning casinos.

Did you know that Vegas, as it is, all the grandness and money, is down to one man’s mental illness? Howard Hughes and his famous OCD.

It used to be, a casino had to have a real, breathing, human owner, a corporation wouldn’t do. But the gambling commission (or whoever it was) required the owner to come into the office and sign some paperwork. At this point Howard was well cuckoo, and hadn’t left his room in ages. So he made a few phone calls and got the laws changed so that his corporation could own casinos for him. All so he could send somebody else to go do the signing, and he wouldn’t have to leave his nest of filth.

If he’d stayed a healthy man, wouldn’t have happened, and casinos wouldn’t be able to raise the sort of money they do through selling shares.

1. gerry says:

nice anecdote, but if it was as trivial enough to overturn on the whim of a rich man, surely it was inevitable.

1. Greenaum says:

It’s a true anecdote, well documented.

And i don’t think it was trivial. You have to take into account just how rich and powerful Hughes was, and the fact he’d spend any amount of money to calm his OCD. That, and at that point he owned many of Vegas’s casinos anyway.

He bought the first one, forget which, because he was staying there and they wanted to evict him. He didn’t want to leave, so he bought the place. Then he bought a few more, maybe cos he was already in the business.

He famously bought a small casino, the Silver Slipper, because it’s neon sign shone in his window at night and annoyed him. He bought it, and moved the sign.

Not trivial at all, Hughes was just that strong a character.

2. Joe says:

LOL, I assume you meant “punch in a gut” figuratively. Some people would come back and wait until said muscle was looking the other way and put a bullet in them or go running to lawyers to sue or file charges if they’re a real snake in the grass. Casinos might have great attorneys but are huge targets for harassment lawsuits. Crazy, greedy people would probably dumb enough to do things like this, anyways. XD

20. Galane says:

Before the video slots took over, the innovation was in networking and virtualized reels. The mechanical reels with the symbols were “expanded” in the software. With position encoders and servo or stepper motors, the computer could position the reels to show any of the physical symbols. The expansion was by repeating those physical symbols on a virtual “reel” with thousands of symbols.

Thus every instance of the BAR symbol on a virtual reel mapped to one physical BAR symbol on the real reel.

Then with networking, all the input from all the players could go into a single randomization system where the payout could be apportioned to spread as evenly or unevenly across a group of machines as the operator desired.

Now with video slots, the machines “change” on a 90 day or faster turnover. All they do is upload different graphics and sounds, tweak the settings and swap out the lighted marquee panels and other hard artwork. Tada! A “new” slot machine. (If you’re a graphic artist, there’s a job with steady work.)

If you see a cluster of machines, all the same type, with a sign offering a really good payback percentage, your question is “Which ONE of those machines, and WHEN?” The electronics and software allow the casino to show the regulators that at some point that group of machines will pay back 110% – but in the long run the odds still favor the casino.

The oldest electronic hack of a casino machine was built into the first model of video poker machine. The same former casino security person who told me about the “high percentage” payout scheme told me that video poker hack was an inside job by a programmer at the company that made the machines. It took a complex series of specific coin drop and button press patterns, over 20 steps, then at the end of the pattern it would hit a Royal Flush and pay out the jackpot. Way more complicated than the Konami Code. ;)

Another one he told me about was when the electronic coin acceptors first came out. He got called into fix a slot machine that was rejecting genuine American coins. He’d never seen one of the latest acceptors yet so he looked at the manual, fiddled with the adjustments until it would accept any hunk of metal that would fit through the slot and told them to call the manufacturer to send a technician out, Then he had to bone up on the new technology.

Now that they all use printed receipts and/or plastic account cards it’s just not the same. Used to be the dingdindingding was from the coins or tokens hitting a bell as they dropped out of the hopper. Now it’s a digital sound effect, often not even bothering to sound like a stream of metal discs striking a bell. They haven’t bothered to simulate the sound of them hitting the metal coin tray and piling up.

If I owned a casino, I’d definitely have an “Old School” section with only old mechanical machines that take real US Quarters. No networking, no fancy computers, no giant virtual reels. Just individual, self contained machines.

21. JJones says:

Fishing Game:
In my research of slot machines I remember a sub-game where the user was given a choice of fishing lines to pull up.. but it didn’t matter which line was chosen.. and in this case I was shocked to find out the result was already determined by the random number generator *before* the user even made their choice!

1. Greenaum says:

That really annoys me! And the same thing Voja mentioned in his article.

From a user’s perspective the result is the same, but it’s still cheating. They should do it the proper way, and I can’t think of a reason not to. I suppose they’re paranoid about some giveaway, a light flickering or something, or a backdoor pattern by the programmer.

2. Galane says:

McDonald’s Monopoly game and all their other games with the codes you enter online are pre-determined. They know which codes are the winners and to which locations the winning codes are sent. If your local McDonalds is one in the back of beyond, it’s never going to be sent a million dollar gamepiece.

22. Meister says:

I remember reading about high/low card choice in Voja’s book long ago. I try to watch people playing and talked with bar owners that have poker machines, and I saw the stuff he was talking about.

Bar owner adjusts payout percentage, I know about cases of them attracting people in their bar by setting very high pay percentage so people would often win, and that story travels over the town quickly and suddenly bar is full, people are drinking and playing, owner is happy. After some time when his machine become famous giver, he lowers payout percentage and people start winning less, losing more. But they still think that machine is a giver and if they lost few days in the row machine is now full of money and big win is inevitable. In the end of story they lose their winnings when machine was giving, and lose even more trying to return that money.

Some of them even had stories about remembered sequences that occurs frequently, not sequence of cards but sequence of lower/higher. That’s where theory of machine not knowing the next card, only knowing if you win or lose comes to play. They remembered sequences when machine was set to higher payout, and they were sure they outsmarted machine. But when owner readjusted machine their whole theory fails miserably, no matter their “smart” sequence they would loose. Truth is their sequence was not relevant at all, it was machine’s “will” to give. Machine really doesn’t have any sequence of cards, only RNG.

23. jgjtpw says:

Anything with electronics is almost impossible to cheat without getting noticed. Mechanical machines can though. There is a talk about roulette tables getting beaten in a legal way by predicting where the ball is going to land. Not sure if thats really true, but I have an electronic slot machine at home (piggybank) and I always tend to lose. However, on most times I have won more than I lost, but that is when the machine is set up to pay at 95%. That means that there is a chance of 5% where I would lose my bet, but a 95% of me winning the bet.

If you like to win something in a casino, always know that the sucker behind you has an equal chance as you to win the bet. And its always those who just wander in and put a coin inside that win, not those that put millions in there in hope of winning the jackpot. Thats how I usually roll: I have a stash of money I can spare, and when it runs out, it simply runs out. Same goes for the fair, you will only win if you know how to beat the system. If you don’t know how to beat the system, you cannot win, trust me. I did a lot of photo shooting, and after spending a lot of time with those guns you begin to understand when a gun is rigged ;)

1. Greenaum says:

Derren Brown tried that on a roulette wheel. Not with his own money, of course, he hypnotised some dick into giving him 5,000 quid, then forgetting he’d done it. If it was David Copperfield it’d be a stooge, but Derren really is that good! The man’s a witch!

He spent ages studying roulette wheels, then finally put the bet on. On live TV.

He lost! He got the position of the ball off by a little bit. He repaid the guy’s money of course.

I suppose this is why roulette tables have the numbers spread out. IE betting on a “street” covers numbers that aren’t physically near each other on the wheel. If you could bet on a section of the wheel, that might be enough to give an advantage. You could do it anyway I suppose, just by betting on the numbers in a section individually. Though as ever, casinos can refuse service for any reason. Especially if you start to win too consistently.

Of course they like the big, random wins, cos it encourages everyone else to gamble^H^H^H^Hgame more. But someone who shows up too often, making a regular win, is gonna find himself banned.

1. arachnidster says:

I would take any Derren Brown stunt with a huge grain of salt. Just look at his “predicting the lottery” one, for instance.

2. Sector betting is an age old tradition among roulette players, where they know the order of the numbres and bet a physical section of the wheel.

24. Drone says:

Get a Degree in Engineering, Math(s), or Physics from a competent University (yeah I know, hard to find these days – in the U.S. anyway), and I guarantee you won’t step-foot in a Casino to gamble your money on the machines and/or the tables. But that’s not to say there aren’t other things that may be worth a “gamble” in the Casino. If you are very careful, of-course.

25. xorpunk says:

old entry but yeah.. buffer overflow or database query injection in front of the paywall firmware or software.. Don’t try to be all the math crap or count cards..

26. Justin Ham says:

Worth reading! I’d been addicted to secret slots for a long time now, but this saying of yours has a point ‘great winnings are remembered and frequently mentioned for a long time, and the losses are forgotten.’. For me, I don’t care as long I enjoyed it.

27. Justin Ham says:

Worth reading! I’d been addicted to blog.secretslots.com for a long time now, but this saying of yours has a point ‘great winnings are remembered and frequently mentioned for a long time, and the losses are forgotten.’. For me, I don’t care as long I enjoyed it.

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