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How 'Advantage Players' Game the Casinos (nytimes.com)
299 points by troydavis on July 1, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments

I used advantage gambling to help put myself through grad school during the first online casino boom. There were so many casinos vying for players, that many offered a bonus -- say $500 extra to play with if you deposit $500. Of course that $500 had a playthrough requirement -- you may have to wager a total of 20x that to withdraw -- so $10,000. Now you simply find a casino that has a game with odds that beat the playthough. So, for example, if a game has a 1% house edge, you're expected to lose about $100 wagering that $10000, leaving you a theoretical $400 in profit.

Eventually, the casinos wised up and changed it so the wagering had to be done on slots, which have terrible odds. However, we figured out early on (I was in an advantage gambler forum) that there were "double or nothing" games in the slot machine, that let you go double-or-nothing between 5 and 10 times. These counted towards wagering, and were essentially perfect 50/50 odds (no house edge) - so by always going double or nothing until the end, you could rack up most of your wagers at 50/50 even though the initial slot roll was at a much higher house edge.

I think I started with $100 deposit into a casino and probably made > $50k in the two years after that. About $40k of that went to bills and $10k became my initial poker bankroll while I taught myself to play poker professionally, which I did for the rest of grad school after the casino bonus gambling winded down (they eventually wised up to the slot machine thing too) -- and if you player poker at a high enough level and you use judicious table selection, you can always advantage gamble (because you are gambling with each other, not the house, though the house gets their cut with the rake -- so you have to win at a high enough level that you know you are beating the rake)

I was a "small time" person, just doing it on the side to earn spending money -- there were certainly other people who had many many computers, VPNs, shill addresses, etc who took those casinos for hundreds of thousands a year for those couple years.

I learned a lot about probability theory, estimated value, and the mathematics of gambling in general, gained the emotional strength to deal with high variance (the best description of playing poker professionally that I ever heard was that it was like playing a game of chess for $1, then flipping a coin for $100. In the long run that chess game is the only thing that matters, but in the short run those coin flips can be brutal). Good times.

I also started playing poker a lot in college for "fun money", and was looking to step up my game.

I went a different route, though. I did the math and realized that even at a very good hourly take, I would never make very much money, and that by going up to higher stakes tables if anything I would do worse. I didn't have much hope for tournaments either.

A few years before this I had worked at a day trading firm. I don't recommend technical trading (I never could find an edge there), but then it finally "clicked" and I realized the obvious connection between the stock market and poker: you are trying to find mismatched bets where the odds are tilted in your favor.

Once I made this connection I promptly switched to the stock market and never looked back (this was over 12 years ago). It took me a while to figure out a "system" (what kind of bets to look for, how do you figure "odds" with stocks, etc.) but it has been quite profitable, even counting the Great Recession, and now I do it full-time.

So anyways, if you think you really "get" poker and are willing to put in the time it takes to get good, you may be better off switching to a game that pays much better, assuming you have an interest in business.

Depends on your definition of money I guess. At my peak before I moved to heads-up I was playing about 4-8 tables of 10/20 shorthanded at a time and averaging about 1.5 BB/100 hands after the rake. 4-8 tables online is about 400 hands an hour so that's a take of approximately $120/hour. Granted they were grueling hours and no way could you really do 8 in a day. I could make more contracting programming now I guess, but at the time it was an unreasonable amount of money for someone in grad school to be a social worker.

I know a lot of people that went the poker - day trading route, some who love it and make money. I'm not much interested in business enough to learn anything beyond P/E, and I'm still not 100% convinced that people who make money trading are doing anything but ending up on the good side of the random walk, but I accept that it's possible ;)

I also know some people that went from poker -> day trading -> fantasy sports because there's a lot more casual sports fan playing fantasy sports and making bad bets than there are traders making bad bets.

Yeah, I figured the best I would ever do was around $100k / year, and with a huge time commitment.

I would not recommend day trading either. A long time ago you could find arbitrage opportunities, but those have been essentially squashed out for quite some time. I have seen technical traders who claim to have a read on things, but to be honest I don't see it. (There are a number of long-term successful commodity traders, but there are not many day traders in stocks who last)

I actually do longer-term fundamental-based investing (my average holding period is probably around 2-3 years). Initially it was way less money than poker, but had the huge advantage that it scales up pretty well (at least to numbers people actually care about) versus poker where I would've been stuck making the same amount. It also has the advantage that I can do it anywhere.

Curious if you can share any more about your approach to fundamental investing. What stage/size companies do you focus on and how do you find an edge?

I looked into fundamental investing for a while but came away with the impression that you're trying to guess what the consensus of the market will be rather than finding some "right" answer. ie you can think the price should be x but if nobody else will buy/sell at x then you're wrong.

I've instead been subscribing to the notion that price movement can be thought of as random and selling option premium accordingly (the whole tastytrade mantra) but haven't been super successful and would be interested in hearing other approaches.

Sure. I agree that in the short-term (daily, weekly, even monthly) it's largely random, or at least effectively random, as in its no use trying to predict it.

My starting point is what I call the Fundamental Theory of Value Investing, the well-known belief that price eventually reflects value. Or, rather, they tend to move in tandem. You can't really prove this, but it has been observed empirically. Really internalizing this is important for sleeping well during volatile times. :)

So that means you need to find places where price doesn't currently reflect value. There's the usual list of places to look where the big players can't go, including micro and nano cap companies, low-priced companies, companies not followed by analysts, troubled companies, 52-week low companies, spin-offs, etc.

As far as fundamentals, I like reliable FCF, or better yet, what Buffett calls "owner's earnings" (slight difference from FCF). "Reliable" being a key word, and where experience and clear thinking are important. I spend 90% of my research time looking for things that will threaten cash flows.

I stay away from growth companies. The market just bids them up way too high. FB may be a wonderful company, but the current price is priced for perfection; any slip-up and down it'll go. Everybody is chasing growth, and institutional investors want to tell their LPs that they are in on the hot thing, so they buy in at any price.

You can't know the exact probabilities and odds, so the most reliable way to make money is to buy good earnings for cheap, check your downside very carefully, and let the upside take care of itself. Obviously there's a million variations on this, but they all generally require going against some consensus, which can require testicular/ovarian fortitude. For me, the most common thesis is of the form, "this too shall pass". Some sort of temporary disruption that doesn't permanently harm the business. Sometimes the dust settles in a quarter, sometimes 3 years. If I start getting a clue that I was wrong in my analysis, I get out.

I can go in more detail if you want but maybe should take it offline as people here to read about casino betting may not want their thread cluttered with this stuff. :)

It's super interesting and collapse threads is in beta so please?

If you have some specific follow-up questions I'd be more than glad to answer. A general overview could get pretty lengthy. :)

I'd be very interested in reading it if you decide to post it somewhere. I'm working on honing my own skills by reading a lot of books, through my main portfolio, and various paper portfolios.

Do you primarily manage your own money?

How difficult is it to achieve long term advantages over indexing?

Definitely interested in continuing the discussion. My email is in my profile, otherwise I'm not sure where you want to take it offline (just realized HN doesn't have private messaging).

Long term investing is also a lot less work, meaning you can do it without taking time away from other money making activities.

That's what Edward O. Thorp[0], the inventor of the modern Blackjack counting system, did. He devised a way to beat the dealer, tested it on a computer at MIT, went to Reno and made a bunch of cash. But instead of following that path, he wrote a book which was boon to the gambling industry, and started a hedge fund.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_O._Thorp

> the best description of playing poker professionally that I ever heard was that it was like playing a game of chess for $1, then flipping a coin for $100. In the long run that chess game is the only thing that matters, but in the short run those coin flips can be brutal

Great quote! What books or online resources would you recommend for getting better at poker? Not looking to play professional but do enjoy the game and always looking to improve.

It's been a long time now since I've studied intensely (haven't played much poker outside of the occasional home game with friends for 10 years), but I imagine the 2+2 forums are still the best forums around for discussion of strategy, hand reviews, theory, etc.

David Sklanksy and Harrington and Ed Miller's books are probably the best around still in terms of a comprehensive overview of the various games, especially Hold Em and Stud, the games of course change as people change styles, but the basics are there.

If you are mathematically minded or just interested in a whirlwind tour through game theory and gambling theory, I highly recommend The Mathematics of Poker by Chen and Ankenman -- but it's a pretty heavy lift https://www.amazon.com/Mathematics-Poker-Bill-Chen/dp/188607...

I've also heard good things about Applications of No-Limit Holdem by Matthew Janda but it came out after I pretty much quit playing regularly so I haven't read it.

If watching people play is more your thing there are tons of good sites out there now were good players record themselves playing and give a running commentary on their thought process as they play. It can be quite an eye opener to listen to what a good player thinks about when they make their decisions.

Daniel Negreanu is always fun to watch, and he has some great streams on Twitch when he's out of the country: https://www.twitch.tv/dnegspoker (He often plays Hearthstone when he's home in Vegas, and that's fun to watch too.)

Pretty good recommendations. I'd add that if the Chen/Ankenmann book is too abstract, then possibly the Intelligent Poker Poker by Phil Newall is a better choice - it's kind of the more applied game theory book. MoP is an excellent book for those with a math background, but as you say, it's a bit tough for those without it.

There are very few books that are up to date on the current meta game of poker. You are much better off watching training videos done by professionals. I recommend UpswingPoker [1], created by debateably the best heads up no limit player in the world. It will give you a very solid foundation for understanding poker in a short time. The training videos are not free, if you want something for free you can watch them on Twitch [2].

[1] https://www.upswingpoker.com/ [2] https://www.twitch.tv/upswingpoker

Professional poker players streaming on Twitch is rising in popularity. You can learn quite a bit about the game by simply tuning in on a regular basis. There are people who play small stakes ($10-$100) and people who have streamed tournaments where they've won >$100k for a 1st place finish.

2+2 are still the best, although a big chunk of the user base was lost after a hack.

runitonce.com has the best content & community atm. the 10$/mo membership should give you a buffet on poker content appropriate for your level.

There were also plenty of shady operations in those days. I seem to remember some online gaming authorities were particularly bad about not vetting their casino operators. One time we found a casino that had a game (I forget what it was, maybe a video poker variant?) that had a HUGE (5% or so?) player edge when played optimally because of an incorrect payout structure. That casino was blasted with players betting huge amounts of money -- they must have figured something was going on but they couldn't figure out what. They were probably bankrupted within a day or so. Not only did they lock everyone's winnings that had played the game, but they kept their initial deposits as well and shut down the site...

Sounds like a pretty great scam to me. Open a casino with a "broken" game in an easy regulatory jurisdiction (lots of these, most of them are in places with beaches, too), wait for the vultures to descend with their millions in illegal deposits routed from the US via various dodgy places and then just disappear knowing there is virtually no legal recourse for the people who lost money.

I call this "Plan C" (for criminal)

Sounds like the mtgox debacle too

Congratulations, you've invented the Ponzi scam :)

It does sound like the site was "broken" like a fox...

What the parent described is not at all like the Ponzi scam (except leaving with the money).

Ponzi scam is akin to the "pyramid scam" -- paying early investors with the money from later generations of investors.

What the parent described is a "gather the money and go" operation.

This sounds a lot like my story, only with less money involved. I casino whored about a 4k bankroll, and then started playing poker with it. I played recreationally until I quit my job for other reasonse--by then I had a 5-digit bankroll and then I played professionally for a few years, specializing in HUSNGs.

I should have done more casino whoring in the beginning, it was just free money.

I ended up specializing in heads-up limit cash games...until the bots came in...heads-up poker is a special game I think - meta-play can get really high with two skilled players. Definitely the hardest I've ever has to think at a high-level for hour after hour, used to end a session absolutely wiped out mentally and emotionally.

Agree. My play sessions were short and my study sessions were long.

I kept it pretty low-key--maxed out at $200 SNGs, but I maintained a 59.something% winrate, which was as good as anybody.

I wish it would come back, but I'm not hopeful we'll ever see what we had before.

Ha I did this too! Those were wonderful days... can you imagine the playthrough requirements used to be as low as 4x!?!? Those were the days. :)

I too did this during college. I remember specifically deciding to go for a SUPER HIGH VARIANCE playthrough and just did 3 max bets in a row, won all 3 and then Autobet a dollar at a time while i went to the beach to finish the rest. Made about $2k for laying on the beach. Gosh I miss those days.

The "advantage gamblers' forum"... was it the one from gamblers-united.com? Can I please have an invite? I beg.

For those of you that don't know, the primary character in this piece, James Grosjean, isn't just any advantage player, he is the advantage player. He wrote what is often referred to as the Bible of advantage play - Beyond Counting - and its sequel, Exhibit CAA: Beyond Counting. Both of these books are incredibly hard to find, and when they do come up for sale, often sell for thousands of dollars. Here's a current listing for the original book, at the low price of $1600:


Here's a link to his Beyond Numbers blog:


I know it might be judgmental and possibly hypocritical, but I can't help but think that kind of intellect and education is wasted on trying to beat a casino.

If money is the end goal, wouldn't there be a bigger opportunity in pursuing investment strategy ideas (i.e. market inefficiencies), or working on making some process more efficient that could disrupt some industry (i.e. spam/phishing detection, or deep learning) and have better chance of long term gains. I'd think casino strategies once discovered can be mitigated over time so all that hard work will payoff temporarily?

I have often thought the same of guys like this. Ed Thorp, who was the first to write about card counting in blackjack, eventually took his math skills to the markets and made hundreds of millions of dollars. Bill Benter, arguably the world's most successful horse race bettor, has also created a nine figure net worth by betting into horse racing pools - i.e. not playing against the house, but against other players, in a very scalable way.

So it isn't just the money that motivates people like Grosjean to personally show up to dark casinos, often in the middle of nowhere, to take on the house. As you said, his earning potential would be far greater in other venues. I've met a few of these people, and while some just like "easy" money, many of them view casinos as thieving, malevolent enemies that need to be beaten by someone. The fact that they can make money at it is almost secondary.

Most of the professionals I ran across when I played poker seriously weren't the kind of people that achieve great things. You can't make it as a pro unless you're very intelligent, but there's usually a reason they settled on a job with no boss and no customers. They really, really don't like to be told what to do, say, or have very short time horizons.

A completely fair and pretty objective analysis from my perspective.

On the other hand, everyone has a calling or personal interests. These may be formed under any number of formative life experiences which shape an individual's personal bias.

Perhaps in the case of this guy, it's less about the money and more about the "game". The game being the cat and mouse chase of outsmarting the casinos, winning when the odds are stacked against you.

Could this person be doing something that is better value for time for himself or society? Probably, but maybe he'd never fulfill his full potential without the right motivation/inspiration...

People like this do what they do because they enjoy the challenge of a sophisticated adversary. The only other place this guy would be happy is crypto.

I think it's hard not to like what you like... When a problem space gets under your skin I bet it's pretty addictive.

> If money is the end goal, wouldn't there be a bigger opportunity in pursuing investment strategy ideas (i.e. market inefficiencies), or working on making some process more efficient that could disrupt some industry (i.e. spam/phishing detection, or deep learning) and have better chance of long term gains. I'd think casino strategies once discovered can be mitigated over time so all that hard work will payoff temporarily?

Tbh, I'm pretty sure poker is easier for the individual and investing strategies require the support of an institution willing to stake you 8 figure sums to do so.

The other part is, there is no hiring barrier to winning at poker. Some people are going to be antisocial enough (or come from a background that is disadvantaged) to be unable to gain the kind of access/support that would permit you to play for long term stakes. (i.e. Substantial improvements in spam/phishing detection is a multiyear effort and ultimately an ongoing battle. I'm pretty sure poker is fundamentally quicker than that.)

You could say the same thing for derivatives traders. At least with beating the casino, you're usually comped swanky rooms and perks (since you're wagering so much money).

If you're good, you get comped a lot more than swanky rooms. A friend of mine has done this for a couple decades. He gets comped cars. Nice ones. He sells them. He's always selling stuff like $1,000 Saks gift certs online.

He gets what they call RFB (room, food, and beverage) out the wazoo. He's drank more expensive wine that most sommeliers. At one point it was hard to find an expensive restaurant in Vegas I hadn't eaten at, and I only saw him a tiny fraction of the time.

He gets his plane trips to basically anywhere with a casino paid for, often in a chartered jet. A guy with a sign with his name meets him at the airport.

In most parts of the country, if you ask enough girls if they want to go with you on a private jet to a luxury suite at the Wynn, one will say yes. Not a direct perk, of course, but an attractive indirect one for a single guy.

The value of the perks is substantial. You could buy them, but it would cost a lot.

If he's "good", he must win money. If he wins money, the casino loses. If the casino loses, why on earth would they comp him anything beyond the first couple of times he turns up?

Sorry, but I don't believe you. Either your friend has a chronic gambling addiction and is filthy rich and the casinos love him as he's a walking ATM, or he or you is talking nonsense.

> If the casino loses, why on earth would they comp him anything beyond the first couple of times he turns up?

Because there are inefficiencies in how the casinos comp players just as there are inefficiencies in the games themselves?

Example from another industry:

In the 1990s, I flew cross country many times and racked up 5000 air miles round trip each time. Every 15 round trips, I'd cash in my air miles for a free international flight. The airlines loved me as walking ATM and were rewarding a big spender like me. Makes sense?

But guess what: All of my flight were the absolute cheapest economy class flights I could get. I had the luxury of booking my flights well in advance, and I'd tolerate bad connections to get the lowest price. A business class passenger would have paid 10 times what I paid, yet he and I would both get the same 5000 air miles.

The airlines certainly knew how much I had paid. Why were they rewarding me the same amount as the far more profitable business class passenger? As far as know, it is an inefficiency in the system (which seems to have been corrected by the airline industry in recent years).

It's poker. You aren't playing against the house. You're playing against other players. And the house always gets a cut from the overall proceeds (so the higher the stakes, the higher the cut).

Most career gamblers are making money in poker. In big money games, you play against other players and the house takes a rake. If players have stacks in the millions (which they do), the rake is pretty damn big. Not to mention, players will win a million in poker, then go play Baccarat or something. Gamblers don't gamble just to make money...

I remember a quote from somewhere: "If you are winning it's not gambling". If you beat the rake and have an edge over the other players it's just a mind game of dealing with variance.

unless it's poker?

How much did he loose in casinos? I am sure all those perks should cost significanlty less than casino's profit?

For many people who do this, money is not the end goal. It's just a way of keeping score.

There's another subset of people who do this who simply enjoy playing games (and poking holes in them). There's not much money in, e.g., writing bots in attempts to find optimal play for board games, but people do it anyways.

Part of it is the thrill of the chase and beating casinos at their own game. As the saying goes, "it's a hard way to make an easy living"

Money isn't the end goal. It's just the scoreboard. You do something like that because it's thrilling.

But yes, if money were your end goal, someone smart enough to pull that off could probably make more elsewhere.

There's a thrill in figuring out a system, and there's some satisfaction in optimizing and executing it, but for the most part, if you're doing it right, being a professional gambler is pretty boring.

I'm not familiar with James Grosjean, nor am I a gambler, but I would guess that James became addicted to gambling, and then used his intellect and education to make money doing what he loved.

> I would guess that James became addicted to gambling, and then used his intellect and education to make money doing what he loved.

I'd be a little careful with terminology there. Gambling addiction can be a very serious problem, while a passion/love for gambling can be fine even if you're a losing player.

Right. I think though it takes meeting someone truly addicted to gambling before this really sets in, how devastating a true addiction to gambling is.

Your ideas seem a lot harder than learning the odds of casino games.

"Both of these books are incredibly hard to find, and when they do come up for sale, often sell for thousands of dollars."

I'm sure someone has scanned it in PDF form somewhere..

I've been looking for a long time and have yet to find it.

Original copy should be available as a reference copy in the UNLV library. Was years ago.

I used to think my sister-in-law was impervious to the law probability because she plays the slots.

Then one day she noticed there was a scratch ticket where you could put the losing tickets into a raffle being held at the local casino and win a prize but you had to be present at the drawing. Well, she looked in the jar a few days before the drawing and estimated there were only about 50 tickets in the jar so she bought 80 tickets and put the losers in the jar and got her mother to put 20 in... And her mother won a trip to Las Vegas worth around $2000.

Which is the rub because people who look for this kind of thing are people who are serious about gambling and often they lose it back some other way.

I think of the many WSOP winners who immediately lose the money playing craps.

Casino (and gambling in general) benefit from the perception that they can be beaten. It's why they sell card counting books in the gift shops. While they'll shut down anything like card based craps that advantage players can just clean up on, they're generally perfectly fine with professional gamblers who work their asses off to get a slight advantage.

They will toss you out on your ass for any systemic card counting that actually works, especially the newer blinded player methods.

What are the "newer blinded player methods"? Google only finds your comment.

I'm aware of it from school. Essentially it's a variant on the MIT team running tally system for blackjack. In the original, players are called over to "hot" tables, based upon a running tally kept by other team members at each table. Details are widely available.

Casinos now use training and technology to differentiate surprise vs. expected wins. It also becomes fairly obvious to spot once one knows the trick. To obfuscate the technique, some players are called to average tables. As a result, the players don't know whether their table is hot at the time. The overall win percentage is lower, resulting in lower ROI, but it's much more effective.

I never understood why card counting was frowned upon? I realize they don't like players to have an edge, and they can throw out whoever they want for whatever reason, but I don't understand why they bother with that type of surveillance? Shouldn't a casino instead just use shuffling machines, have limited spread between min/max bets, and not play very deep (e.g 6 of 12 decks) to just nullify any possible counting edge?

I assume it's not illegal to count, even if you are alone and use an obvious tactic such as playing $10 for dozens of hands, and play max bets only near the bottom of the shoe?

Casinos like card counting. They just don't like you to be good at it.

(Card counting done slightly wrong loses you more money in black jack faster than just following the table of optimal play.)

I'm just generally curious, you seem to know about this area. What are the new "blinded player methods"? I googled that phrase but didn't come up with anything.

I am just guessing but from the name it seems that it's about using one "naive and careful" player to observe the game and count the cards while placing small bets. Once the deck becomes advantageous the "wild gambler" joins and starts blasting huge bets. Of course the first player signaled a good moment to join.

This way it doesn't look suspicious as no one altered their behavior (one early method to detect card counters was to observer changes in bet sizings as the count changes).

This isn't new though, and is one of the most basic forms of team based card counting - it's how the MIT blackjack team did things. IIRC the "naive and careful" player is called the "spotter" and the "wild gambler" is called the "Gorilla".

Yes, this is correct. The blinded player methods call your heavy hitters to both hot and average tables, so the player doesn't actually know whether their odds of success are heightened.

No serious casino running a card game has allowed midshoe entry at a table for years now. This is method of counting is why.

I can't recall many low-limit blackjack tables that ban mid-shoe entry. That seems to only come in at the $50/100 min-bet level.

Honestly, many blackjack players that I see at the $5/10 tables are playing so badly that the casino wouldn't want them to have to wait for the shuffle to start getting their gamble on.

It's a good reason to avoid serious casinos. With the gambling law contagion spreading through the Northeast, it's fairly easy to find newly opened casinos.

That's what I was thinking. Everywhere I've been the dealer calls out new players and any nontrivial increase in the betting, from existing or new players, triggers a reshuffle.

This is not true. They will back you off if they detect you are playing with an advantage and betting any reasonable amount. It won't take long and they are good at figuring it out, if you as a player are maximizing the edge.

Well yes, casinos don't benefit from being beaten they benefit from a a bunch of half assed half drunk hopefuls who have heard they can be beaten.

Years ago I worked on gaming software, and the inside word was that casinos loved when this kind of stuff was publicized. A popular book, a movie, an article in the NYT - pure gold for the casinos. And, many guessed that they actually paid for these types of stories to get out.

> But when Sun was arrested in 2007 for a $93,000 gambling debt owed to MGM, she vowed revenge

What? How is that legal?

Under Nevada law, "markers" - the instrument one signs to draw against a casino credit line - are considered checks. They even imprint your checking account information on them. About a month after your trip, the casino will send you a bill for all outstanding markers. If you fail to pay it, they simply deposit the markers you signed into their bank (remember, they have your checking account information imprinted on them). If they bounce, they are treated and prosecuted as if you had simply written a bad check.

Unsurprisingly, this is fraught with conflicts of interest, made worse by the fact that Nevada law entitles the DA's office to a percentage of anything it collects on behalf of the casinos. They are effectively a debt collector that can throw you in jail.

As you might expect, laws around casino debt in Nevada heavily favour the casinos:


Loan someone money, arrest them when they can't pay. Workin' hard, makin' bucks.

Not legal in Canada. Debt isn't a criminal offense. I don't think they can arrest you.

But maybe I'm confusing it for: they can't throw you in jail for debts.

It's also illegal in the US to jail someone for debts. The way they get around this in Nevada is to jail you for writing bad checks, which is fraud. THat is to say: intentionally writing a check you know will bounce is fraud and a crime, but in the event that a check you wrote bounces, it's hard to prove that you didn't know the check would bounce when you wrote it. So it's not really debtor's prison, but almost a loophole to create a debtor's prison.

In short, checks are more like cash than IOUs. If I give you $100 cash and it turns out to be magic disintegrating paper, we don't revert back to the "I owe you $100" state.

"Didn't know the check would bounce" implies you, what, don't know how to add up a list of numbers? Its fair to say a bounced check means bad faith.

Here are some examples where it wouldn't mean bad faith, and I'm pretty sure the majority of the time a bad check would NOT indicate bad faith:

I wrote a check, but I was changing direct deposit accounts at my employer to a new account. I transposed my account number, my paycheck didn't get deposited, my check bounced. Oops!

I completely forgot that I wrote a check earlier in the week. I write the second check after looking at my bank account balance which says I should be able to write the second check. The first check then comes through, the second check bounces. Oops!

My landlord usually cashes my rent checks on the 3rd. This month he was out of town so didn't get around to cashing it until the 10th. I checked my balance on the 9th and assuming my rent check had been cashed as usual, that I had enough to write the second check. By the time the second check is cashed, there is no money in my account so it bounces. Oops!

Didn't mean to write a check that would bounce in any of those (imaginary) situations. No intent to write a bad check means no crime of fraud, as fraud requires specific intent to defraud.

Most of those do constitute "not knowing how to add up a list of numbers". Checking your balance before writing a check is not sufficient, as the examples demonstrate. This is almost a perfect example of 'bad faith' e.g. the check writer isn't diligently accounting for all of their expenses.

What you 'mean' to do doesn't matter. Writing more checks than there are deposits to cover, is bad faith.

"Bad faith" requires intent. Carelessness is not "bad faith". It's negligence.

I've had my debit card declined because I'd already withdrawn everything and failed to pay attention to the balance. If I'd written a check instead of using the debit card, it would have bounced instead of being declined. That's not bad faith. It's careless and embarrassing, but not bad faith.

In New York, you have 10 days to make good on the obligation.


I imagine in some of the nastier states, the law is harsher. IIRC, you can get 10 years in prison.

What you 'mean' is the whole point of why it's not bad faith, you have it completely the wrong way round. Bad faith implies that you had an intent not to pay, whereas all the previous examples were of someone writing cheques that they intended to pay.

"Bad faith" means something different than you think it does. It's a willful intent to deceive. It does not cover negligence or carelessness.

I bounced a rent check once. I had forgotten another large check I had written 3 weeks prior, and it got to my account before the rent check did. I wrote both checks in good faith, but failed to do the proper accounting in my ledger.

Compare "Good Faith" that requires a reasonable standard of fair dealing. That would include, adding up a list of numbers before writing a bad check. Its not just negligence when you never had any intention of being diligent. Its willfully ignoring a minimal standard of managing money - adding it up.

If the only defence against the bad check is "I kind of thought I probably had enough money in the account", then that was bad faith - no reasonable standard was achieved.

The way the loan is structured, it's essentially a cheque. If you can be arrested for bouncing cheques, then you can be arrested for not paying the casinos.

Gambling is a scummy business.

One of the reasons why I always eye roll when some sports nerd is passionately arguing about how allowing sports books is some sort of expression of freedom.

> “We killed most of the cards-based craps games, including one at Agua Caliente casino near Palm Springs. That’s where we won $335,000

I grew up a few miles east of this casino, I wondered where craps went when I ended up there during a bachelor party.

I don't understand what "cards-based craps" is. I'm only familiar with the dice kind.

It's explained pretty exhaustively in this article.

Take 12 cards, 2 sets of 1 through 6. Shuffle and deal one from each set to the player. This is identical to rolling the dice.

Unless you get some other enjoyment out of gambling, this is a hard way to make a little easy money.

I used to play poker 30 hours a week. If you play optimally, it is extremely boring and fatiguing.

This article was great. It made me remember reading Scarne's New Complete Guide to Gambling long time ago.


He has a great story of how gamblers would get casinos to increase betting limits and allow them to successfully use a martingale system. To this day, casino owners still fall for this and lose substantially.


Martingale systems definitely do not cause casino owners to "lose substantially" - the bettor cannot match the casino's bankroll and any amount of money won back after the first bet increase is actually the bettor's. The casino can afford to let you double because they are only ever putting the original amount bet at risk.

Yep, this is certainly true - I've run into it since I bet this way most of the time when playing blackjack in casinos. One of the first things I do before sitting at a table is calculating how many bets it takes to hit the highest possible before hitting the limit, and I have hit it plenty of times (won some of them, lost others).

If you can reasonably match the bankroll, it seems like the players' edge against the house is that they can determine when the game ends (assuming the house can't refuse a bet).

The problem is of course matching the bankroll to the point where you can afford a long losing streak - it's just not practical.

It could only happen if the tables had a ridiculous limit which almost never happens. If it did, I could see a few billionaires grouping together to be able to bankrupt almost any casino by betting a billion on black instead of red.

Couldn't the casino buy insurance from some other billionaires?

The martingale system does a) not work, b) encourages people to spend more than they can afford to lose, in the worst case leading to suicide.

I can expand a bit on how advantage play can work for the hold'em games against the house. I'm sure Grosjean and other professionals at this sort of thing have more sophisticated tactics. Fun fact - last I looked maybe 6-7 years ago, his book was selling for low 4 figures on the secondary market. That's how much advantage players can value an unknown tactic.

About 10 years ago casinos started offering various hold'em variants played against the house, presumably to cash in on the poker boom that was going on. Most of them try to mimic the flow of a hold'em hand as much as possible. You'll always have to ante something (somewhat analogous to posting a blind, but also just required as a way to force action in a table game), and then generally there's a decision point after getting your hole cards where you can bet more or fold. The more complicated games include additional decision points after seeing the flop and sometimes the turn. There's a lot more details I'm glossing over here about how it works (dealer hand must qualify by being a minimum strength, different payouts for various final hand strengths, different allowable bet sizes, bonus bets, etc.), but that's the basic structure. I recall seeing 3 major variants at the time - from least complicated to most, WPT All-in Hold'em, Texas Hold'em Bonus (I think, whatever the WSOP branded one was that Harrah's had), and Ultimate Texas Hold'em. WPT seems dead, UTH I still see around a bit. Not sure if Harrah's and other places still run Bonus.

The basic strategy for all these games generally involves a simple lookup table for the preflop action - for WPT, the correct play is to max bet for 90+% of your hands [1]- it's a very easy game to play perfectly. For UTH, it's probably closer to 25% [2]. (Aside - ignoring bankroll considerations, it's almost always correct to bet the max on any game that allows a range of bets. Either the bet is +EV or it isn't.)

The easiest advantage you can take is to simply know more cards at the table. Most dealers in my experience will allow you to show cards to your friends, ask for advice, whatever. Knowing more cards lets you make better decisions. Simple example - in WPT 83 offsuit is a very borderline playable hand. If you see another 8 in a player's hand, that may make it unplayable (since you're less likely to make a pair of 8s). Alternatively, if you have a borderline unplayable hand, seeing a pair of high cards in another hand may make the dealer less likely to qualify, which is an advantage for you when you have any bad hand.

In WPT at least, this is an extremely minor advantage - the "strategic frontier" where your decisions may be changed by this knowledge is extremely small. It's theoretically a much larger advantage in UTH, but there the strategy changes you can make with this knowledge encompass such a huge state space that you'll not be able to apply it consistently.

A second advantage is touched on in the article, viewing the dealer's hole cards. This is much harder to do and usually involves finding a dealer with bad form - I believe they're trained to slide the cards right out of the machine along the felt to avoid this, but some dealers lift slightly, so you can catch glimpses if you're in the right seat. Hopefully the playing advantages of knowing the dealer's cards are obvious.

I wouldn't be surprised if shuffle tracking is employed as well, but I'm not really sure what the state of the shuffle machines is these days.

Surprisingly, the biggest advantage I ever saw was to simply understand how to evaluate a hold'em hand. I've played hundreds of thousands of hands (former pro), and I still get it wrong occasionally when I'm not paying attention. When all these games first came out, casinos had to train dealers to do this, many of whom had never played poker. I think I calculated that I'd need to see a mistake rate of something like 1/600 to make the game profitable right out of the gate, ignoring any other advantages, and I was seeing 2-3 mistakes/hr (out of maybe 30-100 hands/hr). Admittedly only about half of the mistakes will be in your favor. It's not quite as easy these days, but for the first year or so it was an absolute gold mine.

Orthogonal to all this, some of these games are pretty easy to play at 98+%. Watching how people play these games, I wouldn't be surprised if the average table hold is upwards of 10%. I don't have any particular proof, but I'm pretty sure I've gotten grossly overcomped for play at these games.

[1] Everything but 82o, 73o-, 63o-, 52o, 43o, 32o. I'm not sure why 53o is playable. [2] Something like Ax+, K5o+, K2s+, Q5s+, Q7o+, J8s+, JTo, 33+. You can find the full table at wizardofodds or similar sites.

> When all these games first came out, casinos had to train dealers to do this, many of whom had never played poker. I think I calculated that I'd need to see a mistake rate of something like 1/600 to make the game profitable right out of the gate, ignoring any other advantages, and I was seeing 2-3 mistakes/hr (out of maybe 30-100 hands/hr).

What kind of mistakes are you talking about here? Like, the dealer has a full house but mistakenly thinks he has two pair?

Things like the board being a 5-flush and not realizing that it's a push (or pushing instead of winning because they don't realize that they have a card in hand that plays), or the board being two pair that counterfeits your pair, or the board pairing and counterfeiting your kicker. Occasionally flat out missing things like having a straight.

Pros are usually referring to mistakes like trying to fill a flush when most of the cards in the suit needed are already accounted for and not possible to draw so your odds are bad, etc..

Like having 20 in Black Jack and asking for a card, you are almost certainly going out and not going to gain anything, that sort of thing.

> illegal for dice to determine financial outcomes in games of chance

That's pretty odd, anyone knows why that is?

Weighted dice. Go back a century and it's much easier to ban gambling using dice than it is to ensure that the games are fair.

Or it was a [poor] way to try and ban certain types of gambling while allowing others.

Same thing, really. Dice games tended to erupt into violence amid accusations of dice being weighted; there was no practical way to sure that the dice weren't weighted, but the state had an interest in preventing violence; so the solution was to ban those games while allowing other forms of gambling which were less likely to become violent.

It has to do with some quirks in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and its interaction with state law. Card Craps is sometimes referred to as "California Craps" because it was invented to sidestep restrictions on the use of dice to determine the outcome of any wager in California tribal casinos. The situation is similar in other states with Indian casinos, which is why this game has spread.

Personally I love the fact that people try to beat the house. And to play devil's advocate for a second, the fact that consistently winning is even possible should just drive more business.

Well, 'consistently winning' may be a stretch. In these cases, advantage players have a small edge, but the chances of winning or losing any given hand in blackjack is still pretty close to a coin flip. You may win or lose big in any given session/day/week, etc. Given enough time and effort, they will eventually win, if they don't run out of money first. It is possible to do this, but not without gambling a lot more than almost anyone is willing to do. It's hard work.

Having said that, the perception that it's possible probably helps to drive more business.

I feel that the idea, that consistently winning is possible, is partially a myth, but it persists among casino regulars. I know people who do this or have in the past, and the big problem is eventually getting banned from various casinos. It seems rather one-sided to me, but legally they're allowed to ban people for consistently winning.

My grandfather plays a video poker game called Deuces Wild and when the payouts are set just right and you play perfect you have a slightly over 100% payout. He has been playing for over a decade in Mesquite Nevada and has been making a slight profit year after year.

When you add in points rewards you can end up doing ok in free steaks and massages. The casino knows he wins and is fine with it. My guess is that they like the fact that he is willing to try and help people learn how to play perfectly (which is not trivial) and that makes the other customers play more and essentially cover the small amount of profit he makes.

Sounds like you are talking about what's often called "Full Pay" Deuces Wild


Yeah that's the term he uses.

That's a cool anecdote. Nice for him. It never hurts to be friendly and approachable, and it almost sounds like he's an honorary employee.

And machines like that are hard to find.

Yes, getting banned is the other obstacle. Any casino won't take long to ban anyone clearly playing with an advantage. This makes it even harder to do for the long haul, which is what you need to take advantage of the edge.

What about this issue that big winnings would be taxed but you would only be allowed to deduct a certain amount of your losses each year - otherwise people could claim unlimited losses. Even if you had a slight advantage over the house I don't see how you could beat the tax system.

That's not how gambling taxes work. You can't claim unlimited losses. Filing as a professional gambler allows you to net your wins and losses, usually defined as a session of play.

If winning is so volatile that you have frequent winning years and significant losing years, then yes it could be a problem since you can't report negative income.

I've only heard of winning players having negative years when accepting risk beyond what their bankroll and access to games year-round can over (for example, high high stakes games are not that common).

People try to find loopholes and workarounds in everything, it's human nature. Ask any pentester.

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