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Roulette beater spills physics behind victory (newscientist.com)
74 points by bufo 1783 days ago | hide | past | web | 26 comments | favorite

Actually getting access to a European roulette wheel (comparable in quality to what is in use in casinos) seems the hard part to me. I ended up buying a 70's wheel, but I don't feel my measurements on this antique are good enough to start betting real money.

One manufacturer told me they only sold to accredited casinos, and these had to return the wheels to them at the end of their useful life. Not sure if he was just playing me or if they were actively trying to keep the wheels away from roulette-hackers.

Probably true. When I asked a blackjack dealer why they didn't have automatic shufflers, she mentioned the shufflers aren't purchased, they're leased.

They're leased because of patents. The manufacturer makes way more money leasing then selling.

You can do this even without a computer. There are two approaches that still work (i.e., that don't focus on biased wheels, as the casinos fixed that bug since years): Wheel watching and distance counting. The first lets you watch the rhythm of the croupier when he spins the wheel and the ball. The second just lets you count the distance between the results in the wheel. The first works way better, but requires much more training.

But I guarantee you: This kind of work is mind-numbing. I did this for a while in 1999 and let it go, members of our group continued with it over years and really suffered from the boredom. The same with gaming the slot machines (they have certain regularities or bugs, depending on the model) or poker and other games. So if you're a hacker, the challenge and fun wears off pretty quick and you wish you had a cubicle job instead.

Anyway, there are books from the mathematician and physicist Pierre Basieux, unfortunately only in German.

Last month, I was having lunch with my friend, John Boyd, and he came out with this incredible story about using computers to beat roulette in Vegas back in the 70's. He was part of Doyne Farmer's original team from UCSC, and apparently plays a reasonably big role in the book. I've known him for ten years, and he never bothered to mention it. I was so riveted that I made myself late for class plying him for more details. I'm sending him this link now; I'm sure he'll enjoy it.

The Newtonian Casino is a book that tells Farmer's story. It is fascinating and I've read it twice: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Newtonian-Casino-Thomas-Bass/dp/...

It has a different title in the US, which was where I read it. Agreed, it's a great book.


And "The Predictors" follows the further adventures of Farmer, et al, and is worth a read too.

This is a fantastic book.

It has interesting insights about gambling, and roulette, (some croupiers can learn the physics of their wheels and can learn to hit a number on a spin) and the details of how they go about building the shoe computers is fascinating.

I don't know if anyone has built an equivalent computer with modern tech. I'd be interested to see how small it could be built.

"I don't know if anyone has built an equivalent computer with modern tech. I'd be interested to see how small it could be built."

Now there's an app for Google Glass! (news just in: casinos ban patrons from wearing Google Glass on the premises).

From the linked pdf paper there's this:

"...apparently been using a laser scanner and their mobile phones to predict the likely resting place of the ball." Would love to hear how they did it.

I'm really interesting in roulette. I wrote a Python script that plays online roulette (mainly to learn Python, don't actually expect it to make money.)

They'll have to ban AR goggles in casinos, no doubt about it.

Card counting would get a lot easier with them, for example.

I really enjoyed that book, too.

The main thing I took from it was that if they had put all that effort and dedication into something which directly improved people's lives, they probably would have made a lot more money. :-)

That's why there's more of us and we all get to choose our own path.

One person choosing a path that has a non-obvious net effect does not mean that there is none, it could be negative or it could be positive. We just don't know.

Take the development of the computer, a good part of it was a bunch of guys attempting to get it to play chess, what direct improvement to people's lives could have come from that?


Indirect effects can launch whole industries and make lots of money, possibly not for the people that start it but still, it makes you wonder what's the best way to spend your time.

Also interesting is the book "Calculated Bets: Computers, Gambling, and Mathematical Modeling to Win" which talks about one man's quest to beat the odds at Jai alai (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jai_alai) by modeling the game and the players. It's a fun, humorous and technical book.


In the 1970s, Doyne Farmer, then a graduate student, used the world's first wearable computer to beat roulette tables in Nevada, but never revealed how he did it.

Wait, I thought Claude Shannon with some help from Ed Thorpe were the first to build a wearable computer back in the 60's. Also to beat roulette. They shelved it though, because there were too many practical difficulties and there were better ways to make money - the stock market.

I read about this years ago in The Eudaemonic Pie, I believe.


Is this legal? What happens if you get caught using a smart phone to do this? (BTW this would be a cool iPhone app for someone to make)

NRS 465.075 Use or possession of device to obtain advantage at playing game in licensed gaming establishment.

1 It is unlawful for any person to use, possess with the intent to use or assist another person in using or possessing with the intent to use any computerized, electronic, electrical or mechanical device which is designed, constructed, altered or programmed to obtain an advantage at playing any game in a licensed gaming establishment, including, without limitation, a device that:

a) Projects the outcome of the game;

b) Keeps track of cards played or cards prepared for play;

c) Analyzes the probability of the occurrence of an event relating to a game; or

d) Analyzes the strategy for playing or betting to be used in the game,

except as may be made available as part of an approved game or otherwise permitted by the Commission.

2 As used in this section, “advantage” means a benefit obtained by one or more participants in a game through information or knowledge that is not made available as part of the game as approved by the Board or Commission.

(Added to NRS by 1985, 970; A 2011, 216)


This is a felony carrying a 1-6 year prison sentence.


It's not illegal, but it's against the rules of the casino, and you will be thrown out. (And probably banned.)

Didn't casinos used to frown on camera use? It's hopeless now that everyone has a camera with them all the time, but I thought I'd heard way back that cameras and casinos didn't get along.

In my experience, if you're near the actual gaming, they won't let you use a camera (with exceptions). If you're taking pictures of craps tables or something that are currently shut down, you can probably get away with it.

Also cellphone rules are pretty restrictive, so even camera phones would probably get you a reprimand.

It is illegal. Using any device to defeat a gambling game is usually illegalnin the us. Do not try this.

It's no surprise that it should be possible to predict the trajectory of a roulette ball with today's technology, but doing it back in 1970 is seriously impressive.

just remember what kind of a computer got astrounauts to the moon back then.

that's impressive.

Those computers didn't have to fit in a shoe!

And they weren't built by "some dude" in his spare time.

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