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Before Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, methods for cheating the patrons were commonly employed. Illegal gambling (along with other illicit activities) was prevalent in Vegas since the turn of the century. Special or modified roulette wheels were part of the action.

Many of these rigged or "gaffed" wheels remained in operation for several years after 1931. Once the new gaming commission was established and put into power, these wheels found their way over to off-the-beaten-path places and illegal out-of-state operations. As the commission developed some teeth in their bite, casino cheating ceased to exist in Nevada. These gaming commissions can stroll up unannounced, confiscate any gaming equipment as they see fit and take it back to their labs for a thorough inspection. The casinos do not want to risk losing their gaming license. Today, in Nevada or Atlantic City, you won’t find any gaffed or juiced wheels out on the casino floors. But any gaming establishment operating where gambling is illegal is already breaking the law and has no license to lose. Be advised, you are probably being cheated in some way. Even in places where gambling is legal, but there is no strong regulatory agency, be wary! I have included several of the more common modes of cheating. Most of these are antiquated.

Probably the most elaborate way to cheat the players was by installing four equally spaced, concealed electromagnets around the stationery bowl. This was used in conjunction with a ball containing a steel core. By activating the magnetic force, a ball could be repelled off the upper race or ball track and sent down, a little earlier than nature would dictate, toward the spinning rotor. By pressing a hidden button (thus completing the circuit to the magnets at the appropriate time) a skilled dealer could force the ball drop-off and anticipate a rendezvous with a particular sector of the slowly spinning rotor. The dealer, having sufficiently memorized the wheel layout, could observe the betting layout, target a sparsely wagered sector on the rotor and competently steer the ball away from the heavily bet numbers.

Another method includes using a rotor where certain pockets have been magnetized. Here, a ball with a steel core is spun and allowed to break naturally from the upper track. As it spirals towards the rotor, it is attracted to the magnetized pockets. Because the rotor is a moving component, it is difficult to devise a way to toggle the charge on and off, so the pockets must be pre-selected and magnetized. If no one had bet on the "magnetized numbers," then the dealer would use the steel-cored ball, knowing it would be attracted to these pockets. If there were sufficient action on the magnetized numbers, then the dealer would simply switch back to a regular roulette ball and let the 5.26% edge take effect.

Wheel Tampering
The casinos weren’t the only ones altering the wheels. There are many stories of brazen individuals who snuck into the casino wheel room after closing and doctored up the roulette wheels. Armed with pliers or other tools, these people would loosen up a few of the pocket frets by twisting them back and forth. These loosened separators would then absorb more of the ball’s energy, causing it to remain in that pocket. Others would glue some kind of material to the bottoms of certain pockets to affect the ball’s bounce. Depending upon the material, different results could be expected. For example, gluing thin sheets of lead on the bottoms of select pockets would deaden the ball’s bounce and make it more likely for the ball to stay in that pocket. Whereas affixing thin sheets of hyper elastic material, like that found in a "super ball," to the pocket’s bottom would cause the ball to easily bounce out and avoid that particular pocket. Either way, the perpetrator is attempting to create a "biased wheel."

Ball Tripping
An easy way to rig a wheel is by "ball tripping." A very small diameter hole is drilled in the upper ball track, under the rim. A small, spring-loaded pin is positioned in the hole just below the outside surface. This mechanism is usually set up directly in front of the dealer so it is easier for him to time and harder for anyone else to detect. When the dealer flips a small lever, just under the table’s edge, the tension in the cable forces the pin against the spring, allowing it to protrude out slightly onto the ball track. As the ball contacts the pin, it is prematurely "tripped" out of the ball track. Again, a well-practiced dealer would time the ball drop-off with an impending sector of the wheel head or rotor. Because there is only one trip location from which to knock the ball, the dealer must wait for the right ball/trip point/wheel intersection. A near-perfect alignment is necessary and the dealer must see it coming well ahead of time.

The casinos weren’t the only ones engaging in this technique. One story has a team of players in Nevada, called the soda straw gang, tapping into the table’s banks with a most peculiar method of ball tripping. The gang allegedly had one heavy bettor at the center of the table, one trivial bettor on the far end and an observer seated at the wheel itself. The members would take their stations at different times, being careful not to acknowledge each other. The heavy bettor would cover numbers contained on one sector, or area of the wheel head. Just before the ball would fall, the low-roller on the end would create a diversion. The observer, timing the ball and the heavily bet sector on the wheel, would then raise a straw and blow on the ball as it passed to trip it out of the upper track. Supposedly, the gang was so successful that the casinos began installing the now-present glass security shields around the edge of the roulette tables. But don’t form a team, buy a box of straws and look for tables without the security shield. If the bosses don’t immediately catch you, the cameras most certainly will.

Another "tripping" technique that I have personally witnessed, involves one heavy better placing a black chip on the second column and a confederate standing near the wheel. Incidentally, the second column numbers are concentrated on an area of the rotor centered about the number 26 on an American style wheel. As the ball slowed down, the observer would brace himself and look for an opportunity to manifest. Being that the table was filled with last second bettors all trying to position their chips, there was a lot of bumping going on. As the ball slowed down and the second column area of the wheel approached, the tripper would thrust his hip firmly into the table near the wheel. The nudge seemed to shock the ball momentarily and then it broke from the upper track. Unfortunately for the trippers, that momentary pause let some of the wheel spin by and the ball resultantly bounced beyond their sector. On the next attempt, the tripper thrusted more firmly and a little earlier. The ball came down around the 33 and dribbled into the 14, a second column number. The force of the bump brought unpleasant comments from the other players and a glare from the dealer. Feeling uneasy, the tripper departed. It was then that I noticed the black chip bettor on the end. He collected his pay out and disappeared from the table as well. They were lucky that the dealer didn’t alert security or that the losing patrons didn’t lynch them.

Next month we will conclude our section on "Scams and Cheats." We'll look at Past Posting, Ball Control and Concealed Computers as well modern surveillance. Then I will follow up the next month with Part 2 on "Mathematical Systems." See you next month

Probably the most common form of player cheating and the easiest to attempt is a method called “past posting.” This technique originated at the racetracks some years back.

As soon as a winning horse was evident (well in the lead), the bettor would hurry to the ticket window and place a bet on that horse. Likewise with roulette, when the ball comes in for its final landing, the dealer will look down, for a moment, to see what the winning number is. At that instant, a player with a keen eye and adroit hand can place or move his bet to the winning number. Games run by one dealer are most susceptible to this form of chicanery. The cheat may remove losing bets in part or in whole, place winning bets or switch losers onto the winning number. One example would be a right-handed player standing at the center of the table and betting on “black.” Of the even-money wagers, black and red are the only ones that are adjacent to each other. If black comes in then great! He’ll relax and wait for his pay off. If “red” comes up, he’ll lean over the table and very quickly and precisely tap his bet from black over to red in a fraction of a second. This stratagem requires nerves of steel and a quick, concise maneuver. The dealers and pit are well aware of this technique and are watching for it. The first time you get caught, you might escape by claiming ignorance. You didn’t hear the dealer say “No more bets.” After that, you’re asking for a security escort to a back room!

Ball Control
Although no casino will admit to its existence and very few dealers will nod in acknowledgement, this method is very powerful and easy to disguise. One cannot deny that a roulette event is heavily influenced by a human dealer. After all, it is the dealer who kicks up the rotor speed and launches the little white ball isn’t it? These actions definitely affect where the ball will land. And after years of repeatedly spinning, the dealer develops what athletes call “muscle memory” or a consistent delivery system. I will admit it to you right here, as someone who has dealt the game of roulette, SOME DEALERS CAN CONSCIOUSLY INFLUENCE THE RESULT OF THE GAME. There, I said it! I know that deflectors may knock a ball off its original course or the ball may spatter when it crosses onto the rotor and hits a pocket fret, but even if a skilled dealer could navigate around the heavily bet sectors on the wheel only 10% of the time, the casino’s edge would be 100% for those spins! The house’s edge would then be [(9) x 5.26% + (1) x 100.00%] all divided by 10. This averages out to a whooping 14.73 % edge! To further add to this dilemma, there is no way to prove that the dealer is trying to cheat you, unless you can read minds! My general observations have led me to believe that “male” roulette dealers are more territorial. If you begin to win steadily at their tables, they feel challenged and may spin against you… that is unless you’re a shapely female wearing a low-cut dress. I’ve also seen first-generation immigrants working as dealers, who are staunchly loyal to their new employers. If the issue of ball control troubles you, you can simply wait for the dealer to spin before placing your bets. You might actually turn this technique in your favor. If you recognize a skillful dealer and can build a rapport with him or her, you may be able to exploit their ability. One way to induce a dealer into hitting your number is to bet a sector or continuous section on the rotor of say, five pockets. Place a toke out for the dealer on the number situated at the sector's center. The dealers seem to appreciate a crack at collecting 35 times their original toke if they exhibit some control. If they miss your center number by one or two pockets, then you still win on the neighbors contained in that sector.

Concealed Computers
This method involves assessing the mechanical conditions of the roulette event and rendering a computer prediction based on the laws of Newtonian physics. This technique would have been considered as an "advantage system" and not cheating, except that using a computing device to project the outcome of a casino game is illegal in most places. One book titled “The Eudaemonic Pie” by Thomas Bass, chronicles the adventures and misadventures of Doyne Farmer and Norman Packard, two classmates of Bass’s from the University of California at Santa Cruz. These physics PhDs formed a team with other physicists and computer scientists for the purpose of creating a computer capable of predicting casino roulette. Back in the late 1970’s when they endeavored to do this, no law was in place to prohibit the use of computers in a casino. So I want to clarify that technically, Farmer and Packard’s attempts to use a concealed computer were not illegal.

The team designed and built a miniature computer from scratch, since one was not commercially available at the time. They developed and burned in their own software for calculating the various equations of motion involved. Things like the position, velocity and deceleration of the ball and the proper relationship of the exponentially decaying ball speed and the more constant angular velocity of the wheel head. Because the event always took place on a 32” casino regulation roulette wheel and the acceleration due to gravity on the Earth’s surface is fairly constant, a set of idealized equations of motion were derived for a theoretically perfect roulette wheel. As they discovered along the way, no two roulette wheels were made, maintained or set up the same way. They adapted their software to have a flexible enough program so that specific characteristics of each roulette wheel could be input. Once the computer had enough background on a certain wheel, it could begin to make adjustments in the algorithms to compensate for these idiosyncrasies.

One such wheel characteristic is the ball’s drop-off point from the upper track. If you use the eight silver deflectors in the approach to mentally divide the bowl up into octants, you can chart a histogram of ball drops per octant. Ideally, the ball should be able to drop from any octant, based on when the gravitational acceleration overcomes the centripetal acceleration holding it in the upper track. But this will not happen if the entire wheel is sufficiently “tilted” at say, 1/8” to ¼”. The ball will labor as it climbs the incline toward the tilt’s apex, slowing it down more than expected. This is where the ball will tend to “run out of gas.” I’ve seen wheels where 45% of the drop-offs occurred in just one octant! Chances are that the drop-off octant was at or just before the tilt’s highest point. If the ball should make it over the peak, it will accelerate slightly as it races down the other side. This uncharacteristic slowing and speeding up may not be perceptible to the human eye, but it is enough to throw off any idealized mathematical model.

Farmer and Packard’s team did an excellent job of interpreting the problem and programming it into their custom computer, but there were logistical problems; difficulty concealing the computer and its power supply, loose wires, bad connections, shocks, clamping solenoids, drifting signals, etc. Building such a device involved extensive knowledge of physics, mathematics, electronics, computer science and information theory. Even after a year and a half of totally redesigning and miniaturizing their system with the latest technology available, they were overcome by unexpected computer crashes and electronic noise. This noise came from surveillance systems and low-frequency radiation, given off by neon signs and slot machines. These all contributed spurious signals to the receiver. The casinos are a swamp of electronic noise!

Just as our team of physicists was contemplating their next go-around in 1985, the Governor of Nevada signed into law, Senate Bill 467. The pertinent statute in Nevada states: “It is unlawful for any person at a licensed gaming establishment to use, or possess with the intent to use, any device to assist in projecting the outcome of the game.” The statute goes on to say that a first-time offender may be imprisoned for a period of 1 to 10 years, or be fined up to $10,000, or both. A second offense is mandatory imprisonment. In other words, if you’re caught with a computer in the casino, even if you did not yet use it, you may be hit with jail time and/or stiff fines! This is too big a gamble in my book! New Jersey has a similar statute regarding the use of electronic, electrical and mechanical devices: “Except as specifically permitted by the commission, no person shall possess with the intent to use, or actually use, at any table game, either by himself or in concert with others, any calculator, computer, or other electronic, electrical or mechanical device to assist in projecting an outcome at any table game or in keeping track of or analyzing the cards having been dealt, the changing probabilities of any table game, or the playing strategies to be utilized”. So contemplate this option carefully, if you must.

As computers become smaller, they are also becoming more powerful, reliable and more programmer-friendly. The temptations of “easy riches” become greater. There are still those scheming to build computers for predicting roulette. I recently ran across this ad on the Internet:




This is NOT a betting scheme. Computer has proven advantage over the casino of 15-30% daily. Capable of predicting approximate final position of ball. Capital required for profiting tour of casinos. Send contact details and all inquires for information….

Slick Surveillance
Although the casinos have always had the home court advantage, that hasn’t stopped the near-do-wells from attempting to cheat the house. In the past, panels of one-way glass were installed in the ceilings over the casino floor. Surveillance people, often referred to as, “the eye in the sky,” would tread back and forth on narrow catwalks while looking down at the games. With binoculars in hand, they monitored both the players and the dealers for any signs of cheating. They maneuvered through spider webs and around posts and rafters in the dark. Today’s modern casinos are outfitted with hundreds of cameras that can rotate, pivot and zoom in on a pinhead. These cameras are housed in those half-spherical bubbles that you see, mounted from the ceiling. They send video signals that are fed into dozens of monitors with videotapes rolling. Not all of the cameras’ signals can be shown on a monitor at all times. Just because the camera is on doesn’t mean that someone is watching it. The video can later be reviewed, but the cheat or thief may be long gone. The surveillance crew must switch back and forth between cameras, focusing more on the busy-betting areas and the cashiers’ cages. If the pit is suspicious of a cheat or if a high roller steps into the game, the boss will call up to surveillance to make sure they are watching the action at that table.

Eventually, the whole system will be computerized. A network of several hundred tiny digital cameras will be mounted throughout the casino. As these cameras sense movement, they will begin processing a digital signal to a computer. Surveillance software will interpret any actions it senses and the most questionable of those will appear on one of several main monitors where a small surveillance crew will be stationed. Because the footage is digital and fully indexed, it can be immediately accessed and cross-referenced with other footage taken, even if it happened six months earlier. There would be no archived tapes to search through, no hours and hours of rewinding and playing of videotapes. Everything will be stored in one central database.



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