Saturday, October 31, 2009

Casino Equipment: Angel Eye Baccarat Dealing Shoe

Casino equipment, and gambling accessories in general, have come a long way since the first knuckle-bones were rolled a few thousand years ago. With all the electronic gadgets at our disposal it was only a matter of time for some of these gadgets to find their way into casinos. Well, actually, the first high-tech gadgets that found their way into casinos were most likely brought in by casino cheats, with the intention to be used to defraud the casinos. But if casinos want to compete with the cheats, they too have to use high-tech solutions to combat their enemies. And the cat and mouse game continues.

The casino gadget that I want to describe in this thread was not invented to combat any of the numerous gadgets that the cheats have been known to bring into casinos. This gadget was invented to put an end to one of the oldest baccarat scams: switching cards.

Let me introduce you to the Angel Eye electronic baccarat shoe.

If you've ever been in a casino in Macau you've already seen these shoes in action. These electronic baccarat shoes have already been accepted as the industry standard throughout Asia. Keep in mind that gambling is actually illegal in many Asian countries, so we are strictly talking places where casino gambling is regulated.

Switching cards in baccarat was always very common in Asia. So common, in fact, that casinos were eager for someone to come up with a solution. And baccarat is by far the most popular casino game throughout Asia, so the Asian market was ready for an invention that would make it impossible to get away with switching cards, in baccarat.

Angel, a Japanese manufacturer of playing card and other casino accessories, was the company that first came up with the idea of an electronic baccarat shoe. Not only was Angel the first company to come up with this idea, they also hit the nail right in the head. Other companies followed suit, but in my opinion Angel still makes the best product; partly because they understand the Asian market better than many of their competitors that later came up with their own variations of electronic baccarat shoes.

So, how does this thing work? And what exactly does it do?

In a nutshell, the cards are bar-coded with invisible ink, on the faces. The shoe is fitted with a scanner (similar to the scanner used to read bar codes in a supermarket) that is able to read these invisible bar codes, as the cards are being dealt. This is why this shoe has a longer lip (the front where the cards come out) than conventional dealing shoes.

The shoe is connected to a central computer system. Whenever the dealer deals a card, the scanner reads the value of that card and the shoe sends the information to the computer. In baccarat, unlike blackjack, the players cannot make hit or stand decisions. So, the dealer deals up to one hit card to each one of the two hands, if the rules require that hit cards be dealt. In short, for every round of baccarat, the dealer may deal out 4 to 6 cards. As soon as these cards are dealt out the game is basically over. All the remains to be done is to turn these cards face up and determine which side won (or if it was a tie). However, although there's nothing that can be done, once the cards are dealt, the players still take their time to turn the cards over. That's when hearts are beating, blood pressure is rising, and adrenaline is pumping. In Macau, the usual limits for baccarat games (on the floor, not in the VIP rooms) ranges form HK$300,000 to HK$500,000; or, at today's currency conversion rate, roughly US$39,000 to US$64,500). This is per hand, yes, just to see two damn cards (and maybe be dealt a third one). So, for that amount of money, the player feels entitled to take a couple of seconds before turning the cards over for the world to see.

That is how baccarat is traditionally played in Asia. The expression that comes to mind is "slow-play."

So, this slow-playing also requires the players to rub the cards (for good luck) ad do all sorts of acrobatics, before the cards are finally revealed. And, of course, when the cards are handled in such way there is plenty of opportunity to do a switch. But if you switch the cards when the Angel Eye shoe is in use, you're in trouble.

The Angel Eye shoe (well actually the system that uses this shoe) knows what cards have been dealt out of the shoe. After the player(s) show-down their cards the dealer presses a button on the shoe and the result is displayed, electronically, in a number of possible ways (depending on what options the casino purchased form the manufacturer).

The simplest option is a display on the shoe itself, where one of the three lights may light up: either "player," "banker," or "tie." So, if the outcome of the live game is a win for the "banker" side and the shoe says that "player" won, the game is immediately halted and surveillance recordings are reviewed.

In a more elaborate set up there is an LCD screen at the side of the dealer, where the same results are displayed, along with images of actual cards that have been dealt. So, whatever is seen on the screen must match what had just been observed in the live game.

And that's how the Angel Eye shoe works.

As I've already mentioned, other companies have come up with their own versions of electronic baccarat shoes. Some of these are pure copycats, but some companies have actually come up with some of their own innovations, so they basically just built on the Angel Eye idea. I will talk about that in a follow up post.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Luminous Readers: Eye Measurements for Luminous Contact Lenses

The thread on Luminous Readers is supposed to answer all the questions about this type of marked cards. In this post I will discuss part of the process of ordering luminous contact lenses form a crooked gambling distributor. Please keep in mind that crooked gambling is not exactly a government regulated industry, so there are really no standards. All crooked gambling manufacturers are different, so what I am about to explain here does not apply to all of them. However, what I am about to explain is the only correct way to go about it.

Since contact lenses go straight into the eyes, they are not like glasses. A number of things can go wrong when contact lenses are fabricated outside of regulated environments. IN fact, this is the main difference between contact lenses made in Europe or the USA and contacts made in Asia, especially China.

I know of two makers of these gaffs in Asia and so far I've had the opportunity to visit one of them. When I saw how these contact lenses were stored I was appalled. They were all stored in one container, inside of a liquid that had become completely fogged up. I swear I could almost see little creatures swimming around, inside the liquid. OK, I don't know about actual creatures with fins and tentacles, but I swear that there were small pieces of white stuff floating around when I moved the container. When a customer orders a pair of these contacts, the guy just dips his fingers into the container, pulls out a couple of contact lenses and puts them in separate vials with fresh contact lens solution. When a customer receives the goods, the contacts look brand new. Of course, in reality, these contacts are totally contaminated with whatever germs were nesting inside that communal container. But the customer doesn't know that. However, he is likely to find out once he gets a nasty eye infection that may even end up costing him his vision.

I hate to say this, but Asian companies, especially Chinese companies, don't really have the best of reputations for ethical business practices. We are talking about the same companies that manufacture counterfeit prescription drugs and put led into paint that is used for toys. It's perfectly fine to buy a deck of marked cards, form China, and see that what it's like, but if you want my opinion about contact lenses: don't play with your eyes. These guys don't give a rat's ass about your well being. They only care about the payment. And when you end up with an eye infection you can file a complaint with the Chinese Department of Consumer Affairs for Crooked Gambling Distributors. Good luck with that.

But sure there must be some reputable sources for these kinds of contact lenses. Sure there are, but you'll have to look in Europe and the US. And right away I give you a word of warning. I know of at least one US distributor that is just repackaging the Chinese stuff. Of course, I can't tell you his name, but you can use your own judgment. And the guy is a big liar, so he'll probably tell you that he has them fabricated in the US. Don't believe it.

There are, however, luminous contact lenses that are fabricated in the US. Those are made in two separate licensed and regulated labs. Why two labs? Well, because the making of these contact lenses is done in more than one step. So, in the interest of keeping the secret, these contacts are made by two separate labs, in two steps. So, the first lab has no idea that there will be a second lab involved and the second lab doesn't know what the first lab was doing. They just have to fulfill and order.

Both of these US based labs are fully licensed and regulated. All they do is contact lenses. So, because they are licensed they will actually not agree to do anything you ask them to. For example, they will not make prescription lenses that are tinted beyond a certain level, because regulations forbid them to do so. They may end up in trouble if they did. But the most important thing is that these contacts are done in a regulated and sterile environment.

So, what does one need to do before ordering luminous contacts?

Let's say that you wanted to order a pair. Since those will go into your eyes you have to make sure they are made specifically for your eyes. The actual contacts are actually not made 100% from scratch. The lab will just take a pair of blanks and paint them. But the blanks will have the correct base curve for your eyes. This is very important, because your eyes need a certain amount of tear fluid, constantly, and you don't want the contacts to fall out of your eyes.

To ensure a perfect fit, you will first need to obtain exact measurements of your eyes, obtained from your local eye doctor. The important parameters are: K-readings (base curve), visible iris diameter, pupil size in dim light, and spectacle prescription. Following are detailed descriptions of these parameters, just to give you an understanding of what these readings are.

K-readings and Base Curve:

K-readings, short for Keratometry Readings, determine the exact curvature (steepness) of your eyes. Those readings are used to produce (or select) the precise base curve for the contact lens, to ensure a perfect fit on your eyes. Each one of your eyes may have different readings. K-readings are used to determine the Base Curve Radius for the contact lenses.

Base Curve Radius [BCR] is a parameter of a contact lens. Typical values range anywhere from 8.00 to 10.00 mm. The base curve is the radius of the sphere that the back of the contact lens describes. Contact lenses must fit well to the wearer's cornea in order to be comfortable and to facilitate tear exchange and oxygen transmission.

In everyday practice, if contact lenses feel "loose" and slide easily, a smaller base curve may work better. A large base curve may be needed if they feel tight. Lenses with smaller base curves are referred to as "steep". Following are illustrations to help you understand how the contacts fit over your eyes and why it is important to obtain exact readings.

perfect fit

loose base curvesteep base curve

If the lens' base curve matches the K-readings of your eye perfectly, the lens will fit perfectly over your eye, as seen in the first image. However, if this reading is incorrect, the lens will either be loose or steep. If the base curve it loose the lens will contact your eye in the center but not around the edges of the lens. In this case a soft lens would wrinkle around the edges; whenever you blink, the lens will shift around the eye. In the opposite example, if the base curve is steep, the lens will only fit around the edges but not in the center. In this case a soft lens could wrinkle in the center of the eye and since the lens is too tight around the edges your eyes would dry up.

Iris and Pupil Diameters:

The iris is the colored part of your eye, which connects to a muscle that contracts or expands the pupil. The iris has a fixed diameter, typically around 11mm. The pupil is the black circle at the center of the eye; which is basically a round hole through which light is allowed to pass. The diameter of the pupil changes based on lighting conditions.


When you order your contact lenses you will have to supply measurements for the iris size and pupil size in dim lighting. Your pupil size is not fixed. Furthermore, once you place colored contacts over your eyes the pupil will expand even more, because the amount of light that enters the eye will be reduced, so your eyes will automatically adjust.

Here is a problem.

Each person is different. Some people's pupils expand so much that the iris becomes a very thin ring around the pupil. Let's say that in this example the pupil expands to a 9.50mm to 10.00mm diameter. For a number of reasons, the dark filter in the middle of the contact lens actually has to be a bit larger than the pupil size. So, if the pupil is already 9.50mm to 10.00mm, the filter will end up being more or less as large as the entire iris. The end result is unacceptable, because the person wearing these contacts will appear as if his/her eyes are large black circles. So, if you look in the mirror, in dim lighting, and see that your pupils get really large, you cannot have these contact lenses fabricated for you.

But even if your pupils expand below 9.50mm to 10.00mm you may still not be able to get satisfactory results.

As you know, pupils expand when there is less light hitting the eye. So, when you place a dark filter right over your pupil, the pupil will expand even more, in order to let more light in. This is one reason why the filters have to be larger than the diameter of the pupil in dim lighting. So, now, the problem occurs with people whose pupil expands beyond the diameter of the filter.

Let's imaging your pupil expands to 5mm, in dim lighting. Now, let's imagine the contacts are made with filters in 6mm diameter. This looks OK, so far, but when you put the contacts into your eyes, your pupils expand to 6.5mm size. This would actually be OK, if the pupils stayed at this size, but unfortunately that's not how eyes work.

When your pupils expand beyond the diameter of the filters, there will be a bright ring of light shining around the filters, and pouring into your eyes. At that moment, the eye registers that there's more light coming in, so the pupil contracts. But when the pupil gets smaller the amount of light is insufficient (due to the darkness of the filters) so the pupil expands again. And so it goes back and forth, and the eye can never adjust, because there is a damn dark filter in front of it.

So, with people whose irises expand to a small size it is usually not a problem, because the filters are just made bigger, a bit beyond the maximum size of that person's iris diameter. But with some people it is a problem.

Spectacle Prescription:

If you have any prescription at all you may not be able to get these contact lenses made, at least not in the US where licensed labs are doing the actual fabrication.

When it comes to prescription lenses labs need to follow government guidelines and regulations. These contacts are so dark that they fall outside of the approved specs and because of this reason, a licensed lab will not agree to make this type of lens because they risk losing their license.

The other reason why some people with eye prescriptions cannot have these contacts made form them is purely technical in nature. If you have a prescription the colored part of the lens will throw the prescription off and the lens, once painted, will no longer have the correct prescription. The solution for this problem is to fit you with a pair of non-corrective contacts, first. Then you will need to go to your eye doctor, and obtain new spectacle prescription readings, while wearing the contacts in your eyes. Based on these new readings, you will need to order a brand new pair of prescription glasses that you would wear only while wearing these contacts.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Luminous Readers: The Unmarked Luminous Deck

What would you think of the idea of a deck of luminous readers that is not even marked? I know it sounds crazy, but when it comes to marked cards, there always seems to be something new every now and then.

They say that the best ideas come unexpectedly and that the best discoveries are made by accident. This is certainly true for this new system, which is something I've come up with, on my own, just recently. I've discovered this system by pure chance, while experimenting and trying to develop something else.

So, what does it mean that the cards are unmarked? Can you just take any deck of cards out of the box, put the glasses on and read the backs? Well, not really. What I mean by unmarked is that there are no chemicals (inks, dyes or anything else) put on the cards. But the cards still need some preparation. And, as I just said, the preparation does not entail putting any inks and dyes anywhere on the cards. Is that even possible? Well, I wouldn't be writing this post if it weren't.

It is hard to describe something without giving away the details, but I'll try my best.

As I said, the cards do require some preparation. This preparation can be done ahead of time, and in some cases even on the fly, as the cards are being used. But this preparation does not alter the cards in such way that would enable anyone to discover the work, at any time, by conventional means. Obviously any work can be discovered, but if someone examines the cards, they will discover absolutely nothing. As I said, the cards are unmarked.

There are some limitations, however.

First of all, this new system may not work with all kinds of playing cards. Second, there is a limit as to how much information can be read from this kind of work. Obviously if you can't take a paintbrush and write a big AC on the back of the ace of clubs, you can't expect to somehow be able to read that the card is the ace of clubs. But if you want to take a more subtle approach (preferred by professionals anyway) and you wish to be able to identify all the aces and kings, you can easily do that.

Some may think that the limitations described above are bad news. Quite the opposite is true. All these "limitations" are the typical characteristics of a professional marked cards system. Meaning, this would be a system that professional card cheats would want to have.

This new system has some other characteristics that make it fall into the category of a highly professional marked cards system.

First of all, the glasses used for this system look normal. This is already the case with some high-end luminous systems, but the other high-end systems have a weakness. If someone else were to look through those glasses they may be able to discover the work. I did say "may be able to" because as I've explained in the previous post Luminous Readers: Not for The General Public, this is not necessarily the case. But what I am also saying is that this new system is so foolproof that it is very unlikely anyone would ever be able to discover the work, even if you told them to look for marked cards and let them look through the glasses as much as they like to. If you don't give them any clues, their chances of discovering the work are next to zero. Why? Because, in case I haven't mentioned earlier, the cards are unmarked. So, I've seen a lot of different luminous systems in my line of work and I can tell you with absolute certainty that this system is the most foolproof system of them all.

This is quite logical, if you think about it. After all, the cards are unmarked, so how could anyone accuse anyone else of marking the cards, if the cards are not even marked? OK, so someone has a one in a billion chance of discovering the work, but, "Hey! What's the problem? I haven't done anything wrong here. I'm just wearing sunglasses. Just like all the poker stars do all the time on TV. You do watch TV, don't you? You've seen them wear sunglasses, right? So, that's all I'm doing?" And in fact, this statement would be almost true, but as we know, the intention to cheat would make this statement a lie. But that's not the point. The point is, the cards are unmarked.

I've probably said enough. If I keep talking I'll end up spilling too many beans and I'll live to regret it. At this time I am not prepared to give away any more clues, so I'll wrap up this post.

Some readers may be skeptics and may think that I am making this up. I would not blame you if you thought I was just talking a bunch or rubbish. In fact, I would probably be very skeptical if I read this post somewhere. But I know the system is real and I already have a fully functional system with glasses and cards. Under the right circumstances I may even agree to do a demonstration, but as all my demonstrations, this costs money. Sorry, I don't work for free. And of course, since this system is really hush-hush, I would have to charge more than I normally do. I'd be crazy if I didn't.

Also, at this time I don't have a name for this system. I've yet to come up with one. But if you have any ideas, please feel free to post a comment.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Luminous Readers: Not for The General Public

Every since I've started the thread on Luminous Readers I've received a few emails from people asking me about the more professional luminous systems that I merely mentioned in one of the posts. Well, I did say I'd write about it, so when I received the inquiries one old saying came to mind: Good things come to those who wait.

First, allow me to explain some basics.

Marked cards using special glasses (or contact lenses) is an old concept. The first attempts may not have been too good. There is an old book, entitled Protection, that describes a blue-lens luminous system, but the luminous system that has always been the best known one is the red-lens system. I've always questioned whether or not the blue lens system described in Protection was just a theory, or if such system actually existed at the time (it is not uncommon for authors of crooked gambling literature to describe theoretical concepts as facts, without fact checking). But very recently a pair of blue luminous glasses had been sold, along with an old marked deck, at an auction and I've heard a report, from a reliable source, that this system really works and that one can see the marked cards with the blue glasses. Although I haven't seen it with my own eyes I have to assume it is true. But that's an old blue-lens system and is not even what I want to talk about in this post.

What I really want to talk about is the fact that at the present time there are basically three categories of luminous systems. The first category includes all the luminous systems that are available to the general public, in one way or another. This includes all the red-lens systems and even the Black Predators, plus anything in between. It should be noted that the range is pretty wide, with all kinds of standards and quality levels all mixed up in one general category. If one wanted to be meticulous about it, one would divide all the systems that I put into one big category into several sub-categories. After all, why should we put the Black Predator system into the same category as the system that uses ruby-red lenses? The reason why I put these into the same group is to make things simple, because all the systems in this groups are a) technically related, and b) available to the general public. So, there are two more categories above that.

Both of these categories are lesser known and more difficult to acquire. Also, these luminous systems don't quite work on the same principle as the systems in the first category. So the top category is for top professionals and the category in between is also for top professionals, but just slightly more proliferated.

Due to the fact that the top category is very secretive I will not talk much about it. But I will still give you an idea what it's all about. But I will say a few words about the middle category of luminous readers.

Let's start with a photo. Below you see a picture of blue glasses. These glasses do appear blue, but you'd be surprised how they would look under some cameras. Also, I've actually changed the color a bit, before saving the image, just so that I don't give away the actual color.

In my opening paragraphs I mention a blue-lens luminous system that seems to have been around for quite some time. Let me start by saying that this blue-lens system is different from the one I am about to describe. So, why don't I briefly describe the old one, first? Keep in mind that I've never actually seen an old blue-lens system, so I am only explaining what I've read about it.

The old system works with phosphorescent ink. My understanding is that the ink is such that it basically glows in the dark. So, the old blue glasses basically block off so much of the daylight that you may see some of the phosphors glow. To the best of my knowledge, that is how the old blue-lens system works; although, to be quite honest, I find it hard to believe. I usually have to see things with my own two eyes, but let's assume this is how it works. But that is not the principle behind the blue-lens system I am about to describe in this post.

Also, before I get into it, let me mention that there is more than one blue-lens system available. Some blue-lens systems are a bit different than the one I am about to tell you about. The problem is that I am not aware of anyone coming up with any official names for these systems. So, they are all blue-lens systems. But all blue-lens systems have not been created equal.

The blue-lens system in question is phenomenal. I've tested it a few times with several people and I always get more or less the same results. Basically, this is how I test it: I clearly see the marks on the cards, but when I let others look through the blue filters they see nothing. Well, not until I tell them what to look for... and how to look.

Here's the secret. I usually also don't see anything right away, right after I look through the blue filters. The eyes seem to take a few seconds to adjust. This is hard to describe, but the best way I can say it is to say that the marks gradually come to light after the eyes had some time to adjust. I don't know what makes it so, but all one has to do is wait a bit. Then, after the eyes adjust the marks are not lighting up like neon signs. This is also good, because the marks are so subtle one may easily miss them, even after wearing the glasses for a few minutes. But when you know what to look for they are clearly visible from across the table. What better could a professional card cheat want?

This description is basically accurate, but to be even more accurate I also have to say that this effect also greatly depends on the quality of light. It depends what kind of light source is in use and how intense the light is. So, under some lighting conditions it is easier to see the marks right away.

There are a few more points I need to make.

The marks work equally well on red or blue cards. There is absolutely no difference. Also, the work is clearly visible regardless what the lighting conditions are. I am not talking about bright or dim (of course it is not as visible under candlelight), but I am talking about the color temperature of the light, i.e. what kind of light source is illuminating the space. By comparison, the general systems are not quite like that. One needs to use a different kind of ink depending what kind of light source is in use.

There's one more thing.

So far I have not been able to detect the ink that is used for this blue-lens system, with any kind of cameras. I've tried many cameras, with and without the same blue filters. So far nothing. I can only see the marked cards when I look through the blue filters with my eyes, but no camera shows the work. Again, for a contact lens system, that should be considered an advantage.

So, now that I've described some general principles of this system, let me tell you a bit more about the contact lenses.

This image shows a bunch of blue contact lenses. Excuse the mess... I also blurred out the text on the labels because I want to protect some of the information. But a more interesting contact lens is seen below.

This is a contact lens with a 3mm diameter blue filter. I have not had this contact lens in my eyes, so I can't really tell you how well it works. But the principle is that that filter only covers the center on the pupil, so there is absolutely no chance that the filter could be visible from the outside world, once the lens is inside the eye. But, I am told, the system still works.

And I will finish the description of blue-systems with a photo of a pair of old blue contacts.

These contacts are collectible antiques. As you can see, they are blue. But they are also a very bright shade of blue. So, I basically have my doubts that they ever even worked. Sorry, but I'm a skeptic by nature and I have to see it to believe it. Also, a lot of the old crooked gambling gaffs that end up in people's collections have always been experimental and never actually used or completely developed. Since I've never seen this blue-lens system in action I have to consider the possibility that this may have been an experimental system.

I will conclude this post by briefly mentioning some information about the luminous system that falls into the top category.

Let me start by saying that I've met a couple of guys that assured me they are using that system in casinos.

So, what can I say about this system without giving out too much information? Let's see... The system can only be used with contact lenses (glasses would not be practical). It is completely undetectable with any cameras, even with the same filters (I guess, just like the blue-lens system). And the last thing I will say is that the marks don't have to be large, but are still clearly visible from a distance.

That's all I'm gonna say about it.

In closing, I might as well mention that I've also seen other systems, i.e. various systems that use different colors for the filters (and different inks). However, some of the systems I've seen are actually not too good.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gamblers and Card Cheats: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I've spent the past 20+ years of my life researching gambling, and card cheating in particular, in one way or another. But the internet really helped in making some new connections, every since I first launched CARDSHARK Online, ten years ago. Others have tried launching their own crooked gambling sites, but my site (I am pleased to say) remains the top one in this field, due to the fact that it was the first one. Age is something that can never be taken away, as we all know.

In my 10 years of acting as webmaster and administrator for CARDSHARK Online I've had my fair share of dealings with all sorts of people that are somehow associated with gambling. In all those years I've also had the opportunity to meet some of these folks in person, but most of the contacts never went beyond the exchange of emails. So, what are some of those people like?

As expected, it's always a mixed bag. So, let me start with the bad and the ugly, so that I can end this post on a positive note, by telling you a little bit about the good.

I'll put the bad and the ugly into the same bag, and in no particular order.

The worst thing that anyone can do, when attempting to contact me, is to say something along the lines of, "I am looking for some way to plant marked cards in a casino. Can you help me out?"

I've actually received a substantial amount of email phrased more or less like that. I'm a sucker for "good service" so I don't even know why I bother replying to those people, but when I receive an inquiry like that, my answer is always the same. And the answer is, "Please don't contact us again."

Now, at first glance, one may think that I am missing an opportunity to meet some professional casino cheats and learn some valuable information. But in reality, nothing could be gained form meeting people that send such emails. These people are basically telling me, in so many words, that they are totally incompetent.

First of all, they are completely oblivious to the fact that anyone can send an email and pretend to be something, or someone, they are not. I can receive an email that sounds as if it had been sent by some young hot girl, when in fact it was sent by some creepy guy that never leaves his messy apartment. So, as far as introductions over electronic media go, the way to get my attention is not by telling me that one is a casino cheat.

Second, those people also seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that every email can be intercepted and that every email message is stored on some hard drive as it travels through cyberspace. There's not such thing as an anonymous email that cannot be traced. Basically, sending an email is the electronic equivalent of sending a postcard that ends up on the counter of a hotel lobby.

And finally, by telling me in advance that they intend to rob a casino and asking me to help them out, they are basically asking me to take part in a conspiracy to commit a felony. The best part is that I have absolutely nothing to gain from any such participation, but I would still be charged as an active participant, in a crime, in the event that they got caught. And what are the odds that someone like that gets caught? We are talking about a person that doesn't even have the common sense to be discrete when sending an email message to a complete stranger.

To illustrate my point I was using a generic example of someone sending me a message that they are planning to cheat in a casino. I've actually received such email. But I've also received emails form folks that were telling me how they'd like to set up crooked blackjack games, crooked home poker games, steal form vending machines and ATMs, and the list goes on. As you can see, my only option is to put all those folks in one big bag and leave the bag out with the trash.

There's really no point in continuing with specific examples and details that all describe the same kind of person in slightly different incarnations. So, what about the good?

Well, first of all, when I say the "good," I really mean the "bad." But "bad" in a different way.

If someone tells me that they've done something in the past, that involved cheating and scamming, I'll listen. After all, this is what I do: research crooked gambling. If their past does not involve any violent crimes, I have no problem listening to what they wish to tell me. But, as you know, the moment someone tells me that they are planning to do something in the future, that involves any kind of activity that I don't want to get involved in, is when I start looking for a way to distance myself form that person.

So, how do I meet such people in the first place?

Well, First of all I use my BS detector to weed out all the people I don't want to talk to, i.e. the bad and the ugly. Second, I maintain some kind or correspondence with those others, to get a better feel for them. Of course, I am fully aware of the fact that impressions can be (and often are) quite deceiving, over written messages. So, if there are no red flags it may eventually lead to a personal meeting.

I once had a meeting with a guy that was running poker games in several joints in and around his city. I will not tell you which city this is, or even in which country, but I will share a few details form this meeting.

First of all, the guy never really said that he was running crooked games. But I knew very well that this was a very likely possibility. He was hooked up with folks that operate gambling joints in (and around) that city (folks I've never met) but his domain were just the poker games in those joints.

He was a very friendly guy and also an excellent host. On my first day visiting this city he took me for a tour of all the gambling joints. We met in the afternoon and started with all the joints that were situated in and around the central area. This was all quite interesting. It was also apparent that this guy was really who he said he was. Basically, no matter which casino we went to, everyone knew him. In some places we also went to the back and I was introduced to people that were in charge, in one way or another.

After visiting a few of those joints he asked me if I wanted to visit a place that was a few minutes out of town. He would drive me there and back. I was already pretty tired by then, but I still accepted the invitation.

So, some 15 or 20 minutes later I found myself in a car, in a foreign country, being driven by a total stranger, not having a clue where I was or where he was taking me. And at that time it was already dark. All I knew about that guy was that he was involved in gambling, running some shady games, and was now taking me to a place unknown. I couldn't help but think how stupid it was to go for a ride.

It took about an hour to get off the main road. Then he eventually pulled into some parking lot and invited me to follow him. I also noticed that he was carrying a plastic bag.

He was still very friendly, but it was dark, I was alone with a total stranger and I still had absolutely no idea where I was or where exactly we were going.

Our destination, it turned out, was less than a minute's walk from where he parked his car. The door opened and we stepped in. He was greeted by people that were obviously staff and after exchanging a few words he handed off the bag to one of the guys. It was at that time that I noticed that there was a safe, under the counter, near the entrance. The safe was unlocked and the door was not even closed shut. So, the guy swung the door open and the first thing I saw was a gun that looked pretty menacing. I don't know much about guns but this one was a big revolver with signs of wear and tear. It had the patina of time that cannot be faked on a new piece that hasn't been carried or (I guess) used. But, nothing to it, the guy just put the bag inside the safe and swung the door. He left the door open a crack, the same way it was before.

So, we went in and he showed me around. We stayed there for about an hour and then he suggested to drive me back. On our way out he picked up his bag, from the safe, and we headed to the parking lot.

Everything went fine, but I did learn a valuable lesson about getting into cars with strangers, in foreign countries. I saw the guy again and continued to maintain occasional correspondence.

Of course, this guy was not the only interesting character I met through my site. I recently went to Korea where I met a professional cardsharp (and his partner) that runs his business in many of the illegal gambling joints around Seoul. I also met another interesting character in Korea, but perhaps I should leave that for another post.

On my travels to Macau and China I met a professional casino cheat that actually shared a lot of interesting information about his work. I'll have to tell you about that in another post, but keep in mind that I won't really be able to say much.

One of the most interesting characters I've ever met is a guy that is involved in some pretty high stakes operations. He actually picks up high rollers in various countries and brings them to destinations where he organizes games. This guy is based in Europe (I can't tell you which country) but he runs games in other continents. Again, I can't share too many specifics.

In Europe I met a couple of guys that run bustout joints, i.e. totally crooked gambling dens where actual cheating equipment is in use. These places are not as uncommon as one may think.

I've also met a lot of people that run illegal poker clubs, but most of those contacts were not made through my site. Those clubs just charge a time fee, so the house wins no matter what, as long as the place is busy. In a busy club, a single poker table can easily make over $20,000 in cash, just form the time charge. There's really no incentive to cheat the players.

But I don't only research crooked gambling. So, in the world of legitimate gambling I had the opportunity to meet many people, ranging from some casino owners, surveillance directors as well as lower ranking employees, all the way down to dealers. Even outside of actual casinos I've had many dealings with people that do business with casinos.

So, since this post is getting quite long, I'll have to wrap up here and leave some details for some upcoming posts. At least this gives you some idea about what you may expect to read in this blog, in the future.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

How Clueless are Casino Executives... About Red Discard Holders?

When it comes to casino business, like any other business, one should not just assume that all casino executives really know their work. Just like in any other business, casinos also have their share of morons, slackers and ignorant folks.

In my many years of doing independent research on crooked gambling, and gambling in general, I've had the opportunity to meet various casino executives and/or others who have been dealing directly with them. Many times I was surprised to learn how little some of these folks really know about the casino business. For this reason I've decided to do a series of blog posts, titled How Clueless are Casino Executives... This one's about red discard holders.

But before I start, let me make myself perfectly clear. Just because I am about to trash some morons that have somehow managed to climb the corporate ladder and end up in high-ranking positions, in casinos, that doesn't mean that this is my overall opinion of casino personnel. On the contrary, casinos do have some knowledgeable folks working for them. I simply want to make a series of posts that show a side of casinos that most people never get the chance to see.

So, I said this post was going to be about red discard holders. What are those? Why don't we just start with a picture?

This is a discard holder. If you've ever spent time around blackjack tables, you may have noticed those. And as you can see, this one is red.

It turns out that the choice of red is not for decorative purposes. This is actually a security feature. Since this post in titled How Clueless are Casino Executives... you may have already guessed that many casino executive haven't got a clue about that.

Now, due to the fact that continuous automatic shufflers are becoming the casino industry standard, discard holders are becoming a thing of the past. But my story starts about 10 (give or take) years ago, when discard holders were the industry standard in every casino. And even with automatic shufflers, the discard holders are sometimes still being used (depending on the specific procedures of the casino).

If you've ever paid attention at the equipment used at the blackjack tables, you've probably noticed that red discard holders are actually not all that common. Casinos more commonly use clear discard holders. But as I've already stated, the red color is a security feature.

I am assuming all readers of this blog are familiar with the type of marked cards commonly known as luminous readers. If not, you may wish to check my thread on Luminous Readers... on this blog.

Although many of the early attempts at making luminous readers were laughable, I have been told that attempts to use them in casinos are not uncommon. A poker cheat may get away with using luminous glasses (if they are good ones) but in casino blackjack cheats usually use contact lenses (I did say usually because I do happen to know of a man that used glasses on cruise ships; his glasses were designer prescription glasses with a little tint at the top).

So, if the basis of most luminous systems is color blocking with red filters, we should not have trouble understanding how a red discard holder may reveal the same work, on marked cards, if one is to stand behind the discard holder (like a pit boss would) and look through the red side(s). That's basically what the red security feature is all about. I should also add that this very saturate ruby red color can also reveal some other types of marked cards (not luminous) under the right illumination and also depending on the card back design and color.

So, How many casino executives know all that? Would it surprise you if I told you, not many? I guess it should not surprise you, if you've noticed that most casinos use clear discard holders. But reaching the logical conclusion that many casino folks don't know about this, just based on the fact that we see mostly clear discard holders in casinos, is just making an assumption. However, I don't have to make any such assumptions, since I do happen to have first-hand and second-hand knowledge about this particular subject.

I did say, second-hand knowledge, right? So, let me start with that.

I've made several friends through the years, through my popular web site. One of the friends I've made is a gentleman that will remain unnamed, that has been doing a great deal of game security seminars for casino executives, i.e. for their surveillance departments. In a conversation with him, many years ago, the subject of marked cards came up. This lead to the subject of red discard holders. Since he had first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of casinos I asked him why most casinos don't use the red ones. This conversation took place over the phone, but in his rely I could feel him rolling his eyes. He said that this is an issue that he had brought up over and over again, in his training seminars, as well as in direct conversations with casino executives and that he just can't make any sense of it. This now goes beyond the fact that these folks were uninformed. Once he tells them about the security feature of red discard holders they are no longer uninformed. But they still were not too interested in this whole business of fitting their tables with red discard racks. Then, at the end, my friend told me one thing that really sounded ridiculous. He said, "You won't believe what reason most casinos have for not using red discard holders." After a pause he said, "Because the clear ones are cheaper." That's right. It all comes down to cost.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but this doesn't surprise me. If you've ever had any dealings with casinos, then you know that sometimes they can be really penny pinching. This is especially true for casinos in South America and the Caribbean. Those casinos will decide which playing card manufacturer to buy their cards form solely based on the cost. Not the quality. Not the security. Just the cost. This also goes for surveillance equipment and everything else.

So, my friend's story was just me retelling his experience. But in years after I had that conversation with him I've also had some direct dealings with casinos. I am not going to bother you with minor details, from all the conversations I've had with the industry. But I will say that I've reached the conclusion that most casino folks really don't know why some discard holders are red. Furthermore, there is a lot of ignorance and incompetence, even at the highest levels. This is why I've decided to start a thread about that very subject.

PS -- As you've noticed in the photo above, the cards have been placed into the discard holder, face up. This image was just lifted form the internet, from some vendors of casino equipment. There's also a lot to be said about the competence of many vendors of casino equipment. Not to draw too many conclusions based on this small mistake in this product shot, but I also happen to have first-hand knowledge about some incompetent people that sell casino equipment. But I will save all that for another thread...

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Cardsharps by Mail

Something most peculiar happened to me today. I received an unexpected package that seems to be an anonymous gift. The gift came in a tube and at first I didn't even know if I should open it. I really don't like the idea of opening boxes that come from unknown sources. But then I realized that the package cleared US Customs, so I'm sure they would have detected any kind of dangerous substances or objects. So, carefully I proceed to open the package.

The package was sent to me from Taipei, by Eva Air Cargo, on October 2nd, 2009. When I opened it I discovered that it contained a few pieces of wood and another tube. The smaller tube contained a rolled up canvas. I proceeded to unroll it, and as soon as I saw the side of the image emerge, I experienced a very familiar feeling. The painting was The Cardsharps, by Caravaggio.

Well, to be quite honest, I knew from first glance that this was not THE (actual) Cardsharps, painted by Caravaggio. Bummer! This was (very obviously) a reproduction. I already have a reproduction in my shop, but the one I have is much smaller and is also just a print. But this one is at least twice the size and is hand painted in (as far as I can tell) oil paint. I haven't actually measured the canvas, but I think this may be a 1:1 scale reproduction. But who the hell painted this? And who sent it to me? And why?

About a week ago, on September 29, top be exact, I published a blog post titled The Place Where Crooked Gambling Equipment Comes From. In that post I mention that I happen to have a reproduction of The Cardsharps in my shop. I merely mentioned this fact because the picture was visible in the photograph of my main work bench. A week later, this hand painted reproduction arrives from a source that is totally unknown to me. Could this gift have anything to do with the fact that I mentioned this painting in a recent blog post?

So, the painting came from Taipei. I can see the name of the person that sent it to me, but it is against my best judgment to reveal the name of that person here. In fact, I even went through the trouble to blur out the mailing label, so that no one can enlarge the image and see any personal information. But whom do I know in Taipei.

The closest I've ever been to Taipei was at the Taipei International Airport, while changing flights to a totally different destination (also by Eva Air, incidentally). But I know for sure I don't know anyone in Taipei, or even anywhere else in Taiwan. But I guess I seem to have a friend there. Well, first of all, thank you, whoever you are.

Since this reproduction was painted in oil, there is absolutely no chance that someone did it after reading my blog post from a week ago. First, it takes more than a week to finish a piece like that, and second, oil paint dries slowly. This painting was painted much earlier (but definitely not in 1594, as the original one). So, where did this painting come from?

I remember when I was in Saigon and Hanoi; I saw numerous galleries that make hand painted reproductions of various famous paintings. To be hones, I never paid much attention to any of that stuff and it never occurred to me to buy one of them. That's just stuff for tourists, and I don't consider myself a tourist even when I travel (there's a difference between a traveler and a tourist). But would it be possible that there are similar galleries in Taipei and that someone just purchased this painting there, and sent it to me? Perhaps after reading my recent blog post? This is the most likely scenario I can think of. I can tell this canvas had never been placed onto a stretcher, so it has obviously been sitting somewhere (all those months or years) waiting to be sent to me.

To be honest, there is no chance that this painting will ever end up on my wall, in my house. It's just not my style. Well, the original would be my style, but not a reproduction. But I will definitely put this canvas on the stretcher (that was kindly provided along with the painting) and put the painting in my workshop. Perhaps I could even hang it in my own basement and use is a backdrop for some upcoming videos.

Well, this certainly made my day. I wish I know who sent it to me. So, whoever you are, if you happen to be reading this post, thank you very much... and drop me an email. If nothing else, I would really like to know the "provenance" of this painting.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Martingale Betting System

I was just at a party where I met a guy that was hammering me with a theory that enables him to win, for sure, at roulette. He has an unbreakable system.

I really wish I had a dollar for every time someone talked to me about this "winning" system. The system that he had "discovered" was the good old Martingale betting system. What is the Martingale system?

Double your bet every time you've lost. So, if you bet $1 and lose, bet $2. If you lose that bet, next bet is $4. Next is $8, then $16, and so on. Eventually, when you win (if you win) your total profit (after deducting all your previous loses) is equal the amount of your first bet; in this case, $1.

In theory, this is a fantastic system. You cannot possibly lose (seriously) if you could go on forever. The problem (in practice) is that you can't go on forever. Sooner or later you will hit a losing streak that will break your bankroll or require you to place a bet that would exceed the allowed house limit. And even if you were able, or allowed, to place that next bet (a humongous one) all you would stand to gain (net) is the amount of your initial minimum bet.

The martingale system is most often played by roulette players, usually by playing red and black. Let's imagine that the minimum outside bet (i.e. red or black) on roulette is $10. The first question is, how much money do you have to bring with you, to be able to sustain 10 losses in a row? Well, the math is quite simple. Let's break it down:

$10; $20; $40; $80; $160; $320; $640; $1,280; $2,560; $5,120... that's 10 losses, and next bet is $10,240 if you want to have another chance at winning (and that's all you get, a "chance"). So, how much money do you need to bring to the casino, to be able to place that $10,240 bet? Well, don't forget all those previous losses, that led up to the $10,240 bet. The answer is, you need $20,470. And when you place that bet, if you win (the emphasis should be on the word "if") all you stand to gain is 10 lousy bucks.

The first problem is, of course, that a $10 table does not have a maximum limit that would allow one to place a $10,240 bet. The other problem is, how many people have $20,470 at their disposal? But let's assume, for argument's sake, that there are no table limits and that the average Joe does have access to a bundle of cash. We left off at $10,240 after 10 consecutive losses, so let's continue the math. Here we go... Hold on, I need a calculator...

...$10,240; $20,480; $40,960; $81,920; $163,840; $327,680; $655,360; $1,310,720; $2,621,440; $5,242,880...

That's where we end up with 20 consecutive losses. So, next bet is $10,485,760 which means that you need a bankroll of $20,971,510 to be able to place that 21st bet, and all you get is anther chance at winning a net total of 10 bucks (but all 10 of them are cash).

The more losses the player accumulates, the more unreasonable it becomes to place that next bet. Gamblers and dreamers hang their hats on pseudo theories that it's not possible to lose more the 10 bets in a row. What? Or maybe not 10, but 11 definitely. Or let's make it 12, just in case.

The truth is that any gambler can (and often does) lose many consecutive bets. And often, even when they go broke, even if they had a lousy dollar to place that next bet (which most of them most likely would) they may (and often do) lose that bet, too. Remember, the roulette wheel does not have built-in memory, so if a player lost 10 bets in a row, the odds of winning the next bet are still less than 50% (because of those zeros). This means that the house is still more likely to win that next bet, regardless of all the previous losses.

There is a pseudo theory that I've heard, that really made it hard for me to repress my laughter. The person that shared his "secret" with me told me that he has a sure thing with this system, because he doesn't play every bet. "No one's forcing you to play every bet," he says. What? Is this guy saying what I think he's saying?

What he meant was that he places all the initial bets mentally (not monetary) which allows him to play the minimum bet after 5 losses. This "proven system" gives him an advantage, because the casino doesn't know that he had already lost 5 bets (in his mind) and the system is reset to the initial bet, after 5 mental loses. Dude, I don't care if this guy finds this blog post, but that theory is retarded.

Bottom line, casinos are very well aware of the Martingale system, and they don't care. They don't care if people are playing the system because they know that those people will eventually lose. The only thing that the system does is that it gets people hooked. Every Martingale system player loses the bankroll, sooner or later, and when they do, they usually come up with some pseudo theory that explains (in their minds) what had caused that "unlikely" event. What is even more said is that a lot of the die-hard system players later come up with ways to perfect their systems. On of these improvements is undoubtedly that attempt of placing the mental bets first, until 5 or 6 (or whatever number of) mental bets are lost. Another "improvement" is to come up with various algorithms that less than double the previous bet. This is the opposite of the Progressive Martingale System, which is basically: double the previous bet, plus 1 (or 2, or whatever).

What all betting systems have in common is that they are sure to lose in the long run.