Friday, December 31, 2010

Card Players in North Korea

In a recent blog post, titled Casino Gambling Inside North Korea, I shared some information about the casino in Pyongyang, which I had the opportunity to visit on my trip to North Korea, earlier this year. One thing that I really wanted to do, while visiting the DPRK, was to meet some local people and due to my interest in gambling I also wanted to find out what kind of gambling and/or card playing people might practice in North Korea.

I had my first encounter with North Korean people right at the boarding gate in Beijing. I approached them and found out that they were North Koreans living in Japan. They explained to me that there were many North Korean communities in Japan and that their kids all go to Korean schools.

Although those folks didn't seem like they could tell me much about gambling I'm still glad I talked to them because they confirmed one piece of information that had me puzzled in the past. When I was in Japan, a couple of years ago, I checked out some of the pachinko parlors, which are basically gambling halls scattered throughout Japan. As expected some of those gambling halls are owned by the yakuza, but as I was trying to learn more about them I somehow got wind of the information that some of the pachinko parlors are also owned by North Koreans. At the time I was very reluctant to believe that particular piece of information because it wasn't clear how North Koreans could open businesses in Japan, or how they could even live in that country. But now that I've met a few North Korean expatriates living in Japan, I guess I can say that this piece of information has been confirmed.

In North Korea gambling is strictly prohibited and the only exception is casino gambling or foreigners. Anyone caught gambling would be in serious trouble, I was told. I tried to find out if there was any kid of underground gambling anywhere in the country and was told that there wasn't. I asked if people ever gambled in the privacy of their own homes. The answer was, again, no. So, either that's all true or they don't feel like talking about it to foreigners. I personally have a hard time believing that no one ever puts down a wager.

But even if I wasn't able to find any illegal gambling, I've seen a lot of people playing cards in public. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense because there aren't many entertainment options available in the DPRK, at this time. That's because, at this time, the country is under strict sanctions; that's the simplified explanation, but I don't want to talk about politics.

I took a few pictures of people playing cards, outdoors. I also asked some people what card game they were playing and was told that the game was called sa-sa-kki. It was really hard to get them to explain the rules, so I just let that one go. They just said that I wouldn't be able to understand. But I did ask if this was a gambling game and was told that it wasn't. The only piece of information I was able to extract was that the game had something to do with numbers 4-4 (in Korean, the word sa means the number four). I don't think the there's any big secret to this game, or that people were unwilling to share this information with a foreigner, I just think that they felt it would be too difficult to explain the rules, due to the language barrier. But the people were really polite and happy to talk to me and were also nice enough to let me take a few photos. I wanted to explain to them that I would be publishing these photographs on my blog, but as you can see these are older gentlemen and I don't think I'd be able to explain to them what a blog was. Nevertheless, I don't think there's been too many photographs of North Korean card players, published in the West, so here are a few shots.

It is true that any foreigner visiting North Korea must be accompanied by a minimum of two guides, but my guides were pretty relaxed about my visit and at one point I even walked around on my own for about 20 minutes (and almost got lost). Those older gentlemen were surprised at my "excellent" knowledge of the Korean language, by the way.

The next photograph shows a group of people playing cards near one of the city's landmarks; a mural of The Great Leader, Kim Ill Sung. This was really the only picture I was able to take of people playing cards in front of a recognizable landmark.

The last photograph was taken through the window of the van, while the driver was maneuvering out of the parking lot. Too bad you can't really see that the people are playing cards, but that's in fact what they were doing.

Scenes like these are quite common throughout Pyongyang. It would have been more interesting to me if people were playing for cash, like I've seen people do in China, but that's all I was able to capture on this trip.

In closing, I feel I should also say that people in North Korea were very welcoming and pleasant. They don't see a lot of foreigners so they're definitely curious about any foreigner they get to meet. I initially thought people would be very shy and unapproachable, but my experience was quite the opposite. I was particularly surprised that young ladies were really not shy at all. Unlike South Korean girls, which are generally very shy, North Korean girls seem to be very straightforward. Regardless what you might think of the DPRK, I think it's important not to judge the people by what you might think of their government. The fact is that most of what Westerners know (or think they know) about the DPRK is from what's been published in the Western media. But the truth is, if you want to know more about that country you'll have to do a bit more effort than getting the information from Western resources. Thomas Jefferson said it best: "To be truly informed, one must learn how to completely ignore newspapers." I think I'm a pretty good judge of character and I can say with confidence that all the people I met while visiting the DPRK were genuinely nice and not at all uptight about the fact that I happen to be a Westerner. In other words, I really didn't feel any bad vibes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Stereoscopic Image of Card Cheats, from 1901

This is a stereoscopic image of card cheats from my personal collection. To be perfectly hones, I don't even like this picture. As a general rule I prefer images that are more subtle.

I think it's pretty obvious that this image was intended to amuse the viewer. I think it's also pretty obvious that the image was specifically intended to amuse a white audience. I'm not sure if this kind of humor was considered sophisticated at the time the image was produced, but I don't find it particularly funny on any levels. Obviously, racial humor has fallen out of fashion in our time.

I'm kind of curious to know what brand of playing cards were used on this set. The only clues that might help determine that are the backs of the cards, which are visible in the hands of the player on the rear left, the ace of spades, which is passed under the table, and the year the image was taken, which we know from the copyright to be 1901. Unfortunately, I am not good enough of a playing card historian to pull the right answer out of thin air, so I'll have to do some more digging if I want to know what brand of playing cards are those.

Since I've had this picture for about two years I can't remember exactly how much I paid for it, but I know I would never pay more than 10 bucks for this one, so that that must be more or less how much it cost me.

The picture is titled A Skin Game (which was obviously meant to be witty) and the copyright is 1901, by H.C. White Co., from North Bennington, Vermont. I would imagine the H.C. White was just a lucky coincidence and at that time might have been considered quite funny that this kind of humor was produced by a Mr. White. It would probably not be as funny if the publisher was a certain H.C. Brown or H.C. Black. But whatever the case, the funniest part is that Mr. White probably never thought that one of his pictures would end up in the collection of Mr. Pink.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vintage Dondorf Playing Cards No.150

Playing card collectors are quite familiar with the name Dondorf. The German company Bernhard Dondorf, from Frankfurt, was world famous for high quality playing cards and not surprisingly Dondorf playing cards are some of the most sought after among playing card collectors. I was fortunate to pick up a full deck, 52 plus joker, of Dondorf No. 150 Whist playing cards for a great price.

This vintage deck of cards is in excellent condition and it only cost me £20.00, plus £4.00 for shipping and handling.

This pack of cards was listed on eBay along with several other listings for Dondorf cards, all by the same seller located in Horley, Surrey, United Kingdom. This deck was described as being originally part of an extremely large collection of wonderful playing cards from many categories. What kept the price low was the fact that there were multiple listings for Dondorf cards at the same time, something not often seen on eBay. I've kept my eye on eBay listings for Dondorf cards in the past but the decks always went for far more than I was ever willing to pay for 52+1 pieces of paper. But this time I lucked out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Photo Postcard: German WWI Soldiers Cheating at Cards

Someone once said that the best eBay finds are the miss-categorized ones. This is an original photo postcard of German WWI soldiers cheating at cards. I picked it up for $12.05 plus $1.50 for shipping and handling, and I was one of three bidders. The seller would have definitely had more bidders if the listing title had some mention of card cheating, but his title was Germany -REAL PHOTO- Soldiers Playing Cards - several dogs. I say, who cares about the dogs?

What's particularly interesting about this photo is the setup with one guy handing off a card at the side of the table, for the benefit of the viewers. This is a setup that is reoccurring in numerous old photographs and even some very kitschy figurines that periodically pop up on eBay. But I've always wondered where this theme originated. Since this postcard was never used there's no date stamp on the back (bummer!) but if the picture was taken during WWI it would be between 1914 and 1918. And what I particularly like about this photograph is that, unlike many others with this theme, it is not corny because the people in the photo are not trying to overact their emotions. Unlike most other card cheating photographs where people are acting like clowns this one almost feels believable. If I didn't know better I could even believe it was a candid photo (but I don't really believe that).

Another rather nice photograph of card cheaters can be seen in one of my earlier blog posts Antique Men's Club Photograph with Card Cheater. Like the current photograph, the acting in the Men's Club photograph is also not exaggerated, but I think the German Soldiers postcard is still better.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Little Card Holdout That Never Was

If you've ever searched eBay for "card cheating" you must have seen plenty of listings for an odd looking clip, listed as a holdout device for card cheating. Many vendors describe the little gadget as an antique holdout device used by card cheats to hold an ace up the sleeve. Some even go as far to describe how the device supposedly works. One vendor said, "The small clip is used to smoothly slip a card in and out the sleeve."

This device is neither a holdout nor any other kind of card cheating device. It is simply an antique cuff holder, used to attach detachable cuffs onto a shirt. Those types of shirts have gone out of style but if you ever watch old black and white movies you might have come across an occasional scene where some gentleman is seen removing the collar and the cuffs from his shirt. That's the kind of old-fashioned shirt those cuff holders were used for.

The most common brand of cuff holders was Wizard. That's why most eBay auctions list Wizard "holdouts." But Wizard was not a crooked gambling distributor, it was simply a company that made cuff holders and possibly some other things. The Western & Eastern Treasures Magazine site has accurate information about the Wizard cuff holders (scroll to the bottom of page). I also included a description on the holdout devices page, on my main web site. And on my site I also included a picture of an original counter-top display. I believe this original display ad should be enough to prove what the true purpose of the little Wizard was.

I've had this description on my site for quite a while and it shows up high on search engines. But the little Wizards still keep popping up on eBay, listed as card cheating devices, every time I search for "card cheating." Some vendors go through great lengths to make their Wizards more appealing to potential buyers, like the one that said, "I suspect it made someone a lot of money and maybe a bullet hole or two, a nice original relic of riverboat and saloon wild west days and cultured parlor games in men's only clubs. The spring clip part holds to the cuff and the clip holds the card up the sleeve."

I've also recently come across are more modest description, saying, "Cuff holders were used to attach detachable cuffs to men's shirts. There are also card cheating devices called 'holdouts' that look very much like cuff holders and its a possibility that these were designed to keep a card up one's sleeve." Although this description is less sensationalized it still mentions card cheating for no other reason than to boost the interest. So, even if this vendor doesn't call it a holdout, the description is still dishonest because it is intended to deceive.

But the most honest description to date is from a recent eBay auction, where the vendor actually says what these gadgets were for and also discredits all the bogus claims that this is some kind of antique card cheating device. This one was for a pair of Washburne cuff holders:
These intriguing little clips are actually a gentleman's antique Washburne Cuff Holders from 1889. Back in the late 1800s, gents’ shirts came with detachable cuffs and collars so they could be easily replaced to give the appearance of a fresh clean shirt. This wonderful little gadget was designed to hold the cuffs in place.

Can you imagine what a wonder of modern technology this must have been!

Folklore suggests that the more imaginative of the Wild West poker players managed to use this gadget to hide an ace up the sleeve. With one end clipped to the clothing and the other end holding a hidden card.

I was actually tempted to buy this pair of cuff holders, just because the vendor is honest and because they came with the actual cuff from the era. It would make for a good demo piece. But then I changed my mind. I don't really collect this kind of stuff and I'm already running out of storage space, as is, so I don't need another thing to stash somewhere at the bottom of a drawer. So, I let the auction slip.

The reason I've decided to make this post is to set the record straight. I really despise how some people are changing historical facts just to make a quick buck. My job as a gambling researcher is to gather accurate information and publish what I think is true. If I ever make a mistake I make an effort to fix it. I've contacted many eBay vendors in the past and let them know in the nicest possible tone that their listings were inaccurate and also let them know where they could look up the information. Not one of them ever bothered to reply or to fix their listings. So, I can only conclude that their greed overpowers their sense of decency. Let's be honest, these vendors are deceiving their paying customers by deliberately misrepresenting an item. That is a form of theft. I know it's just petty theft and some might think I'm going too far to even think about it. But to me it's really more about distorting historical facts and spreading the misinformation. And while we're on the subject of theft, I really hate nickel and dimers. If you're going to steal, steal millions or something worth stealing.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

MacDougall Exchange

A fellow contacted me no too long ago and wanted to know if I'd be willing to sell the two MacDougall press photographs that appeared in my blog post Two Historic Michael MacDougall Press Photos. He said he was a long time MacDougall collector and that it would mean a great deal to him to add these two photographs to his collection.

I replied immediately and told him that he should feel free to make me an offer. I also let him know that I would pretty much agree to whatever he wanted to pay for them because I felt that it was most important that these historic photos end up in good hands. So, the fellow replied right away with an offer that included a fair price as well as an old MacDougall book in exchange. I accepted the offer and we made it happen. The press photographs are now in his possession and I ended up with an early edition of Don't be a Sucker, by the famous "gambling detective" Michael (aka Mickey) MacDougall.

The book is an 80 page staple-bound booklet with lots of images. Some materials have been lifted from crooked gambling supply catalogs, in exposé fashion. The images of the false deals are very similar to the press photograph of the bottom deal that I sold in exchange for the book. In fact, I had to do a side by side comparison to see the difference.

Overall, I am glad that the press photograph ended up in the hands of a true MacDougall collector and I'm also happy to have added an old gambling book on my shelf.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Casino Gambling Inside North Korea

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon some information on the internet, that there might be a casino in North Korea. Due to the fact that North Korea is portrayed in Western media as the most secretive and isolated country in the world, described by former CIA Director Robert Gates as "the intelligence black hole," this information came as a bit of a shock. The idea of a North Korean casino spiked my interest, so I searched some more. But all the information I was able to find on the internet was unclear and speculative. One site said that there might be one casino in the capital city of Pyongyang, but that this information had not been confirmed. Another site said that there definitely was a casino there. And another site said that there used to be a casino there, but that it had been closed down. There was also some speculation that there might actually be two casinos in the entire country, one in Pyongyang and the other one in an unnamed town near the Chinese border. The more I searched for answers the more conflicting information I was getting. It simply drove me nuts. For some reason I was never able to get this out of my mind and after a couple of years I decided to do the only sane thing I could think of: to travel to North Korea and see for myself.

Although North Korea is a country whose economy has been hit very hard because of economic sanctions, traveling to North Korea is not cheap. But fortunately, I happen to have a special interest in Korean culture (not politics), so I had another reason to go there. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that it would be a great thing to visit that country, and if in fact there was a casino there, I would definitely get to see it.

Although I am far from being an expert in North Korean affairs, I was pretty sure that gambling had to be illegal in that country. That meant that the casino, if there in fact was one, had to be reserved for foreigners. But what foreigners? North Korean immigration officers are not exactly known to be the busiest people in the world and according to some internet resources the country averages about 2,000 visitors per year. And what percentage of those can be expected to put down a wager, anyway? So, who in the right state of mind would build a casino there? Answers to those questions could not be found on the internet, so I hopped on a plane.

This was not the first time I traveled a distance just to check out a piece of information that had to do with gambling. In the world of gambling there's actually an old tradition of traveling far just to learn something or to meet with someone. Usually it's about learning a secret that has to do with cheating, such as learning a dice switch, a card muck or having the chance to see a cheating gaff. And I've done that, but I'll also go halfway around the world just to check out a casino, if I think it's worth it. And it was pretty clear to me that my mind would not rest until I saw with my own eyes what kind of casino they had in North Korea. So, off I went.

As it turns out, there is in fact a casino in North Korea. Not one, but three. One casino is in the capital city, Pyongyang, another one is in the border town of Sinuiju, next to Dandong, China, and another one in the Rajin-Sunbong Free Trade Zone (a location that I was having some trouble finding through Google Earth, although I did manage to find a web site for the Emperor Hotel & Casino, Rason). Since I only visited Pyongyang I can only report about the casino there.

The Casino Pyongyang, as it is called, is located in the basement of the Yanggakdo Hotel, which is where I stayed. The hotel is a 47 story skyscraper with a triangular footprint, situated on an island, on the Taedong River.

The following photo shows the north façade of the hotel. The south façade is a bit different, which you can see in the night photograph I took during my visit.

There are two ways to descend to the casino level from the ground floor. You can either take an elevator or you can walk down a staircase. Since Pyongyang is not Las Vegas one should not expect to find any flashing neon signs publicizing the presence of a casino. The biggest sign you will find is a modest billboard mounted on a light box, hanging on the wall above the staircase. The only detail that might have been inspired by flashy Las Vegas signs is a single string of multicolored Christmas lights surrounding the billboard (and the upper left corner came loose).

The staircase takes you down to the lower level where you are greeted by a hostess behind a counter and a security guard that is often found "clipping his nails" (figuratively speaking) while lounging on this chair underneath the staircase. You will also notice a couple of rows of slot machines against the walls leading to the casino. The hostess is actually guarding the entrance to the karaoke bar, which is straight ahead. The basement entertainment complex also has a restaurant, a spa that I am told offers more than massages, and of course the casino.

There is one detail on the lower level that offers some clues as to who might be behind the casino. As you take the last step down the staircase and set your foot onto the "Welcome" mat you can't miss a "magnificent" mural photograph of a casino in Macau. The casino is none other than the Casino Lisboa, owned by Stanley Ho. Also, the restaurant on the lower level is called the Macau restaurant. So, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Casino Pyongyang is most likely part of the Ho casino empire.

There are some additional details that lead me to believe that the entire entertainment complex in the basement is part of the same company. You will notice surveillance cameras on the ceiling above the mural. There's good reason to believe that this surveillance coverage is part of the casino.

Also, although the casino officially starts in a separate room there are several rows of slot machines that extend into the corridors that lead up to the casino. No one seems to be playing those slots, but that's irrelevant. Their presence is enough to say that gambling starts as soon as you step on the "Welcome" mat.

It also doesn't take a genius to figure out that the spa, which I am told is exclusively female staffed and caters to Chinese businessmen, is really just a brothel. Macau is flooded with those kind of "massage parlors" and although they appear to be independent businesses, completely separate from the casinos, it would be a bit naïve to believe that there's no connection.

All these clues lead me to believe that the casino is what had financed the entire hotel. If I were to take a guess I'd say that Stanly Ho is just betting that there will come a day when things will drastically change in the DPRK and he just wants to make sure he's got his foot in the door. The operation of a small casino in the heart of Pyongyang is enough to create a corrupt government that will eventually push for casino gambling, when the time comes. One day casino gambling might prove to be the biggest boost to the economy of a country that might not have much else to offer to all developed neighboring countries.

Perhaps it's also not a coincidence that the casino was built on an island. I don't have a hard time imagining how the entire island might one day become the next gambling mecca of Asia, especially if there's any opposition to gambling, it might just be easier to convince the opposition that the entire island can become some kind of Special Administrative Region where gambling is allowed. This is Asia after all, and Stanley Ho is a very smart man. He started casino gambling in Macau at a time when there was nothing there. Now money is too sweet to kick the casinos out. Plus, casinos have become a "tradition" in Macau and kicking them out would almost feel like messing with the "cultural heritage" of the region.

North Korea is a communist country and it would stand to reason that private businesses are not allowed there. One would think that even if there were a way to open a private business, a casino would be at the bottom of the list of approved businesses. But sometimes there are loopholes that might be exploited, even in the DPRK, especially if one has enough money to convince the officials that something is a good idea.

If my information is correct, some forms of private businesses are allowed in the DPRK. I was told that foreign investors have a way to open up what is described as joint ventures. This makes a lot of sense and I can see how a casino investor might actually think that this model is the best way to run a casino in a country like North Korea.

Casino business requires a lot of corruption. I can't think of a better way to bribe the officials than to make them business partners in a so-called joint venture. A joint venture model basically ensures that money constantly flows into the right hands without breaking the law. And when the time comes the investor will have plenty of powerful allies at the very top of the government, motivated by the one medium that has historically been proven to be the greatest catalyst of all times: money. Of course, they'll all be talking about how casino business is good for the region, how it creates jobs and brings money that can be used to build schools and hospitals. Nothing we haven't heard before. And anyone investing into casinos in the DPRK, today, is way ahead of any American corporations that might one day want to get a piece of this action. After all, Pyongyang is in Asia, the home of the most passionate gamblers on the planet.

North Korea's geographic location is quite interesting for someone that wants to put his foot in the door on the off chance that there will be a drastic change in the country's system. China is to the north-west, Russia is to the north-east and South Korea is to the south. Japan is also just a stone throw away, hardly a distance for someone that is itching to put down a wager and is unable to do it at home. So, who knows what the future holds.

In the meantime let's have a closer look at the casino.

The easiest way to find the entrance to the casino is to follow the slot machines. As you approach the casino you will pass by a few laminated paper signs informing you of the business hours and other rules. There is even a welcoming sign that says the casino reserves the right to reject any customers without giving any reasons, which should make anyone feel welcome. The signs are in two languages, the universal English and Chinese. The absence of Korean language signs is not coincidental; the casino is just for foreigners and Koreans are not allowed to enter the casino under any circumstances.

When I first entered the casino I started talking to one of the staff that looked like a pit boss, manager or supervisor. I have some limited knowledge of Korean, so I started talking to him in Korean. I was having trouble getting myself understood and I assumed the guy must have been having a hard time understanding my accent. As a general rule, if a foreigner tries to speak Korean to Koreans, they will not understand a single word, unless the pronunciation is exactly as it should be. This is especially so in North Korea, because people there have almost no contact with the outside world, and therefore don't have an ear for accents. But as it turns out, the guy was not having trouble understanding me because of my foreign accent. He just didn't speak a word of Korean.

Once we switched to English he explained to me that the entire casino staff were Chines, from Dandong. He explained that the rule that no Koreans were allowed to enter the casino extended also to the staff. Apparently it is not a prerequisite for a foreign investor to guarantee new jobs for local people, to be approved for a "joint venture" in North Korea. I guess, when the time comes, the local casino advocates will not be able to use the argument that casinos create jobs.

I asked the guy a few questions about the casino and he was able to confirm my suspicion that Casino Pyongyang was in fact a Macau investment and that there was another casino in the border town of Sinuiju. He didn't mention Stanley Ho, directly, but it is quite logical that no one else couldn't possibly be behind the Macau investment. In Macau there's Stanley Ho, who is a Chinese businessman, and there are a few American corporations behind the Wynn, the Sands, the Venetian, MGM, etc... If I were to make a bet I'd put my money on Stanley Ho.

The casino entrance is not at all flashy. It has a simple sign that says Casino Pyongyang in three languages. Although I am a bit puzzled why they have it written in Korean, since Koreans aren't allowed inside the casino.

At the time of my visit the double wing door under the sign was locked. So, to enter the casino I had to walk through the long corridor at the right side.

The casino floor is quite small. There were only four tables, two for blackjack and two for baccarat. The players were mostly Chinese and I've been told that no one ever walks away with winnings.

The next few photographs offer a glimpse inside of the Pyongyang casino, with players in action. Normally casinos do not allow photography on the floor, but in North Korea people are really laid back about photographers and it didn't seem that anyone had any objections to the presence of a camera inside the casino. So I took plenty of photos.

Blackjack is dealt without a hole card and there are some rules that aren't standard. For example, when a player catches a natural, the player has the option to collect 1 to 1 immediately or wait for the dealer to play out the hand for the house. If the dealer busts or gets a total less than 21, the player collects 3 to 2 at that time, but if the dealer hits 21 the player gets nothing. I've seen this option in some casinos and it's obviously a sucker bet.

The tables are not laid out around a pit, as in most casinos. Instead the tables are against the walls and every time there is action there is a supervisor watching the game.

During one of the games a floor manager was standing next to one of the players and chatting in English. I was a bit surprised to see that the floor manager was giving direct advice to the player on making certain hit and stand decisions. He also explained to the player that it is possible to bet on some suited outcomes and get paid more, so I guess he just wanted to make sure the player knew what all the betting options were. In other words, the casino tried hard to sell all the sucker bets.

The procedures are a bit different from most casinos. For example, the player's cards are not dealt out in diagonal columns, as in all other casinos, but instead into a fan. Also, it is quite odd how the dealer pays the winning bets. Let's say the player bets one chip and wins. The dealer will first pull the chip slightly towards the chip tray, by placing the hand or the finger over the wager and then pay the bet by placing another chip right on top of the original wager. If the player gets paid 3 to 2 on a natural the dealer will simply count off the chips out of the chip tray and place the payout on top of the original wager, without ever doing a spread for the camera. I've never seen that done in any casino as there are clearly too many opportunities to manipulate the payout.

There is one procedure that defies logic. After the players are done making their hit and stand decisions the dealer burns a card before dealing the first hit card for the house (which is really the second card, since there's no hole card). As a general rule, the purpose of burn cards is to eliminate the top card of the shoe as a precaution, in case the cards are marked. It makes absolutely no sense to burn a card before dealing out the hand for the dealer, since the players no longer make any decisions, at that point. Better yet, the shoe actually has a black fabric blind over the faceplate, covering up the top card, so even if the cards were marked no one could see the top card. And if a player sits down at a vacant table the dealer will start dealing straight from the shoe, without burning a card. If you ask me, that would be a better time to burn a card, but they don't do it that way.

I expected that the blackjack game in Pyongyang would have some local options and procedures. I am not sure it's the best game for the player, even if one ignores all the sucker betting options. The casino still pays 3 to 2 on naturals, but they only allow doubling down on 11. Since this is basically a resort casino I wonder if they will soon introduce 6 to 5 payouts on naturals.

Lastly, the casino is not yet equipped with continuous shufflers that are becoming the industry standard around the world. But here is a picture of their blackjack dealing shoe. Quite slick.

Due to the fact that Koreans are not allowed to set foot inside the casino and foreigners are not allowed to handle Korean currency, the official currency in the casino are Euros, but they accept US Dollars, as well. You are advised to bring plenty of small bills, because if you are left with small denomination chips the cage might not have bills to pay out. So, you'd either have to return to the gaming tables or take the small chips as souvenirs, which they don't mind. Speaking of small denomination chips, here's one.

On my way out of the casino I noticed a sign with a picture of a camera and something written in Chinese. Since I can't read Chinese I had no clue what the sign meant, so I took a picture of it, too. Should anyone reading this article know the meaning of this sign, please do let me know, so I can make a mental note for future reference.

To be perfectly honest, I expected the casino in Pyongyang to have much stricter procedures, due to the fact that it's in North Korea. I don't think I have to explain how North Korea is portrayed in Western media, so I simply expected the casino procedures to match that image. Mainly, I was assuming that it would be somewhat of a procedure to enter the casino floor. Even in Europe, in most casinos, they check ID, take your picture and sometimes issue a free "membership card" that needs to be scanned on all future visits. I knew the Pyongyang casino could not require to check passports because all foreigners must surrender their passports after entering the country. But I still thought there would be some kind of strict procedure before entering. There was absolutely nothing. Anyone could simply walk into the casino and I am not even sure how they make sure that a person is not Korean.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Repair of Two Gaffed Peek Shoes

In the recent blog post The "Talking" Blackjack Shoe I mentioned that the talking shoe is a more elaborate version of a camera shoe. One thing that I didn't mention is that both of these high-tech electronic shoes have a purely mechanical cousin. In other words, there is also another type of gaffed shoe that also enables the player to peek at the top card without the help of the dealer, but doesn't have any electronics at all. The solution is purely mechanical. The gaff is called a peek shoe and actually comes in a few different variations. I have been working on my own model of this peek shoe for the past three or four years and have already come up with a couple of fully functional prototypes, but due to lack of time I've never actually made a completed product.

A few days ago I received two of these shoes in the mail. Both need some repair work, which is why they were sent to me in the first place.

Both shoes seem to have been made at the same time, by the same person, but both shoes are not identical. There are actually some significant differences in measurements and I believe the maker may have been testing with different measurements. But so far I have not been able to notice any significant differences in the performance of either shoes. Both do the job just fine.

My repair job is not too difficult, but I still have to know what I'm doing otherwise I might cause significant damage to the gaffed parts. Basically, some parts are missing (there is only one roller and only one lid), I have to fabricate and install the decorative trims, possibly install the handles, and I also have to reinstall both faceplates, which have been removed for some reason. Since it is virtually impossible to separate two pieces of acrylic once they've been glued together I am assuming that the faceplates were removed because they had not been glued in properly.

Since this kid of shoe is used to peek at the top card it should be logical that the secret gaff is in the front part of the shoe. That's why I blurred out the parts of the photograph that might reveal too much. To the best of my knowledge these kinds of peek shoes have not been revealed to the public, so at this time I am not sure how much information I am willing to share on my blog.

The purpose of the peek shoe is exactly the same as the purpose of the camera shoe, or the talking shoe. The advantage of the peek shoe is that it doesn't have any electronics, so there are no batteries to be charged. Also, due to the absence of electronics, it is less likely that anyone would discover that the shoe is gaffed.

The dream of a hustler would be to somehow plant one of these shoes in a casino. If a hustler could accomplish that the casino could literally be used as a personal ATM. The hustler would just have to occupy the proper seating position at the blackjack table and from a certain angle he would always be able to see the index of the top card, every time, before it is dealt.

I just gave you some hints about what some of the disadvantages of this shoe might be.

First of all, the hustler can't just take any seat at the blackjack table. The peeking can only be done from one angle. Also, the peeking will only work if the dealer places the shoe on the table "properly." The dealer is totally unaware of the fact that the shoe is gaffed, but if the dealer happens to orient the shoe in the "wrong" way, peeking is not possible.

So how exactly does this shoe work?

If you take a glass of water and hold it in front of your face, what do you see? Most people see a glass of water, naturally, because that's what it is and that's also what the mind expects to see. But in reality you can see the entire room inside of the glass of water. The water inside the glass acts as a lens and if you focus on the image inside the glass you can see every detail in the room, greatly reduced in size.

The peek shoe works on a similar principle. Some of the parts of the shoe are deliberately fabricated in such way that the image of the top card's index is carried through the clear acrylic body and seen from a certain angle, if one knows exactly what to look for. But, because most people are not expecting to see anything, most people will not see that the index of a card is partially visible from one angle. The human mind simply edits out visual information which it is not aware of being relevant. That's like looking at a glass of water and not realizing that you can see its surroundings in it.

The shoes will stay in my shop for at least three or four weeks. The client is not in any particular hurry to get his shoes back, so I'll take my time doing the job. In fact, he only wants to keep one of the shoes and is still trying to decide what to do with the other one. This is a very rare cheating gaff so whoever ends up with the other shoe will be a lucky guy.

Monday, September 06, 2010

First Edition of Mr. Rakeoff in The Provinces

When I first decided to build a gambling library I already knew it would consist of books about cheating. Cheating and scams were actually my first interests and those were the interests that brought me into gambling, not the other way around. So, it would stand to reason that my gambling library would somehow reflect that.

My first gambling book was Sharps & Flats, which I bought at a gaming supply store on West 27th Street in New York City. Upon examination I discovered that the book was published by GBC Press, aka the Gamblers Book Club, in Las Vegas, Nevada. At that time no one had even heard of the internet, so I did what had to be done the old fashioned way an ordered the GBC Press mail-order catalog.

When the catalog arrived I saw that titles were listed in alphabetical order and organized into logical categories, such as Casino Gambling, Poker, Blackjack, Craps, Horse Racing, Sports Betting, and so on... To my amazement, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was an entire category on cheating. All of the sudden, starting a gambling library to my taste seamed easier than I had anticipated. So, I picked up my phone receiver, dialed the toll-free number (on my rotary phone) and ordered every title listed in that category. The next few days were spent in restless anticipation, waiting for my package. Building a new bookshelf seemed like a reasonable pastime. The package finally arrived, in two separate boxes, and that's how my gambling library was born. I spent the next week or so locked up in my apartment, lounging on the couch, eating nothing but ice cream, while devouring my newly acquired gambling books.

One of the books that was part of my new collection was How They Cheat You at Cards: Mr. Rakeoff in The Provinces, by Eugène Villiod. This book is actually a turn of the century French classic, originally titled Comment on nous Vole au Jeu with a subtitle M. Laratisse en Province. The text was translated into English by Russel T. Barnhart, in 1979, and the English edition was published by GBC Press. The book only cost $6.95, and couldn't be considered a rare book by any stretch of the imagination, but it was always one of my favorites. That's why it was always in the back of my mind that one day I should make some effort to acquire the original French edition. And finally, thanks to the internet, I did manage to find an original edition, which is now part of my ever growing gambling library.

Although the original French edition is a rare book, it is still relatively easy to find. If one is willing to pay the price one can own it with very little effort. I just logged onto and did a quick search, which returned several sources for this book listed at 50€, 75€, 100€ and 150€. I didn't see any differences in the condition of the books so I just bought the one listed at 50€. The book arrived and I am happy.

I am not going to go into any details of this book, but in a nutshell, the book is written as a work of fiction dealing with a real subject, which is card cheating. The author tells us entertaining stories about a fictional Mr. Rakeoff cheating suckers at various card games, which traveling through the provinces of France. The stories are written in an amusing and informative style and some descriptions are complemented with photographs. To find out what this book is all about, the best recommendation I can give you is to read the book.

Anglophone readers who can only benefit from reading the English edition may want to know more about the title and the name of the fictional character, the infamous Mr, Rakeoff.

A more literal translation of the original title, Comment on nous Vole au Jeu, would be How They Rob us at Gambling, but I think Mr. Barnhart's translation makes for a much better sounding title. Also, the name of the main character, M. Laratisse, which Mr. Barnhart translated into Mr. Rakeoff is definitely the best possible translation anyone could come up with.

The name Laratisse is basically a play on words. In French râteau (from Latin rastellus; rastrum) means "a rake" and ratisser is the action of "raking." Since this book is not about gardening it doesn't take a genius to conclude that "raking" is used figuratively. So, in colloquial French ratisser is used in the same sense as the expression "cleaning up" is often used in English. The expression se faire ratisser would be translated into "getting raked off," basically meaning "getting ripped off." So, the imaginary character Monseur Laratisse (which can figuratively be understood as "one that rips people off as if using a rake") can definitely be translated into Mr. Rakeoff.

My copy of Comment on nous Vole au Jeu came from an antiquarian bookstore, in Marseille, France. It is a 1909 first edition in fair condition.

The author Eugène Villiod actually wrote several books on cheating and scams. The book Comment on nous Vole au Jeu is actually a sequel to the 1906 book The Stealing Machine (original French title La Machine à Voler). Both books are highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of crooked gambling.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ās Nās Playing Cards from The Brooklyn Museum

Poker historians always mention the Persian game ās nās as one of the possible predecessors of modern poker. I guess we'll never really know if this theory is correct but that shouldn't prevent us from taking a closer look at the game if the opportunity happens to present itself. Today one such opportunity did present itself to me on my visit to The Brooklyn Museum. As it turns out The Brooklyn Museum happens to have a set of five 19th century ās nās cards on display in the Asian Arts section.

The cards are hand painted and quite beautiful. The label says: Iran, mid-19th century; ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on wood or papier-mâché under lacquered varnish. Since I am not exactly an ās nās expert, by any stretch of the imagination, I think it's best if I just retype the rest of the description posted on the museum label, instead of attempting to write my own.

The full set of cards for the game of ās nās, a gambling game similar to poker, contains twenty cards, with four each of five suits. The suite, in descending order, include the ās (ace); the shāh (king); the bībī (queen); the sarbāz (soldier), represented by one or more soldiers, noblemen, or hunters; and the lakāt, represented by a female of low rank, often a dancer or a servant. Card designs may include traditional and European costumes, floral and vegetal designs, erotic imagery, or mythological creatures. Here, the ās appears in the form of a lion and tiger entwined with a snake-dragon. Ās nās became popular under the Qajars and continued to be played until the end of World War II, when it lost favor to games such as poker, rummy, and bridge.

Although the description on the museum's label states that the ās nās deck consists of 5 suits, other resources state that a full deck consists of either 20 or 25 un-suited cards that consist of 5 court cards, appearing in multiples of 4 or 5, to make up a full deck. I think that's a better description.

Another ās nās deck appears in the collection of playing cards page on my sister site.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

World Series Of Mahjong 2010

The World Series Of Mahjong 2010 just wrapped up at The Venetian Macau. The WSOM, which started in 2006, is said to be gaining in popularity and this year the event brought together 201 players from 11 countries. Since this blog is not a news outlet I don't particularly want to cover the event, but I still think it's a good idea to go over some of the highlights.

Most of the participants came from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. Mahjong Australia, the official partner for the Australian qualifier, brought 27 professional players from Australia. Among them, was a 76 year-old Asian woman, Ms. Wang, who also celebrated her birthday in Macau.

This year, the game format and rules were slightly different than those for the previous WSOM. This year, all players were able to play 6 full sessions or 96 hands before the Final. In addition, prize money was awarded according to their scores instead of rankings, which serves as a good incentive for players. The top 16 players moved on to the Final on Day Three of the Tournament (August 22nd, 2010) and competed for the World Champion title.

This year's World Champion is Mr. Chan Tak-Kwan, a 34-year-old furniture salesperson from Hong Kong, who outlasted the other 200 participants and became the third World Champion from Hong Kong.

Chan Tak-Kwan has been playing mahjong for over ten years. He was encouraged by his friends to participate in the qualifier organized by Blue Girl Beer in Hong Kong, then was sponsored by Blue Girl Beer to participate in the WSOM championship tournament in Macau, and fought his way to the Final Table. He did not perform very well for the first two days of the World Series, and he was originally in the fourth place at the Final Table. However, just like what happened to the 2008 World Champion, Chan fought over the other three players with confidence in the last few hands and changed his fate near the end.

Chan took home a cash prize of HK$180,530 (US$23,200), a World Champion necklace, a unique Venetian mask sponsored by The Venetian Resort-Hotel, and a free seat in the 2011 World Series Of Mahjong.

Those interested in mahjong might also find my previous post Crooked Mahjong Set of some interest.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Luminous Readers: How Many Cards Can I Mark?

One of the most frequently asked questions is: How many cards (decks) can I mark with such and such amount of ink? Luminous inks are expensive and this seems like a reasonable question. But unfortunately, there is no short answer to that question.

First of all, let me explain that luminous inks are usually sold as concentrates. If you get it as a concentrate you will have to mix it down. And I might as well tell you a tip. Since the ink is an expensive purchase it's always a good idea to divide it into several small vials. If you happen to spill your vial of ink, by accident, or if you drop it on the floor, you will not lose the whole amount.

In the following image you can see how the concentrated ink is mixed down into a working vial. If you know how to do it right, you will only need a few drops of ink to mark up a few decks, so you should only mix down a few drops at a time. Also, you will have to work out the proportions. Those will depend on how concentrated the ink was and how strong you want the work to read. Needless to say, professionals typically like light work. But for argument's sake, let's say that your working amount consists of 5 drops of ink and 5 drops of thinner. If you can't go through at least a couple of decks with 10 drops, you are doing something wrong.

One thing that will save you ink is how you design your code. In the following image you see three cards, lined up side by side. The first card will use up twice the amount of ink than the card in the middle. And the last card at the right will use up a fraction of the ink that's been used up to mark the first card.

Now let's look at another example.

All three cards in this example are marked with a diagonal line. However, even if they all bear the same mark, the two cards on the right both use up twice as much ink as the card on the left. The middle card basically has a wider mark, so it uses up twice as much ink as the same line drawn at half the width. And the card at the right side is twice as dark as the card on the left; so even if both bear a mark with exact same dimensions the darker mark uses up twice as much ink.

Those are just some quick examples to help you understand that it's impossible to know how may cards one might be able to mark up with a certain amount of ink. In the above examples it all depends on the design of the code. But there are other factors that also contribute to this.

The worst tool one could use to put luminous marks on the backs of playing cards is a Q-tip. Actually, a Q-tip will produce an excellent mark, so that's not why it's a "bad" tool. But if you want to be saving on ink you definitely don't want to be using a Q-tip.

There are other factors that greatly contribute towards the number of decks one might be able to mark up with a limited amount of ink. However, I don't want to write up an instructional manual. I simply want to say that it's impossible to tell how many decks one might be able to mark up.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

X-Ray Vision Contact Lenses... Real or a Hoax?

About two weeks ago I received an email from a very good friend of mine, asking me to have a look at some contact lenses advertised on a web site of a Chinese crooked gambling distributor. The English description was badly written, but it was still possible to understand what they were trying to say. The company claimed that they had developed revolutionary contact lenses that enable the user to see through paper playing cards. The purpose of seeing through playing cards was to be able to see the print at the face of the cards. The asking price was $6,800. The payment method was Western Union.

My friend asked me to contact the company and try to get more information. First of all, I have to admit that I was very skeptical. But I was also curious to see what would happen if I called the number listed on the site. So I did. To make a story short, I never was able to have an actual conversation with anyone. All the guy ever said was to send him an email. I never had any intention to do so.

Coincidentally, two weeks later I received an email from a CARDSHARK Online member, asking me to comment on some kind of X-ray vision contact lenses. I told him that I was familiar with the site that advertises them, but that I was unable to get in touch with anyone willing to talk on the phone. A few minutes later he sent me a link to a video demo of these contact lenses. I uploaded the video, and here it is.

This video demo is not accessible through the main page that advertises these contact lenses. So, I guess the company sends out an email with the link to anyone inquiring by email.

The video was interesting and it also answered some questions. Now I could see exactly how the ink was visible through the cards. But there was only one problem. I didn't believe a thing. But the video did give me a good idea about the "physics" involved in this latest development in luminous contact lenses.

After seeing the video I had a pretty good idea how these contacts possibly work. Of course, I can never be too sure that my theory is correct, but there's nothing preventing me to do a couple of test and see if I can come up with my own solution. So that's precisely what I did.

It took me about 2 minutes to make my own contact lenses, virtually from scratch, and another 2 minutes to record a video. Then it took me 15 to 20 minutes to edit the video and optimize it for the web. Here's my video. Pretty good, isn't it?

My video also clearly shows how my contact lenses would enable the user to see through playing cards. There's only one problem, though. My video is definitely a complete hoax.

In the next part of this post I will describe exactly how I made my contact lenses and how I shot and edited my video. Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying that the Chinese distributor did the exact same thing. I am simply explaining how I did it.

First of all, my contact lenses aren't even real contact lenses. I simply took an empty soda bottle, cut out part of the curved side below the neck of the bottle and then placed a dime on top and cut-out a circular segment out around it. The small circular cutout looks more or less like a contact lens, on camera. That's good enough for a video.

Next step was to create a couple of images of playing cards, shown in reverse, as would appear if seen through the back of the cards. I simply scanned two cards and flipped the image, then made a color print. Also, I added a special touch. As you can see I slightly blurred the faces of the cards, thinking this would be how the print would appear if seen through paper.

All the remained was to cut-out the printouts and shoot the damn video. Here's a picture that shows all the props that were uses to produce the video demo.

It took me about 2 minutes to record the video. That was pretty straightforward. I simply dealt down three cards (as in the Chinese demo) and passed a contact lens above the cards so the camera could see through it. But once I put the lens back into the case, I didn't stop the camera. I let the camera run while I placed three additional cards right on top of the three initial ones. The additional cards were the two reversed printouts, plus another card face down. Once the additional cards were in place, exactly on top of the initial cards, I let the camera run for a few seconds, then I hit the stop button.

Once I uploaded the recorded video on my hard drive I split it into two separate video files. The first one was the recording of the action shot, showing my hand passing a contact lens over the cards. There was nothing amazing about that shot, as of yet. The second shot was basically a still video recording of three cards laying flat on the table. There was also nothing spectacular about that shot, but once I'd put the two of them together the result would be... interesting, to say the least.

The editing was pretty simple. I basically placed the still recording on a separate layer, under the action shot. Then I used a round mask over the top video layer and tracked the position and size of the round contact lens. I used 45% opacity to blend the two images together through the mask and I also blurred the edge a bit, to make it look more realistic. Once that was all done I used a noise filter to make the video a bit more grainy. That all took 15 to 20 minutes of my time.

Once again, I am not saying that the Chinese vendor recorded their video in the same way. Perhaps they used a different video filter, or perhaps they used a different contact lens. And perhaps their video is not a hoax, at all. But as a general rule I have to see something with my own eyes before I believe it.

There are a few things that don't add up in the whole product description, including the original video demo.

First of all, this is the first crooked gambling gaff that I cannot explain with physics. Any other gaff I've ever seen or heard of makes sense in the universe we live in. But this one seems to have some kind of properties that simply cannot be explained. That's the first thing that stands out and that's the main reason why I simply can't believe the gaff is real.

But let's imagine the gaff is real. There are still some things that don't quite make sense.

The gaff is listed for $6,800. That's not cheap. Does the original demo video look like the kind of video that would be used to advertise a prop of that price range? Why is that video a hand-held camcorder recording of another video that was originally playing on someone's computer screen? Perhaps there's a logical explanation for that.

First of all, a camera recording of a computer screen will produce a lot of artifacts, such as noise, distortion and Moiré patterns. All those artifacts would be helpful if someone wanted to obfuscate some details that one would prefer not to be seen by attentive viewers.

Second, for most part, the second-generation video crops out the face of the demonstrator. His face is only visible for 21 frames (at 30 frames per second). Furthermore, if you freeze-frame the video and look closely, you will notice that the face of the demonstrator is not really visible in those 21 frames. It actually appears as if his mouth and eyes have been blurred-out. Have a look.

In my opinion, if someone had such an amazing product they should also be competent enough to produce a decent video that really shows what their product can do. At least that's the usual way people do business. But what this vendor is doing just happens to be the classic textbook approach how crooks that sell snake oil would traditionally do a presentation of a bogus product. They don't let you see much. instead they let your imagination fill in the blanks. Most people will not like it. But sooner or later a sucker is bound to show up and believe what he wants to believe, just because he's desperate to believe in something that doesn't exist. Smoke and mirrors.

There are some details in the video that don't quite make sense, apart from the fact that there's not physical explanation for X-ray contact lenses. Speaking of, why don't these contact lenses also see through the fabric cover on top of the table?

Nowadays contact lenses are soft. I tried to pick up a couple of regular contact lenses using a pair of tweezers and I was not able to do it quite as seen in the video. Soft contacts simply warp, especially when there's also contact lens solution stuck to the surface. In fact, that's the reason why I made my contact lens out of rigid plastic cut out from a soda bottle.

Also, contact lenses are curved and reflective. Nowhere in the original video am I able to spot a reflection that would give the impression that the surface is curved. The contact lens looks like a round cutout window through which we can see the bottom layer, just like the special effect editing I produced (in fact my editing looks better).

Furthermore, when you remove a contact lens from a liquid a lot of that liquid remains stuck on the lens. When I was recording my video I was having trouble getting the liquid to slide off the lens. As a result I noticed that droplets of water were stuck to the contact lens, creating additional "lenses" that were creating distortions as I looked through it. That's not present in the original video, although I was able to preserve some of that natural effect in my video.

If you watch the original video frame by frame you may be able to see that some red spots show up on the tip of the tweezers, as they pass over the center card (which appears to be the 8 of hearts). If special effects were used the red hearts may have bled through parts of the upper payer. A sloppy editor may be too lazy to fix it.

I could continue this list, but the most important thing is that the whole thing doesn't really make sense. What kind of illumination goes through the card, then bounces back from the printed ink at the face of the card and then passed through the card again on its way up and makes a clear picture of an image printed with ink. If that illumination can go through paper why doesn't it also just go through the print, too? After all, it seems to be passing though the print of the back design without any trouble.

Also, if illumination that can be seen with human eyes passes though cards, how come it doesn't get filtered while passing through paper? If it did get filtered the images would not show up exactly red and black.

If one wanted to give these guys the benefit of a doubt one may say that they could have produced a video simulation of what these contact lenses do in real life. One may say that the company didn't want to reveal too much, so they chose to make a fake video and that the video is just fake to protect the secret. That is a theoretical possibility.

However, Chinese crooked gambling distributors have some history with their web sites. Many years ago I found a Chinese site that advertised luminous contact lenses and some other gaffs. The images they used on their site, supposedly to show their own products, were images they lifted from my site, without my permission. They also used images of my prism shoes to advertise prism shoes that they supposedly sold. One should wonder, if they really sold these products, wouldn't they be able to just take their own pictures of their own products? Why lift images from the web?

That site eventually disappeared and another site appeared, under a different URL. That new site bore a striking resemblance to the former site. But this one didn't use my images. Instead they used generic images of contact lenses that could easily be found through Google. And this time they used eBay images of dealing shoes to advertise prism shoes. The images were of clear shoes; meaning the faceplate was 100% clear. The idea of a prism shoe (i.e. second dealing shoe) with a clear faceplate is simply ludicrous.

There were other instances with other sites that looked more or less the same, but I stopped paying attention. Every now and then someone would send me an email, letting me know that my materials were showing up on Chinese sites. I didn't care.

Back to the X-ray contact lenses.

We have to ask the question, what could anyone possibly stand to gain by making a hoax presentation of a product that doesn't exist? The answer to that one is very simple.

One of the greatest con men of all times, Victor Lustig, made a name for himself after it became known that he had managed to sell the Eiffel Tower, not once but twice. The Eiffel Tower did exist, it just wasn't his to sell. But good old uncle Victor also managed to sell a money duplicating machine, also more than once. That machine never existed, but that didn't stop him from collecting a few payments from a few clients that really wanted to have it.

If the Chinese site is a hoax the logical explanation would be that the site is very likely to disappear without a trace, as soon as too many suckers get mad and put the word out that they've been had. Whom would they complain to, anyway? Would they report the site to the Chinese authorities, explaining that they've been cheated while trying to buy cheating equipment to cheat others?

I really have no proof that the Chinese site is a hoax and I am not saying that it is. But if it is a hoax they probably do sell some of the other products that they advertise. After all, I do own a Chinese crooked mahjong set that came from one of those distributors.

I don't know why I'm such a skeptic, but I never believed in the impossible. So, I don't believe in this product either, especially when there are too many other explanation that are anything but impossible.

I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to add a set of X-ray vision contacts to your collection of crooked gambling gaffs. But for $6,800 you might as well spend a couple of thousand dollars more and visit the Great Wall of China, and arrange for a live demo. I definitely wouldn't recommend sending that kind of cash via Western Union, to some guy that sells cheating equipment, for a product that sounds too good to be true.

PS - I also put together a video that shows my original video recording next to the doctored version, X-Ray Vision Contacts... Exposé of Hoax Video.