Winning at Roulette

May 27, 2005

My buddy Guido is the king of the grand scheme. You could give him a pile of six week old dog turds, and he could dream up a way to get rich -- or at least to make a decent profit -- from said dog turds.

Guido was a year ahead of me in the Electrical Engineering program at LSU, but he finally found his true calling a year or two ago as a slumlord in New Orleans. It's a perfect fit. Where you or I would see a property that should be bulldozed he sees a decent home for poor people.


(Actually, that last sentence makes him seem a lot more noble than I think he really is, but that's how it came out, so I'll just leave it alone.)

Anyway, I had heard second hand about a scheme that he had to get over on the big casinos. I scoffed. I don't think Guido is going to fit in with the Asian MIT students in their card counting game.

To my surprise, he outlined his idea to me last time we were in Vegas, and perhaps due to the super-oxygenated environment or the liquor, or perhaps because the idea is solid, it started to make sense. The jist of it is something like this:

Roulette wheels are made by men, or by machines made by men. Suppose the dividers between numbers wasn't exactly equal. Or suppose that the wheel was ever-so-slightly bent. In case, there would be numbers where over a large enough set of samples would be favored. And if you played those numbers over and over, you would have good days and bad days, but in the long run, you would come out ahead.

I chalked this up as an interesting intellectual argument and went home thinking nothing more about it.

This week, I caught a show about a family of Spaniards who had the same idea, and put the theory to work. They tracked tens of thousands of results on different wheels in European casinos, and then went out every day and played the biases. They attempted to look like tourists, starting with small bets and working their way up. They made enough money to get booted from all of the major casinos in Europe.

Then they brought the scheme to Vegas. They ran the same drill, and they made piles of cash. Just as the casino security people started to catch on to them, the ringleader collapsed from nerves and exhaustion after an all night roulette binge and luck turned bad. They retired, but went home with around a million bucks of profit.

The television show didn't answer my biggest question: how did they track ten thousands spin results without being noticed? I can see how you would get several hundred, just by walking by and looking at the screen that displays past results, but ten thousand?

That's where Guido has them trumped. He ropes his tenants into going to the New Orleans casinos and writing down numbers that come up. I have no idea how he knows they aren't screwing him. qxzxx