It doesn’t matter how good you think you are at gaming the system, casino games are very carefully designed to make sure you lose more money than you win. Whether you’re talking about slot machines in Vegas or scratch-offs bought at a gas station, it’s all a big scam to take advantage of our human inability to calculate probability.
But over time, a few rare people have managed to beat the house in creative and/or hilarious ways. And the best part? These were all completely legal! Sort of.
There Is a Dice-Throwing Technique That Will Let You Beat Craps
Craps is a unique game because it’s the only one where the casino trusts you to throw the dice yourself. You’re allowed to hold, shuffle, and throw them however you want, even rub them on your ass crack and sing a prayer to Zuul the Gatekeeper of Gozer if that’s what your superstition commands. The only stipulation is that the dice have to hit the far side of the table. That’s because they know that the craps tables look like they were designed by Frank Gehry.
See, those rubber pyramids along the edges are supposed to send the dice flying all over the place, so that any fancy dice-throwing technique you come up with will do nothing but give you a sad, pathetic illusion of control. Unless, that is, you’re someone like Dominic “The Dominator” LoRiggio.
He claims to have cracked dice physics in such a way as to command the result of a dice throw, rubber pyramids or not. For the low low price of $149.50, he’ll teach you how to do it. Or, you can just continue reading this article for free, because we’re about to tell you. Basically, in craps, you mostly want to avoid rolling a seven. The longer you can go without rolling seven, the more money you make. Dominator’s technique involves holding the dice like this, so no two sides add up to seven:
The idea is that the dice land flat on the table, transferring most of the energy to the table surface. By the time their journey reaches the table edge, they’re exhausted and just want to lay down with a good book, so the pyramids just sort of nudge them instead of bouncing them around.
Apparently, the theory is sound if you can do it correctly. A guy with the pseudonym “Stanford Wong” joined the seminar, practiced 5,000 throws, then bet people he could beat the odds and roll less than 80 sevens in 500 rolls. He rolled 74 sevens and won $15,400. Stanley Fujitake is another person who claimed to master the robotic precision required, and by “claimed” we mean he made $30,000 rolling the dice for 3 hours straight — 118 rolls without rolling a seven.
Of course, there’s no magic trick here (other than “get really good at rolling dice”) and you probably have to be willing to lose a shitload of money while you practice. Unless you buy your own craps table to practice on, we suppose, but there’s a good chance that’s going to result in your family staging an intervention.
You Can Learn to Read the Backs of Playing Cards (Sometimes)
In 2012, professional poker champion Phil Ivey Rain-Manned the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City without possessing any high-end math skills. All he did was pay very close attention to the back of the playing cards:
The pattern of white dots were, of course, the same from one card to the next. But, Ivey noticed that they weren’t perfectly centered — the row of white dots on one side of the card was thinner than the other, due to a minute error when the cards were cut during manufacturing.
On the surface, this wouldn’t seem to be terribly helpful. But let’s say you could take all of the aces in a deck and spin them around 180 degrees — you would then have a way to figure out which cards were aces just by looking at the backs (as long as the dealer never rotates them again, or changes decks). So actually taking advantage of this little trick required an elaborate, ridiculous charade on Ivey’s part.
First, keep in mind that Ivey is what casinos call a “whale.” Not because his table etiquette involves a family bucket of KFC, but because he’s a bottomless pit of money, and high-rollers with gambling addictions are basically what keep casinos in operation. So he was able to use the promise of a huge profit to negotiate with the casino to get a baccarat game set up just the way he wanted. In exchange for gambling a million dollars, he would get his own private table and have the cards shuffled by an automatic shuffler (to avoid having a dealer screw up his scheme by turning the cards). He also requested a Mandarin-speaking dealer for no discernible reason (Ivey is not Chinese) other than making the whole thing seem like as much of an Ocean’s 11 caper as possible.
With all the pieces thus in place, the heist could begin. Ivey would start at low stakes, losing money while studying the backs of the cards. Then, citing superstition, his accomplice would ask the dealer to deal cards a certain way. If the card was a high-value card, she’d tell the dealer “Hao” (Mandarin for “good card”) and instructed the dealer to turn it over like you normally would. If the card was of low value, she’d say “Buhao” (“bad card”), and ask the dealer to turn it sideways, meaning it would wind up rotated 180 degrees when placed back in the deck. At that point, Ivey just needed to stay at that table long enough to get all of the cards “marked” the way he wanted, playing a bunch of low-stakes hands to get through the decks.
At that point, Ivey upped the stakes to the maximum and started trouncing the casino, supposedly winning $2.4 million in 16 hours of play. He repeated this several times months apart at the same casino, and when they got suspicious he allegedly lost $2 million of his $3.5 million winnings just to throw the casino off the scent.
Ivey has remained tight-lipped about his antics, making vague admissions while maintaining that what he does is a legitimate way to play cards (it’s a common enough tactic that there’s a name for it — “edge sorting”). After all, is it his fault that the card factory has poor quality control? Well, Borgata sued him (it’s still before the court) and in October 2014, a British court told him to return over $12 million to a London casino where he tried the same thing. So if you’re gonna do it, you’ve got to be discreet, is what we’re saying.
You Can Get an Edge in Blackjack by Distracting the Dealer (With Boobs)
Don Johnson (not the guy from Miami Vice) is, like the guy above, a whale. And, like the guy above, casinos don’t like Johnson much because he just keeps winning all the time. So he’s one of the bad whales, like Moby Dick, or those evil alien whales in Star Trek IV.
Anyway, Johnson figured out a lot of tips to gain the upper hand at the casino over the years, but one of his techniques is exploiting dealer error. The game of blackjack, for example, requires dealers to be pretty quick with their math, since it’s all about collecting cards that add up to 21 (just one over, and you lose). Dealer errors — like if the dealer mistakenly adds a losing 22 hand up to 21 — can get you all sorts of perks, from a free bet to just paying you out for the hand anyway.
There are extensive guides dealing with how to maximize the chance of such errors. Tips range from playing during the graveyard shifts, to distracting the dealer with unrelated questions, to exuding an unpleasant smell. And Johnson, well, he would do everything from intimidating the dealers by angrily staring at them, to using his clout to hire scantily dressed porn stars to pretend to be his girlfriends just to boobsmack the dealer into a quivering mess.
Hey, laugh all you want, but this is coming from a “whale” who once won $15 million in a single weekend. So if you’re ever at the casino and see a guy “accidentally” slap his dick onto the table while the dealer is trying to declare a winner, that’s why.
Now, if you prefer your cheats to involve less wacky shenanigans and more science, well …
You Can Beat Some Lottery Games With Brute Force
The lottery is an attractive way to gamble, not just because of the huge jackpots, but because losing your life savings at a rate of two bucks a week isn’t as noticeable as losing it in one bad hand at the poker table. But the odds of winning a lottery jackpot are still tens of millions to one, which is roughly the probability of having a meteorite made of gold land right in your pocket while you’re strolling down the sidewalk.
Still, an MIT senior named James Harvey figured out a way to rig the lottery in his favor by using book smarts, which are the natural enemy of gambling magnates everywhere. His solution came from the fact that some lotteries use a “roll-down” system. That means that if no one person wins the jackpot (by guessing all six numbers), then the amount is equally distributed among those who guessed four or five numbers, which is statistically easier to do. Harvey simply realized that one person could still theoretically win the jackpot if they owned all of those less impressive tickets.
He tested his theory on the Massachusetts “Cash WinFall” state lottery, which sold tickets for $2, paid out $2 million, and offered odds of 9,366,819 to 1. What that means is that you’d have to buy around 10 million tickets ($20 million total) to rig the jackpot in your favor, but then you’d only win back a 10th of your investment and whatever the price of smug satisfaction is. Harvey figured out, however, that the odds of guessing four or five numbers ran at a more comfortable 39,028 to 1.
So, Harvey and a few friends pooled together $1,000 to buy 500 tickets and see where the odds took them. Even with enough tickets to fill a bathtub, they still only had a few winners with three or four out of six numbers. But after the roll-down, these tickets nabbed them $3,000, three times what they invested.
Over time, the operation grew when more MIT students heard about how Harvey had gamed the system, and turned cracking the lottery into a profitable enterprise. It’s estimated that Harvey’s syndicate spent between $17 and 18 million on lottery tickets over seven years, and made over $3 million profit — not a bad return on what must have been quite a bit of time spent standing at the counter of convenience stores.
It didn’t take long for lottery officials to find out about the scheme, but since Harvey and co weren’t technically cheating, and the lottery was still making the same profit, they didn’t do anything about it until some journalists started snooping into the suspicious fact that the same group of students kept winning the lottery every week, after which the officials quietly discontinued the game. We said it above, and we’ll say it again: once you discover your system, don’t get greedy.
And while we’re on the subject of beating the lotto …
Some Scratch Ticket Games Are Predictable … If You Know What to Look For
Mohan Srivastava, a Canadian statistician, was cleaning out his desk when he discovered an old gag gift from a friend — scratch tickets. Apparently, this is how statisticians play pranks on each other, because any true statistician knows that scratch tickets aren’t worth shit. But after winning three bucks on one of the tickets, he got to wondering how he could crack the scratch ticket code, which sounds like the plot to a Dan Brown novel after he’s far beyond running out of ideas.
What occurred to him is that scratch tickets cannot be produced randomly, because that would enable the possibility of randomly generating a dozen billion-dollar winners that would crash the system. No, there had to be a pattern. And Srivastava, being a statistician worth his salt, accidentally solved the pattern on his lunch break.
He turned his attention to a specific game — basically a tic-tac-toe game that asks the player to match a series of visible numbers against the numbers under the scratchable coating. It takes a bit of math knowledge to understand exactly what he did, but in short, Srivastava discovered that the frequency of the visible numbers gave insight into what numbers appeared under the scratch zone — and he became so good at predicting it that he didn’t even have to scratch his tickets to know if he’d won. And, unlike the techniques above that just gave players a slight edge over the house, Srivastava’s technique was 90 percent accurate. The more he bought, the more he’d win, until somebody caught on.
So how much did this guy take the system for, now that he had his infinite money cheat?
Zero. Being Canadian, Srivastava didn’t use his mathematical scratch-hacking to become a millionaire, but instead politely reported his findings to Scratch Ticket Headquarters so they could correct it, presumably apologizing the whole time for his nosiness. That’s right, kids — he won the greatest lottery of all. The lottery of human kindness. Or, he was just getting them to let their guard down so he could take them for a much greater sum down the line; keep an eye on him.