Whatever you think of gambling, its regulations are mesmerizing. Gambling is outlawed in one way or another in all 50 states, but almost all — except Hawaii (surprisingly) and Utah (less so) — have exceptions. Most offer state-run lotteries. Thirty allow Indian casinos. Seventeen have full-scale non-Indian casinos (New York and Massachusetts are poised to join that group.) In each case, government officials limit the number of casinos and determine where they will be located. … Economically speaking, these anticasino regulations are the single greatest profit generator for casino operators. By limiting the number and location, and therefore artificially keeping the market underserved, governments essentially guarantee outsize profits for those in business. (The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which limits cab licenses, ensures a similar regulatory oligopoly, as do many state liquor-distribution regulators.) If there were unlimited licenses, each casino operator would have to compete — like every restaurant or movie theater — with all the others.
Most cities exist as a consequence of commercial or strategic utility. Atlantic City is more of a proposition and a ploy. The town fathers of Cape May, the first American seaside resort, weren’t interested in a railway, or perhaps the class of people who’d ride in on one—the well-to-do arrived from Philadelphia by boat—so a group of investors built, in 1854, what became known as a “railroad to nowhere,” to a spot a little way up the coast that was more or less the shortest possible distance from Philadelphia to the sea. Over the decades, and with the industrial-era advent of leisure time and disposable income, this forsaken wedge of salt marsh and sand became “the world’s playground”—a crucible of conspicuous consumption and a stage for the aspirations and masquerades of visitors and entrepreneurs. In some respects, Atlantic City was where America learned how to turn idle entertainment into big business. For a while, it was home to some of the world’s grandest hotels (the Marlborough-Blenheim was the largest reinforced-concrete building in the world, and was later imploded in the music video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”), as well as some of its more ardent iniquities and diversions. The night clubs were as often as not fronts for backroom gambling halls, intermittently tolerated by the authorities. ... Legalized gambling was supposed to rescue the city from its obsolescence as a resort and convention town ... When word gets out that a city is on the skids, people seem eager to imagine post-apocalyptic desolation, a rusting ruin at Ozymandian remove from the glory days. But American cities don’t seem to die that way. They keep sopping up tax dollars and risk capital, thwarting big ideas and emergency relief, chewing up opportunists and champions. ... “We will keep it in litigation for years. No one will get Revel.”
Grosjean specializes in finding vulnerable games like the one in Shawnee. He uses his programming skills to divine the odds in various situations and then develops strategies for exploiting them. Only two questions seemed to temper his confidence in taking on this particular game. How long would they be allowed to play before being asked to leave? How much money would they be able to win? ... Many casino executives despise gamblers like Grosjean. They accuse him of cheating. Yet what he does is entirely legal. ... because regulated casino gambling now takes place in at least 40 states, casinos compete for customers in part by introducing new games, some of which turn out to be vulnerable. ... Common advantage-play techniques include “hole carding,” in which sharp-eyed players profit from careless dealers who unwittingly reveal tiny portions of the cards; “shuffle tracking,” or memorizing strings of cards in order to predict when specific cards will be dealt after they are next shuffled; and counting systems that monitor already dealt cards in order to estimate the value of those that remain in the deck. ... Teams of advantage players — which usually require one person to bet and another to spot dealers’ hole cards (those turned down and not supposed to be seen), track shuffles or count cards — have become so prevalent that they often find themselves in the same casino, at the same time, targeting the same game.
Carleo wasn't without models for how a man might get ahead in life. "My father, my stepfather, my uncle – they all had money. Nice suits, nice cars, nice houses," Carleo says. "But they all worked hard to get it. Me, I didn't have time for that. I was too impatient." ... Eventually he began plowing all his money into buying up rental properties, signing for loans with balloon payments that would kick in after a couple of years. When the financial crisis hit, Carleo was left holding the bag on a series of underwater mortgages. Now deeply in debt, he was forced to sell his own house and let the properties go into foreclosure. In May of 2009 he filed for bankruptcy. A few months later Carleo scraped together $30,000 by liquidating what remained of his possessions and made the 12-hour drive to Vegas to start his new life. ... By robbing the Bellagio, Carleo had achieved something he hadn't been able to do in a decade of striving – he had made himself a millionaire. But, because he had stolen chips instead of cash, he was really only a millionaire inside the Bellagio casino. He would have to park his car in the casino's garage, ride the casino's elevator and walk the casino's marble floors under the watchful eyes of thousands of cameras. He would have to hand the casino's chips to the casino's cashiers and hope that they would give him money rather than call the police. And because trying to redeem too many chips at once might bring unwanted attention, he would have to do it over and over again.
They use phones to record video of a vulnerable machine in action, then transmit the footage to an office in St. Petersburg. There, Alex and his assistants analyze the video to determine when the games’ odds will briefly tilt against the house. They then send timing data to a custom app on an agent’s phone; this data causes the phones to vibrate a split second before the agent should press the “Spin” button. By using these cues to beat slots in multiple casinos, a four-person team can earn more than $250,000 a week. ... Determined to find a way to score one last payday before shutting down his enterprise, Alex reached out to Aristocrat Leisure, an Australian slot machine manufacturer whose vulnerable products have been his chief targets. ... ideally, a PRNG should approximate the utter unpredictability of radioactive decay.