Gambling and chance based games have existed for a long time, and ever since there have been players who have looked for a way to turn the odds in their favour, or to find a guaranteed method for winning. Ordinarily people would have used superstition by choosing family birthdates when picking their lottery or roulette numbers, but in more recent times gamblers have turned to science. Many have wondered if using academic theory would show a way to exploit loopholes in games and make it possible to capitalise on them.
There was a famous case of this in 1992 when Stefan Klincewicz and 27 collaborators targeted the Irish National Lottery. At this point there was a rollover jackpot of £1.7 million, while they worked out that it would cost £1million to buy every single combination of lottery tickets, thus guaranteeing them a win. Few would ever have dreamed that a simple mathematical calculation would guarantee a lottery jackpot win. More than a million ticket purchases (all filled out by hand) had to be carried out and although the National Lottery attempted to foil their plans, they still managed to win a £300,000 profit when the draw was made. Lotto then quickly changed the odds and limit of ticket sales per person to prevent them being victim to brute force again.
Blackjack is another game that can be beaten with strategy. A group of army statisticians found that you could play the game by losing a mere 0.6% per hand. Physicist Edward Thorp worked out that because blackjack deals are not independent of each other it was possible to keep track of what cards has been played that allows players to spot potential situations of profit and adjust their bets accordingly. Thorp’s theory was used on a grand scale by the infamous MIT Blackjack Team who took Las Vegas for almost $1 million dollars.
This technique is known as card counting and while it is not illegal, many casinos frown upon it and reserve the right to ban a player from their premises. The many reviews of live casinos
indicate which brands offer live video blackjack and therefore offer an opportunity for card counting from the comfort of a player’s own home without getting caught. This would only work with video poker and not regular online blackjack where each hand is independent from the next.
In the late 70’s a group of physicists took a hidden computer into Nevada casinos
in order to collect data on spins and look out for worn out tables that showed any bias towards certain numbers. Two students from Chicago then travelled to Reno in the search for biased roulette wheels and from one holiday they made enough to buy a yacht and go sailing around the Caribbean. Casinos have since become wise to this and removed all biased wheels and remain vigilant in replacing them.
Since then physicists have used more sophisticated computers to gather information on the spin of the roulette ball and used the computer to predict where the ball would land based on physics. By the time that bets were closes they had an average 20% advantage over the house. A similar computer was reportedly used in 2004 to win £1.2 million the Ritz Casino in London.