Friday, January 31, 2014

How to Lose Less Money at the Casino

If there is one thing in life that I have come to know very well, it’s that nobody has any freaking clue how slot machines actually work.  Or, no one has had a confident enough answer to sway me. Either way, I have a feeling this may be true of others, which is why I’m writing this (and cause im feeling a bit nerdish and just want to research something.) If you asked me three days ago when the next time I thought I was going to be in a casino, I would have told you “Probably not anytime soon.” But when you are visiting friends in Lake Tahoe and have a couple drinks, you might find yourself at say, Montbleu Casino and Resort later that night, because life can just kinda happen like that. It’s the impromptu times like these where I hope my little guide can make you some money (but more realistically, help you lose LESS money.) In just a few minutes, you will at least know the basics of how slot machines work, and can hopefully gain some advantage if/when you play them. I hope you guys are excited as I am.

It is not only notable but also very interesting that 70% of the average US casino’s income comes from slot machines. I guess it kinda makes sense when you think about all those old, decrepit people wasting away in front of these things. Anyways, the first mechanized gambling machine was released in New York in 1891 by these two dudes. It contained 5 drums that spun and revealed one playing card for each drum after each spin. So basically it was like a super ghetto version of video poker, with the objective being to get the best hand. The slot machine as we know it today was released by this other dude named Charles Fey in San Francisco. Gambling historians say Fey’s was released in 1895 but there is some disagreement on that date. Either way, Fey’s machine eventually won the test of time because it reduced the complexity of payouts. The original gambling machine had too many different ways to win to have a completely automatic payout system. Feys machine used three reels with five symbols (you know, the ones with bells and cherries and sh*t) so it was much easier to pay out.

You are most likely to come across a hybrid machine these days when you play slots. They have elements of the old “one-armed bandits” (such as the arm you pull on the side of the machine to actuate it) but usually feature a video screen you manipulate with buttons or a touchscreen.  Why pull the arm when you can lose your money faster with a button?  These electronic slots also feature multiple pay lines as opposed to the single pay line of the old school machines…..which also makes it seem a hell of a lot more confusing.

Modern slot machines are designed to pay out a certain percentage of the money that is wagered by the gamblers. The payout percentage is either established by law or regulation, and varies by state. In Nevada, the minimum payout is 75%. In New Jersey, it is 83%. So there is some difference there. But, hold up a sec, these payout percentages are for the LIFE of the machine, not for every wager. Im not exactly sure how they determine the life of the machines, but that’s cool because even if you knew the life, you wouldn’t know how far along the “payout percentage schedule” it is, and wouldn’t be helpful at all in determining a strategy.

Hopefully this isn’t news to you, but it is founded in mathematics that you will have a negative expected return when you play slots and table games in the long run. These games are also known as “unbeatable.” Unless you are the MIT blackjack team or the dude who marked cards with radioactive isotopes and wore a Geiger counter, there is no edge you can employ when you enter the casino. The slots use a PRNG (or pseudo-random number generator) which can be defined as the thing that protects the house from people figuring out the outcome of spins before they spin. Here are a few basic tips you can use to help mitigate losses:
·         Play the lowest denomination- Yes they have worse odds, but since you are destined to lose, it’s actually advantageous if you want to save money while playing
·         Choose the smaller jackpot machines-apparently you will win more in the short-term
·         Avoid video machines- you end up paying for all those flashy animations in the form of reduced odds
·         Use a player’s club card- “Free” meals and rooms? Hell yeah!

But really, the best strategy is to have a set limit that you can lose, check out the paytable at your machine, drink as much top shelf as possible and just enjoy yourself. Casinos closely guard their PARS (Paytable and Reel Strip Sheets,) which means unless leaked, the public will never know the proprietary probabilities for the various brands of machines.  Something else to consider: learn table games! They are much more fun (see: less depressing,) you are interacting with humans, the odds are generally better if you know basic strategy, and they take longer so you can make your money last longer. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Profile of a Whistleblower

Originally, I was going to write this blog about something completely different. When I was doing preliminary research on the topic (South Sea Company,) I realized I had opened up a can worms I did not want to tackle on a beautiful Saturday in Hermosa Beach. So screw that. But as I was reading the news this morning at the local coffee watering hole, the new topic came to me.

I studied accounting in college, and as any post-Enron business student knows, business ethics are hit very hard in every class, even in CIS courses, but accounting especially. We learned about some of the great business whistleblowers, and about what moral courage is (eliminating the disconnect between awareness of fraud, and taking action against fraud.)  There is extreme pressure to be a whistleblower, but there is also extreme pressure to not be a whistleblower. Even with whistleblower protection laws, I have heard stories of people not being able to work in the industry they blew the whistle on ever again because who wants to hire a potential liability?

So when I was reading these articles about data collection and the NSA, I started thinking about why Edward Snowden was the only one who blew the whistle? Like, don’t a bunch of other fools work at the NSA too? Don’t they care about the same types of liberties you and I do? Or are they some elite class of people who live a life of sinister grandiose, that the devil in my head sometimes wants me to believe? This interest led me to want to write a short biography of Snowden, to see if we can mine some data about what qualities he possessed that made him speak up, when certainly some of his other colleagues could have as well. So here goes:  

Edward Snowden was born in North Carolina on June 21, 1983 to what I imagine are some wonderful, loving parents. Blah blah blah. I’m not here to tell you what you can easily find on Wikipedia, I’d rather spend our time analyzing Snowden’s specific actions and his thoughts.
Ed’s father described him in a post-leak interview as "a sensitive, caring young man", and "a deep thinker." Of course his dad would say that about him you say, but let me take you to an example from Snowden himself, that I believe really exemplifies the “sensitive, caring young man” part.

When asked by Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian during the Hong Kong interview, "Have you given thought to what it is that the US government's response to your conduct is in terms of what they might say about you, how they might try to depict you, what they might try to do to you?" Snowden replied with this gem of pure selflessness and compassion:

"…But if you realize that that's the world you helped create and it's gonna get worse with the next generation and the next generation who extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk and it doesn't matter what the outcome is so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that's applied."

That blew my socks off watching him say that in the interview. Like, goodbye friends and family, goodbye USA, goodbye six figure salary, and goodbye normal life as you knew it. He could have sold the information to any agency in the world, anonymously and would have been rewarded handsomely. Instead, he did what he believed was most democratic and gave US the option to decide how we felt about it, at the expense of HIS life. Not only did he choose to leak the information openly because he felt he had nothing to hide, he also wanted to protect his co-workers from a witch hunt and accept full responsibility from the get-go.  What a stud.

In conclusion, it appears Snowden was able to do what he did because he possessed a supreme combination of “having a heart” and having the focus to become exceptional at computer science. Pretty basic isn’t it? Maybe he was born with it, or was it the Maybelline?

"You can't come forward against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk because they're such powerful adversaries. No one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they'll get you in time. But at the same time you have to make a determination about what it is that's important to you. And if living unfreely but comfortably is something you're willing to accept, and I think it many of us are it's the human nature; you can get up everyday, go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest, and go to sleep at night after watching your shows."
-Edward Snowden, 2013