Monday, November 11, 2002

Vegas Matrix: An utterly absorbing article on Vegas is posted over at Popular Science. It's about seven pages long and it's packed with fascinating info on how Vegas operates beneath the surface.
What made Budz rich, and what has made casinos even richer in recent years, are new digital networks that connect virtually every slot machine in every casino in the country. Wheel of Fortune, for instance, is part of the MegaJackpots system, a network within 18 states and one Native American reservation that encompasses more than 8,000 machines, about half of them in Nevada. Because all these slots are wired together, every coin and bill inserted is monitored and tallied by banks of central computers, often hundreds of miles away. The maximum jackpot, advertised in flashing digits above each cluster of machines, mounts identically and simultaneously with each spin.
All this networking has allowed for a hidden revolution in odds (which I'm not sure I'm clear on).
Every game - slots, cards, sports betting, even bingo - is now attempting to adapt a [Norwegian mathematician Inge] Telnaes-style solution: Decrease the odds without increasing apparent complexity. That allows bigger prizes, which increases - by staggering quantities - the amount of money people are willing to gamble: In gambler-think, 10 bucks for a shot at a few thousand dollars is one thing; a hundred bucks for a shot at millions is another, even if the odds are much, much worse.
The result of this was the money began pouring into Vegas even faster - and so did cheaters.
[No thieves were more efficient] than Ronald Dale Harris, whose job as a software engineer for the state Gaming Control Board was to write slot machine anti-cheating software. Harris surreptitiously coded a hidden software switch - tripped by inserting coins in a predetermined sequence - that would trigger cash jackpots. After retooling more than 30 machines, Harris and accomplices made the rounds, walking away with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So the casino build up counter-measures
...hundreds of cameras linked to banks of video recorders, software that can match physical characteristics to shared databases of the faces, names, and histories of suspicious individuals - all run from hidden control centers.
And so it goes. Good read. Enjoy.