May 2009
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Today’s video is brought to you by the colour red and the number 13

Online gambling… probably rigged… yada yada yada.  I had 13 straight roulette spins landing on red.

Unfortunately I didn’t record the action itself, but I made this video of scrolling through my session results history afterwards.  Just hit the play button and count along.

It’s like thousands to one against.

To be more precise, 8191-1 for a streak of either colour, or 4095-1 for either streak (because I’d still be writing this if it had been 13 blacks).

It’s not astronomical odds, but it’s enough to make you sit up and take notice.

Also, I was betting on red, even, low.  Only five numbers lose everything: 29, 31, 33, 35 and 0.  Losing 3 times in a row is a 404-1 shot, yet that’s what happened right before the 13 reds: 31, 31, 0.

Also, if you didn’t notice, the last 7 numbers were red and odd.

Draw your own wild conclusions.  Conspiracy theories are always welcome.

Gambling – :thumbup: Erick Lindgren likes this

The Facebook of poker shirts.

Photo gratuitously borrowed from Wicked Chops Poker, it’s just too good.

Next time remind me to take the fiver

It’s time for another randomly-generated-by-computer-using-a-secret-magic-formula virtual game from Sporting Index, which I’m only playing because they promised to refund up £50 of my losses.

To qualify for the refund, I have to place 10 or more bets at a minimum 20p per point stake.  After grinding through the first 9, I was £5.43 up.  Reasonable, but not enough to make it worth quitting just yet when I was in a situation where I could place a bet worth up to £55.43 and have it cost me no more than £5.43.

I don’t actually know where I should draw the line here.  Free money in the bank is good, but the chance of a better return for almost no risk is obviously attractive.  I think if I’d won £20 before qualifying for the refund, I’d probably be bottling it and taking their money even though it’s almost certainly in my favour to keep playing.

If I knew how the game worked, I could make an informed decision on how best to play this bonus through, but when the game is themed to look like a real world event, yet the outcomes are calculated in a way that you’re not meant to understand, you just have to trust that it’s not completely rigged.

I’m pretty confident that Sporting Index would not be associated with an outright scam, and although the game is surely very juicy for them, I’m assuming that it has a house edge somewhat smaller than 90%.  In which case letting my fiver ride is a good play.

The game in question is a random number generator painted to look a bit like the stock market.  You get to pick from three made up currency exchanges, each with its own degree of simulated volatility.

Then you can bet on one or more of the following markets.  I’ve condensed the display down after selecting a direction for each one to show the best and worst case scenario for each bet.

There are two distinct types of bets here: ones with a small downside and a large potential upside, and those where the swings are roughly the same size in either direction.

Of course, to win big money from any spread bet you need an extremely unusual event to occur.  Usually the result will be fairly close to the spread itself, resulting in a (relatively) small win or a small loss.

This is not great for exploiting a net loss refund offer.  Ideally we want to take one shot where we either lose the maximum (in this case lose £55.43, ending up with a net loss of £50, which will be refunded in full) or win something significant.

To play out the promotion, I decided to take the highest price bet.  Lowest price or even swing would have pretty much the same effect, but it just felt right to be cheering for the imaginary graph to be rise upwards rather than downwards.

With a stake of £2.21 per point (maximum risk: £55.25, maximum win: £828.75) and buying the market at 5025 here’s what happened:

Yeah I couldn’t work it out either.  It’s the blue line that matters, but even so… I had to let it tell me the result and trust that it was right.  Apparently I lost £30.94.

Looking at this chart a little bit closer, it was almost impossible to pick a winner this time.  The swing on the green line may have just got there, but I don’t think any of these graphs moved enough to cover the spread in either direction.  From the house’s point of view, it’s almost as good as a roulette wheel throwing up a zero.

It’s not all over though.  I could still have another £24.49 of losses refunded, so although the chances of getting back into the black were slim there was nothing to lose by taking another shot.

Same bet, slightly cheaper.  Buying the blue line for 98p per point: maximum risk £24.50, maximum win £367.50.

Awesome.  Lost another £17.64.

It’s not actually the extent of the downward plummet that’s bad for this bet, it’s that the graph never went much above its starting value. But the extreme downswing does rub it in a little, and it means that if I’d put money on either lowest price or swing – the two other candidates for this bet – I’d have been back in the game.

So, one more last, desperate effort.  Could I climb out of a £43.15 hole with just £6.85 left to play with?

Maximum loss: £6.75, actual loss £6.48.  That would be a no then. 

Look after the pennies

Gala.  Giving away money again.  This is not how casinos are meant to operate.

I deposited £10 for today’s bonus and it didn’t work.  So I tried transferring the money via my poker balance to see how much they’d sting me on the exchange rate.

I started with £38.22.

I transferred £20 to poker, which was converted to $30.62.

Then, I wasn’t sure whether the amount to transfer back was in pounds or dollars.  I entered “20” in the currency-less field and pressed “go”.

That meant $20, apparently, which converted back at £13.07.  Then I transferred the remaining dollars back to pounds.

I made a penny.  In fact, I made two.  After I noticed this had happened, I had to try to reproduce it to get the screen grabs above.

I’ve contacted customer support about this.  While the idea of making a bit of money Office Space (or Superman III) style is attractive, PMITA prison is not so much.

EDIT: Bizarrely today my balance shows as £38.22 on the homepage and £38.23 in the cashier.  Looks like they are storing balances internally accurate to fractions of a penny, then rounding differently in different places.

Gala Casino shoots itself in the other foot

Not content with giving away money through three very playable bonus offers every week, Gala have just announced the following change to their cashier system that’s going to cost them even more:

Improvements to the “Cashier” function will display funds within 2 wallets – a Casino/Sports balance and a Poker balance.  [ … ] We’ve just made things easier for you – and there’s no need to transfer funds from one wallet to another!

If you want to apply for one of our bonuses, please make sure that you enter the bonus code when depositing, as you will no longer be able to transfer funds and enter the bonus code at that point.

Until now there were three separate balances; Casino and Sports both in pounds and Poker in US Dollars.

Admittedly, their cashier has always been a little clunky, so any change that results in players needing to use it less often is probably a smart move.

Now rather than keeping my balance in Gala and simply transferring money back and forth, entering each daily bonus code to qualify for that chunk of free money, I’m going to have to use a debit card several times every week.

Although the option to enter a bonus code still seems to be available for transfers between Casino/Sports and Poker, this will involve an exchange into US Dollars and back again and, inevitablly, the punter will pay commission both ways.

The more attractive option is to make a £10 qualifying deposit on Friday for Blackjack, one on Saturday for Roulette and another on Monday for Three Card Poker, then withdraw it all after playing the Monday bonus.  Rinse and repeat.

It costs Gala nothing to transfer money from one virtual pot to another, but as soon as a bank is involved they’re going to be paying a fee with every transaction.  For gambling transactions, those fees are pretty steep.

So while I’m sure it was their intention to encourage players to put money into their accounts in exchange for the bonus, what they’ve actually ended up doing is paying four lots of transaction fees in addition to giving away an expected value of about £22/week.

My main worry is that their systems will be set to detect repeated deposits and withdrawals and flag them for inspection – whereas shifting money around between their online accounts would not arouse any suspicion.

I’ll still be making hay while the sun shines though, and if you’re not already taking advantage of these bonuses, get them before Gala works out how much they are costing!

Tending towards expectation

Gala’s weekly casino bonuses are still going strong.  I’ve now played their free £10 on roulette three times, and £10 for blackjack the same.

I also checked out their Three Card Poker game when I received an email alerting me to a £10 bonus for £100 in action.  That’s half as much as you need to play on Blackjack or Roulette, and while you’d except the house edge to be higher on that kind of carnival game it would have to be higher than 10% to make this bonus a dud.

There are other weekly bonuses I’ve not participated in for slots and a scratchcard game, because there’s a very good chance that these do pay back less than 90%, and there’s just no way of knowing for sure.

However The Wizard of Odds clocks Gala’s Three Card Poker paytable at a very playable 3.7% for the main bet (the perfect strategy is ridiculously easy: bet if you have Q64 or better, otherwise fold) and 2.32% on the “Pair Plus” prop bet.  I played them both, and I’m glad I took the side bet because I hit a super hot streak of straights (each paying 6-1) to give me a total profit of £36, plus the £10 donation from Gala for showing up.

I must have been owed something good though after a brutal blackjack session earlier in the week which cost me £30.  That’s after offsetting the free £10, so it was a pretty severe £40 loss from 200 hands, playing £1 per hand.  The effect of the bonus money makes it twice as easy to win £30 (as I did the first time I played) than to lose £30.

While the expectation of these quickie bonuses is good, the swings can be wild.  Fortunately, with so many of them to play (now at least 3 per week that I know are profitable), things should start to even out fairly quickly.

Here’s the story so far.  I am working on a house edge of 1% for blackjack, 1.35% for European roulette on even money bets only (but 2.7% the first week, when I didn’t know about this rule) and 3.7% for Three Card Poker.

Date Game Expected Actual
1-May Blackjack 8.00 32.50
2-May Euro Roulette 5.60 8.00
8-May Blackjack 8.00 -30.00
9-May Euro Roulette 7.30 3.00
11-May Three Card Poker 6.30 46.00
15-May Blackjack 8.00 -3.50
16-May Euro Roulette 7.30 -7.00
  TOTAL 50.50 49.00

Not too far off then.  Keep ’em coming!

Hey hey we’re a winner

I had a heads up on this as I saw the results page yesterday, but this email just in confirms it.  My Poker Stars monkey photo won a prize!

Hello Christopher,

We have awarded 5,000 FPPs for your PokerStars Monkey Photo. Thank you for playing on PokerStars.


PokerStars VIP Team

The winning picture is excellent, but to be honest this one is my favourite:

What I wasn’t expecting was another email that arrived at exactly the same time announcing I had been upgraded to Silver Star status (I didn’t play enough last month and fell out of the VIP tier).  No idea how it works, and it’s not really that big a deal because Poker Stars are literally giving away VIP status this month, but it was a nice surprise.

5,000 FPPs would put me at Platinum Star, but they’ve weren’t added as status points (understandable, because I didn’t earn them) so it must have been a manual adjustment; either a 1-tier upgrade for winners or just "here, have Silver Star so you can spend your points on something other than another monkey".

Anyway, as the photos I entered into the competition of monkey in Vegas were (ahem) creatively enhanced, here’s one I actually took last month, straight out of the camera.



How to win at roulette

I’ve never played casino roulette before to release a bonus.  There was a juicy risk-free play on Sporting Index’s roulette spread game for a while, but for down-and-dirty bonus whoring the house edge on roulette is usually too high to make it worthwhile.

However, I just found a weekly promotion from Gala Casinos that turns roulette into a theoretical winner.  It’s only a £10 bonus, and with a £200 play requirement you should expect to lose just over half of that (figuring a single-zero wheel with 2.7% house edge; forget about it with double-zero) but you can play it every Saturday, and you don’t need to keep depositing and withdrawing.  You can just transfer funds between casino and sports to activate the bonus code.

There’s also a blackjack bonus every Friday (£10 free for £200 in action, worth at least £8 per week) and a bunch of other random bonuses which may or may not be worth taking advantage of.

Look after those small edges and the bankroll will look after itself.

I did activate another bonus for blackjack last week.  However it could only be played at their live dealer casino and once I saw what was involved I gave up pretty quickly.

Don’t get me wrong., if you want to chill out and play some cards online it’s probably great.  The concept actually works really well.  The video and sound quality is fine, and the cards have jumbo numbers on so you can see exactly what has been dealt for yourself.  Plus, because you can see a human shuffling and dealing the cards, you can be confident that the game is fair.

Furthermore, if you were so inclined, you could count cards extremely easily.  Use a pen and paper if you want – nobody is watching.  You could even play the spotter and call in a friend as the big player to avoid detection (see the movie "21" or any of dozens of documentaries about the MIT teams for how this works).

However, if you just need to grind through 125 hands at the table minimum to clear a £25 bonus (which, relative to the amounts at stake, is much more profitable than card-counting) it’s going to take hours.

Clearly computerised gambling is going to be quicker than anything that is run by a human, but live over-the-internet gambling is much slower still.  A dealer in a casino usually doesn’t ask if you want to stand on 20, give a long speech and wait 30 seconds when offering insurance against an exposed ace, or announce the name of each winner after every hand.  I found these delays pretty painful.

Back to the roulette.  It really wasn’t much effort to play through £200 for my few quid of expected value while I was cranking up a few poker tables.  It took about ten minutes.

The quickest and lowest-variance way, I figured, would be to bet £99 on red, £99 on black and £5.50 on zero.  It works out very nicely with 50p chips in play: for a £203.50 total stake (instantly releasing the £10 bonus) you’d always get back £198 for a guaranteed loss of £5.50, netting you £4.50 profit.

I actually went for a slightly different approach, hoping to avoid instant detection as a bonus abuser.  My deception wouldn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny if a real person examined my play, but at least I wasn’t betting on the both sides of the same coin flip, which would surely raise a red flag.

I placed seven £1 outside bets: red, even, 1-18, 1st dozen (1-12), 2nd dozen (13-24), 1st column (1, 4, 7, ..) and 2nd column (2, 5, 8, …).

This combination meant that although I covered almost every number on the layout – and most of them at least once – it was still gambling.  I’d lose everything on a zero or black 33.

Or so I thought.  To meet the £200 play requirement, I had to spin the wheel with this £7 bet 28 times (plus a slightly smaller bet to make up the difference) so the odds of hitting a wipeout number were high.  Eventually a zero came – and with it an unexpected lesson in European roulette rules.

I was amazed to see £1.50 returned to me from what I thought was a completely losing bet.  Turns out that you actualy get half back on the even money bets when a zero is spun.

Shows how much I know about roulette, I’ve never heard of that before.  I don’t know how widespread this in in European casinos (Wizard of Odds has some information about this, and some variations) but I know Ashley Revell wasn’t going to get half his life savings back if a zero came.

This is fantastic news.  The rule reduces the house edge on even money bets from 2.7% to 1.35% and increases the value of this bonus from £4.60 to £7.30 – assuming that you only make even money bets.  Which, of course, I did from that point on.

It’s also opened my eyes to the possibility of exploiting roulette bonuses at other online casinos that offer the same rules.  It’s still going to be tough to find a beatable game with a 1.35% house edge, but it’s twice as feasible as I thought it was.

For what it’s worth, I made £8 today.  It’s not really worth getting excited about, but with several small bonuses available at the moment, my money is working harder for me in the Bank of Gala than any bank I can think of.

Did they do this for Sinatra?

GANS-DEAD.jpg.  All caps.

That’s the name of the image that accompanies the headline story on the Las Vegas Review Journal web site to break the news that entertainer Danny Gans died last night.

The LVRJ announced the somber news of his sad and unexpected passing with this picture of him doing jazz hands, and a lolcat-style caption.

UPDATE: Since writing this, it looks like the bad taste police have stepped in and replaced it with a shot of the tribute on the Wynn sign:

Breaking even

It’s awesome to break even.

I’m serious.  I mentioned this before – if I can hold my own and not lose any money at the table on the iPoker network, I can make money over the course of the month from bonus awards and rakeback.

I could only be happier with how my bumpy ride through April ended if I thought I was good enough to actually win money in these games.

Never mind the variance (it’s a $400 swing from the lowest to highest point) – I lost 93 cents.  How much closer to breaking even could I possibly get?

When you add everything up, this puts me up over $400 on the month; $170 in bonus already released, $115 in rakeback to come, a $100 win from a VIP freeroll in the bank and enough player points earned to put me a quarter of the way to redeeming for another iPod nano (figure it’s worth about $30; I got £90 for the last one on eBay).

The freeroll is a $2,000 prize pool, usually with about 100 runners making it worth about $20 per week.  It’s the first time I’ve made the money, and I wasn’t sure whether to count it in my monthly haul but as the amount I won is about the same as the EV of playing in it every week I figured I probably should.

I was an overall loser on fixed-limit games but an overall winner on no-limit – but somehow the two numbers cancelled each other out almost exactly.

That 6.76% of hands won figure on $2/$4 is a bit worrying.  Yes, I play tight.  No, I wouldn’t expect to win 10% of hands in a full-ring game (I’d hope to win larger than average pots to offset this).  But I need to work out whether I’ve just had some bad luck, or if I’ve been giving up pots too easily.

A bit more analysis on Poker Tracker also shows that when you total up all the hands that I called a raise on the big blind, I lost more money than I would have done if I’d simply folded every one of them.  I’m profitable when I re-raise (thankfully – it’s almost always with premium cards!) but I need to take more care when it costs an extra small bet to play mediocre cards out-of-position.  I’m happy to have found the leak so that I can try to do something about it.

However it’s a reassuring start to the first month that I’ve played no-limit on iPoker for anything more than a few short sessions.  The sample size is still pretty insignificant, but the row is green and that’s about as much as I could ask for.

Let’s see if I can’t win a few cents this month.