November 2009
« Oct   Dec »




(If they correctly guess the letters that have been starred out, it’s quite likely the title of this post will attract the attention of the Neteller staff that are following my Twitter feed. If it does, how about finally answering my questions please?)

There’s a difference between a wannabe bank not being able to do bankish things, not being able to add up correctly or having generally useless support staff, and one that makes you feel like a crook while you’re the one getting robbed.

Neteller frequently winds me up because they give two or more different answers to the same question and won’t let me get at my US Dollars without transferring them via at least two other currencies first.  Or they act all concerned for a moment but then never get back to you when you ask serious questions. Yet somehow I’ve never really been that worried about leaving significant sums of money in their hands.

However, when I attempted to withdraw some money from Moneybookers to a US bank account recently, they decided to treat me like a criminal, froze my account and now won’t give me any information – or my money.

It’s definitely worth pointing out that their withdrawal page actually suggests withdrawing to a US bank account as an option.  I wasn’t trying to subvert the system, for once.

Here’s another important point: while Moneybookers is a popular online payment method for gamblers, I’ve never actually used my account for gambling.  I’ve used it to receive payments for a business service which, in one case, just happened to be from someone whose email address has the word “poker” in it.

That probably means I’m a terrorist.

After my first attempt to withdraw, this is what they said:

Please be kindly informed that according to our Terms and Conditions with which you agreed upon registration of your Moneybookers account  we are strictly forbidden to allow gaming funds to be withdrawn to US bank accounts as such payments are restricted due to the legislation in the USA.

Please be kindly informed that according to our Terms and Conditions with which you agreed upon registration of your Moneybookers account  we are strictly forbidden to allow gaming funds to be withdrawn to US bank accounts as such payments are restricted due to the legislation in the USA.

The email refers me to sections 6.6 and 7.5 of the T&Cs.  The first section has nothing to do with this and the second one doesn’t even exist.

It does say the terms were updated on November 6th and I can’t find an older copy, so this is very worrying.  Although the (current) terms say that they’ll give you two months notice by email of any changes, it doesn’t look like they even tell their support staff when they decide to change the rules.

This time, I don’t think it particularly matters that they’ve pulled a switcheroo on me and I don’t have a printed copy to back up what I thought I’d agreed to – because even under the current terms, I’ve done nothing wrong.

However, if you use Moneybookers you might like to review the T&Cs – and then ask them why nobody told you they had changed.

I duly replied to tell them that this was not illicit gambling money – assuming that having received several months of payments for the same amount on the same date it would be quite obvious I was telling the truth.  They asked to see some photo ID and a copy of a recent bill – pretty standard stuff, which I did – but then:

In order to be able to complete the account verification procedure we would kindly ask you to provide us with some more information about the purpose of receiving payments via our services.

Would you please provide us the URL of your website and a brief description of the services you offer.

Well, frankly, what the fuck business is it of theirs?

I sent them a link and simply said “web hosting” after typing and deleting something to the effect of the line above.  The equivalent of muttering under your breath in an email.

I thought that when they replied to say:

We are writing to inform you that your account has been successfully verified.

that that was that.  They did point me towards section 11.2 of the T&Cs, which does exist this time but stipulates a restriction on residents of the USA from receiving gambling funds.  This couldn’t be more irrelevant, so I tried again to get my US Dollars out – after all, why would they still offer me a US bank withdrawal option if it wasn’t actually possible after I’d jumped through these hoops?

And then this:

We are writing to inform you that your account is under audit.  Once the audit has been completed we will be in contact.

Here’s where it starts to get stupid.  I said:

What does this mean?  I thought I’d just been through your verification process

And they replied.

Please be kindly informed that your your account is under audit.  As soon as the audit has been completed we will contact you.

It’s only because they changed the wording slightly in the second reply that I knew it was a real person fucking with me, not just a stupid autoresponder.  I tried again:

This is identical to the last message I received.  Can you please let me know what this means?  I have literally 3 transactions to audit.

And the last thing I had from them by email was:

We transferred your case to our security department and they should be getting back to you in the next 48 hours with more information about your account.

Two weeks, and three phone calls later, my money is still locked up in Moneybookers’ private jail, and I have no visitation rights.

This morning, all I could get out of them was that they’d make a note on my account and pass it to the security department as a matter of urgency.  I would hear back from them probably today, or at the latest tomorrow.

That’s exactly what they told me last time, but today I was told there was no such note on my account from any previous call.

I don’t really know what to think.  This should not be hard.

If you don’t allow withdrawals to the US, don’t offer it as an option.  If you still have cold feet about letting me withdraw to the US after telling you what you needed to know, then just say so and I’ll withdraw to the UK.  If you absolutely have to audit my account, go ahead.  It should take about thirty seconds.

But don’t be stealing my money with no good reason.

Because if you do, I’ll write about it on the internet and expose your shenanigans to, on a good day, dozens of people.


The cards went up today as it’s just 21 days until I go back to Las Vegas.

In fact I’ve been counting the days for much longer than that thanks to the “T-Minus” iPhone app I wrote.  It’s hard to call a countdown timer revolutionary, but it’s actually the first one that works this way: by updating the number of days as a badge number on the icon so you never need to start up the app again.

And because it’s one I wrote myself, I can change the icon whenever I damn well like – which is exactly what I did.

T-Vegas for iPhone and iPod Touch

The copy on my iPhone has looked this way for a while, but since the new version – “T-Vegas” – hit the App Store last week anyone can join in the fun too.  Download it here.

I also now know which hotels I’ll be staying in 21 days from now.

We actually cancelled two existing (comped) bookings at Harrah’s Las Vegas and Imperial Palace which we didn’t need any more after taking advantage of a few offers that had come in the mail that were too good to refuse.

It hurts to throw away ten nights on the Strip just like that.  Sure, I could have kept the bookings and tried to steal the soap, but needing to be in the right place at the right time to check in and out of unnecessarily looked like it was going to be too much of a strain on a schedule where we still have 15 nights booked for a 10 night trip.

Here’s how the itinerary looks:

Day 1: Arrive, check in to Four Queens.  3 nights complimentary room and food for the duration, including one meal in Hugo’s Cellar. Free room service before crashing out will go down a treat.

Day 2: Check in to Suncoast.  I don’t like the Suncoast. I don’t want to spend any more time there than I have to, but Claire’s offer for 2 free nights included $200 in slot play which makes it worth putting up with.  I wonder if the players will look even more suicidal at Christmas time.

Day 3: No hotel shenanigans, but as the free play is split over two days we’ll have to go back to the Suncoast to take advantage of that.

Day 4: Check out of Four Queens, head back to Suncoast to check out and say thanks for the free money and get on the road to Laughlin.  Harrah’s Laughlin gave me a four night comp with $99 in cash for turning up.  We’ll actually use one of those hotel nights, and take advantage of a “Diamond in a Day” promotion that means I can keep my shiny players card until March 31st 2011 (thanks to the legendary Jean Scott for pointing this out).

Day 5: Leave “do not disturb” sign on door at Harrah’s Laughlin and head back to Vegas and check in at Sam’s Town, where we were both offered 3 nights comp but Claire’s offer came with $60 of food credit whereas mine was only $25.

Days 6/7: We can actually stay still for a while.  Includes trying to find a way to enjoy a free Christmas dinner and then download Top of the Pops and Doctor Who.

Day 8: Check out of Sam’s Town and into the Rio.  No extra freebies here, just a free suite for 3 nights.  But to be honest I can’t believe I’m still getting any room comps here.

And then that’s it.  We can finally relax!

On the shelves, in the pub

My tiny video poker book is actually on the shelves of a book store.

It’s only one book store, but if I had to pick just one place to sell it, this would be it: The Gamblers Book Shop in Las Vegas.

It’s round about now that I’m starting to wish I’d bothered designing a cover for it.  But still, it’s there and I’m even told that the staff have even been briefed on how to read the strategy charts so they can demonstrate its awesome power to customers in the store.

Strongly considering an incognito visit when I’m back in Vegas in December :-)

If you happen to be heading that way yourself, the new GBS location is about 300 yards from the Crown and Anchor so you can buy my book and then head over to the pub, stick $20 in a video poker machine and play perfect strategy while you get a totally free lunch (currently #7 on the Las Vegas Advisor top ten) and a pint of Old Speckled Hen.

How can you go wrong with that?  Seriously?

Update: Also on Amazon now:

Don't mention the gambling

A couple of years ago I remember stumbling on a Children’s BBC program where Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates managed to drive around Las Vegas for half an hour without ever once mentioning the word “casino”.

I know it was for kids and some people feel we have to protect their young minds from the evils of Sin City.  I do sort of get it.

I could understand them not ordering up some hot girls direct to their room or trying to find the best daiquiri that comes in a glass shaped like dice.  But watching a documentary about Vegas without them even mentioning gambling – not even once – was a very odd thing.

It was with a similar sense of wtf-ness that I just watched this commercial for Aria, which opens on the Strip next month.

It’s an advert for a casino and we have to assume it’s aimed at grown ups.  But if it didn’t have the c-word in small print at the very end, how would you ever know they had gambling there?

In fact it tells me what?  That it’s a funny shape, and I can go sailing in the middle of a faux-urban development in the desert?  At least half of that’s true…


Finally, a response from Neteller about the questions I posed in the comments on this post a couple of weeks ago.

I’ll try to speak to them next week, but first I wanted to share my email reader’s insight on the matter:

Doesn’t really do them any favours, does it? 

A genuine expert – fact!

"A genuine expert on the game, in fact a genuine expert on all things casino".

That’s how I’m introduced on the telly, so it must be true.

I have finally seen the blackjack TV show pilot I recorded in September, and it can’t be that bad as Poker Channel Europe have put the whole show online.  You can watch it in its entirity here:

There’s talk of recording more shows before Christmas, but they’re waiting for some updates to the replayer software which are needed in order to reduce the production time so they can put together a show quickly enough to feature games played in the previous week.

Walkway to heaven

I haven’t posted anything like as many videos from my last Las Vegas trip as I intended to, and I just realised that the very next thing I wrote on this blog would push the last remaining clip off the bottom of the page.

So it was with a degree of irrational obsession that I had to go scraping around on my hard disk for some kind of video that I could put up in a hurry.

I’m sure you’ll agree that this one minute film of an empty conveyor belt is absolutely fascinating.


This was filmed on the moving walkway that takes you from the Strip into Caesars Palace in the slowest way possible. 

Most of the travelators in Vegas are blocked by idle tourists who just jump on and make themselves comfortable for the long haul while the next best thing to a luxury VIP shuttle carries them to their destination at speeds of up to 2mph.

But, to be fair, this one in particular is not pleasant to walk on as the outdoor, uphill stretch is ridiculously springy – it’s like treading on a bouncy castle.

In normal circumstances, I’d be diving between taxis to get out of the heat and back into the action when heading for Caesars.  But it was late and nobody was about, so I thought it was worth taking a detour to see whether I could get any good photos from up there.  (In the end, I didn’t.)

And of course, on this particular night, the only bit of the belt that was actually going round was the final (flat) stretch that you see in the video.  I had to climb Mount Sponge all the way to the summit to get there.

But it wasn’t a completely wasted climb.  What I’ve now realised is that this seemingly bland corridor can actually provide a snapshot of Las Vegas history in its own concise, Caesars-only kind of way.

See that first advert on the left for Bette Midler?  Her run of shows comes to an end in January 2010.  The last one on the left for Serendipty 3?  That only opened in April 2009.  Even just the big banner for Cher at the bottom of the escalator is enough to indicate the timeframe to within just a few years. 

The poster for Luis Miguel at the Colosseum is the real giveaway.  That concert was on September 12th.  There may not always be something so specific, but turnover of shows, restaurants and clubs in Las Vegas is so frequent that I’d wager whatever is on display on this route into the casino is always going to be enough information to date a video of the journey to at least the correct year.

It’s not quite the same as the ever-changing skyline, which means I can try to work out when a particular episode of CSI was made from whether the Stardust is still standing or whether the Luxor has been defaced by an advert for vodka when they show the aerial shots of the Strip.  It’s just low-tech adverts for Caesars Palace.

No TV screens here, just a bunch of posters that show what’s on offer at the time. 

But Caesars is not an insignificant property.  Most of what goes on there is either influential to or influenced by trends in Las Vegas and, in its own way, looking at what’s changed in this corridor is a window onto the city’s evolution.

Because I’m weird and find that interesting, I’ll be back for another look next time 

The complete list (August 2009): Bette Midler, Cypress Street Marketplace, Martorano’s (at the Rio), Beijing Noodle No. 9, Qua Spa, Pure Nightclub, Color Salon, Luis Miguel, Bradley Ogden, Serendipity 3.

The driving licence lottery

There was a story in the news yesterday about a South Korean woman who had finally passed her written driving test on the 950th attempt.

It’s here if you missed it:

This is a multiple choice test with a pass mark of 60%.  I have to admit that my first thought was that, given nearly a thousand goes, I would be fairly confident about passing a test about anything under these conditions – even in if it was written in Korean.

Surely even the chance of fluking it is better than 1 in 950?

Well, apparently not – and significantly so.

I couldn’t remember the quick way to calculate this but fortunately Claire knew which buttons on the calculator did it, and she also found a web site that gave the same answer:

It looks like this:

A probability of success of 0.25 assumes there are four answers to choose from.  I don’t know whether this is correct and haven’t been able to find out, but it seems feasible.

In fact, an older article says that her scores in the first 771 failed tests were typically between 30% and 50%.  With such a sample size, that distribution suggests she might have a little knowledge of the subject.

A straight one-in-three or one-in-four guess would produce a range of results centred around 33% or 25%, so it sounds like it wasn’t complete guesswork but perhaps she wasn’t picking up some of the fundamentals as quickly as she – and other road users – would have liked.

Still, I was intrigued to see how long it would take infinite monkeys to pass this test.  Could a Korean zoo actually stand a chance of getting a driving licence?

The bottom number produced by the calculator – P(X≥30) – is the significant one, and it’s miniscule.  This is the probability of achieving a passing mark of 60% or higher, purely by picking answers at random.

It equates to odds of greater than six million to one!

And so, if our heroine was indeed just turning up and attacking the test with a ham-fisted crayon, she was running seriously ahead of expectation.

I wonder if we’ll hear more about her exploits the first time she guesses wrong at which pedal is the brake…

The Ultimate Video Poker Pocket, err, App?

The electronic version of my video poker book for iPhone and iPod Touch is now available for download on the App Store.

For those that don’t have iTunes, or just can’t be bothered to click through, here’s a screenshot that really doesn’t tell you much at all, and actually looks a bit poo when it’s not on a white background.

Blog readers will be like "yeah, that looks a bit poo", but if you’re reading this on Facebook or through an RSS reader you’ll be like "what’s he on about".

Anyway, there’s a bit more info and more screenshots here:

Neteller in “not a bank” shocker

In case you had any concerns about how secure your money is with Neteller’s dodgy prepaid debit card, this reply I had from them should help to scare you away completely.

Looking for a way that I’d be happy to use it to take some of my money out at an ATM, I asked whether it was possible to have two separate accounts so that my whole balance would not be available to a card that has zero consumer protection.

Thank you for sending us an email.

Unfortunately one customer can have only one NETELLER account and one Net+ Card. 

The security is our first priority and NETELLER has various security measures against fraud or theft. But the system can never be perfect. In this sense we would think it is important to use the NETELLER account and the Net+ for not a big amount depositing only the amount necessary to use.

In fact the limits of cash withdraw as well as the purchase using Net+ Card are quite limited; For cash withdraw 500GBP/day and 1500GBP/4 days and for purchase 1500GBP/day and 4500GBP/4 dasy.

Please understand NETELLER is offering the service of money transfer online and is not a bank. 

It’s quite the supreme failure in terms of offering reassurance to a customer.

If I may paraphrase: "Our system isn’t perfect", "Don’t trust us with more money than you absolutely have to", "The most you could lose to fraud is eight grand a week" and of course "We are not a bank".

We knew the last part already, but at least they’re not trying to pretend any more.