While advantage play itself has changed a lot over the years, it is more likely than not that it will continue, in some form, as long as there are casinos. . .
An old saying is, “When one door closes, another door opens.”
In some cases, the door that opens will be more lucrative than the one that has closed. In other cases, it will be less lucrative. Sometimes it leads you to a similar place (though takes longer to get there) and it will sometimes lead you into a different place entirely.
Where there was once Flush Attack.
Now, there is Ultimate X.
According to that article, players would sit on a dealt flush knowing that they would be paid 25-FOR-1 as long as they waited for the, “Flush Attack,” mode to fire up. Eventually, a modification was made to make such waiting no longer possible, but as I understand it, the opportunity did not completely dry up.
Before countermeasures, (and eventually getting rid of the game entirely) people would just occupy chairs in the bank and wait for Flush Attack mode to be triggered. These were fairly quick video poker players (had to be, as they were sometimes racing each other) and they had also made some strategy adjustments to account for the offering.
A few adjustments that might be obvious to a video poker advantage player include the fact that three-to-a-flush was now a better hold than a non-paying low (tens or lower) pair. Normally, three-to-a-flush wouldn’t be a hold at all, in most base games. Three-to-a-Royal or straight flush, yes, but not a flush without those possibilities. In fact, two-to-a-Royal is probably much closer to being the right hold compared to a low-pair than you might think.
Three-to-a-Royal with four to a Flush? Nope, you go for the flush! Although, lots of non-AP players make the four-flush hold anyway, even though it’s generally wrong. (In Double Bonus, for example, four flush is the right hold in certain circumstances. Double Bonus, imo, is an extremely non-intuitive game)
Where individual players, pairs or teams once milled around Flush Attack, (at the casinos where they were eventually told they couldn’t just sit and do nothing at the Flush Attacks) now they wait for playable numbers on linked must-hit progressives to try to lock up as many seats as possible. Individual players wait around for other vulturable plays to open up that may not have existed when Flush Attack did.
For the machine players, there’s a door that leads to a place where the earning potential is more significant than most things they have ever seen. In addition to that, many machine players are (mostly) the only ones well-bankrolled and well-organized enough to not just take maximum advantage of the opportunity, but also to do it in a way that may cause the opportunity to last as long as possible. For those reasons, they don’t want the opportunity to be discussed openly.
Where it is almost certain another door would open for them if this one closes, or they might simply start going through other doors that are already open, it’s very possible that this is going to be the best thing out there for some time. In fact, with enough play, the only real risk element are the plays themselves getting killed. While some attempts may before better than others, and some individual attempts (rare) may not lead to profit, there’s not much risk when it comes to the play on the machines themselves.
Back to the Casinos
I’m not quite done with the casinos just yet.
It can’t be emphasized enough that all of this is possible because of the conditions that the casino creates. Namely, they want to create the perception of value where none exists, but sometimes they cause actual value to exist in the process...it’s just a matter of discovering it.
Additionally, the casinos do this in order to get people through the door and playing, which technically includes the advantage players, because they are most certainly doing that. While there is no demand for advantage players specifically, there is a demand for players and advantage players happen to be in that category.
Most relevant is the fact that the casinos are in full control of the terms of engagement. They create the framework under which these things can happen and then get ticked off when these things do happen. The best example of that is that of card counting blackjack and the fact that, after all of these years, the casinos are still backing players off and sometimes trespassing them.
The casinos do the following at Blackjack:
- They set the betting limits.
- They set the rules of the game.
- They decide the shuffling procedures and how deeply the shoe is cut.
There are any number of countermeasures that the casino could take to cause straight card counting to not be a successful means almost immediately, but the sacrifice would be that they might lose other customers in the process.
For example, a casino might decide that Blackjack pays Even Money, which is already the case on a number of video blackjack machines. They could even try to create a perception of value by saying, “The player wins on all natural blackjacks, even if the dealer also has a natural.” If blackjack were switched from 3:2 paying to even money, but the player wins all naturals...some players might be foolish enough to believe that such a rule is good for them overall, even though it’s not even close.
In fact, the primary mechanism that makes card counting even viable is that a natural (not counting pushes) is worth more for the player than it is the casino. The player wins 1.5x the amount bet whereas the casino only wins whatever amount that the player bet. If the pay on a natural was instead even money, then it would make no difference to a card counter (no such thing would exist) that they were more likely because smaller cards are gone from the shoe.
NOTE ADDED: GORDONM888 STATES IN THE COMMENTS:
The player has the option of standing on 12-16 and does so versus a dealer 2-6, whereas the dealer must always hit those stiff hands. This is an advantage that the player has, but it is reduced when there are a lot of small cards left in the deck (because those will allow the dealer to not bust his hand when he hits his 12-16.
Also, player can double down on 10 or 11 and dealer can't. But doubling is less profitable when there are a lot of small cards left in the deck.
One difference between blackjack and MOST other casino-related activities is that the rules of other casino activities are only partially stated. For example, slot machines don’t advertise a return-to-player (generally) because people would likely wait around for the better returning games if they did. More than that, slot machines will detail what certain line results pay in the rules screen, but will almost never say how likely any of those results are.
The rules may also explain free games and under what condition(s) free games will occur, but they do not provide a likelihood of occurrence or disclose how much of the return comes from free games.
Other concepts are similar. Generally speaking, casinos disclose that a player may get offers in the mail for hotels and similar things by playing with a players club card. Not disclosed is how much a person has to play in order to receive certain types of offers. If this information were to be disclosed, players would be able to figure out that the offers aren’t particularly good, in most cases. They certainly are generally not worth the expected loss required to garner them. (Again, in most cases)
Advantage players not only have to operate within the confines of the casino’s stated rules, they also have to figure out those things that are not directly stated. To some degree, they can make assumptions about slot machine returns and what have you, but even that’s not always the case. The more advanced the play, the more research (as well as actual potentially costly trial and error) it takes to figure out at what point the play is an advantage...if it can be an advantage at all.
While I do not believe there is an ethical question when it comes to whether or not to share information at all, or if so, what information to share...I do understand that sharing too much information gives other people the opportunity to do what essentially amounts to plagiarism. If someone comes out and spells out every little thing about a play, (and even some general concepts) then other people can simply copy it, even though the original advantage players to discover it put in all of the effort to figure it out.
Advantage Play on Ice
Imagine if a person were to watch hockey for the first time armed only with the information, “The goal is for one team to shoot the puck in the other team’s net.” Knowing nothing else, the person looks at the ice, but is just so happens a five-on-three power play is going on at the time.
This person might ask, “How is it fair that one team gets five attackers and the other team only gets three attackers?”
The person introducing his friend to hockey might chuckle and say, “No, the team with only three attackers must have committed two penalties closely to one another. They will also have five attackers as long as they don’t commit any more penalties.”
Even in our hockey example, there is a mechanism that exists to make this offset (5-on-4 or 5-on-3) more fair for the defending team: Icing is a penalty (nobody goes to the box) whereby a player on the defensive side, in his defensive territory, launches the puck down the ice to clear it away and prevent the attacking team from having a scoring opportunity. When this happens, the puck is brought down for a faceoff on the defensive side of the team that shot the puck down the ice. The goal is, where the defensive team once had the puck down there...they committed an infraction, so the offensive team now has a roughly 50/50 (faceoff) chance to get the puck under their control on that side of the ice.
Icing is not a penalty if a team is shorthanded (5-on-4 or 5-on-3) due to a previous penalty. In fact, icing the puck is one of the fundamental tenets of successful penalty killing as it burns off as much power play time as possible. On some occasions, especially depending on the game/score situation, the shorthanded team will attack, but usually, they are mainly just focused on keeping the puck off of their side of the ice.
So, what is it that an advantage player does? An advantage player takes a hockey game where one team has five attackers and the other team three attackers, disregards this, and finds a way to win anyway. In addition to only enforcing their own rules selectively, the casino also likes to make up entirely new rules as it goes along.
After all, imagine how embarrassing it would be to be an NHL team who can’t win a 60 minute 5-on-3 game against another NHL team!!!
If I ran a casino and someone took me to town...I might kick them out as well, (though, I would structure everything about my casino in a way that they couldn’t REALLY hurt me) but first I think I would offer them a job.
While some plays are, “By design,” such as vulturable machine states, many of the plays out there exist because the casinos simply could not beat the advantage players at their own game and with a fundamental five-on-three advantage. If I caught an advantage player up, I wouldn’t threaten him with all sorts of supposed criminal charges to things that aren’t actually crimes; (or don’t fit any definition of crimes) I would want to know what we were doing that made us a better ($$$) casino for him to visit than any of the alternatives.
The Ethics of Advantage Play
There aren’t any.
I know we stated that advantage players make money without offering any kind of product or service to anyone, but there’s nothing that makes that fundamentally unethical.
How the hell do you expect to have ethics in a situation where the primary opponent is allowed to behave unethically? What kind of ethics are involved in a situation where casinos happily take the money of addicts, minors, seniors and those who can’t afford to lose it and advantage players, by extension, are also winning that very money from the casinos?
What kind of ethics can you expect when the primary opponent sets ambiguous terms of engagement, and can even flat out cheat to avoid the negative implications of terms that are not ambiguous?
What kind of ethics can you expect when most media outlets outright defend the casinos unquestioningly? When you have major media sources saying that players are, “Sneaking in,” when all that consists of is walking openly through the front door completely unmolested?
What sort of ethics exist when (in some cases) you not only have to be innocent, you actually have to absolutely be able to prove your innocence in order to not get hassled by the cops? What kind of ethics are there when the cops, who are supposed to enforce laws neutrally, are automatically inclined to side with the casinos?
After a century and a half of legalized commercial gambling somewhere in the United States, the only ethical absolute as relates casinos is that they can’t take someone in the back and beat the p!$$ out of them. That’s it. Even that occasionally still happens, though it is extremely rare.
People can get so trashed that they can barely see and proceed to lose untold amounts of money to the very entity that plied them with alcohol to begin with. Can you imagine this happening anywhere else?
Imagine one person takes another person to the bar. The second person gets beyond recognition wasted and the first person says, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure this person gets home okay.” The first person discovers that the second has a ton of cash laying around and takes it all, when confronted by police the first person says, “Well, the second person said I could have it for getting them home.”
Really? How do you think that is going to hold up in court?
Speaking of, where else other than a casino is a contract considered fully enforceable when a clearly intoxicated party enters into that contract? In some states, it would be a crime just to cause (or allow) a clearly intoxicated party to enter into a contract when the terms of said contract clearly did not benefit them. Also, any means by which to effectuate their honoring the contract might also become illegal, because the contract is sometimes not considered legal in the first place.
A private business can kick a person out for any reason it wants to, that much is true.
But, imagine this scenario:
There’s a restaurant that we go to somewhat frequently in which I was able to take advantage of an excellent offer they had a few years ago. Here’s how the offer worked:
- Buy $30 in gift cards, get a $10 gift voucher that could be used immediately.
- Get $9 off of an appetizer for completing one of our surveys. (Separate, previous visit)
- Birthday deal: Free Entree with any purchase, valid with any other coupon.
Okay, so we go into the restaurant and the first thing that we do is purchase $60 in gift cards and get two $10 vouchers for a total of $20 off. This does not affect the check and does not count as a coupon for the purposes of the check as it is a separate transaction.
We purchase two non-alcoholic beverages and get an entree that was something like $13.99. The appetizer ends up being $1, or something, after that coupon. The second entree is free because of the birthday deal, and it can be the higher-priced entree of the two because the coupon doesn’t say anything to the contrary.
Ultimately, the entire check was covered by the two coupons as well as the $20 in gift vouchers. I think we may have tipped $20, or something, we just thought it was funny that the whole entire check ended up being essentially nothing. Granted, we spent $60 in gift cards, but we were the ones who would use the gift cards at a place we would eat sooner or later anyway.
Can you imagine the optic if a manager had come out, made a huge scene, perhaps got the police involved and threw us out?
Another similar thing was Kroger with their Fuel program. At one time, Kroger would multiply your shopper points (usually 1 point for $1 spent) on gift cards purchased from the store...including Kroger Gift Cards!
So, here I am, at my primary shopping store anyway...here’s an idea: Why not buy Kroger gift cards such that I max out at 1,000 fuel points, thereby enabling me to buy up to 30 gallons of gas that are all going to be $1 off per gallon? Both vehicles had less than 15 gallon fuel tanks, so I would run them to next to nothing, then go to Kroger with my then-wife and we would fill up both of the tanks. (She’d pull away one car when full, then pull up the other)
In fact, let’s get one Kroger card in her name and one in mine. If we buy a total of $500/month in Kroger Gift Cards, which we would have spent anyway at Kroger then we now get a grand total of $50+ off of gas. We’re saving over $50 by way of the same money we would have spent on groceries anyway.
Again, can you imagine in Kroger came out huffing and puffing to tell us that we are 86’ed from Kroger, our cards were being turned off, our fuel points cancelled and that we are no longer permitted to shop there!? The very notion is ridiculous! We’re still spending $500+/month at Kroger, and I know what grocery mark-ups look like---so even with our other coupons---they were still making money on us.
So, what did Kroger eventually do? They eventually made it so that Kroger Gift Cards don’t count towards the multiplier. That’s it. Nobody needed to be threatened with purported violations of the law that don’t exist. Nobody had to lose their Fuel Points. Nobody’s card needed to be turned off.
Someone just sat down and said, “Wow! What a loophole! A few people sure got us on that one, didn’t they? I guess we better fix it.”
Similarly, the restaurant mentioned earlier no longer allows you to use the $10 gift voucher on the same day that the $30 in gift cards was purchased. There is a usable date range written on the voucher, which usually starts the following month...which I think is a bit overkill.
What’s the difference? The difference is that you have a business that doesn’t see its own customers as the enemy. They see customers that found value in a promotion and exercised it in a way that the businesses may not have intended, but they lick their wounds and focus on the long-term. They figure out, “What went wrong,” and how to fix it in a non-adversarial way. They say, “If this particular customer wants to stop shopping here as a result, oh well, but if they want to continue shopping here under these new conditions, they are more than welcome to do so.”
Another difference is that you have two business types (restaurants and grocery stores) that don’t make it a habit to behave unethically in the context of certain types of customers. Casinos, on the other hand:
One of my more recent casino trips, I noticed a lady who was behaving absolutely frantically! She was a video poker player, but she was not inclined to remain at one machine. She would go to a machine (not even sitting down) play a few hands, then almost immediately cash her ticket and go to another machine.
Keep in mind that some of these machines were Ultimate X machines, so she would be switching games, switching machines and just leaving multipliers all over the place for me. The thing is, I’m a complete idiot who just can’t leave well enough alone when I think something might be wrong, so I approach her:
“Hello, ma’am, do you mind me asking what is the purpose of what you are doing?”
“What?” she asked, “I’m playing the machines.”
“Well, you most certainly are,” I responded, “I was just wondering why you are switching from one machine to another the way that you are.”
“I’m not going to stay at a machine that isn’t hitting,” she replied, “So, what I am doing is going from machine-to-machine until I find one that hits.”
“None of these video poker games pay 100% or more,” came my retort, “So, you are expected to lose money on all of them.”
“Yes,” she admitted, “But, I’m looking for one that is hitting right now.”
“All of the hands are independent of one another,” I countered, “So, even if you catch a good hand on one that is no guarantee of future results. If you play any of them long enough, you will be guaranteed to lose everything that you have put into them. Besides, what if none of them decide to hit?”
“I guess I’ll just lose all my money then, won’t I?”
Shrugging, I replied, “I guess so, but I have to admit that you don’t look like you’re having fun right now. Maybe you need a break. You can do something that is fun and relaxing with the money you still have, because you certainly don’t look relaxed.”
“I’ve already lost a lot of money. I’m really hoping I can find a hot machine and get it back. I really shouldn’t have lost as much as I did.”
“Well, it doesn’t mean you have to lose more than you’ve already lost,” I said, “But, good luck with whatever you decide to do.”
I went about my business elsewhere in the casino for several minutes, perhaps fifteen. I knew that there would likely be more multipliers for me to play off when I came back around to that side, but I almost didn’t want them. I decided not to play them off until it looked like she had left completely.
Returning after fifteen minutes, I noticed that she was still hopping from one machine to another like a kangaroo on cocaine. Another thing I noticed was that three security guards were standing at the podium, not thinking about intervening to suggest maybe she needs to call it a day, (or get help in general) mind you; instead, they were openly laughing at her.
That’s the casino industry at its worst, folks. I hope you enjoyed that anecdote.
That’s why there are no ethics when it comes to advantage play, in my opinion. It’s not because advantage players are necessarily unethical, or lack some sort of code that most of them practice, but because the casinos themselves are often unethical.
Granted, most casino customers are not addicts or anything else. They go in expecting to be entertained, get entertained (win or lose) and then leave until next time. I’m not saying that the very existence of casinos or how they operate is always unethical, just that it can be.
If the casinos are willing to win money from certain people in such an unethical way, and are willing to kick out some of those who play their own game better than they do, then ethics simply cannot exist in that environment. It’s a moot question. And, like it or not, some advantage players’ money is gained indirectly from money that the casino itself gained unethically.
At least I left the casino up $80, I guess.