Last Updated: December 8, 2005
Brett Morton Meets
The Wizard's website, Wizardofodds.com is the most recognised authority in the world for accurate playing strategies of casino games. As a roulette player, I knew that by interviewing the Wizard, I would be grabbing a tiger by the tail or worse. I had read of his plainly expressed views about roulette and of those like me who claim to win consistently. He does not believe it, so the chance to confront the Wizard's views was a challenge that I was happy to take on!
I was invited to meet him at his home. Though not living in a medieval castle, at least the Wizard lives in a Las Vegas gated community requiring a password to enter. The door was opened by someone I knew was not the Wizard. Mike Shackleford, please??
The Wizard will see you now! The door had been opened by the Wizard's colleague Michael Bluejay who is the self-styled Wizard-de-la-Ads (Wizard of Ads was unavailable as a name). The two work closely with Bluejay commuting in as needed from Austin, Texas.
Mike Shackleford, better known as the Wizard of Odds, is an adjunct Professor of Casino Math at the University of Nevada and an actuary by training. Not for him advising insurers on how to fix premiums like many with his qualifications would do, though he did undertake claims adjusting before moving into casino game analysis. In 2000, he became a full-time gaming consultant with the goal of becoming the most known and trusted name in gaming advice. Five years later, he has succeeded and is par excellence the most respected mathematical analyst of the odds of casino games and of the fairness of on-line casino sites.
Looking lean and fit consistent with having just finished the Las Vegas Marathon, this forty-year old, looks the identikit of the shrewd thinker that he is. From an earlier life in California and Maryland, the Wizard has created a fascinating niche for himself, primarily through his website. Nimbly, he is able to walk the high-wire between helping the public and being paid to advise casinos, slot manufacturers and software companies on ways to operate. Every day, five thousand people visit his site for free advice, scouring twelve thousand pages for help about everything from Pai Gow poker to Deuces Wild or Craps.
They find the blunt, cold, hard and brutal truth about most games that winning is tough with the odds stacked in favour of the casino. Having recently spent time with Bob Dancer, the video poker guru, I asked what the Wizard made of his success. No question. Bob will win by seeking out the games that give him a positive advantage when the cashback deals, comps, tournament play or other benefits are taken into account. These pros there are probably around one thousand like Bob, have made video poker harder to win due to their success. They work on a high volume of plays and a low positive margin such as 0.5%. But they will inevitably win. Enough said! Because of this positive advantage, do you play video poker?
I had a spell playing it earlier this year. I believe I was unlucky and gave up. It was not, to me, the way that I would make money. Now, I concentrate on sports betting on the American Football season. Other than that, I am a confessed card-counter at blackjack.
So do you get problems?
I was spotted once in Reno. I am not very good at masking my play. He grins broadly. Anyway, I look like the typical card-counter being a white male.
And in the age group?
He laughed. Less so now that I am forty. Counters are usually younger.
I've been reading a great deal recently about dice control in craps. I'm interested in any casino game that involves human input. Do you believe in dice control?
After a moment's thought, the Wizard said that he remained sceptical due to lack of solid evidence. But I am open to be persuaded because some people that I respect like Stanford Wong are strong advocates.
Roulette also depends on the human element of delivering the ball. Mentally, I am now putting my fingers in my ears as I poke the Wizard with my stick. I regard roulette as beatable essentially because the outcome is or can be influenced by the dealer. The Wizard fixed me with a quizzical look but said nothing, so I continued. I win four times in five, essentially by finding dealers who knowingly can influence the final destination of the ball or who are consciously or not, delivering the ball to a predictable segment of the wheel. This is not wheel-clocking it is studying the performance of the dealer age, size, friendliness, approach to spinning and looking at the past numbers as a guide to what could lie ahead.
The Wizard is unimpressed. I just can't believe it. The interaction of the wheel rotating and the ball moving at different speeds in my opinion ensures that every spin is a random event.
"So if I tell you that experienced dealers can, if they wish, make this happen far more often than you might appreciate Dealers may deny the ability but experienced ones can hit a predictable landing-strip on the wheel sufficiently often to tilt the odds into positive opportunities for players."
If you're right, I have friends with bankrolls in the millions who would likely be interested in getting in on this if I could be convinced it is for real.
Big players would attract all types of heat. Like the problems of playing large sums while card-counting, this has to be a low key strategy, a cat and mouse game. Dealers constantly look over their shoulders. The presence of the number boards tells their superiors at a glance whether they are spinning neighbours or to a predictable pattern. Placing large winning bets for very long would be impossible. Dealers would be changed or spoken to as I have seen often. Supervision is especially close in the high-rollers rooms with the single zero tables.
Why would dealers deny this skill?
They're scared of management; scared of being disciplined or fired. Casinos monitor dealers. If they regard a dealer as unlucky (for them), that person could be out of work. However, just as in other jobs, many dealers dislike their employers. Dealers also want their tokes (tips). This encourages them to help players who are polite, respectful and who recognise that landing on neighbour bet numbers is an art to be rewarded with a toke.
I'd be interested to watch this. We agree to meet some time as I go on to ask how he felt about systems for roulette that suggest waiting for say six blacks and then betting on red.
If black has come up one hundred times, it is just as likely to hit again next time. I'm unimpressed with systems based on breaking patterns.
I can't argue with the arithmetic but my experience has been that I had more success in waiting for six blacks and then progressing from there than when waiting for three and even more success when waiting for nine. I agree the odds remain the same but experience shows and doesn't commonsense dictate that the chances of a red being closer are improving?
The Wizard obviously realises that he is dealing with someone who is crazy enough to defy the mathematics of the game and politely does not reply, so I continue. On the even chances, I found I could win like this, using money management, whether following the wheel or betting on change. What are your feelings on money management?
Money management will not ensure success in the long run. Someone visiting Vegas for a convention with a thousand dollars may be successful by an aggressive strategy of increasing stakes when losing or by pressing bets when winning but overall, it is not the answer. So there it was straight from the mouth of the mathematician! Perhaps common ground exists between real experience of success and harsh mathematics if each session is deemed short and the long run is ignored.
The Wizard's greatest PR coup was back in 2002 when he did a survey of the slots here in Sin City and exposed the huge traps for players in variation of the payback programmed into them. By Nevadan law, the slots must pay back a minimum of 75%. Anyone who has visited the city will have seen the promises of 98% payback? or The Loosest Slots in Town. So I asked. Are there casinos round paying only 75%.?
Casinos here do have slots with differing paybacks but any casino retaining 25% would do itself no favours. Players would soon realise that they lost quicker playing that casino than elsewhere. The fun in play would be diminished. They would move on. Sure, even on a game promising a 98% payback, they would probably lose anyway but their action would last longer and they would get more pleasure from it.
His four hundred hour survey naturally attracted critics but the Rampart Casino, which was runner-up in good casinos for slot play commented that the Wizard's mathematics checked out precisely. Having studied his site and now having watched and listened to him, I am not in the least surprised! "Your website is hard-hitting - highlighting on-line casinos to avoid and unacceptable software used by the unscrupulous ones. Your slot survey was blunt. Any intimidation from lawyers?
I could show you a stack of threatening letters from attorneys. I do not back off. I have my principles and do not give-in to attempts to silence me.
Not everyone who plays on-line is aware of the risks from using rogue casinos. Problems arise in getting payment of winnings, abuse of credit card details and in troublesome software. My experience on various sites offering roulette has not been good, I explained. Even on ones that have never been blacklisted, I have never won in the end. I get ahead, far better than average and then get destroyed in an equally untypical way. Does that surprise you? Yes, it does. There are many sites that are legitimate and properly run using software of which I approve like Real Time Gaming. This is used on Bodog, the on-line casino accessible from my site. On the other hand, there are sites using rogue software that must be exposed. I list some of which I am aware on my On-Line Casino Blacklist. I had read a couple of his warnings with particular interest. One warning concerned a company offering the chance to establish your own casino. Its advert reveals a nasty can of worms: Our proprietary random number generator is calculating profit before the winning /loosing (sic) number is sent back to the game. You can set a minimum profit that's always kept for you. This also ensures that you will not wake up with $20,000 debts!
This same company boasts on its own site: The software is very good, with great control over the profit/winnings. It has the ability to change the winning % per game/table in real-time. Also you can withdraw the profit and limit player's winnings. Games are completely random, if the winning is within the limit. If the bet is causing winning over the set limit, the generator is generating another number until the winning is within the limit (or player loses). Note the words in italics! This is precisely the experience I have suffered. Having been encouraged by winning, suddenly whatever I do is wrong. I road-tested the game to (my) destruction. Having started playing even chance positions (18 numbers) and losing whatever chance I backed, I kept on increasing the numbers played till I was playing thirty-three a spin. The four other numbers kept hitting! I was then cleaned out. My experience was a precise fit with the boasted ability of the software.
The good news is that the power of the Wizard's wand pointing out this shabby software has led to its disappearance. The other warning came from the Wizard's own experience on-line as he explained. There's blackjack software out there on rogue sites that beats the player by replicating a dishonest card-sharp dealer dealing seconds. The players may unfairly get cards that will bust them or give the dealer the best card to build a winning hand.
A reader alerted me to possible cheating on a site in free play mode. I backed red 200 times on their single zero game. I won an amazing 133 times. The chances of this are 1 in nearly 4 million not credible! This software is still in use on some sites, so be warned. There are plenty of well-run casinos on-line and care is needed to find the right ones like Bodog.
Sports-betting is now very popular in Europe. Any abuse there?
Use the good on-line sites but also remember that even they may deal with players differently. This is not unusual or lawful in my view. A good bettor and a bad bettor may well be offered different lines. Whether to accept what is offered is a matter for each individual to decide.
As we part, I tell him about the extraordinary and tragic deaths of four runners in the Great North Half-Marathon and immediately the Wizard is working out the odds. Amazing! I'd like more details. Now does that give me reason to hope that I may yet persuade him over roulette? That what is amazing may actually be reality?
Brett Morton is the author of Roulette-Playing to Win. I am skeptical of the claims of the book, so the link does not imply an endorsement.