Physics Can Help You Beat The Odds At The Casino

By Amir Khan on October 1, 2012 9:27 AM EDT

Roulette
If you're looking to get an edge at the casino, all you need is physics. Well, physics and a camera. (Photo: Creative Commons)

If you're looking to get an edge at the casino, all you need is physics. Well, physics and a camera. According to a new study, published in the journal Chaos, Using a standard roulette wheel, researchers created a model of motion and were able to stack the odds in their favor.

The key is in knowing the location of the ball and the croupier, the casino attendant in charge of the game, researchers said.

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"Knowing the initial conditions allows you to beat the odds," Michael Small, study author and a statistician at The University of Western Australia in Perth, told LiveScience. "In some cases you can beat them quite significantly."

Researchers came up with two ways to beat the odds. The first, and simpler, way involves observing and recording the position of the ball, the croupier and the speed of the ball to figure out where it will land. In the experiments using a standard European-style roulette wheel in a lab, this method would have gained the team nearly 20 percent earnings, instead of the expected 2.7 percent loss. The gains would have been slightly less in the U.S., as the wheels have one more space.

The second method uses a digital camera mounted above the wheel to obtain the same data, but provided much more precise measurements and more precise predictions. However, getting a camera into casino is all but impossible, and possibly illegal. Still, the return would be great.

In addition, researchers found that if the table is slightly-off level, it's easier to predict where the ball will land.

"A very slight slant in the roulette table, could ... substantially enhance returns," the researchers wrote.

The researchers used classical mechanics to develop their model and predict where it would end up.

"We extrapolate that prediction to the point where the ball hits one of the deflectors -- the raised bumps in the wheel's rim that are added to increase the random bouncing of the ball," Small said. "Then we make a guess as to what portion of the wheel the ball is likely to land in."

In 22 trials, the research team predicted the correct half of the wheel 13 times, netting them an 18 percent profit.

"It is clear that in principle one should be able to make some predictions, given sufficient information," Holger Dullin, a researcher with the University of Sydney in Australia, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience. "The paper by Small and Tse did a good analysis."

The entire method is published in the study, but Small gave potential gamblers one piece of advice.

"If you wish to beat the house, look for a wheel for which the ball drops only from one side of the rim - that is, a crooked table," Small said. "Prediction becomes substantially simpler and more reliable."

However, he warned that Roulette is still a game of chance.

"Even if the odds are in your favor, there is still a probability of losing, and losing big," he said. "In the long run you would come out ahead but you may first need very deep pockets."

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