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October 08, 2009

Role Reversal: Gamblers Turn Casino into ATM

The Post-Gazette (standard edition, PG-Zero) brings us the news of three adventurers who are accused of turning a casino machine into an Automated Teller Machine, having withdrawn $430,000 in a series of $2500 transactions.

The accusation is that the trio persuaded a casino employee to activate a "double-up" mode on the machine, which left it vulnerable to hacking. A series of specific keystrokes and the machine would generate a significant payout to the operator, and that payout would not be reported on daily summaries.

This unauthorized role reversal - with the "gambler" using the machine to take money out of the casino - is abhorrent to all who understand the nature of casino gambling, which can be summed up in a three-word rubric ("the house wins") and a two-word unspoken corollary ("suckers lose").

A casino is a facility for fleecing gamblers suckers by arbitraging the probablity of victory against the payoff rate. It's a lot like the old-school numbers bookie: the odds of winning are 1 in 1000, the payoff is 500 to 1, so the house keeps 50% of the volume.

The reason we have casinos, the reason We The People license casinos, and the reason the state protects the casinos is that they offer state budgets a piece of the action.

So this unsavory trio is alleged to have gone into a place that runs a fixed game, a crooked house, and they reverse the game and cheat the cheaters. So what?

What's intriguing to me is that the state is now the enforcer for the casino. No more no-neck leg-breakers needed. Somehow, we've put the Washington County District Attorney into the business of tending to the casino. And when I say "the state is now the enforcer", that really means that We The People are the enforcers.

What is our public interest in protecting a rigged game, or in protecting those who run a rigged casino?

People who go into these casinos aren't gamblers, because they're not playing in a game of straight percentages - they're suckers. These three accused men, however unsavory, might be the true gamblers - they played the casino at the casino's own game, and gambled that they wouldn't get caught.

Near as I can tell, their mistake (if guilty) was gambling on a retail scale, while the House and the State are working the wholesale game.

Let's apply Kant's Categorical Imperative - would it be OK if everybody did it? Would it be all right if a lot of people swindled one-armed bandits? I believe it would be all right. (edit)

What is the state's interest in defending a swindling machine that exists to take money out of the population?


Anonymous said...

You answered your own question -- they want the cash. Raising taxes is seen as impossible, and the way voters vote, it often is in practice. Casino gambling (and the lottery, for that matter) are a lot like the drink tax or cigarette taxes in this regard -- gimmicks designed to balance the books without cutting spending *gasp* or raising taxes *double gasp*.

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