Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bringing Down the House, by Ben Mezrich

Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, by Ben Mezrich

We’ve all heard the story about the M.I.T. blackjack team that took Vegas for millions of dollars, but until I read this I didn’t know many details. Turns out there have been students doing this for decades; when the casinos catch on and ban the kids a new batch is recruited and the cycle begins anew. This book tells of a group that worked the late 1990’s; how they worked the system and why they quit.

The system is pretty simple, actually. Card counting isn’t illegal in Vegas, but a casino can (and will) ask you to leave and not return if they think you are doing it. One of the tell-tale signs of counting is raising bets when the deck is favorable and lowering them when it isn’t. To avoid this, the M.I.T. kids work in groups: spotters and big players. A spotter sits at a table and consistently makes the minimum bet while keeping track of the deck. When the situation becomes unfavorable for the house, the spotter signals the big player (folding his arms or scratching his ear) to join the table. The spotter doesn’t change his play at all, but the big player makes huge bets with a deck tilted strongly in his favor. When the count swings back around to the house, the big player simply gets up and moves on. Simple.

The story here, though, is how the casinos caught on and what happened to the blackjack team. While nothing they did was illegal, the casinos are not very friendly to card counters. Goons were sent to roust people out of their hotel rooms, homes and apartments were broken into and ransacked, and the IRS was encouraged to launch audits. And that was just the Vegas casinos; when the group visited other institutions the welcome was even less hospitable. In the Bahamas, for instance, one player was mugged in the men’s room right in the casino. Fascinating stuff.

First Sentence:
It was ten minutes past three in the morning, and Kevin Lewis looked like he was going to pass out.


Anonymous said...

Steven Ayers pointed me to your book blog because I mentioned Ben Mezrich. If you haven't read it, I recommend that you run out and get "Busting Vegas" by Mr. Mezrich (or you can borrow mine). I bought it and read it in one day a few days ago. It's a similar tale but with new techniques. Loved it.

-damon c.

Klobetime said...

Thanks - I'll add it to my list!

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