Top-10 gambling operator blunders
By Aaron Todd
Here are 10 classic blunders made by gambling operators.
10. New York State Lottery Quick Draw payouts
The New York State Lottery operates a keno game called Quick Draw. Restaurants and bars have tickets that patrons can fill out, picking how much they want to wager and how many numbers they want to pick. With a drawing conducted every five minutes, there are plenty of opportunities to gamble during a night out.
New York's lottery is running a promotion this month whereby winning Quick Draw tickets of $10 or more receive a 50 percent bonus on their winnings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. That's not a bad promotion. But it's not as good as the promotion they offered in the late 1990s, where winning tickets were given a 100 percent bonus. That promotion was so good, in fact, that if a player picked every single four-number combination, they'd be paid out more money than they put in and would actually make a profit.
Some people with mathematical minds ran the odds and figured it out, and they took the lottery to the cleaners. While they couldn't play every single number combination, they let the lottery select their numbers randomly and ran as many tickets as they could for each drawing. I worked as a part-time sports writer in the Canton office of the Watertown Daily Times while I was in college, and I still remember a local news reporter coming into the office after checking out the scene at a nearby bar, saying that they were running tickets as fast as they could and that people were making money hand over fist. My favorite detail of the whole story is that the winners had enough foresight to make sure that the maximum amount they'd win on any ticket was less than $600, the threshold where they'd have to report the winnings on their taxes. Since each ticket was a separate gambling event, the cumulative winnings didn't have to be claimed. Some people reportedly won five- and even six-figure sums, all tax free.
9. Sportsbooks lose big on 2008 Super Bowl
As a New York Giants fan, this one still makes me smile.
If you're an NFL fan, you probably remember how big a favorite the New England Patriots were to win the 2008 Super Bowl. The Patriots entered the game undefeated and were 12-point favorites over the New York Giants. Bettors didn't believe the line and the money poured in on the Giants. Lots of people picked the Giants and the points. Others picked the Giants to win outright at odds better than 4/1. And when the unthinkable happened and the Giants won the game, the Vegas sportsbooks took a bath to the tune of $2.6 million.
8. WSOP added chip scandal
The 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event will always be remembered as the largest live tournament in poker history (at least until the record is broken), but it will also be remembered for having approximately 2.4 million in extra chips introduced in the late stages of the event, most likely when tournament officials were removing lower denomination chips from play and "coloring up."
Mistakes happen, but when they happen in the biggest tournament of the year, they're magnified. It doesn't appear that the introduction of more chips directly benefited the eventual winner, Jamie Gold, but they definitely changed the dynamics of the tournament for at least one, and perhaps more players.
7. MGM lion's mouth entrance
While the MGM Grand Las Vegas' original design didn't tilt any games in the favor of players, it did have a big impact on their bottom line. The casino's original design had a lion at the main entrance, and patrons walked underneath the lion's head and between its paws. Asian gamblers in particular did not like walking through "the lion's mouth," seeing it as unlucky. And who needs bad luck when they're about to walk into a casino? The design was changed in 1998.
6. Irish lottery displays wrong "winning" numbers
Lotteries are pretty simple, really. You create a game with random numbers. You pay out less than true odds on combinations of those numbers. You report the numbers that were drawn, pay out winners, and keep the rest of the money as profits.
Turns out it's not always as easy as it sounds.
The Irish Lottery did everything right except reporting the numbers in a drawing on Dec. 17, 2011. The broadcast of the drawing reported the wrong numbers, and some were worried that the winner of a €4,817,816 may have thrown away their ticket. Thankfully, the story has a happy ending, as the ticket for the massive jackpot was claimed.
5. Cheers raffle drawing
As a longtime fan of the television series Cheers, I had to sneak this one into the list. Sure, this one isn't real, but it could have cost Ms. Rebecca Howe her job.
Rebecca plans a raffle for a Caribbean cruise to drum up business at the bar. When Woody draws the winning ping pong ball he looks at it and announces the winning number is 66. Then he turns the ball over and sees that it looks like 99 and announces a correction. Both ticket holders think they should win, and thankfully Sam jumps to the rescue with a solution that everyone is happy with.
If you're feeling nostalgic you can watch the episode on Netflix or on Amazon.com.
4. Betfair Casino Happy Hour bonus
Online casinos often offer bonuses to get people to make deposits and play their games. Those bonuses generally give players an opportunity to claim some free money, effectively lowering the house edge but not eliminating it entirely.
However, in late 2010, Betfair constructed a "Happy Hour" bonus in such a way that players could guarantee they'd end up a winner. Players were given unlimited 50 percent deposit bonuses with a 10x rollover requirement. So if you deposited $200 you received a $100 bonus. You could then go to a roulette wheel and plunk down $5 on every number on the wheel 17 times and be up $20. Increase your deposits and bets to the table maximum and repeat as many times as you can during the Happy Hour period and you can win a substantial amount of money.
Not surprisingly, Betfair didn't really like it when people started doing this. But they compounded the problem when they went after people who had cashed out from the promotion, withdrawing the sums of money players had won. It was a PR nightmare for a company that up to then had a sterling reputation.
3. Massachusetts Lottery's "Cash WinFall" game
Instead of promoting an ever-increasing jackpot, this unique lottery game from the Massachusetts Lottery promised to increase payouts for non-jackpot wins tenfold whenever the jackpot rose to over $2 million. The increased payouts would lower the jackpot amount below the $2 million threshold, and at that point payouts would revert back to the lower level, allowing the jackpot to once again rise to the $2 million threshold.
The problem with the game was that it was taken over by what the Boston Globe called "a handful of math and science wizards" who took advantage of the game when payouts increased, earning the lion's share of the wins. What's even worse is that Massachusetts State Lottery Commission officials knew about it and didn't do anything until the Globe started investigating.
2. Ultimate Bet cheating scandal
There's nothing worse than having the deck stacked against you. And that's exactly what happened at Ultimate Bet when a few players had access to "super-user" accounts, allowing them access to their opponents' hole-card information. It's pretty easy to win at poker when you know the other players' cards.
Again, what made this scandal even worse was the fact that officials with Ultimate Bet knew it was happening and did nothing. When confronted with evidence, they denied there was a problem and continued the cover-up. The scandal did long-term damage to the online poker industry and continues to be cited as a reason that online poker operators shouldn't be trusted.
1. Golden Nugget Atlantic City unshuffled decks
The Golden Nugget Atlantic City owns the top spot on this list and also has the distinction of being the most recent operator blunder. Earlier this year, a group of gamblers at a mini-baccarat table started on an epic winning streak and casino officials started to wonder what was going on. It turns out that Gemaco, the card company that supplied the cards, was supposed to provide pre-shuffled decks. But instead of the cards being in a random order, the same sequence of cards was coming out over and over.
The gamblers took advantage of the error for 41 consecutive hands over 90 minutes, racking up more than $1.5 million in winnings.
But once again, the casino's reaction made the situation so much worse. They refused to pay some of the gamblers, accused them of cheating, and reportedly held several gamblers against their will for up to eight hours.
The casino finally relented, paying off the gamblers who were owed money, but they may still face lawsuits from the winners, who didn't appreciate the way they were treated.