The main problem for casinos is customers who calculate roulette results. To make the game unpredictable again, the institutions have to radically revise the approach to the organization of the gaming space and tighten control over the equipment. However, observant customers still manage to manipulate the system and achieve big winnings. In this article, we want to tell you how in the early 2000s, three very lucky players gave rise to technological change in the industry (and were one step away from being arrested).
On March 2004, a gambler named Niko Tosha caught the attention of security personnel at the Ritz Club casino in London's prestigious West End. He visited the establishment seven times in two weeks, and each time he left with a winner of several thousand pounds.
The casino manager called Tosha the most successful player he had seen in 25 years. None of the employees could explain the customer's outstanding success at roulette. Security even examined the wheel Tosha was playing, but found no signs of fraud.
Tosha came to the casino accompanied by a man and a woman (their names would later become known - Nenad Marjanovic and Livia Pilisi). The trio stood out from the other customers for their strange method of playing roulette. They waited six seconds for the dealer to release the ball, and then, as the ball began to slow down, they hurriedly allocated chips to 15 different numbers before the casino employee stopped taking bets.
The assistant manager later told investigators that the players moved so coherently, "as if they were reacting to the firing of a starting gun".
Standard roulette in casinos is played on a spinning wheel. It is divided into 37 red and black sectors, numbered in random order, and one green "zero" sector. The player's task is to guess which color, number or range the croupier's launched ball will fall on.
Typically, Nico Tosha and his partners made so-called neighborhood bets that covered one number and two numbers on either side of it-a total of five sectors. They didn't guess 100 percent of the time, but their luck was still unprecedented: sometimes their winning streaks lasted from eight to 13 rounds - no casino employee had ever seen such outstanding results before.
On the evening of March 15, 2004, Tosha and his partner Nenad Marjanovic bought £31,000 and £59,000 worth of chips, respectively. Just a few rounds later, they won £309,000 and £683,000. Their companion Livia Pilisi did not play - she ordered drinks at the bar. When Tosha and Marjanovic failed to guess a number, they reacted in no way, continuing to methodically allocate chips for the next round. One day, said the croupier, Marjanovich bet 10 thousand pounds and before the end of the round, without even looking where the ball stopped, went to the bar.
The trio's total winnings for the entire time amounted to 1.3 million pounds. But the casino staff were worried not because of the amount, but because of how pragmatically Tosha and his partners acted. Roulette is an unpredictable and chaotic game in which no single strategy based on mathematical calculations has ever produced consistent results. The fact that the same people kept guessing winning numbers worried security.
Casino employees, roulette wheel installers, police officers, and lawyers tried to uncover Tosha's secret and understand if his actions were legal. In 19 years, however, no one has succeeded.
One of the most active participants in the investigation was Ritz Club security chief John Wootten. In March 2004, he had just assumed his new position after serving in the Grenadier Guards and managing the Rock Club. At his direction, his subordinates quickly identified the players: Croatian Niko Tosha, Serbian Nenad Marjanovic and Hungarian Livia Pilisi.
After examining the wheel, Wootten found no signs of tampering. Thanks to the surveillance cameras, he realized that Tosa and Marjanovic had been betting just seconds after the start of the next round. The chief of security then surmised that the players were using some sort of computing device.
John Wootten knew that the first attempts to calculate roulette results using computer technology in the 1960s were made by Edward Thorpe, an American mathematician and theorist of the blackjack card game, and Claude Shannon, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of information theory. They came to the conclusion that the results of roulette cannot be completely random, because we are talking about an object of spherical shape, which moves in a circle under the influence of gravity, friction, air resistance and centrifugal force. This means that the outcome of the game can be calculated.
According to scientists, knowing the speed of the object and the rotation of the wheel, you can with a high degree of accuracy calculate the point where the ball will stop. Predictions Thorpe and Shannon were not always accurate, but they were wrong by no more than a couple of sectors. To test the equation, in 1961 they developed an analog computing device the size of a matchbox, which was attached to a timer hidden in the shoe. Once Thorpe specified the characteristics of a particular wheel, he had two stamps to get the data on the ball's motion and substitute them into the equation. The system worked in the lab, but doing the same thing in a real casino proved much more difficult.
In the 1970s, the cause of Thorpe and Shannon was continued by the complex systems researcher, entrepreneur and chaos researcher Doyne Farmer, who dreamed of founding a community of inventors on gambling profits. He, too, became convinced that roulette results were not as unpredictable as thought, but like his predecessors, was faced with the fact that calculating them scientifically in a regular casino was virtually impossible: the computer would break from a short circuit or overheat. Farmer and his colleagues abandoned attempts to "beat" roulette in the early 1980s.
John Wootten knew about this research and assumed that, thanks to technological advances, Tosha and his partners could have developed the calculation methods invented before them. The chief of security decided that Tosha waited six seconds every time after the start of the round before placing a bet, so that during this time the device calculated the speed of rotation of the ball and the wheel and predicted the winning sector. Wootton went to the police with this hypothesis.
When Tosha, Marjanovich and Pilisi once again returned to the casino, they were taken to a private room where investigators were already waiting for the players. The trio were arrested on suspicion of cheating and taken to the station for questioning. Wootten asked the officers to check the clothes and shoes of the detainees in case they were hiding special equipment there.
All three behaved as calmly under arrest as they had when they played in the casino. Tosha refused to answer any questions. Marjanovic called himself a professional gambler and said that with experience like his, he could win at roulette 70 percent of the time. According to the Serb, he had to limit himself so he didn't win more often. Both men denied accusations of using computing devices. Pilisi was in a romantic relationship with Marjanovic, but did not disclose any details about how her companions managed to guess winning sectors so often.
The detainees were found in possession of several hundred thousand pounds and a list of marked casinos. Police allowed the Ritz Club not to cash Tosha and Marjanovic's checks at least until after the investigation, so that they would have no way to abscond with their winnings after they made bail.
But the investigation quickly hit a dead end: no wires, headphones or timers were found on the suspects. Technicians were never able to find any traces of software on the phones of Toshi and his partners that would allow them to predict roulette results. Lawyers of the alleged cheaters offered the police to attend a demonstration, after which, according to them, it would become clear how you can systematically cheat roulette without breaking the law.
They decided to conduct an investigative experiment at the Colony Club Casino, located near the Ritz Club. Instead of Tosha the revolutionary method was demonstrated by Croatian Ratomir Jovanovic and Lebanese Youssef Fadel, invited by lawyers. The men won about 380,000 pounds over the same period as Tosha and Marjanovic. Police suspected that Jovanovic was part of a criminal gang led by Tosha. The players had to demonstrate their method in a private room under the supervision of police and security officers.
Jovanovic did exactly the same thing as Tosha: he bided his time, placed his bets and allocated chips to different sectors. But it didn't work for him - the Croatian didn't win a single hand over the first few rounds, and then he won sporadically for insignificant sums. Jovanovic tried to justify himself by saying that he was pressured by the atmosphere in the room, but the police objected that playing in a regular hall for real money would be much more exciting. The experiment failed.
The cops still didn't believe Tosha and his companions, but they couldn't figure out what the crime was. Even if they had managed to establish that the players were using computers, it still would not give rise to charges, since there was no ban on the use of technology in casinos in Britain. The investigation had to be suspended. The casino was forced to pay Tosha and Marjanovic their winnings.
But Wootten didn't give up. He contacted Mike Barnett, a former electrician and professional gambler. He claimed that with the help of a handheld remote control can be used to calculate the winning sector with a high degree of probability by video recording the movement of the wheel and the ball.
The defects and peculiarities of the wheel made it possible to predict the outcome. On a perfect wheel, it would be impossible to accurately predict where the ball would fall out, but over time the wheel would tilt imperceptibly. Even the slightest irregularity was enough to cause the so-called "drop zone" to form on it. When the ball had to overcome the slope, it would lose speed and stop in the same section of the wheel. This pattern was enough to predict the outcome, despite seemingly random bounces and slips.
In September 2005, the British Gambling Commission confirmed that under certain conditions, a computer can predict the outcome of the game. To make roulette unpredictable, as intended, the regulators suggested that casinos use metal dividers or toothed grooves between sectors that would give the ball's movement an element of randomness.
The second important instruction was to keep an eye on the wheel and keep it perfectly flat. Even an inconspicuous tilt to the naked eye was enough to cause the ball to end up in the "drop zone" over and over again. Defects in the new equipment appeared after several weeks of continuous use. Sometimes the condition of the wheel made the results so predictable that players didn't even need computer technology: they could bet again and again on the same sectors. There were always players who identified the flaws in the system before the casino did.
The London casinos were the first to change the equipment, followed by gambling establishments all over the world. Industry leaders began to take the threat of predicting roulette results more seriously. The wheels were equipped with laser sensors and inclinometers (devices designed to measure the angle of an object relative to the earth's gravitational field) to record the slightest tilt.
The changes also affected casinos with an online dealer, which allowed you to bet and monitor the course of the round from the comfort of your own home. Security service of one of the largest such companies Evolution Gaming Group in the early 2010's found that several players were winning with incredible stability by betting on the results of the roulette wheel, located in a casino in Riga. Engineers checked the equipment and realized that the problem had to do with the floor: a gap between the concrete base and the carpeting was creating unevenness. In another casino, the trajectory of the ball was affected by a fan installed in the room because of the heat.
Casinos could have made themselves safer by stopping taking bets before the start of the round, but then the number of players would have decreased and the establishment would still be at a loss. Instead, companies prefer to technologize the process to make the results as random as possible.
In 2016, Evolution Gaming Group expanded the analytical department responsible for "fair play" to 400 employees. Their responsibilities included monitoring roulette results and wheel movements in real time. So they could track whether certain sectors won more often than they should have, based on statistical models. Depending on that, the analysts advised the croupier to throw the ball faster or slower.
In addition, casinos began to make extensive use of modern technology and advanced equipment. One of the innovations was the so-called randomizer rotor rotation - a program that allows you to slow down the ball at random points in time. Players are not far behind: those who bet online calculate the speed and trajectory of the ball by broadcast with a computer program, even without a timer.
Until his retirement in 2020, John Wootten, head of security at the Ritz Club, never found any evidence that Nico Tosha had used a computer to calculate the "drop zone. One theory is that the player had used the technology so often in the past that by the time the investigation began in 2004, he had already learned by eye to calculate winning sectors based on the trajectory of the ball. According to analyst Mike Barnett, the wheel at the Ritz Club was so old and uneven that Tosha could literally see the results with his naked eye.
When Bloomberg reporters found Tosha in a villa on the Adriatic coast south of Dubrovnik, he admitted that he repeatedly played at the casino under an assumed name and sometimes even disguised himself with a false mustache and beard. However, the gambler assured that he had never used a computer to calculate roulette results, and laughingly stated that such a device would rather suit a character from a James Bond movie than a "peasant" like him. Tosha attributed his success to careful training: according to him, he watched the wheel long enough to notice its defects and use them.
Tosha also said that the only thing that distinguished him from other players was ambition: unlike his competitors, he was not limited to a few thousand pounds. According to the Croatian, if he had not been arrested in 2004, the next night he would have returned to the Ritz Club and taken already 10 million pounds.
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