Post Mortem: Team Play in New Jersey; aka - Bubbles to Share

I’m sure you’ve seen this, but if you haven’t, there are slot hustlers who exploited a loophole with IGT software online to make a bundle playing Ocean Magic and Golden Egypt, two very well-known vulture games:

I LOVE reading stories like this for two reasons.  1) The players took it to the man.   2) This is a learning opportunity, or at least a good time to reflect on our life choices. 

Here is the gist of how the play went down:

-          Casino / Game manufacturer makes a mistake.

-          AP finds the mistake.

-          AP makes the decision to burn the opportunity.

-          AP collaborates with everyone they know to execute.

-          Game manufacturer and casinos are pissed.

If you don’t believe that is a pattern that repeats over and over, read the ongoing articles on Phil Ivey and Borgata.  Here is a recent update:

Maybe the last bullet in the process should be:

-          AP gets paid?

I was not involved in any of these plays, so all of what I’m going to write is conjecture, but I think there is some value in deep diving into these use cases and extracting what we can from what others have done.  I’ll attempt a post-mortem analysis, and I welcome feedback if you think I have it wrong.  Maybe there is another narrative that makes sense? 

Here we go:

Let’s do a quick comparison of these two use cases.  I’ll call one “Ivey” and the other “Jay” based on the figure heads.

-          Amount won (as published):

o   Ivey:  $10M-ish

o   Jay:  $1.5M-ish

-          Game played:

o   Ivey:  Live Baccarat

o   Jay:  Online Slots

-          Team Size:

o   Ivey:  We know he had a partner, but were more people involved? Probably…

o   Jay:   Sounds like half the AP world flew to New Jersey and there was backend math support.

-          Were the APs paid?

o   Ivey:  At least partially it seems.

o   Jay:  Allegedly.

There is a lot more to be compared here, but I’m hesitant to write too much on the tactics because I don’t want to educate the game manufacturers and casinos any more than these APs already have… 

Before I get back to what I really wanted to talk about, I do want to clarify one thing.  Unlike these APs, I stay (more or less) in one place milking what is there with low competition.  I’m not a travel the world kinda guy…  I like sleeping in my own bed and having dinner with my kids every night…  Remember, AP is my hobby, not my job.  I just wanted that context to be out there, because it makes a difference in perspective… 

Because I’m more comfortable with machine hustling, I’m going to focus in on the “Jay” play on Ocean Magic and Golden Egypt and compare it to the Ivey case when it makes sense to do so.

Step 1 & 2:  Casino / Game Manufacturer makes a mistake; AP finds it.

The interesting talking point here is contemplating what Jay’s plan was when he found an opportunity.  When I check online casinos, I’m looking for something that I can personally exploit, but that’s not what Jay did.  Jay brought in a team of people to burn out the game. 

Did you listen to the recent Gambling with an Edge podcast featuring Michael Shackelford?  On that episode he said he did the math for the game and part of the deal was that he could write about it after the play was dead.  We now have a wizard of odds page on Ocean Magic, and a page appears to be coming soon on Golden Egypt.

So we know Jay wanted to validate the opportunity he found was indeed positive.  That’s smart.  We also know Jay was willing to make deals with the opportunity.  This means Jay is looking to engage a team.  But what was Jay’s role in that team?  He clearly filled the role of a scout.  Did he engage others because he did not have the mathematical capability or the bankroll to attack the game?  Maybe Jay’s hustle is to find opportunities and sell them on the open market?  These are questions I don’t know the answer to, but it begs the question…  If you are really good at finding opportunities, why would you need to bring in “everyone you know” and share the wealth?  I’d favor just keeping my mouth shut and playing it myself assuming I have the bankroll and the proximity covered.  I mean, it’s $1.5M, not Ultimate X for nickels.

Step 3 & 4:  AP makes the decision to burn the opportunity; AP collaborates with everyone they know to execute.

We know Jay knew exactly how good the game was and for how many spins from working with Shackelford. Shack mentioned on his GWAE podcast that part of the deal was being able to write about the opportunity once it was dead; I have to assume the other unspoken part was monetary.  What else would the other part be?  Companionship and admiration?  I think not.  Anyway, with numbers in hand, we now have a math problem.  Jay could make $x per day on his own with y variance, or he could look for a better way to profit from the game.  If the better way exceeds $x per day or reduces y variance, then Jay has incentive to engage the more desirable tactic.   What I’m trying to back into right now isn’t how much each person made or the number of people that were brought in, I’ll get to that, but the business model that Jay was considering.  The economic choice he made was clear in the article; he engaged others to reap as much as they could in a short period of time knowing it would kill the play.  That means his model showed that there was either more money or less risk in engaging others than there was in milking it on his own.  Remember, APs aim to maximize return and lower variance… 

I don’t know the terms of the deal…  I.e. cash for information or cash for extra hands.  It could very well be there was not profit without multiple players, meaning Jay needed more hands, but I can’t make that scenario make sense in my head based on the information I’ve read.  Because of that, I suspect the deal was cash for information.   If that was the decision, I have to consider why that decision was made…  It could be because Jay’s bank was insufficient to absorb variance from some of the big bet levels available online.   I don’t know for sure and it’s likely that was a factor, but I just don’t think that bankroll was the primary driver of the decision.

With that said, consider this table, which is a hypothetical model of how it could have gone down had Jay been able to sell his information for a 10% share of the expected value.

This tactic certainly lowers Jay’s variance!  With this data, the size of the bankroll on hand becomes moot to a lot of people.

On the other hand, I would assume it would have taken the casino and game manufacturer longer to figure out someone had them beat if a team had not been engaged.  If you want to read more on the decision to kill an opportunity or to sting it along, Lee Jensen published some thoughts on that here.

It is worth a read.

Step 5:  The game manufacturer and casinos are pissed.

LOL!  Gee, I wonder why?  How would you feel if a casino beat you for $1.5M? “Yeah, I lost $1.5M in the casino last week and I had a GREAT time doing it.” said no one ever!  I really wish I could hear the conference calls between IGT and the casinos on who exactly is going to foot the bill…  That’d be a hoot.  I bet it is tense and lawyers are involved, just like on the Ivey case.

Minor Rant:  For the few of you who have pinged me saying that I’m killing plays, flooding the market with new advantage players, and generally bringing an end to the world as we know it…   Think about the response a corporation will take when someone decides to take $1.5M (or more) from them.  Do you think they will call in a group of highly paid consultants to figure out what happened?  Do you think some of those consultants will be APs who understand the tactics?  Do you think APs are tempted by money and might just take the payday?  Do you think the corporations are worried about what processes they need to put in place so that something like this never happens again?  Point is, APs who decide to “cash in” or to “burn a game” hurt the community more than I ever could with my silly little blog.  They make news that gets a shit-ton more page views than I do.  I hope you guys enjoy your riches and put them to good use.  If I see you pissing it away on a kitty glitter machine, I will think bad things about you silently inside my head.  Can you live with that?

Step 6:  AP gets paid (maybe).

Not a lot to say here, but I think it’s interesting that Ivey is in court and Jay is not.  I guess it’s somewhat telling that there is a brink somewhere in between $1.5M and $10M.  I suspect the brink is actually lower than $1.5M because as I understand the online slot action was available at multiple shops, so the hit each one took was a lower share.


This article is on the long side, so I want to wrap things up.  I think this thought exercise is useful when it comes to how you want to operate as an AP.  Do you want to be part of a team?  Do you want to run a team?  Do you have the network to stand up a team?  Do you want to be an army of one?  Do you have the capability to make any choice you wish, or do you need to fill gaps?  I consider all these things myself from time to time, and I like being (more or less) on my own. I welcome people to reach out to me with team opportunities, just don’t be surprised if I decline most of them… That’s what I usually do.