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A Bar, Blackjack And Best-Sellers: One Author’s Big Break

As part of a series called My Big Break, All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

Once — before he’d hit the New York Times Best Sellers List, before he’d hosted a TV show, before he’d written a book whose film adaptation got an Oscar nomination for best picture — Ben Mezrich was just another struggling author.

“My first six books were medical thrillers that nobody read,” he laughs. “Trashy, pop, sci-fi medical thrillers. One of them became a TV movie called Fatal Error, which is really horrible [and] airs at about 2 in the morning.”

He was deep in debt and using credit cards to pay rent.

The night that things changed, a friend took him to an Irish pub in Boston called Crossroads, just across the Charles River from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“There was this group of kind of geeky MIT kids who used to hang out there,” Mezrich remembers. “They were regular MIT kids, but they had tons of money and all of it was in hundred dollar bills.”

He remembers that those crisp bills caught his eye.

“The thing is that, in Boston, you never see $100 bills,” he says. “I know in New York you see them all the time. In LA, you see them. In Vegas, they come right out of the ATM machine — but in Boston you never see $100 bills.”

Mezrich was introduced to the group. Among them was a tall, athletic kid named Jeff Ma.

“‘Why do you have all this money in hundreds?'” Mezrich remembers asking Ma. “And he invited me to his apartment and pointed to his laundry — and in his laundry was $250,000 in stacks of hundreds. It was incredible. I’d never seen so much cash in one place. And he said, ‘Come to Vegas with me tomorrow; I want to show you something.’ ”

Mezrich had no regular job and was deep in debt anyway, so he figured: why not?

“It was him and five of his buddies, and the driver took us to this suite on the Strip. And the MIT kids came in and started pulling money out from under their clothes. They piled it up, and it was a million dollars in cash.”

The kids from the dive bar were members of the MIT blackjack team. They invited him to watch as they hit the blackjack tables with their elaborate system for counting cards, complete with costumes, false identities and secret hand signals.

“It was like a real operation going on,” he says. “I was blown away, because I’d been spending the past few years writing all this crap that nobody was reading. And here was a true story that was better than anything I could come up with on my own.”

When Mezrich got back to Boston, he wrote up a book proposal and sent it off to his agent. The agent wasn’t incredibly impressed. Las Vegas just wasn’t “hot” yet, Mezrich recalls. This was back in the late ’90s, before Ocean’s Eleven and poker on TV.

He got his smallest advance ever — smaller than those medical thrillers — and his book, Bringing Down the House, was scheduled for a print run of just 12,000 copies.

To help promote the book, he wrote an article about the MIT blackjack team and their methods for Wired magazine.

Kevin Spacey read that article, called Mezrich, invited him to lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel and told him he wanted to make a movie out of the book. The film adaption — renamed 21 — was released in 2008.

And that wasn’t his only big break: A week before the premiere of 21, Mezrich received a strange email from someone who claimed that their friend had founded Facebook. That led to his meeting Eduardo Saverin, the co-founder and former chief financial officer of Facebook, who told Mezrich that he had “a story to tell.”

That story became the best-selling Accidental Billionaires, which led to more phone calls from Hollywood mainstays: Aaron Sorkin, who wanted to adapt the book into a screenplay, and David Fincher, who wanted to direct the film. In 2010, The Social Network netted an Oscar nomination for best picture.

Mezrich’s latest book is called Once Upon A Time In Russia: The Rise Of The Oligarchs, which chronicles the dramatic rise and fall of Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

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Commission says blackjack dealers can ‘hit’ on 17

The house would win more blackjack hands at Maryland casinos under a pending rule change approved Thursday.

State gambling regulators approved casinos’ request to allow blackjack dealers to draw a card on a hand known as a “soft 17″ — a change that would incrementally boost the house advantage and generate increased revenue.
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The change, endorsed on a voice vote at the monthly meeting of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, must be approved in Annapolis by the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review.

Rocky Gap proposes new slots, outdoor gambling
Rocky Gap proposes new slots, outdoor gambling
A year ago, the gaming control staff rejected the casinos’ request to allow dealers to “hit” on a soft 17 — a hand adding up to 17 including an ace, which can be counted as a 1 or an 11 — instead of having to stand pat.

In blackjack, players try to score higher than the dealer without going over 21. Dealers at Maryland casinos must draw a card at 16 or below, and must now stand on all 17s. Players have no such restrictions.

Blackjack offers players the best odds of any game of chance in casinos, with the house holding a slight edge for players correctly applying basic strategy.

Maryland’s rules are generally considered player-friendly. For example, Maryland casinos pay 3-to-2 on a blackjack, which occurs when a player reaches a perfect 21 by drawing an ace and 10-value card. That means a $10 bet yields $15. Some casinos in other states have blackjack payouts of 6-to-5.

Permitting dealers to hit on 17 would raise the house advantage by about 0.2 percent, said Charles LaBoy, the state’s assistant director for gaming.

“It gives the casinos more flexibility to manage their floors,” LaBoy said.

LaBoy said the revenue gains from such a shift would enable casinos to offer more tables permitting low bets — typically $10 or $15. Those tables are popular with players, but many blackjack tables at Maryland casinos now require higher bets.

cComments
The article was well written and made several good points. First, I’m all about allowing businesses to offer the games and rules they want. It is our job as consumers to decide what we are willing to accept. If the Horseshoe offers the new rule, hit soft 17, and Live says keep it the way…
CASINO INSIDER
AT 11:26 PM JUNE 19, 2015
ADD A COMMENTSEE ALL COMMENTS
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“They’d like to offer more of that,” LaBoy said.

But Tom Hyland, a longtime professional blackjack player from New Jersey, said the proposal “is very significant, to the detriment of the player.”

“The best way to think about it is, if you bet $100 a hand and you get 100 hands an hour, it would cost $20 an hour,” Hyland said. “It’s a serious windfall for the casino.”

Hyland doesn’t fault casinos for seeking the change.

“I kind of think casinos should be able to offer any game they want and then people can choose,” he said. “The sad thing is, the general public doesn’t even notice. Sometimes the dealer ends up busting [after a soft 17], but most of the time the dealer gets a better hand. You’re never supposed to stand on soft 17 as a player.”

Last year, the casinos told the state that the change would “increase the house advantage, which will increase revenue, tax dollars and make us comparable with other markets,” according to a 2014 memorandum obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a Maryland Public Information Act request.

The casinos’ initial proposal was rejected last year because Maryland decided that “changing the rules to essentially lower the payout to players was rather one-sided,” LaBoy said at the time.

He said casinos came back this year “and essentially they made a good enough argument.”

If approved, LaBoy said the change would be communicated to players with signs at tables where the change is in effect. But first it must be reviewed and voted on by the House-Senate committee, a process that can take months.

Also Thursday, the commission approved, without debate, the proposed $128 million merger of Lakes Entertainment, which owns Rocky Gap Casino Resort, and Las Vegas-based Golden Gaming.

Golden Gaming operates casinos and taverns, and a subsidiary known as Golden Route Operations installs and operates thousands of gambling machines in taverns, convenience stores and other retailers. Lakes’ principal asset is Rocky Gap, the once-troubled state-owned resort it acquired for $6.8 million in 2012.

“It makes the company stronger,” said Scott Just, Rocky Gap’s general manager. “It makes us more diversified.”

The commission also approved Rocky Gap’s request to add 54 slot machines and create a new outdoor gambling area on an existing smoking deck. The change will enable patrons to smoke and gamble simultaneously.

The shift will put Rocky Gap on a more even footing with some casinos in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, where smoking is allowed inside, Just said.

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Deadwood casinos to offer keno, craps and roulette next week, hope to attract new players

DEADWOOD, S.D. — Casinos are betting next week’s introduction of keno, craps and roulette in Deadwood will help reinvigorate the historic Black Hills town and level its odds against gambling hotspots across the country competing to attract players.
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The new games, overwhelmingly approved by South Dakota voters in November and authorized by lawmakers during the 2015 legislative session, are set to begin July 1. Casino operators and gambling industry advocates believe the new games will bring a type of customer to the historic mining city who would otherwise have traveled to Colorado or Iowa in search of the popular games.

“It changes the image of Deadwood to being a fully-fledged gaming destination competing on a national level,” said Mike Rodman, executive director of the Deadwood Gaming Association. “We’re just excited about the games, and 8 o’clock on July 1, we’ll be playing them.”

Rodman said the gambling industry is optimistic about a boost from the new games after roughly flat gambling revenue in 2013 and 2014. So far, 2015 revenues have grown by about 4 percent or 5 percent, he said, which is “not anything to jump up and down about.”

A rough estimate for the amount of revenue the new games could add in Deadwood is about $2 million a year, but that number doesn’t account for a boost in other benefits from more visitors such as increased spending on other games, Rodman said.

David Schneiter, general manager of Cadillac Jack’s Gaming Resort, plans to offer the three new games, with roulette wheels and craps tables destined for a blackjack area on the casino’s floor. Schneiter said casinos in Deadwood are missing out on earnings from people who would stop at a craps table to play if they saw one.

“It’ll make a difference in Deadwood,” Schneiter said. “It’s not just a slot machine, blackjack, poker market anymore. We’ve got everything.”

William Thompson, a gambling expert and professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the new games will likely have a positive effect, but said he doubts it will cause a national stir.

“I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be optimistic,” he said. “I just don’t see it as a big game changer.”

Matt Smith of Casper, Wyoming, is a craps lover — just the kind of player Deadwood casinos are trying to reach. He said the decision to add the games has changed his perception of a “small little gambling town.”

Smith, who took a trip to Deadwood in November, said he plans on returning in the fall with the same group of friends to see the new games.

“It definitely gives me incentive to want to go back quicker,” said Smith, 29. “It’s definitely by far the most exciting casino game there is.”

Tom Rensch, managing partner at the Silverado-Franklin Historic Hotel and Gaming Complex, also plans on offering craps and roulette on July 1. Customers have been asking for the games for years, he said, adding that the games should encourage more people to travel to Deadwood and grow the market.

Rensch thanked South Dakota voters for embracing the new games. In November, 57 percent of voters approved constitutional Amendment Q, which gave the Legislature the authority to implement the games in Deadwood and at tribal casinos.

Tom Scheffert, of Dorchester, Nebraska, is planning a trip to Deadwood for the July 1 opening of craps. Scheffert, 61, said he travels across the U.S. playing the game, which he likes for the excitement.

He said he’s been to Deadwood before and wished for craps.

“Every year we’ll make a couple trips up there,” Scheffert said, now that the games are opening. “Before, we were basically never going back.”

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Angry gambler smashed up Coventry casino after losing on roulette wheel

An angry gambler smashed up gaming machines at a Coventry casino after losing an undisclosed sum of cash on a roulette wheel.
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Kawa Abdulla flew into a rage at Genting Casino at the Skydome complex in the city centre just after 11.30pm on March 11.

As fellow punters fled in panic, the 48-year-old of Northey Road, Foleshill , punched a display screen before picking up a stool and using it to smash up two gaming machines worth a total of £6,500.

Police were called and he was arrested at the scene.

At Coventry Magistrates Court on June 17, Abdulla admitted criminal damage and using or threatening unlawful violence.

He received a 12-month community order comprising a six-week curfew and a rehabilitation activity requirement.

He was also ordered to pay £780 compensation, a £60 victim surcharge and £85 costs.

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Casino croupiers steal £23,000 in ‘Ocean’s Eleven-style scam’ by fixing roulette wheel

A gang of casino croupiers ‘fixed’ a roulette wheel in an Ocean’s Eleven-style scam to steal thousands of pounds, a court has heard.

Casino workers Craig Walker, 26, and Daniel Johnson, 29, used a secret signal – scratching their heads – to tip off their stooge Kevin Traynor, 32, in a bid to raise his stakes.

The Blackpool residents used the scam to make £23,000 from Coral Island casino in Blackpool, Lancashire.

Managers at the casino became suspicious that Traynor’s winnings were disproportionate to his bets and, checking CCTV, uncovered the ruse.

Preston Crown Court heard Walker and Johnson were working together on a quiet shift at the casino when they discovered it was possible to perform a ‘ho spin’ on the wheel – fixing it so the ball stayed in the same slot.

They enlisted Traynor, a family friend of Johnson’s, to visit the casino and place a number of bets.

When he was given the signal, dad-of-one Traynor increased his bet from £25 to £100, securing a win and splitting the cash with his two accomplices.

SWNSCraig Walker (pictured) and Daniel Johnson are in court for ‘fixing’ a roulette wheel in an Ocean’s Eleven style scam to steal thousands of pounds from Coral Island casino in BlackpoolIll-gotten gains: Craig Walker (pictured) was jailed for 14 months for ‘fixing’ a roulette wheel
In January 2015, two months after the trio started their scam, casino manager Richard Monroe became suspicious about Traynor’s gambling pattern and asked a member of staff to supervise him.

Traynor seemed to be gambling small amounts but making big wins and when computer records revealed a £2,100 payout, Mr Monroe delved into CCTV footage.

Walker – a senior croupier with responsibility for overseeing games were being played fairly – was seen scratching his head prior to a ball being anticipated.

Patrick Williamson, prosecuting, said: “All three said their motivation was that they had been in debt.”

All three men were arrested and admitted their part in the plan, before pleading guilty to fraud.

Fraser Livesey, defending Walker, said: “He will never again work in the trade he has learned since he was 18. No one is ever going to trust him.”

For Johnson, Brian Williams, said: “What began as an idle discussion developed into a plan. He can hardly believe they did it.”

SWNSCraig Walker and Daniel Johnson (pictured) are in court for ‘fixing’ a roulette wheel in an Ocean’s Eleven style scam to steal thousands of pounds from Coral Island casino in BlackpoolJailed: Daniel Johnson was part of the team who stole from Coral Island casino in Blackpool
Walker was jailed for 14 months, while Johnson was jailed for 12 months.

Traynor, of Prestwich, Greater Manchester, was handed a nine-month sentence suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

Sentencing the men, Recorder Nicholas Clarke QC said: “On eight occasions you operated the game in such a way that your stooge, who you brought in from Manchester, could come in and play the game to win.

“You gave a signal, a no spin was arranged which prompted an increased bet and so secured a larger win than you would by playing by chance or without the knowledge of the wheel.”

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Billionaire who lost £2million in roulette game at the Ritz refuses to pay debt

The Ritz Club is suing Safa Abdulla Al-Geabury for the money, plus £200,000 interest, which is building at a rate of £438 a day, after his cheque bounced last year.
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However, the Swiss national has countersued for £5.4million to cover the sums he blew at the Mayfair casino over four years saying bosses should have stopped him betting because they knew he was hopelessly addicted.

The High Court heard yesterday that in 2009, in a bid to beat his habit, Mr Al-Geabury, 52, signed self-exclusion forms banning himself from a host of London casinos, including The Ritz.

However, the former currency dealer, who rents a £90,000 a year flat in Chelsea, was let back in after several months and gambled again. In court he claimed The Ritz Club “chased” him to keep visiting the casino.

He also alleged he only went to the casino in February last year after accepting an offer to watch Arsenal play Bayern Munich at the Emirates stadium in London.

He claimed a Ritz executive suggested he went to the casino after the match even though he protested. Mr Al-Geabury told the court: “I told [the man] I was a problem gambler.”

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Microgaming Changes Free Spin Functionality

The great abundance and variety of online casino video slots clearly shows that they are the most popular attraction in online casinos; software developers are constantly on the lookout for ways to make them better and more innovative.
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With this in mind, it is no surprise that free spins are amongst the most sought after features in online casinos, enhancing players’ slots experience by giving them “on the house” spins that can have them winning big. One of the prime developers of online casino video slots, Microgaming, has recently introduced new changes in its popular slots.

Cross-platform Free Spins

With the new changes, Microgaming is giving online casinos and online gambling operators the ability to offer players an expanded free spin experience. If free spin offers were limited to a device up until now, the new functionality allows online casinos to give players the option to choose their platform and use the free spins exactly the way that they wish – players are able to allocate how many free spins they’ll use via their desired device.

The new changes allow players to change between their desktops and mobiles, using their free spins on each platform without limitation. The free spins are correctly distributed according to desktop and mobile use, even in cases when they apply to a few chosen titles at once.

New Desktop and Mobile Releases

The functionality changes in Microgaming’s slots are tagged along with no less than five new slots which were released by the company this month. Among the new games, players can find the Wild West themed Pistoleras, two slots themed on dogs and cats, Hound Hotel and Kitty Cabana, The Legend of Olympus and an HD release of Microgaming’s hit slot Avalon.

Microgaming has also launched three four on mobile: Summer Holiday, Fish Party, Cashville and Kings of Cash. Players are now able to play the new games along with their new functionality at top Microgaming-powered online casinos the likes of Platinum Play Casino.

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NetEnt launches content with Danske Spil online casino brand

Following the signing of an agreement earlier this year in March, NetEnt said that it had successfully completed the integration process and a selection of its games had now been gone live on Vegas.dk.
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“I am very pleased to announce that we have launched our games with Danske Spil, one of the leading WLA operators,” said Enrico Bradamante, managing director of NetEnt Malta and chief of European market operations.

“I am confident that players in Denmark will enjoy our world-class thrilling games.”

The launch expands the company’s presence in the regulated Danish online gaming market, where NetEnt has been providing its content for the past three years.

It also continues the company’s expansion into the strategic WLA (World Lottery Association) channel, with the supplier currently providing its products and services to the likes of Lottomatica, SNAI and SISAL in Italy.

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Danske Spil online casino live

In conjunction with Play’n Go, Danske Spil, the national lottery of Denmark, is now live with its new online casino.

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It is the first platform agreement delivered by Play’n Go to a state-controlled gaming operator and WLA-member, such as Danske Spil.

Players have access to Play’n Go’s full range of games as well as titles from third-party providers selected by Danske Spil.

Søren Schneider, head of games at Danske Licens Spil, said: “Danske Spil has just launched a casino standalone site to ensure further growth in a highly competitive Danish market. To gain further market share we need to be able to reach new target groups that we cannot reach with our existing casino today.

“We think we can create a unique and strong position in the market with this platform and give more value and entertainment to the players than our competitors are capable of. There are 30 casino licence holders in Denmark and you need to try and differentiate yourself if you want to be successful in the future gaming business.”

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