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Mar 26, 2019 1:31 pm

Déjà Vu: Advantage Player Cracks Online Casinos Again, This Time For Over $500K

By Eric Raskin @ericraskin

You might think that beating a casino at a slots game would be an example of defying the odds. But as an advantage player proved when he and some friends got the better of several online casinos in New Jersey to the tune of almost a million dollars in January and February, sometimes you crack the casinos not by defying the odds, but by doing exactly what the odds forecast.

The key is to find those rare opportunities when the odds are in your favor.

Slot machines are typically engineered to make the player pressing the buttons gradually poorer. But one advantage player, who goes by the name “Jay,” discovered an opportunity on a game called Ocean Magic by which, with a particular approach and a large investment, the odds favored him. Call it a design flaw, call it an oversight, call it bait gone wrong. Whatever you call it, the opportunity was there. The odds favored the player. So the player pounced, and the game was soon removed from all of New Jersey’s online casinos.

Just six weeks later, NJ Online Gambling has learned, Jay did it again.

It was a different slots game, Golden Egypt, from the same manufacturer, International Game Technology (IGT), on some of the same casino sites. Once again, the odds were in Jay’s favor, and once again, he didn’t defy them.

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This time, the score was just over a half-million dollars in about two days of play. It went pretty much how the odds suggested it would.

The same player beat the casinos twice in six weeks, for a combined $1.5 million, and they never saw it coming.

When you put it all together … okay, yeah, maybe the phrase “defying the odds” does apply.

Pay that man his money

When NJ Online Gambling published its first story on Jay and his advantage-player friends on Feb. 26, they were still waiting on withdrawals from three of the casinos where they played Ocean Magic. They were owed about $130,000 by Borgata, $40,000 by Caesars, and a paltry $700 by Hard Rock. 

There was also a matter of theoretical additional winnings at Caesars, as Ocean Magic was removed with one of the players in mid-run, with the game in an advanced state that he had effectively paid for. Imagine that you’re playing Madden football and you and your opponent have both ponied up cash, and the game crashes with you holding a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter; you’d expect more than just your money back.

Shortly after the article ran, the three casinos released all of the money for payout, with the exception of the potential extra money from Caesars. “We kind of let that go, for now,” Jay says, indicating that they might pursue it down the road.

But otherwise, the advantage players have been made whole since the publication of the article. Whatever reluctance some of the casinos had to pay, whatever stall tactics they were using, in the end, the players received their money. It was a happy ending to the story.

And Jay was waiting for that story to end before writing the sequel.

“We got paid a week ago Monday [March 11],” Jay explained last week, “and we started playing again the very next day.”

Coin artist

“Golden Egypt and Ocean Magic are almost synonymous with each other,” Jay (@playwithanedge1 on Twitter) says. “Anybody that plays in casinos knows they have similar vulture-ability.”

Jay, a former Wall Street guy who’s been a professional casino advantage player for about 17 years, isn’t based in New Jersey, but he can view the available games at the regulated NJ online casinos from out of state. He checks daily to see what new games have been added, and in mid-February, he noticed several sites added Golden Egypt.

Golden Egypt is a game with five columns and four rows, plus two spots for coins above each column. (Plenty of people have posted videos of themselves playing on YouTube, if you want a visual demonstration.)

The coin spots on the top are the key to the game being in a favorable state. When both coin spots above a column are filled, the whole column becomes “Wild” for two spins. And as is the case in Ocean Magic, having Wilds on the board greatly enhances the chance of a substantial win.

Jay noticed that Golden Egypt had a consistent starting game state at the online casinos: one coin each in the second, fourth, and fifth columns. That’s helpful, but …

“It’s not something you would play in a brick-and-mortar casino,” he says. “It would not be advantageous enough to play it.”

Golden Egypt slot machines at land-based casinos are set to return only about 85-87% to the player. However, casinos typically program their online slot machines to have a more generous return. As with all things online, there’s lower overhead. The games are designed to be as profitable as possible while still letting players feel like they have a chance to win, and casinos can afford more leeway in that regard online.

With regulated casinos in New Jersey, there’s a law that they have to publish each game’s return percentage. So Jay looked up what it was for Golden Egypt online: 94.2%.

Just as he did with Ocean Magic, Jay contacted his friend with an actuarial background and asked him to run the numbers. Jay says his threshold for playing the game — for making the investment and taking the risk — would have been about 105%.

The math whiz put together an Excel spreadsheet, running every different coin configuration, and came to the conclusion that Golden Egypt had an expected return of 106.9%.

“Once we found that out,” Jay says, “I called a bunch of my friends — all different people from the ones who played Ocean Magic — and they flew to New Jersey.”

Spin and win

The “all different people” point is a key one. Jay says he never played from his own account on either the attempt to crack Ocean Magic or Golden Egypt, and since the casinos knew what players had beaten them the week of the Super Bowl, there was no sense in any of those same players attempting to make big deposits again.

So an assortment of different players got in on this opportunity. There were 14 of them in all. The game was available at six online casinos: Betfair, Borgata, Golden Nugget, Hard Rock, Party, and MGM. And though you couldn’t play it as big as you could play Ocean Magic — Golden Egypt had a $500-per-spin max, whereas Ocean Magic went as high as $3,000 — each player was likely to get more spins on Golden Egypt before he’d gone all the way through the denominations.

Counting sign-up bonuses, if each player deposited $15,000 on each of six sites, Jay and his mathematically inclined friend believed the expected value was a win of between $20,000-$30,000 per person. Multiply that by 14 players, and the expectation was a profit of $280,000-$420,000 on $1.26 million invested.

“One of the players hit a bonus round on the first day of play at the top denomination level,” Jay says. “The bonus round has odds, roughly, of hitting on one in 600 spins, and what it comes down to is you might hit it at $1.25 a spin, or you might hit at $500 a spin, or anywhere in between. One of the players hit it at $500, and that bonus round paid $130,000.”

So add that unexpected hit to running on the higher side of expectations on the whole, and, as Jay says with the steely lack of excitement in his voice of a man who’s been doing this at high stakes and high risk for almost two decades, “The net was a little over half a million.”

A screen capture from one of the advantage players’ winning runs on Golden Egypt

Golden … then gone

Where did the casinos and IGT go wrong? It seems they just didn’t consider that the initial state of the game, or “seed,” combined with the more player-friendly online win rate, could add up to a negative expectation for the house.

“They seeded the game yet again,” Jay says. “However, they seeded it in a way that I don’t think they even realized it was going to be profitable.”

It didn’t take long for the sites to wake up to that reality. The players started spinning on a Tuesday, and by Wednesday, Hard Rock had yanked Golden Egypt. Other sites pulled the game on Thursday. It’s still available at Betfair and Golden Nugget, the latter of which the players had no success on. But according to Jay, with only two sites to play on, the variance makes it not worth continuing.

In a surprise twist, Play SugarHouse added the game after Jay and friends made their score. It is still there at the time of this writing.

So the action ceased on Thursday, March 14. And then the players braced for the next challenge: getting paid.

“Borgata paid relatively quickly, within 24 hours,” Jay says of the roughly $150K that players won in total from Atlantic City’s most profitable land-based casino. “We had about $100,000 at Betfair, and they paid quickly also. With Ocean Magic, they were the ones that paid quickest. We’ve had no issue with them.”

Hard Rock, where the advantage players won the most, proved to be a temporary trouble spot. According to Jay, the players were told their accounts were being investigated. A few days passed. The players lodged formal complaints with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement on March 19 and 20.

There’s no cliffhanger ending here. As of press time, Hard Rock has released all of the money. NJ Online Gambling reached out to Hard Rock last Friday, the day before the payments began to process, and on Saturday, Director of Public Relations and Community Affairs Nikki Balles responded, “Those players in question have been paid and we have no further comment.”

We were unable to get a comment from the DGE. So it’s anyone’s guess whether the DGE intervened after the complaints were filed, whether a journalist’s inquiry sped up the process at Hard Rock, or whether the casino was simply taking a deliberate approach and investigating to make sure there was no foul play before releasing the funds.

Whatever the case, this whole saga has illustrated the value of regulation. This clash with advantage players has been a loss for some casinos in the short term, but it’s been a win for the integrity of New Jersey’s legal gambling industry.

And of course, it’s been a win for Jay and his friends.

Will they press their luck a third time?

No, wait — let’s re-word that. It’s not about luck.

Will they press their advantage a third time?

Eric Raskin @ericraskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.