The Loh Down On Science

Improving the Odds

Can science help you cheat at roulette?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, awesomely, yes!

We think of roulette as a game of chance. A ball gets dropped onto a spinning wheel. It spins around, bounces, then stops, randomly.

But Australian math professor Michael Small says: If you divide the game into two parts, only the bouncing part is random. The first part, where the ball spins around? Somewhat predictable!

So Small and his team developed calculations. They factored in wheel and ball speed, and where the croupier releases the ball. From that they predicted roughly where the ball would eventually stop.

They programmed their formula into a tiny, shoe-heel computer, Maxwell Smart style. Then, standing at a roulette wheel, Small clicked his heel each time the ball went round, triggering the calculation.

In trials, on average, Small's computer improved odds from losing three cents on each dollar to winning eighteen cents per buck.

Try his shoe-heel computer at a real casino, though, and you might soon find yourself wearing shoes of cement! Just sayin'.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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