CAN DEALERS REALLY STEER THE BALL AT ROULETTE? THE MYTH OF DEALER SIGNATURE AND "SECTION SHOOTING"
By Steve Forte
(From Blackjack Forum Vol. XII #2, June 1992)
© 1992 Blackjack Forum
[Editor’s note on the background of this article: In this article, Steve Forte is responding to a number of myths put forward by Laurance Scott in a previous issue of Blackjck Forum regarding roulette “dealer signature” and “section shooting” (attempts to steer or aim the ball to a desired sector of the wheel). Laurance Scott has proposed, incorrectly, that roulette dealer signature is exploitable by players, and that roulette section shooting (or steering) is a common method of dealer cheating at roulette. Players should especially be cautioned that attempts to gain an edge by exploiting dealer signature at roulette will be harmful to their bankrolls over the long run.]
After first reading “Nevada Roulette” by Laurance Scott (Blackjack Forum Vol. XI #3, September 1991), I was left with a number of puzzling observations. There were so many inaccuracies regarding Nevada roulette versus roulette played elsewhere, modern wheels, dealer job security, the roulette “hold,” system players, countermeasures, hustling for tokes and the overall general conduct of the industry.
The thrust of the article had little to do with the controversial idea of dealer aiming, or “section shooting,” at roulette, but described Scott’s beliefs about supposedly common countermeasures used against winning players. I find it difficult to believe these practices could get past a real expert roulette player more than once, nor would I consider the practices “cheating.”
Laurance Scott is probably more qualified than most to describe the physics, technical factors and methods he believes would be used to section shoot. But aside from the ridiculous “Jane gets cheated” scenario, and the statement: “…the characteristics that make the wheel beatable from the player’s standpoint are the same characteristics which allow experienced dealers to cheat players by ‘aiming’ for sections,” there isn’t even a brief description or possible theory as to how it’s actually done.
It’s been over 15 years since I dealt the wheel and first heard the stories about roulette section shooting. I remember trying to spin the ball the same way from the same starting point and tracking my results. There never was any correlation. Years later I learned that this “same spin, same starting point, fall into the groove” reasoning was fallacious, and just one of many traps you fall into when you try to convince yourself that this “skill” is possible. I also witnessed my first demonstration of roulette section shooting from a 20-year veteran, and it was far less than convincing. After years of listening to the debate I’ve found that those who support such claims seem to fall into one of three categories:
Those who believe roulette section shooting (or steering) is a manipulative skill that can be acquired with practice. Those who contend that if beating the wheel by eye is possible then section shooting must be possible as well. Finally there’s the group that has either heard about it, claim to have seen it done or believe they can do it themselves.
Interestingly, these views are all apparent in the article by Scott, and the subsequent letters submitted to Blackjack Forum by the ex-roulette dealer, the pit boss and Harry McArdle.
For example, in the letter from the former roulette dealer, the dealer asks: “How long would it take to learn to spin a roulette ball exactly four revolutions before dropping?” The implication is that if one can perfect the skill at this level, then one can master the technique for actual casino conditions. I don’t believe you can rationalize in this way. Even with only one revolution and a super slow rotor, a significant margin of error still exists. As you increase revolutions (eight and nine revolutions are rarely seen, and 10 to 12 are considered very few) and pick up rotor speed, the margin of error will compound quickly eventually wiping out the skill factor.
The former roulette dealer also implies that the “skill” is easily attainable and the methodology is very straightforward. I believe these views to be a gross understatement of the difficulty. There are too many factors that move section shooting past the point of attainable manipulative skills.
Consider the capricious nature of the wheel. It is an undeniable fact that the characteristics of a specific wheel that may theoretically make it beatable one day can change the next day, or even the next minute, making the game unbeatable. Even the same dealer, same equipment and similar measurements of ball and rotor speed will yield different results at different times. I proved this phenomenon to myself some years back after spending 17 days on the road scouting, evaluating conditions, and recording data on hundreds of wheels. Laurance Scott states the same opinion in How to Beat Roulette. He cautions: “…there are inherent factors of the game that cause wheels to phase in and out of predictability,” and: “I have scouted over 300 wheels and only a handful exhibit consistent behavior day after day.”
Many people will argue that roulette dealers after time develop “signatures” to their spins. They argue that roulette dealers “fall into a groove” and that a typical spin tends to produce similar results. I disagree. These same typical spins, produced with the same force (whether deliberately or by habit) will produce different results from day to day! How then could roulette dealers ever possibly develop “signature” spins?
What causes the unpredictable nature of a roulette spin? Basic wear and tear on the wheel. A tilted wheel, high spot(s) on the track, oil or dust on the track, temperature, oil and dust on the ball, and air density are a few of the many forces that represent the real nemesis of roulette computer teams and visual players.
Are the balls perfect spheres? Is the composition (weight) even distributed? Many experts say no and believe that these flaws are responsible for some of the strange results that one commonly encounters. I believe this phenomenon was first mentioned in the Romeo Project, a book that detailed an algorithm for roulette computer play. Interesting side note: Don’t try to find this book, as every copy was purchased by a serious roulette computer team before it ever reached the public.
Finally, the most obvious factor, and remarkably, the one that many seem to forget: Roulette section shooting or steering would require the perfect correlation of two questionably attainable skills, not one. The roulette dealer would have to aim twice! He would first have to push the rotor to a perfectly pre-determined speed, and then spin the ball with a perfectly pre-determined force. And the actions would have to be executed naturally to avoid suspicion. Compare these actions to those of professional bowlers, golfers, pool players and similar athletes. These pros only aim once and can literally take as much time as they want to warm up, evaluate conditions, and calculate the effects of their actions.
These are just a few of the many factors that contribute to the unfeasibility of section shooting. I hope to show that section shooting or steering would be infinitely more difficult and complex than most believe.
The ex-roulette dealer also comments, “If a player can clock a moving roulette ball, couldn’t a dealer?” This is a little like comparing apples to oranges. Just look at the mechanics involved.
A section shooting dealer must first push the rotor perfectly to a practiced, pre-determined speed. The ball must then be placed into the track perfectly at a pre-determined starting point. The ball spin would then have to begin with the same practiced initial velocity, carrying the ball perfect around the track a consistent number of revolutions before drop off. These are the physical skills that would have to be perfected. It would not at all be just a matter of interpreting observations of events that had already occurred.
When you read the views of the former roulette dealer and pit boss in Blackjack Forum, it becomes clear that these people really believe what they say is fact. This is not surprising. It seems that after people work in gaming for a short time they fall victim to the “I’m a Pro” Syndrome. After performing the same actions repeatedly, day in and day out, they convince themselves that they “should have” and therefore “must have” control over these actions.
Ask blackjack dealers what they do when players start “running over” the game. Most will change their shuffle in some way. They feel that by adding an extra riffle, an uneven break or perhaps a thinner strip, these changes may help get the game turned around. Then, when it does turn around—and it always does—they take the credit. They convinced themselves they can control the uncontrollable instead of simply realizing that normal fluctuation is alive and well.
In roulette, I believe every wheel dealer has at one time or another probably tried section shooting. Since very few players walk away from the roulette table a winner, the dealer takes the credit. He seems to forget about the 5.26% house advantage.
There are two procedures that effectively stop any possibility of the roulette section shooting or steering myth from becoming a reality. They are the “blind spin,” where the dealer spins the ball without ever glancing into the rotor, and the “last pocket spin,” where the dealer picks the ball out of the winning pocket, waits one revolution and spins from the same position the ball last landed. Both the pit boss and Harry McArdle point to these procedures as proof that roulette section shooting or steering exists.
After all, the logical question is, “Why do you think they have procedures like these?” As it turns out, the procedures are excellent, but the benefits realized by the industry have nothing to do with the prevention of “section shooting.” They do, however, create good control and uniformity, and minimize the most annoying, ludicrous, unprofessional reality in gaming, which is dealers and pit bosses who sweat every dollar as if it was their own. Roulette dealers of this type visibly and with emotion try to “place” and “aim” the ball as if trying to steer, and mistakenly believe they can affect the outcome.
I also decided to give the accused a chance to tell their side of the story. I asked a close friend and triple sharp, all-around gaming executive, Gary Saul, to help me find the top wheel dealers in Las Vegas. Our research led to a couple of Cuban dealers who worked together in a major casino. This was no surprise, since the best roulette dealers in the world come from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Having spent time in the casinos of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and having watched the Cuban dealers work here in the states, I can vouch for their incredible mastery of and dedication to the wheel. With a combined 75 years of dealing experience between them, both in Cuba and in the U.S., they were asked for their opinions regarding the recent controversy. They laughed and said, “If we could do that, do you think we’d still be working?”
Their response suggests two very important contradictions to Scott: “Why would anyone develop this skill to cheat players when you could work with outside accomplices to cheat casinos?” and, “If, in fact, this skill was real, you might just have the perfect crime as far as gambling scams go.”
After all is said and done, I will admit, I believe there could be a set of circumstances and extremely hard-to-find conditions that might possibly allow section shooting to exist for extremely limited periods of time. But even attempts under such theoretically perfect conditions seem futile after analysis on a practical level.
Just ask yourself these questions:
There are approximately 300 wheels in Nevada, but how many must be excluded from even the possibility of dealer steering or section shooting due to the procedures in place at the casino (the blind spin, etc.)? How many casinos use the best old-time wheels with the most favorable features? How many of even these old wheels will exhibit manageable rotor decay rate and predictable bounce? Less than thirty, if even that.
Then ask, “How many dealers work in the same casino, with the same equipment, long enough to develop these questionably-attainable “skills”? How many are able to identify the right conditions? How many understand the physics involved and know exactly what it is they are trying to accomplish? A handful? I doubt it…
Finally, how many roulette players are then vulnerable? You can’t cheat any player who bets after the ball is released, skilled or otherwise. You can’t cheat the majority of system players or typical players who spread multiple bets across the layout with no preference for specific numbers or sectors. So who’s left? The occasional player who makes one straight-up bet or a few bets in a specific section? When you do find these roulette players, what happens when other players are betting the other side of the wheel?
If Laurance Scott had stated that he believed a possibility existed that, with exceptionally favorable conditions, an extremely knowledgeable and skilled dealer might theoretically be able to section shoot on a temporary basis, I might have agreed with him.
He did not express these views about roulette section shooting or steering. He stated: “Nevada casinos cheat their roulette customers,” and “…experienced dealers cheat players by aiming for sections of the wheel,” and, “Nevada roulette is really nothing more than a carny game,” and you can “…assume the game is rigged (which it is).” I couldn’t disagree with him more.
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[Editor’s note: In this article, Steve Forte refers to prior articles and letters to the editor published in Blackjack Forum on the topics of roulette section shooting or steering and dealer signature. These will be added to the library soon. [/hide]