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Casinos Hit the Data Jackpot

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Casinos exploiting the masses... what next?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Having counted cards at foxwoods I can tell you this is not how it is done. Firstly, no casinos use single decks anymore, foxwoods was eight, and they shuffle when it gets down to two decks. And card counting isn't illegal anyway, but a casino can bar you because you look like a geek. They have the right to refuse service, as any buisness.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @07:57PM (#107478)

    Why doesn't Slashdot institute a rule (very simple) that no anonymous cowards or accounts with &lt 0 karma can post to an article for the first 5 minutes of its existence? This perpetual "First Post!" thing just seems so tired and easy to eliminate.

    I don't think the Geekizoid folk would be as keen to get "middle post!".

  • I'm not sure what they are using now, but as of a few years ago, Harrah's customer database was in Informix running on NCR *nix. The also had a few AS/400s. I _think_ every property had one of the small AS/400s onsite. Which sometimes can be a problem if the property is a riverboat and it moves under a bridge, blocking the satellite uplink.

  • Maybe an opt out policy is in order? Or an opt in?

    You don't have to have one of the players or gold cards to eat or gamble at the casinos. People get them because the more they use them, the more freebies the casinos give them.

  • Most casinos already have hundreds of video camera watching everyone. Just imagine what they could do if they used the same facial recognition software that the Tampa police have and tie it back into their gambler databases.

  • the notion (reality?) of "card counters" - I mean, what exactly are they, and why are they bad?

    Casinos (and in fact and organised gambling of any form) relies on odds. Betting in a casino will, in the long run lose you more than you gain. That's because the odds are stacked in favour of the casino. However, there's one exception -- Black Jack. There, the odds are very slightly in favour of the gambler. Card counters are basically people that have learned techniques to help take advantage of this fact, and so, in the long run, can expect to win more than they lose. There's nothing bad about it, unless you're a casino, at which point, you're obviously going to be less than impressed. If casinos tolerated card counting, it would seriously affect their bottom line, and they're not prepared to do that.

  • 640 KB should be enough for anybody.
  • If they have a patent on giving preferential treatment to those who give you the most money, will they be getting a cut from all the big special interest campaign donations? Will you have to buy a license from them to be a politician?
  • by ergo98 (9391)

    A SQL Server database can be partitioned obviously across multiple machines (which is how it dominates the TPC), but also across several disk volumes.

    In any case I thought the theoretical maximum file size is 16 exabytes (18,446,744,073,709,551,616 bytes).

  • SQL Server was made to run on reasonably well equipped hardware (the listed requirements for Windows 2000 are a 133Mhz Pentium processor, and 128MB of RAM, with 256MB recommended. For SQL Server 2000 they up the CPU recommendation to a 166Mhz or better), and on anything less it is starved for memory or I/O and it will not scale with CPU time because there are much more perilous external circumstances. There is ZERO reason to run Windows 2000 or SQL Server on under-powered hardware (256MB PC133MB CAS2 DIMMs are like $35 US), but on proper hardware it will take on any competitor when comparing apples to apples.

  • Don't they already do that? Check out the Casino Diaries on Discovery. They do the face recognition against a database of people they know cheats or suspect of cheating.
  • They already do that for bigtime gamblers (not exactly keeping him drunk, but keeping him happy).Basically, they send the limo out to greet him at the airport, free suites, anything s/he wants, s/he gets.

    For the rest of the people, do you really think they're going to have 1 employee for each guest going through the casino? Not very cost effective, especially if you only spend $50. Don't think the Casino really notice you unless you start betting $10,000+ pr. hand.

    Besides, drinks are free.

  • Right, but 1.5 TB of images is not nearly as impressive as 1.5 TB of actual transactional data...
  • by Jeremi (14640)
    It's that simple. You are trading information about yourself for discounts.

    Are you sure they didn't just keep their prices the same, and then add "penalty fees" for people who refuse to use their card? (Is there even a difference?) Anyway, I'm swapping cards with my friends, just to mess with Safeway's head...

  • they can match your face to a database with the overhead cameras to get your name, and plenty of other personal information from there.

    From a cross-indexing of everything from your tells, amount of patience, religious beliefs and political opinions to your salary and betting habits, psychology info can then be computed and instantly sent to that one-armed bandit you just sat down in front of. The machine then comes up with results designed to keep you in front of it and maximize the total amount you put down.


  • this minor step has already been taken over in the EU

    Very nearly, but not quite. As I understand it, the EU has passed a motion (directive?) that allows its member states to pass legislation like that that you describe. I don't think that the states have to pass it.

    Unfortunately for me, the UK, in which I live, was one of the states pressing for this to be passed... Ah well, I have nothing to hide (from the current government, at least...)

    I do agree that the largest privacy threats come from business, rather than government, but I take some exception to your assertion that we should Get ready to drop any spare change you still have left.

    Highly targeted advertising or not, I'd like to think I still have enough free will and self control to decide for myself what I want to buy.


  • You don't use your "Player's Card" in the restaraunts, but what you do is charge it to your room. You will always be told to charge everyhting to your room, so they can track, and comp you on it.

    I just got back from a 3 day weekend in Vegas, all completely comped: meals, rooms, drinks. We ate and drank well, and charged everything to our room. When we were checking out we were told that our host had checked my account and comped everything except the tips (the casino never comps tips). So our three day weekend cost us about $30 + plane fare.

    To make the whole thing better, I won enough money to cover all out of pocket expenses (taxis, limos, etc). I fairly consistently come back from Vegas with just as much money as when I left.

    The counterintuitive thing that people don't get about comps is that casino will comp you more when you are winning. You can bet heavily and lose and not get a comp, yet bet mildly and win and you will get a comp. People think that Casino's comp you for losing. Casinos know that people who consistently lose will not really want to come back.

    But by creating that instant "High Roller" experience as quoted in the article, people who are winning will want to come back even more. People who are losing mildly, but getting comped and treated like royalty are more likely to write off the loss and not care.

  • Actually, all bets (with one exception: a two-line-bet on 0-1-2-3 is really bad) at single-zero roulette in the long run return 97.3% (36/37) of your money. Your system does the same.

    Over 37 spins, you'll spend (say) ¥370. Since each number has a 1/37 probability of being hit, each number can be expected to be hit once in that span. Your expected earnings:

    12 wins on your 1-12 bet (¥5 at 2:1 odds) = 12*¥15 = ¥180
    12 wins on your 13-24 bet (¥4 at 2:1 odds) = 12*¥12 = ¥144
    3 wins on your row bet (¥1 at 11:1 odds) = 3*¥12 = ¥36
    Total gross in 37 spins: ¥180 + ¥144 + ¥36 = ¥360

    I don't think the casinos would have any problem with that.

    If you put all your ¥10 per spin on 2 for 37 spins, you can expect 1 win. At 35:1 odds, you'll win ¥360. (By this, I mean that you can expect in the long run to make back ¥360 of your ¥370. You could very easily double your money at some point -- there's a ~40% chance of hitting 2 in 18 spins.)

    If you put ¥3 on the 17-18-20-21 intersection, ¥2 on red, ¥2 on the first column, and ¥1 each on the digits in your grandfather's birthdate (12, 15, and 19, in my case) for 37 spins, you'll still win ¥360. The actual math (or, as you might say, "maths") is/are left as an exercise for the reader. (It helps if your grandfather was born between 1900 and 1936.)

    As far as maximizing possible earnings, see Duff's comment above. Lots of low-odds bets won't get you far above break-even, and you'll go broke. However, IIRC, single-zero roulette has the best payout of all games against the house unless you're counting cards.


  • by BilldaCat (19181) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @08:47PM (#107507) Homepage


    jesus christ people. you sign up for one of those loyalty card things, and you don't expect this? plus, what's the big fucking deal? why should i give a fuck if they know i like onions on my burger (i don't). is the onion mafia going to come out and get me, and make me eat my onions?

    god damn, there are a lot of other things going on in the world more important than this, but i guess if some casino knows i like gin and tonic, that's pretty damn newsworthy.
  • You know... I thought about it. I don't have a problem with someone collecting information about me, as long as that information was volunteered by me.

    I only have a problem with them selling it or giving it out to others.

    Ever wonder why bank clerks get chatty? They get bonuses for referring people to the loans department (or any other bank service) when they hear the person is doing something. Oh, your daughter is just about to get married? That's great sir! (write not to loan department to give him a call).
  • This happens when I order a Pizza.

    I fail to see why people have a problem with people who they already do business with using whatever means they want to 'remember' that information.

    It's when they share it/sell it that I take issue.

  • It's not that touchy. So she had your number.. you gave it to her before?

    Also, I don't know about you, but I don't really worry about people taking my credit card number. I mean, I don't flaunt it around, but there are a zillion ways for someone to get it if they want, I don't concern myself with it.

    I'm not responsible for a dime if some yahoo uses my number, I'm only responsible for up to the $50 limit if someone *steals my card*.

    If it WAS somebody new using your number (a valid concern) and they did decide to use your credit card number to order something... they'd still need to get a signature when they delivered... and you'd have no problems refuting it.

  • The casino patrons in question gave up their rights to provacy when they agreed to get and use the casino's 'loyalty cards'. Like Air Miles these babies reward you for giving information to the company that gives them out. The more info you give the more stuff you get. Whether the compensation is fair is up to you, if you don't like it then DON'T USE THE LOYALTY CARD. It is totally up to the individual if they want to be tracked. All the casino's are doing is saying:

    'Hey we want to give the small-time big-spender the big-roller experience, the only way to do that is to know our customers intimately and know their habits. '

    Gathering as much info as possible is the only way to do this. Getting customers to give up the info is the problem so they reward them if they do. The system is opt in, which most consumer privacy groups applaud, so what is the big deal?

  • 1. As someone who has done very little gambling, but read a fair bit about the social and mathematical aspects of gambling & casinos, I have to agree with everyone who has pointed out that you really can't make money with "systems". The casinos are there to make money, not to provide a fair game. Even "fair" purely mathematical systems like card counting will get you thrown out and your picture sent to every other casino in town, thus ending your gambling holiday. It might have been possible to have been a professional gambler 20-30 years ago, but things have changed. (I'd also like to take a moment to spark one in memory of Ken Uston, who got me interested in lots of cool applied mathematics at such a young age).

    2. As much as I'm generally passionate about privacy issues and pay cash whenever possible, I can't say I'm bothered by what the casinos are doing here. If you are that bothered by the evil voracious nature of capitalism, WTF are you doing going to a casino??

    3. Kim Rice, who wrote the CNN article, "shouldn't not" be publically shamed and humiliated, and his/her editors and proofreaders "shouldn't not" be tarred and feathered, for allowing such ugly mangled sentences like "These aren't things that supermarkets, banks or retailers don't do" to be seen by public eyes.

  • There are no purely mathematical systems which guarantee you stay ahead of the house at roulette. None at all. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. This is not to say that there aren't systems - there are good ones to maximise winnings, control losses and give you a slight edge - but the ones which rely on probability fail mainly because roulette is not a game of probability :)
  • by mav[LAG] (31387) on Thursday July 05, 2001 @12:02AM (#107515)
    One thing I have always wondered about, is the notion (reality?) of "card counters" - I mean, what exactly are they, and why are they bad?

    They are people who have learned a system to get themselves an edge on card games - normally but not necessarily blackjack. They are bad from a casino's point of view in that they can convert an 8-10% edge in the casino's favour to a 2-6% edge in their favour depending on the conditions - how many decks, the size of your bankroll and the rules of the game in question.

    From what I understand (and I am not a gambler - and I don't really like cards, outside of the mechanics of the games, etc - so I may be wrong) - is that a "card counter" is exactly that - someone who can keep track of, in their heads, of what cards may be "where" (ie, in what players) - and what the dealer may have left - through knowing what they have, as well as how many hands they have lost or won - etc.

    Almost. Very few people on this planet can keep track of several shuffled decks in their heads, especially when those decks are reshuffled every few minutes. Card "counters" just tally up the values of the cards dealt according to one of several systems. Once you're through a deck far enough then if you have a high running total - you bet high, low running total - bet low. There are plenty of links - try searching Google for "Blackjack Basic Strategy".

    What I can't understand is why this is illegal - ie, why is it illegal to have the skill to remember cards and positions, etc - in order to make the odds more favorable - making such an ability illegal punishes those who have the brain "capacity" or "ability", and rewards (or at least protects) those with "lesser" (or nonexistant) skills in the area.

    It's not illegal - casinos just don't like like you to win. If they suspect you have a system, then they'll use the catch-all Right of Admission Reserved and kick you out. Trust me - I know :)

  • I'd think part of the secret to this working is that a great deal of the data is static (you don't have millions of people in the casino at once) and historical (the vast majority of data is stuff already stored in the past).

    They do a little OLTP, but it sounds like the main use is reporting. Their database doesn't require any real power. Just oodles of storage.
  • by csbruce (39509)
    I do not want my Health Insurance co seeing that I only use pure butter, not margrine, or that I got some Jack Daniels the other day.

    Anyone silly enough to buy groceries or booze with a credit or debit card can probably assume that their insurance company already knows about all of their bad habits.
  • We need govt. regulation for this kind of stuff

    Move to Canada. Your privacy is actually protected there.
  • by cr0sh (43134) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @10:24PM (#107519) Homepage
    I read one of the comments about this being used for possible catching cheaters, by comparing faces to a database of known cheats...

    One thing I have always wondered about, is the notion (reality?) of "card counters" - I mean, what exactly are they, and why are they bad?

    From what I understand (and I am not a gambler - and I don't really like cards, outside of the mechanics of the games, etc - so I may be wrong) - is that a "card counter" is exactly that - someone who can keep track of, in their heads, of what cards may be "where" (ie, in what players) - and what the dealer may have left - through knowing what they have, as well as how many hands they have lost or won - etc. The idea of "shuffling" is to introduce some form of randomness to help alleviate (or eliminate) the ability to count cards...

    If this is true (ie, if my "definition" of a card counter is correct), then I can see how it would skew the odds in their favor, and away from other players and the house. What I can't understand is why this is illegal - ie, why is it illegal to have the skill to remember cards and positions, etc - in order to make the odds more favorable - making such an ability illegal punishes those who have the brain "capacity" or "ability", and rewards (or at least protects) those with "lesser" (or nonexistant) skills in the area.

    I can understand the bans against using computers to do the counting for you - what I wonder about is what happens when the time comes (if it comes), that humans are able to get "brain augmentation" devices - would these "trans-humans" be unable to gamble in casinos at that point? In other words, would they be banned? Probably...

    Finally, if the cards can be actually counted, and the probability of the hands can be skewed or somewhat accurately determined by a machine or by a human card counter - are the games then not truely random? If that is so - then are the casinos really just protecting the possible fact that they may be found out as a fraudulant "business"?


    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • by thogard (43403) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @10:26PM (#107520) Homepage
    Years ago there was a guy who worked in the same computer lab as I did. He was a grad student from a different country and he lived in a house with lots of other guys from his country. Every year at spring break they would all go to vegas for the week. What would happen is they would all pool their money and despoit it in one of the casino's "banks" using a member card and then pull out 1/5th of it every day. To the casino it looked like one guy would come in and dump several thousand dollars every spring break so they would provide this member a free room. What the casino didn't know about was the large number of people involved in the deal.
  • Will safeway start treating certain customers preferentially once it their spending habits show them to be "favored customers."

    Of course they do. They quality and quantity of coupons in their mailings are directly related to how much you spent at the store last month. The size of the "free" Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham is related to how much you spent at their stores during the months of November and December respectively.


  • by JordanH (75307)
    • How long until safeway starts bragging about its 300Gb of data collected by its club cards?

    If you don't want Safeway to collect information on your purchases, then don't have or use a club card.

    It's that simple. You are trading information about yourself for discounts. Seems like a reasonable exchange rather than some sinister invasion of privacy to me.

    I might have a problem if they were piggybacking on your Credit cards or scanning your checks in to compile statistics about you without your knowledge, but anyone who thinks they might not use those club cards to gain information about you is naive.

  • I didn't work for Harrah's, but the company I worked for was a completely IBM shop (except for win 3.1/win 95 on the desktops and Novell on the file servers.) The AS/400's where the heart of the system. OS/2 for the critical data collection units. Token Ring everywhere.

    As far as the riverboats, each had it's own AS/400 on board. When the boats docked they were plugged into a land-based network which allowed the data to be synced to another AS/400 on land. This system, of course, was connect by WAN to the other properties.

  • by G27 Radio (78394) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @10:25PM (#107528)
    At my first IT job I worked for a casino and worked directly on this exact type of system. I worked closely with the developers and was fairly familiar with the whole system. About four years back when I left they were just beginning to license the system to other casinos. I wouldn't be suprised if it's the same system that the casino reps in the article are talking about.

    The amount of data the system collects is astounding. Each table has a card reader which the dealers can run your card through to keep track of how long you've been at which table. Each slot machine is also connected. I believe about 75% percent of floor space, the maximum allowed by law in Atlantic City at the time, was allocated to slot machines. The slot machines generate more money per square foot than any other part of the casino so it is beneficial to fit as many of them as possible into the available space on the casino floor.

    Not a drop of data is wasted. The system would register the exact time that each coin is put in, the exact time the handle was pulled (or the time the bet/spin buttons were pressed), which machine it was, the type of game, the denomination of the coin(s) inserted, whether a coin was rejected, every conceivable transaction. We could actually calculate the average time it took between the last coin being inserted and the patron pulling the handle. All the data is archived with the same care that financial instutions archive their transactions. If you use a 'loyalty card' as they call it in the article then the data is attached to the patron.

    The big reason to use one of these cards is all the free perks you get should you spend enough money gambling. The prefered parking areas at the casino required your card to get in and the reader on the parking gate was also attached to the system. If a high end player arrived the system would page a Casino Executive (actually just a fancy title for someone who makes sure a high end player's needs are well tended) and the exec could go wait near the corridor to greet the arriving guest.

    From the casino's perspective, knowing the patron's likes/dislikes, which events to send invitations for, which players warrant personal attention, and things like these are important in generating customer loyalty--you want to make your casino the customers' preferred destination when they come to town and you want to keep it that way. Regular visitors to the city might visit several casinos while in town, but they usually have a favorite where they spend most of their time and money.

    Another imporant part of the system is to allow the patron to collect points by gambling. The more points you accumulate per visit the more free perks you get such as tickets to shows, fights, parties, free rooms/suites, meals at gourmet restuarants, limos, helicopters, charter flights, etc.

    I was going to make an analogy to frequent flyer miles but it's not quite the same thing. With frequent flyer miles it's the number of points you accumulate the decides when you get your free airfare/upgrades. At a casino it's the number of points that you are likely to earn on your next or current visit that are important. This is based on 'past performance' of the patron. However, as with frequent flyer miles, it pays off to patronize the same place in order to get the most freebies. It's usually preferable to be offered a free suite at one casino than to be offered a free room upgrade at 3 or 4 different casinos which are not your favorite.

    Even in the early 90's they were already doing this. In the meantime I'm sure much thought and effort has been expended to refine the process.


  • by G27 Radio (78394) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @10:50PM (#107529)
    700k might sound ridiculous at first, but the system I worked on recorded each transaction a customer made in as detailed a manner as possible. For example if you played a slot machine there would be a timestamp on each coin you insert, each handle pull, each win/loss, each rejected coin, plus other things that I'm probably forgetting...it's been several years. Also, each free perk or offer for the perk, dates you visited, which mailings you were sent, what time you entered/left the parking garage, etc, would be stored in the database. Some customers with credit with a casino also have their digitized signatures in the system. It adds up.


  • The Mob's a lot more trustworthy. And their odds of winning are a lot better than the state's. Ever check the odds of a state run lottery? You've got about the same odds of winning if you just went out and set your money on fire.
  • The MIT Wearable Comptuer people are doing The Same Damn Thing, and no one's bitchng about them! They were talking about having implemented face recognition in their wearables with the ultimate goal of being able to instantly "remember" every little trivial fact about every person they'd ever met. It wouldn't take much to extend that to the point of the Tampa face scanning software either, except with an army of people rather than one Evil Corporation. You think 40 or 50 years down the road when everyone's wearing wearables, that people won't scan faces in from "America's Most Wanted" since their wearables are just scanning faces of people who walk by anyway?

    On the plus side, footage of the Rodney King beating forward then will be available live on the Internet the instant it's happening. Will the be laws allowing you to tap into the Cops' armour HUD sense data and replace the last several hours to see if they set out to "beat up some niggers" earlier that night? That would be pretty damning evidence at the trial. That goes back to Brin's Transparent Society, I guess.

  • At Harrah's, CRM is so strategic that the company has won seven patents for various parts of its customer tracking systems.

    One critical patent covers Harrah's method for consolidating gambling and hospitality data from its 21 properties. If someone visits Harrah's Las Vegas, then the nearby Rio, then Showboat Atlantic City -- all owned by Harrah's -- information about those activities is culled from local databases and consolidated into a central patron database. This gives Harrah's a fuller view of individual customers, Boushy said.... Any competitor that wants to consolidate data from their own multiple properties "has to come talk to us or run the risk of a lawsuit," Boushy said. "We created a strategy that others thought was nuts at the time, and [we] want to garner benefits from it."

    What I find more troubling is that Harrah's was able to patent the consolidation of data among properties. Good grief, what's so unique about that? It would seem to be the logical use of data, else why would you gather it?

  • Any competitor that wants to consolidate data from their own multiple properties "has to come talk to us or run the risk of a lawsuit," Boushy said. "We created a strategy that others thought was nuts at the time, and [we] want to garner benefits from it."

    How can yo patent consolidating data? Sense when does the particular type of data used make it unique? Does this mean that anyone who starts a new type of survey could patent they're survey, and anyone who wants to to collect similar information would have to pay them royalties?
  • This reminds me of the "Farleyfile", as described in Robert A. Heinlein's novel Double Star. A politician kept a database on all the people he met with, and before each appointment he would look up the person and refresh his memory. When the main character expressed outrage, another character said it was no different than writing down a phone number and address for a friend, except in scale.

    Er ... this is exactly how it works. Except that politicians and other oh-so-important people in government usually have a team of staffers to prepare what is called a "brief" for them, which will contain whatever background information they have on whoever The Man happens to be meeting today.
  • Only question is... Does this create a political elite in the voting pool? In other words, do these "Super Voters" represent a special interest that has a lock on the power to get politicians into office, or is it just the apathy of everyone else that makes catering to them so effective?

    No--if anything, this moves power away from the political elite. This is the ultimate grass-roots campaign: no consultants, no pollsters, no "positioning", no "image advisors." Just a guy whose on the school board who thinks the current state rep is a jerk, calling to ask for your vote. And calling back to mention that he'd talked to some other veterans, and now he understands why getting funding for the VA hospital expansion is such a worthwhile thing, and so forth.

    I can't point to statistical evidence that N phone calls increases voter turnout by Y--but I have plenty of anecdotal evidence. After the second or third phone call, those Super Voters really feel special. They start to view themselves as part of the campaign. And since they're so interested in politics (which is why they vote in every election) they tend to be opinion leaders--they influence other people. Get a few of these people, get them to really understand who you are and why you're running, and you have a powerful political force.

    We're getting off-topic, but there's a larger conversation to be had here. Everybody thinks that "special-interest money" is a bad thing, especially the influence that special-interest money had in the last presidential race. If primary delegates and presidential electors were selected by congressional district (as opposed to "winner takes all") this kind of I'm-calling-to-ask-for-your-vote approach would be incredibly effective. You'd have to spend unbelievable amounts of money to overwhelm the grass-roots communication methods of thousands of local leaders who are routinely talking to their constituents. I'm biased--but I think that would be a positive thing for the nation as a whole.

  • Of course "super voters" represent a special interest. These people are the most die-hard activitsts there are, and only rarely do activists join a political party for the sake of the party. People vote because something motivates them to.

    With respect, I disagree. There are activists in any election, but only rarely are they Super Voters. Activists, particularly the Christian Right activists, only tend to show up at the polls when they are animated by a particular issue. They tend to not be Super Voters--SVs vote in every single election, rain or shine.

    Case in point: Mario Andretti. He lives in our township, and he is a gold-plated Super Voter. He votes in every election, every year, no matter what. He has voted by absentee ballot from Indy in a completely uncontested municipal primary. He (and his entire family) vote absolutely every time. Mario's not an "activist" by most definitions. Yes--he'll lend his name to a Republican party fundraiser every now and again--but typically for a candidate that he's known for years, rather than out of ideological or political loyalty.

    The Super Voters, in my experience, are good, old-fashioned patriots. Real believers in the electoral process, people who view voting as their civic duty, and who will cheerfully mouth the words "civic duty" without a hint of sarcasm or embarassment. A lot of them are naturalized citizens, or first- or second-generation Americans. A *lot* of them are vets. You see a lot of them at the Memorial Day parade, you see a lot of them at the fire company July 4th picnic.

    Twenty years ago I viewed them as old codgers with a simplistic view of the world and not enough to do. Today I think they're a lot more important--and their views are more important--than I used to give them credit for. Even if I agree with the Christian Right agenda (at least most of the time) these are the people whom I most respect.

  • by John Murdoch (102085) on Thursday July 05, 2001 @03:40AM (#107545) Homepage Journal


    Okay--I'll confess. Although I've been working with computers and networks since 1983, I'm not a real geek. I've never read anything by Robert Heinlein. So I'm not familiar with the book "Farleyfile".

    But I am very familiar with a very successful political strategy that combines two database methods to produce a very, very effective (and inexpensive) campaign. And it sounds very similar to what you describe. Here's how it works:

    Every state requires some government entity (the county in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Illinois, don't know about other states) to maintain voter registration records. For purposes of purging records of inactive voters (and for double-checking when there are allegations of vote fraud) the county maintains records of which elections you have voted in during the past N years. So in Pennsylvania, for instance, the county keeps track of the past 8 elections (primary and general in each of the past 4 years). That data is a matter of public record: along with the voter's date of birth, residence, and political party. (Pennsylvania is a "closed primary" state: you have to register as a member of a political party, and you can only vote in that party's primary election. You can't "choose your ballot" as you can in some other states.)

    When you review this data, it does not take you long to recognize some patterns (which, ex post facto, seem obvious): a lot of people only vote in the presidential general election. A lot of people only vote in the congressional general elections (1998, 2002, etc.). Relatively few vote in "off-year" general elections (1999, 2001, 2003), and practically nobody votes in off-year primaries. That much is reasonably obvious.

    But oh--when you look at who votes in off-year primaries, the lightbulb comes on. These people--to a person--are the diehards. They vote in every single election, and they have voted in every single election since they were eligible to vote. (And they know what year it was that the voting age dropped from 21 to 18.) The ultimate test of political junkihood is this: "can you name the last three losing vice-presidential candidates?" Most of these voters can.

    Key point:These voters are extremely influential. They like politics, they talk politics, and if they get excited about somebody they will shape voter opinions. With the slightest motivation/provocation they can bring half a dozen relatives and/or friends to the polls with them. When politicians prate about "grass-roots" support, these are the people they're talking about.

    So step #1 is to identify the Super Voter. Step #2 is to send a dozen volunteers through the phone books (you can hire firms to do this as well) to associate a phone number with every single Super Voter (that is, Super Voters in your party) on the list. Step #3 is simple: sit the candidate down at the phone in front of a computer with a contact manager (like Act! or any similar tool). Have the candidate--personally--call every single voter. And have the candidate keep notes, in the contact manager, of every single conversation. Between the time you file petitions at the county registrar's office in February and the primary in May, the candidate should have spoken to every single Super Voter twice. Between the primary and the general election, the candidate should speak to every single Super Voter another 3 times. Each time, the candidate should make notes of the conversation. Whenever possible, the candidate should quickly respond to any need or problem the voter is having.

    The results? The first time I saw this used, the candidate was a neophyte: he'd been on the school board, and was running for state representative. He did practically no advertising--but he called every Super Voter in the district two or three times before the primary: there were whole voting districts where he won 100% of the vote. In the general election he faced an 8-term incumbent--and spent essentially zero on advertising. His opponent strolled through the campaign, and was actually on TV (ostensibly to accept congratulations) when he discovered that he'd been beaten.

    As a gimmick, this is terrific. But it's more than that: After the election my candidate kept right on calling. He called the super voter list to thank them for their support; he calls newly-registered voters to encourage them to come out to vote; and he calls his lists several times per year. It was so effective that he was unopposed in the next 3 or 4 elections.

    Is using a database in this way a bad thing? I don't think so. The end result is that the voters got to recognize their state rep's voice on the phone--and the state rep talked to people across his district, one-on-one, several times a year.

    A politician actually calling up his constituents and listening to them. Now that's a scary idea....

  • I'm not familiar with the book "Farleyfile".

    Heinlein got the word and the concept from real life. Here's a quote from Jerry Pournelle about this:

    Big Jim Farley was a New York Tammany Hall politician whose success was partly due to the "Farleyfile": a collection of facts about everyone he ever met. If you went to see Big Jim, by the time you got into his office he knew your name, your birthday, the names of your spouse and children, and what you liked for lunch. It was all on file.

    I got the quote here [jerrypournelle.com].


  • by steveha (103154) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @08:14PM (#107549) Homepage
    This reminds me of the "Farleyfile", as described in Robert A. Heinlein's novel Double Star. A politician kept a database on all the people he met with, and before each appointment he would look up the person and refresh his memory. When the main character expressed outrage, another character said it was no different than writing down a phone number and address for a friend, except in scale.

    If you always walk in to your favorite restaurant, and the hostess knows you and greets you by name, you probably don't have a paranoid feeling of "She knows who I am. This is bad. I need to start randomly changing restaurants so no one ever recognizes me." In fact, if she remembers that you like to sit by the window, and she puts you by the window, you are likely to be happy.

    So the casinos are doing this sort of thing, only on a vast scale. I find this interesting, but not too troubling. I'm sure there are possible abuses here, but I'm not sure that the casinos are any worse than Safeway and their stupid "keep track of everything I buy" card.


  • For example, I expect that within 5 years we'll see legislation forcing ISPs to verify the identities of users and log and store all traffic for a some minimum time frame; this minor step has already been taken over in the EU. I think it makes sense though, as a method to combat computer crime. The internet can't stay the wild-west forever.

    This would be fine, so long as everyone was an ISP and could keep their own records! The whole structure of the internet is supposed to be peer to peer. Legislation that forces subservience to this otherwise equitable technology is a free speech, privacy and national security threat.

    As the internet becomes the publishing medium of choice, it is important to preserve the ability of anyone to publish. Control of this medium would be much like the control that governments once imposed on printing presses, opressive, counterproductive and doomed to failure. Any attack on the ability to publish and publish anonymously should be seen as an attack on free speech.

    Tracking internet usage by tracking user log ons and browsing is useless and oppresive. It has no use but invasion of privacy. Real criminals will always find away around measures like this. The computer time needed for this tracking would be better put to other purposes.

    Finally, the equitable nature of internet protocalls is needed for national security reasons. The web was designed for redundency and continued operation in the event of nuclear war. It's a natural extention of Ham radio field day. Every computer should be able to serve as a true node in the net, if not redundancy is lost and the system becomes weak.

    Computer "crime" is best fought by redundency and well educated adminsters who can track down attacks well.

    Let other nations oppress their people and track their habbits like bugs. We should live free and thrive.

  • by tjgrant (108530) <tjg&craigelachie,org> on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @08:13PM (#107551) Homepage

    OK, so maybe I'm a completely naive, but I fail to see how this is an invasion of privacy...

    You visit their casino, spend money on their games, eat in their restaurants and stay in their hotel rooms.

    Why shouldn't they track that information? You chose to go and do the things you did on their property.

    Now, if they were sharing that information with others with whom you had not chosen to do business, then that would be a problem, but the article clearly states that they aren't doing that.

    Stand Fast,

  • Everybody using a card like this knows that the casino is tracking them, collecting information about their habits. That's why they use the card. If they didn't think that the casino was watching, then why would they use it in the first place?

    Now, that I severely doubt. I really don't think the average customer stops to think for even a second to consider what kind of information on their habits will be collected when they hear the magic word "free".

  • Just thought I'd pass on a link to the original article on Computerworld (an IDG publication)

    "ComputerWorld" - Casinos Hit Jackpot With Customer Data [computerworld.com]. CRM leaders keep detailed dossiers on loyal gamblers

    While the rest of corporate America is waking up to the value of truly detailed customer information, the neon-lit enclave of casino gambling is already taking it to unmatched levels.

    Socioeconomic databases, loyalty cards, the cross-matching of credit card data with other files--they're all at work in the gambling business. These aren't things that supermarkets, banks or retailers don't do. But casinos have become masters of customer relationship management (CRM), having mined more complex customer data on a larger scale for a longer time than just about any other industry.

    In its latest annual report, Harrah's Entertainment Inc. bragged, "We know what our customers like," then provided examples of the kind of detail the company tracks. "Tom likes NASCAR, Clint Holmes, thick steaks. Joyce and Ted like oceanfront views, barbershop quartets, Elvis slots. . . ."

  • Holy cow. That's how this sort of thing should be used. Yeah, the politician gets the benefit of being elected (as cynical as I am about that whole process), but the voters get the recognition that their opinions do indeed matter. This sort of thing would cause me to totally re-evaluate my "my vote doesn't count" and "politicians don't care about representing their constituents, they just milk them for votes" attitude... And if I could get past that, I would no doubt take the time to be one of the "Super Voters" you describe.

    Only question is... Does this create a political elite in the voting pool? In other words, do these "Super Voters" represent a special interest that has a lock on the power to get politicians into office, or is it just the apathy of everyone else that makes catering to them so effective? If the former, then the situation is questionable, but in the latter it's pretty much everyone else's fault (including mine) that they have as much sway as they do.


  • I dunno about "logical use"... After all, the guy does say "We created a strategy that others thought was nuts at the time..." A lot of your individual inventors get the same treatment until they start making money on their invention. Then everybody that was laughing originally suddenly want a slice of the action.

    Think Xerox. The guy that invented electrostatic printing went to Kodak with a nifty new way to make pictures. When he got laughed out of the office, he started his own company and proceeded to change the world.

    If you do something fairly obvious that everyone thinks is nuts and it works, don't you deserve to be rewarded for taking the risk? This is different from the "One-click" scenario in that Amazon patented a process which was being developed concurrently by just about everyone at the same time in order to stifle competition.


  • Professional-level gambling is all about how much you're prepared to lose. It's taking the long view instead of short-term "win-lose" tracking. I don't gamble meself, but I have a friend who has aspirations to go pro at poker. But then, I guess "professional" and "fun" are mutually exclusive.
  • You're right. That goes beyond disturbing. I can feel a severe attack of the shakes coming on...

    Thanks for bringing that to my attention.


  • Bob Schmitt, Biometrica [viisage.com] President and CEO, said, "We are the dominant provider of face recognition systems to the casino market."

    "Domestically, Viisage products annually produce more than 20 million identification documents at more than 1,500 locations in 13 states."

    "MGM Grand Las Vegas has adopted Visionics Corp's FaceIt-enabled Griffin G.O.L.D. [hospitalityupgrade.com] face-recognition casino security system, following The Venetian and Bellagio's adoption of the product earlier this year. Griffin Investigations, a provider of gaming security information, has an on-line database with over 30 years of intelligence data, which casinos to match suspected individuals at gaming tables, in real-time, to a database containing photographs of all types of known casino cheaters, card counters and their associates."

    Any questions?

  • Here's the product page for the technology. [srdnet.com] Requires Flash. Looks like something from a video game. Isn't.
  • If I recall correctly, John Carmack has been politely asked not to return to certain casinos, after playing blackjack. :-)
  • Of course "super voters" represent a special interest. These people are the most die-hard activitsts there are, and only rarely do activists join a political party for the sake of the party. People vote because something motivates them to. In partisan primaries, people are picking between two (or more) people who the general electorate will generally view as "Just another Republican" or "Just another Democrat" down the road.

    The reason that the Democratic Party is focusing on Social Security and the Republican Party is focusing "Faith-Based" initiatives is a solemn nod to these "Super Voters". Retired people and the devoutly religious are perfect examples for each party. There are other kinds of bases for each party, but a politican who plays to the base voters in his party in his district can easily beat an opponent in a primary. And phone calls to voters from the politician are a lot more effective than media buys.

    Is apathy the cause? I don't really think so - some people are just not attuned to the difference between a Christian Conservative Republican and a Goldwater Conservative Republican. In 95% of the votes this person will cast in office, the difference (Christian vs. Goldwater wings of the GOP) won't be apparent. It's those base voters who care about that 5% that determine who wins and loses. And the politician will often crow loudest about that 5% to placate those base voters.

    BTW, a caveat to the above - the original message didn't say that the "Super voters" they called actually AGREED with them on issues. But many Super Voters (and to a lesser extent regular voters) are impressed by a candidate call that they'll vote for the candidate anyway, even if they don't like the candidate's issues. All politics is local, and even that bum the don't like is still their bum.

    Milhouse: "Why don't we put it on the internet?"

  • Sure they can track that information, but it should be made very clear what you're letting yourself in for when you use your loyalty card. Basically you're selling your soul to the casino for a few comps.

    Every time you use your card the casino is collating data on your gambling character; how often you gamble; where you live; what kind of credit card you have and approximate credit limit; whether you're trailer trash or affluent; whether you're single or married; gay or straight; how many kids you have; whether you're ahead or behind; what your spending limit is; what table games you play; whether you're reckless or cautious; what machines you like; how long you play them for; if you are loyal to a machine; where you play in the casino; the times when you gamble; the times when you don't gamble; what features of a machine make you spend more; what food you like eating; whether you respond to "comps"; what room you like and so on.

    All of that information makes it considerably easier to part someone with their money. You can target certain kinds of people and hit them at their most vulnerable spot. If the table take is down, the casino sends a mailshot out to some high, reckless spenders. If it's low season, mailshot all the trailer trash with cheap bus fares and accomodation.

    The same is true for supermarkets of course, but then the scale is so much different. A supermarket mailshot might get someone to spend ten dollars more on their groceries with a coupon, whereas a free meal comp from a casino could end up with someone losing hundreds of dollars.

  • by legLess (127550) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @08:34PM (#107566) Journal
    One critical patent covers Harrah's method for consolidating gambling and hospitality data from its 21 properties. If someone visits Harrah's Las Vegas, then the nearby Rio, then Showboat Atlantic City -- all owned by Harrah's -- information about those activities is culled from local databases and consolidated into a central patron database.
    Great. So Harrah's has basically patented ... databases. Imagine the US Patent Office clerks.

    "Hey Ernie, these guys say that if you walk into the Showboat, they can tell right away that you like Margaritas, even though that's in a computer miles away!"

    "Gee Bert, that's incredible! If anyone ever deserved a patent, it's them."

    "We all say so, so it must be true!"

  • For example, what would happen if someone were to steal MGM Mirage's database and post it on the net? Immediately millions of people's names and addresses would be available next to their estimated personal income, and potentially "interesting" information such as when they're likely to go on holiday.

    Assuming a best case scenario on a dedicated T1:

    ftp.m1ragehax0r.net userdb.sql 6.5970698E12 bytes completed in 397 days 16:22:18.368 @192.000KB/s

  • by stilwebm (129567) on Thursday July 05, 2001 @04:45AM (#107571)
    If my insurance company knows this information, then both the issuing banks and the grocery stores would immediately be subjected to a civil suit. Why? Because I actually read the privacy policies before I sign the dotted line, which indicate that they cannot submit this type of information to any third party without my consent. They can sell my name and address (well not anymore, I opted out in writing) but unless I give written permission and I am contacted by the party collecting the data beforehand, they cannot share my grocery list to my PPO.
  • by sstrick (137546) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @10:58PM (#107573)
    Card counting is not illegal if you sit at a table and bet solidly through a whole hand. However, to maximise their profits most card counters will hang off to a side and watch a table until 2/3 of the pack is dealed. They will then join for the last 1/3 of the pack and bet heavily. Once the pack is finished they will then go and watch another table until there is only 1/3 of the pack remaining.

    I also would still let people do this however it obivously tips the odds against the casinos to much.
  • by tcc (140386)
    10 times worse than 6TB?

    Well if it can comfort you, it's probably not hosted on windows because 13TB is the limit of NTFS if I remember correctly :)

  • by mcleodnine (141832) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @09:53PM (#107577)

    Yeah I caught that bit of nonsense. Not too surprised, but the mention of licensing or 'other forms of compensation' (kneecapping?) was almost offered as a challenge. Are they gonna sue doubleclick? Amazon? Yahoo? Google?

    "Woid on da street is dat da clowns over at Yahoo are makin coin on our intellectual properties"

    "Ya wants I should have dem, uh, 'repartitioned' boss?"

    See ya at the bottom of the lake, kids...

  • by MrWa (144753) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @08:55PM (#107580) Homepage
    Harrah's Customer Relationship patents:

    Customer Recognition []
    Customer Worth []
    more customer recognition []

    It looks like their system is setup to determine how well a customer should be treated based on past spending at all Harrah's locations. I doubt that collecting data from different locations is all the patents cover.

  • Speaking to a policeman in the UK, his experience was that Jack Straw wants to build the infrastructure for a police state without any police officers in it.

    [The UK has one of the lowest number of officers per head of population for the whole of europe.]

  • by Martin Blank (154261) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @08:16PM (#107586) Homepage Journal
    If my numbers bear out, that's about 733KB per customer, and I can think of an awful lot that can fit in that amount of data.

    What is important to ask is, can one opt out of this data collection? This is becoming a bigger and bigger issue, and privacy is important. I've been running the IE6 previews at work (familiarity with upcoming technology, or so I tell my boss), and I've let it notify me about third-party cookies. I had *no* idea it was this bad. Sites that don't even have banner ads have third-party cookies trying to plant themselves on my system. I don't mind first-party cookies, but the tracking issues on third-party....

    In the same vein, I don't mind a hotel greeting me by name, but having them ask, "Will you be spending your normal $352.65 on the casino floor tonight?" would be downright spooky, not to mention who might be buying tapes of this data. Imagine a casino chain knowing you in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and on the gambling cruises!
  • by none2222 (161746) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @08:19PM (#107587)
    What, you think since you don't gamble you're safe? Do you have a driver's license? A bank account? A credit card?

    If you have any of the above, a great deal of information about you is already being trafficed through the corporate world, and the amount will only grow with every passing year. To take one seemingly harmless example, if you have a savings club card, you've already handed them on a silver platter to megabytes of data about yourself for your grocery store to sell. Then there's the magazines you subscribe to, the professional organizations you belong to, the ISP you use (don't think they don't mine logs for useful information). And don't forget your medical records. The databanks of the highest bidders certainly never will.

    In the future, as storage gets cheaper, and transactions are increasingly done through electronic means, you can expect records to be kept of everything you buy, everywhere you go, everyone you correspond with.

    While the government does present a danger to privacy*, the corporate world is clearly the largest threat. Corporations already manipulate us with slick marketing. Once highly targetted advertising arrives, we'll be so many fish in the corporate target barrel. We won't stand a chance. Get ready to drop any spare change you still have left.

    Besides targetted advertising, blackmail is the other serious threat posed by corporate stockpiling of personal information. I could see a future where corporations solidify their control over our leaders by holding their past misdeeds over their heads. Campaign contributions and corporate political activism are bad enough. Just imagine when the corporations put themselves in a J-Edgar-like postion above the president.

    *For example, I expect that within 5 years we'll see legislation forcing ISPs to verify the identities of users and log and store all traffic for a some minimum time frame; this minor step has already been taken over in the EU. I think it makes sense though, as a method to combat computer crime. The internet can't stay the wild-west forever.

  • Really? A 6TB database running on Linux and mySQL on a 486SX running at 33mhz. Truly amazing.

    You know, you should feature your wonderbox on Slashdot. It would make a great article and we all would love to see how you did it.

  • ..and so do some of their bosses. They actually say

    In some ways, casinos are more mindful of privacy than other companies

    right after putting on a discourse about saving 6TB of onion data about their customers. I`m sorry but I don`t want Casino`s to take care of my privacy. I want to have control of that myself, I don`t care how mindfull thoughtfull or nice these 160Million dollar companies may be. I remember altavista giving me a lifetime pop3 box, for which I was paying only3 years later.

    Yielding control over your data over to an IT firm is usually a risk, but if their is malpractice from one of their employees abusing your data, chances are you can get them sued. On the other hand companies as big as these are much tougher to attack because they you know their laws and rights inside out and you probably somehow agreed to be in their system and surrender your private data. They are big brother, and they didn`t tell you. After all, you came to them. It`s your choice. Proving they misuse your data is so much more difficult. Besides they don`t really store 'you', they store profiles. 'You' is not important to them. It`s what makes you appealing to them that is important.

    Actually I don`t mind them correlating the data with other data. It`s their right. I would mind them selling and getting rich on data of my life. It`s like they do not own a 'copyright' on my actions I undertake, and thus have no right to make money off of it. Obviously, they get '3rd party' data from elsewhere, so this is really going on. I didn`t think they were this far ahead, but apparently everything is possible.

    I`m wondering what the Casino industry, which is collecting so much data about thier customers, is going to do with all that 'knowledge', as it also means power, a power the government might in the long run have to negotiate with. Hmm.. Maybe I read too much 'SnowCrash' by Stephenson.

  • "If you care more about your privacy, then your path is fairly clear - don't apply for one of these cards!"

    This is not at all clear. The article said one casino had information on a lot of people -- and it said only a fraction of them carried those customer cards. Therefore the casino collects information in other ways. So it is not clear how to protect your privacy.

  • by edp (171151) on Thursday July 05, 2001 @06:20AM (#107594) Homepage

    I hope I can correct and enhance some of the comments here about card counting. First, under most current Blackjack rules, the casino has a slight advantage over a player who plays optimally but knows nothing of what is left in the deck, aside from the distribution of cards in a full deck. "Optimal play" is play that makes all the choices (hit, stand, split, et cetera) that maximize the player's expected return. There are a few casinos with rules that provide a slight advantage to the player. However, it is difficult to make money this way, as the advantage is small and making an occasional mistake is enough to wipe out the advantage.

    "Counting cards" refers to just about any kind of count. It does not have to be a count of each rank of card played. One common system is to count how many high and how many low cards have been played, and to count or estimate how many cards remain in the shoe. Thus, the player only needs to remember one number and estimate the remaining cards. You would think that is not so difficult, but it does take some skill to do it. The casino is noisy and filled with distractions. You have to watch all the cards on the table carefully, while the dealer is trying to go as fast as possible to make as much money for the casino as possible. Other players aren't going to wait for you; their busted hands may be surrendered and discarded before you have much chance to see them. Your neighboring players may try to talk to you while you are trying to concentrate. And, while maintaining the count, you still have to make decisions about play.

    Knowing the count does two things for you. First, because you now have some indication of what is left in the deck, your optimal strategy may change. Whereas you used to stand on a 13 in a certain situation, you might now hit, because your chance of busting is lower. (Naturally, you don't calculate this chance as you go; this is all approximated in tables that you memorize.)

    Second, knowing the count changes the value of the game -- it might make your average return greater or smaller (including negative). In response, you change your betting. When the average return is relatively high, you bet higher before each hand. When the return is negative, you bet lower, so you are just marking time until the situation changes.

    As you can imagine with all this, the casinos can often spot card counters. They are winning (or, if not, the casino doesn't care), they are concentrating, and they may be slow to indicate their choices. It is hard to get good at counting.

    I have heard that in some jurisdictions, like Atlantic City, the casinos are not allowed by law to prohibit a person from using skill in a game. Thus, they cannot ban a person from play because the person is card counting.

  • by edp (171151) on Thursday July 05, 2001 @06:34AM (#107595) Homepage

    "Why shouldn't they track that information? You chose to go and do the things you did on their property."

    It is a common fallacy that because a company may do something, there should be no objection to it. From a legal or ethical perspective, the company is within its rights to collect information. But that does not mean it is beneficial. It does not we cannot dislike it, that we cannot take action of our own to oppose it.

    By the same reasoning you give, that it is their casinos and their restaurants and their rooms, so also it is my money and my information and my communications with friends and other consumers. They can do what they want with their stuff, and I can respond by doing what I want with my stuff. I can withhold my money, I can ask my friends to complain, I can support organizations that promote things good for me, we can negotiate with companies for better policies, et cetera.

    Now, why should we oppose this collection of information? Lots of reasons. Personally, I am fed up with being treated as a potential sucker all the time. It has gotten worse, and it is getting hard for me to avoid sales pitches even in my own home. Companies are finding more and more ways to invade my peace and quiet, my sanctuary. I throw away junk mail, but companies I once thought I had a satisfactory business relationship with now send ads in bills. Software I used to like has been hijacked to display ads. An ad here or there is not much harm, but, when it is continual, it is just too much.

    Also, this information isn't always secured properly or used ethically. It gets out and is used for fraud or, occasionally, malice. If a company exposes me to damage like that, it isn't just their information anymore; it is mine, and I have a valid interest in seeing that it is controlled properly.

    Another concern is that companies are becoming shrewder at manipulating people. Increasing data and increasing computer power are helping them. I am a very rational person, but I am not a perfect thinking machine. Every human being can be manipulated psychologically. At some point, the use of marketing techniques will become (or has become) unfair, because it subverts the reasoning process. A fair transaction is one involving consenting, informed adults -- people who have had an opportunity (although many may not use it) to think things through. If a company blasts away at thinking, the transaction is no longer fair. Continual repetitious ads, ingeniously engineered phrasing that leads a person to incorrect beliefs without actually being false phrasing, sales pitches calculated to go to a particular person's weakest point, and other such things create unfair circumstances.

  • Systems never work. Casinos have been around for a long time and have seen it all. The rules of the game are set up to nullify the affect of 'systems'.

    If you want to win at roulette, bring $300 that you are prepared to lose.

    Bet 1-5 chips on numbers; 15 chips per spin. If you lose three times in a row, get up and grab a drink. If you are lucky, you'll win alot of cash. I actually paid for a year of college by doing this (winning about $3k) and then having an incredible streak in craps ($12k)

    It's all about luck and having fun. "Systems" are for losers.
  • If you doubt that, you obviously know nothing about what you are talking about.

    The casino tracks all of your bets and determines how much you gamble per hour. You get comps based on this.
  • No, they know it because they've made a point of remembering stuff about you in order to enhance their business in the future.

    Maybe, but it's much more personal, and you have the opportunity to judge whether the waiter/host likes you or is just remembering YAC (Yet Another Customer) based on body language and other non-verbal cues. Chances are you won't go back to a restaurant where the staff seemed disinterested, even if they had managed to remember that it was your cat's birthday that day.

    Plus, I think (and this is pure speculation) that people think that others will act in a more moral and ethical manner in a face-to-face situation than if one was just data on screen. Irrational, but it does matter, IMO.

  • Did the Coca-Karma story ever make it to the front page of Slashdot? (Using "Search" turned up nothing.)

    Should it?

    I personally found it a very, very disturbing read, particularly in light of the court cases that affect the Internet that are turning up in the Federal courts.

  • Yes, it's scary. Yes, it's creepy. And yes, it's impressive. And they have better privacy, since they want to keep it to themselves! Capitalism at work.

    Cool example: When you check in, they check your preferences. If you're a big gambler, they come over, greet you by name, make sure whatever drink you normally get is ready for you, etc, etc, etc. It's a damn impressive article.
  • by jesterzog (189797) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @10:13PM (#107604) Homepage Journal

    "Why would one have any more paranoia about The Taj having information," he said, "than if Sears or AT&T had that information?"

    I'd rather that none of the above had that information. If it only gets used for what they say they're using it for, it's probably okay. The problem is that information doesn't go away - much of what's been collected about people within the last few years is likely to be around for a lifetime.

    Lots can happen within a lifetime. (Compare today's world with something pre-WW2, for example.) Assuming various privacy laws and data correlation restrictions (or what's left of them) don't lighten up in the future, and that's very unlikely, there's still the danger of information leaks.

    For example, what would happen if someone were to steal MGM Mirage's database and post it on the net? Immediately millions of people's names and addresses would be available next to their estimated personal income, and potentially "interesting" information such as when they're likely to go on holiday.

    The thing that most consumers don't realise is that when you're letting a company collect information about you, you're not just trusting the company. You're also trusting every one of their employees, and probably employees of related companies that you have no control or knowledge about.

    In this case you're trusting their data security setup - not to mention the software engineers who wrote the software they're using. You're trusting every one of thousands or more casino workers who have direct access to some very personal information, and you're trusting the person who hired them not to make one mistake with that many chances.

    I'm not sure if there's an obvious way to stop this, because people will always be collecting data about other people and in the computer age it's going to get easier and easier to store, mine and correlate to make new information. I'd at least like to see the following:

    • Important computer organisations (eg. ACM [acm.org]) really pressing their codes of ethics' seriously. There must be lots of people in ACM at the moment, for example, who have pirated software and don't have a second thought about it. I know lots of society doesn't take it seriously, but if the ACM isn't going to take it seriously then I don't think section 1.5 should be in the code of ethics [acm.org].

      General ethical standards in computer employees really suck at the moment. Information management ethics needs to be a more serious part of the education system. There are lots of IT workers who have essentially sold out to their management. There are some lines that I simply won't cross without resigning to find a better job, and when we're approaching them I let my boss know what I will and won't do. Doctors have professional codes of ethics - they don't go selling inforamtion about their patients - and IT professionals should, too.

    • Standard and well recognised privacy policies in place for organisations to use. They would include things such as properly destroying collected personal data after a certain timeframe (very important) or when the company ceases to exist, not correlating it or using it for unspecified purposes, and so on.

      If marketed properly so that ordinary consumers understand it, organisations could stamp an approval label on their service, and people could decide based on that whether they want to trust the organisation or not.

  • by vectus (193351) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @07:52PM (#107605)
    How long until safeway starts bragging about its 300Gb of data collected by its club cards?

    Reading things like this scare the shit out of me.. mostly because I know that if one company is admitting to something, another company has probably done ten times worse.

  • Terra server runs just fine on SQL and Windows. Bash Microsoft in areas they deserve it, these immature comments about MS products are incorect and counterproductive. There are plenty of true things about MS you could pick on them for without having to make shit up.
  • This isn't a privacy issue. When you go to a casino as a mid-high roller, you LIKE it when the casino knows enough about you to make sure you have a good time.

    When you arrive, and there are tickets to a show you want, or maybe a free meal at a restaurant they know you enjoy going to, you feel like you're being taken care of for a few days.

  • Big Brother isn't the government, it's the Organized crime underworld, otherwise known as The Mob

    how nice...
  • I meant lucky in a long-term way, which is tantamount to 'luck' (beating the odds) by a non-mystical method, like card-counting. luck is luck is luck is bad for them. Of course, shoplifting is a lot different from "counting cards", which is something you do in your head, a strategy. You can use any information they give you. If the dealer accidentally shows you his hand, it's not cheating to take it into /consideration./

    BTW Annie I'm really sorry you haven't been posting more lately. We miss you, troll or no.
  • by Traicovn (226034) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @09:22PM (#107617) Homepage
    A casino is just like any other business. They want to protect their market, they want to make sure the customers feel that they should spend their money, and they want to go after the almighty buck.
    The reason they collect all the data is most likely for security, and for profit. It would be poor judgement for them to sell most of this data, but by having all of this data, the casino can give a gambler a more 'personalized experience'.

    Everything in a casino is about making money. They make the ceiling and floor 'loud' so that you look forward, not up or down. When you look forwards you see slot machines and tables and other games. Bells, whistles and sirens are set to attract people to areas so that they will spend their money. The food is priced cheap, so that you'll spend more money gambling since you are saving so much eating.

    Everything in a casino is highly advanced. You are under constant watch from floor bosses, security cameras, and the like. All the 'automatic' games are computer controlled. A casino is required to give back a certain % of their profits, so for example, if it's a busy night, you are more likely to make money off the slot machines. If the casino is fairly empty, maybe not. I have also heard stories from some guards who used to work at casinos that some of the games are timed so that if you are not playing them during an hour, you will not win. A casino is pretty advanced technology-wise.

    So I am not surprised that they have so much market data on their customsers. Many casinos now even have cards that you can use with 'credits' that work the slot machines and other gambling sites. These cards allow the casino to track gambling habits of their patrons.

    But in the end, security is probably the top reason for all the data on the customers. The casino wants to make money, and by keeping track of what you are doing, they can make sure your not cheating, and that the house remains in the black.

    Just don't be surprised if they have a nice government- style database, complete with pictures of everyone who has ever entered the casino.

    [Something witty and intelligent should have appeared here.]
  • by tmark (230091) on Thursday July 05, 2001 @04:16AM (#107619)
    The truly troubling result of this is that those people, who were not conclusively found breaking any rules, are probably now indexed around the world as undesirable gamblers.

    So what ? Casinos have long reserved the right, AFAIK, to kick anyone they want out, if they have even the slightest suspicion that someone may be cheating. Note this is suspicion, NOT proof. You can get kicked out for using a cell phone in a casino. You can get kicked out for taking a photo. And yes, you can get kicked out if they think you are counting cards, or otherwise cheating. If people aren't comfortable with being tracked, then they should not get the cards.

    One of the casinos had larger than expected losses on their table games last year. They got some consultants (with loose lips) to run some statistical analysis

    Given the sheer amount of money casinos pull in from table games, these 'few' and 'lucky' individuals would have to pull in a HUGE amount to noticeably skew a table game's results (which, BTW, were almost CERTAINLY gains and not losses). If these were indeed high rollers, the casinos would be folly to ban them unless they were quite certain they were cheating - because casino operators are smart enough to know that if they are not cheating, the high rollers will make the casino money almost every time. Trust them to make the decisions that will help their bottom line.

    And by the way, cheating at one casino is only likely to get someone barred at one group's casinos - as the article points out, casinos have a strong disincentive to share information.

  • by cicadia (231571) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @09:05PM (#107624)

    Alright, yeah, some people are trusting. That's usually a good thing, except:
    1) Online
    2) When money is involved

    Maybe an opt out policy is in order? Or an opt in?

    Well, seeing as this story is about physical casinos, here's how it actually works:

    If you are a regular casino customer, you can apply for, and receive, a loyalty card (you don't even have to be a regular, all you have to do is apply. It doesn't even cost anything.)

    Every time you use this card, the casino gathers data on what you are doing, and for how long (how much you are spending - or winning). They do this because this information is valuable to them, and you do it because they are willing to pay (comps) for that information.

    Everybody using a card like this knows that the casino is tracking them, collecting information about their habits. That's why they use the card. If they didn't think that the casino was watching, then why would they use it in the first place?

    If you care more about your privacy, then your path is fairly clear - don't apply for one of these cards! If you've already got one, then just stop using it. The casino is perfectly happy to let you walk in off of the street and lose as much money as you want - in cash if you prefer it that way!

    This is about as opt-in a system as you could ever ask for. Not only that, but it's a fair trade - you actually get something valuable in return for your information. And, as the article says, they generally don't even sell your information, as most companies would.

    This seems like the most responsible use of private information that I've ever seen.

    Of course, if you're worried about privacy in casinos in the first place, then maybe you should just avoid them altogether. There're more cameras per square foot in those places than just about any public place on the planet...

  • But the article also mentioned about a string of mergers in the gambling business. What is the difference between sharing information inside a mega-corporation and having one company arbitrarily share your information with others? How can you know that every hotel|casino|company affiliated with the casino you go into has the same philosophy as the casino itself? You can't. You also can't be sure that the casino, upon getting a huge $$$ offer from an insurance or credit company won't end up selling that information -- they are in the business of making money after all.
  • I saw a friend of mine at the local Safeway swipe her savings club card as I was walking in. When I got to the checkout I noticed a sign beside the card reader, "Forgot your savings club card? Just type on your phone number" Well I don't have a card but I do know Susan's phone number. I entered it and it worked like a charm. It works three ways: I get my $.50 off on oranges, Susan gets more "points," and Safeways's data gets corrupted ...Wow that is the second time in an hour she bought a case of beer...
  • by spellcheckur (253528) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @08:46PM (#107635)
    Casinos often use this information to track and discover "undesirables." When they find someone they *THINK* is not good for their establishment (card counters, cheaters, sports book arbitrage professionals), they take that information and send it to a detective agency that keeps track of these people for casinos all over the world.

    One of the casinos had larger than expected losses on their table games last year. They got some consultants (with loose lips) to run some statistical analysis on their database to find people who won an improbable amount. They had information on some of their big money customers down to a bet-by-bet record.

    The consultants identified more than a few "lucky" individuals. I'm not sure what happened to them, but I'd bet that they're not welcome in that establishment anymore.

    The truly troubling result of this is that those people, who were not conclusively found breaking any rules, are probably now indexed around the world as undesirable gamblers. Can you imagine having a string of good luck at the Taj and then walking into some casino in Paris and being asked to leave the premises?

  • by Proud Geek (260376) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @09:52PM (#107637) Homepage Journal
    Of course casinos do this. People spend a lot of money there. Mass produced red carpet treatment is still expensive, so they don't want to waste it on customers who aren't worth it. They need to know who does what, to improve the take at the table, and to coerce people into returning. They sure want to invest a lot in this, because of the huge payback.

    Grocery stores don't bother with this. They are starting to get into the game with things like Air Miles, which associate personal info with exact product items, locations and times. But the payback isn't nearly so large; people just don't spend thousands of dollars a day at grocery stores.

    Probably the only other industry that really has the resources and desire for this information is the tobacco industry. You can bet they do their best to track trends. They have a big disadvantage, though, namely that they don't have direct access to consumers. You can be sure that the healthcare industry keeps the data, but they don't have as much concern since medical treatments are much less discretionary than grocery selection or casinos. I wouldn't be surprised to see them team up with tobacco companies though, since they have pretty much all the requisite information.

  • I always used to use 555-1212, but that doesn't seem to work anymore. But, its not hard to think of someone I know who probably shops at safeway and probably has a club card. The advantage to the 555-1212 was that I ended up with a reciept saying "Paula Beltran", and now I end up with a receipt with a familiar name which is a little strange. I know a LOT of people used the 555-1212 number, so the Paula Beltran account must've had a crazy profile; shopping at every location in the area code most days.

  • by jotaeleemeese (303437) on Thursday July 05, 2001 @01:09AM (#107640) Homepage Journal
    You never know how information about you is going to be used:

    The expediency with wich former Chilean dictator A. Pinochet incarcerated his political opponents was astonishing. In a matter of days all the members (big and small) of the Socialist Party and other organizations that supported the democratically elected Socialist presdient, Salvador Allende, were imprisoned.

    How did Pinochet's newly born regime achieved this? Easy, he got the record of the memebership of the Socialist Party, so it was a futile excercise of pick and choose.

    You never know how information about you is going to be used and by who, thus you should give away as little information about you as possible.

  • Just proves that old adage that people will tell their bookmaker what they won't tell their priest.

    What it comes down to is this: as you are after the casinos money (and they, of course, are after yours), you are far more likely to respond truthfully to a invasive questionnaire from them than you are one from Amazon.com or anyone else.

    The fact that they are more likely to check up on the information provided to them (to protect themselves financially and legally) means that they are less likely to get people lying through their teeth on their books.

  • Maybe they'll notice I NEVER win, and just give me some money for all of my troubles.
  • I once had a pizza order-taker read my credit card number back to me... the one I had used the last time I called, and hadn't told her during that call. Just because I called from the same number, they were sure I was the same person and could be trusted with the number, and could pay them with it. I could just tell she was enjoying my reaction to how much she knew (surprise mostly, mild annoyance, not anger); I bet she didn't keep that job long, she was having entirely too much fun with a touchy subject (that town was weird though... all the fast food service was the worst I've ever seen).

    Now, I want good data out there... in aggregate. I want places to know what people want to buy; it means more of the stuff you want with less waste and better prices. I'd even like to have the option of asking them to remember my preferences. I don't ever want them assuming they know who I am, or figuring out my identity, without me explicitly telling them.

    I mean, it's like you're not safe to buy 50 bags of fertilizer from different stores and 20 tanks of diesel from different gas stations over a single weekend with cash any more...
  • by Richthofen80 (412488) on Wednesday July 04, 2001 @10:43PM (#107650) Homepage
    I honestly wondered why a casino, or any other company, would spend the kind of money on computing resources just to know if we liked pickles or not... I mean, why?

    Then it dawned on me... (as I work third shift at a Texaco and cleaned out the out-of-code candy) ... companies can save and make lots of money, much more that the cost of implementing these computer systems, by having the most likely brand / item / game for customers that frequent the store most often. By minimizing loss in supermarkets by out of code items, and by offering perks that a large percentage of people would want in a casino, they are achieving cost effectiveness. In fact, a lot of supermarkets offer discounts to people who help them keep their prices low by this method. Doesn't seem so evil to me.

    But also, by what right do companies do this information gathering and using? Well, by right of free trade. The honest companies that ask for this up front, and don't sneak it out of your computer by 'registration' of software, are attaching a certain condition to a specific sale. Since the companies hold the item /service, and the user holds the exchange medium, BOTH must choose the conditions of the sale, and agree to it. In fact, a company may choose to only make a sale in which they collect personal data. I know we collect personal data for credit reasons at the other job I work for, but only because we can't afford to have a customer bounce a check or default on payment on a $100,000 machine. As long as the companies are explicit in stating that they are taking the information at the time of the sale, it's perfectly legal and moral. Do not equate this, however, with the sale of this information from one company to the next. Not all companies do this. And if they do, and don't list it in the terms of the sale agreement, (whether its for a slim jim or an e-beam system), they should be sued. My only suggestion to those afraid otherwise is, be an informed consumer.

  • There are plenty of true things about MS you could pick on them for without having to make shit up.
    I'm not making anything up. Have you ever tried running win2k and MSSQL on a 486SX running at 33mhz? It just doesn't work. I have used mySQL on Linux and it works fine. Maybe you should get some real life experience with SQL instead of talking to me about Terra server running on a giant cluster of win2k boxes. D/\ Gooberguy

Evolution is a million line computer program falling into place by accident.