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Two Years In Prison For Using Infrared Contact Lenses To Cheat At Poker 320

Posted by Soulskill
from the somebody-warn-levar-burton dept.
dmfinn writes "It was back in 2011 when Stefano Ampollini and two accomplices cheated a French casino out of over €90,000 thanks to the help of Chinese-made infrared contact lenses. According to French authorities, Ampollini and two casino workers marked cards using an invisible liquid that would be picked up by the infrared lenses, which Ampollini then used to read his competitors' cards. Though the contacts themselves cost over €2,000, the crew managed to take €71,000 in their first night. However, the trio was finally caught when a lawyer working for the casino became suspicious after Ampollini folded with an unbelievably good hand, which suggested he knew the croupier's cards. This week, a French court sentenced Ampollini to two years in prison and a €100,000 fine. His main accomplice was handed an even harsher sentence; he was forced to pay the same fine and given a 36-month sentence. It appears, despite their best efforts and advanced tactics, that the men were still unable to beat the house without raising significant alarms. So, at least for now, it seems modern technology still can't simulate good old 'luck.'"
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Two Years In Prison For Using Infrared Contact Lenses To Cheat At Poker

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  • They were greedy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bartron (772079) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:15AM (#44983703)
    Be greedy and you raise suspicion. If you have a hand that you would consider a winning hand under normal circumstances then you play it, regardless if you know you will lose. Start doing impossible or improbable moves and you may as well be wearing a huge neon arrow sign on your head.
    • Re:They were greedy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @03:36AM (#44983957) Homepage

      The only surprising thing in this story is that casinos don't have infra-red cameras.

    • by Tom (822) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:30AM (#44984081) Homepage Journal

      This. Every cheater knows that to stay undetected, you can't win too often. Even aimbots quickly included code to intentionally miss a shot every now and then.

      There are only two ways to get away with stealing money at a casino. One is to remain within the margin if probability - appear to be lucky, but not impossibly lucky. Either win some, lose some, with a total just slightly in your favour, or lose mostly, but then get the jackpot and stop playing after that. Make it a huge thing. Celebrate, rent a limo, marry a stranger, whatever. Don't pocket it and vanish, that'll be crazy suspicious.

      Oh, the second way. That is, of course, to own the casino.

      • Re:They were greedy (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 29, 2013 @07:26AM (#44984547)

        Even aimbots quickly included code to intentionally miss a shot every now and then.

        but that's a terrible method of hiding an aimbot.. what gives them away isn't high accuracy, but inhuman movements.. the best way to hide it is to not have it aim for you, but only to have it shoot for you when you mouse over a target yourself.

        source: i wrote hacks for cs and cheated in the highest ranks of CAL without ever being suspected let alone caught.

        • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@caRASPrpanet.net minus berry> on Sunday September 29, 2013 @10:09AM (#44985285) Homepage

          That sounds very plausible. I bet a real player has a firing solution on a target far more often than he actually realizes it. Though knowing the technique does give some ideas on how to catch it.

          > source: i wrote hacks for cs and cheated in the highest ranks of CAL without ever being suspected let alone caught.

          Which I think brings up one of the reason casinos attract cheats beyond the money. Cheating and winning is a game too. In fact, its really no different from a bluff, you are not playing by the same rules, but you want to look like you are. However, in a casino, you have to do it while sitting in front of real people. I have to imagine that is a rush and a half....which like bluffing.... is also why so few can really do it well consistently.

          If your motivation is being the best cheater.... then no amount of bitching about how it ruins the game for the rest of us is going to help.

          Amusingly, I have a relative who is um I think almost 14 now. He started running cheats in games a couple of years ago after some cheater did something and convinced a bunch of other people he was the one running cheats. So they banned him and he started googling to figure out what they were talking about! Next thing you know, he is griefing himself.

          Ahhhh kids.

    • Nonsense. It's easy to monitor cheats, you certainly don't have to know if they're folding improbable hands or not. All you have to do is see how often they win. If they win too often, they're cheating. Stats don't lie.
      • nonsense.

        i'm sure you have heard about standard deviation, haven't you? without it, *no one* would ever win at a casino and then, hopefully, no one would then be foolish enough to ever try. casinos would be out of business.

        people win at casino's all the time...certain people even go on week long lucky streaks and defy the odds for days...without cheating.

        i read the original story...there is some odd things about it. it reports that "two casino employees" marked the cards ahead of time and then "put the ca

        • Re:They were greedy (Score:4, Interesting)

          by martin-boundary (547041) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @08:07AM (#44984701)
          Standard deviation is an elementary statistic applicable mainly to normal populations. The beauty of stats is that many quantities (they're all technically called "statistics") can be monitored, and _all_ of them converge simultaneously to their distributional values due to the law of large numbers. Detecting deviations from the expected distribution is therefore a matter of monitoring several quantities simultaneously. In most cases, these will be of the Neyman Pearson variety, or approximations thereof, if you care to know.
          • right...we agree on this...but again, the article states that they became suspicious AFTER ONE SESSION. that just doesnt really makes sense, to me at least.

            i'll say again, people can easily win for a couple of hours playing really really badly. it happens all the time. of course, even more people lose during this time too.

            it's in the casino's interest, in order to prevent future attempts at cheating, to make up cover stories as to their prowess at catching cheats and to how complicated and difficult it r

    • by jandersen (462034) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @04:39AM (#44984109)

      Greedy? I suppose so. But it has always struck me as a funny way to look at things, when casinoes call people cheaters; they are the ones who invite people to come and throw their money out against overwhelming odds: "You MIGHT win" - yeah, and all the air molecules in the room might suddenly end up in one corner. After all, it is only probability that keeps it from happening.

      The standard argument one always hears is that "Nobody forces people go and be stupid". All that means, IMO, is that some people don't have the backbone to stand up for decency.

      • by khallow (566160) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @07:54AM (#44984657)

        The standard argument one always hears is that "Nobody forces people go and be stupid".

        Yep. It pretty much is a discussion ender.

        All that means, IMO, is that some people don't have the backbone to stand up for decency.

        Or that "decency" of your sort is worthless. As I see it, I live in a mostly free country. That means people have the freedom to make bad decisions. And lo and behold, they do indeed make bad decisions. Maybe you should do something about the weather while you're at it.

      • by TMB (70166)

        Casinos sell a product - entertainment. In particular, the thrill that you might win some (a lot) of money. People go and pay to experience that thrill. If you want to be entertained by something different, that's fine, but it's not stupid to like a little thrill and be willing to pay a little for it.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Anyone who wins more than once at a casino is under suspicion. The odds are against you. Winning big once is luck, twice is cheating.

      • by slick7 (1703596)

        Anyone who wins more than once at a casino is under suspicion. The odds are against you. Winning big once is luck, twice is cheating.

        Anybody who walks into a casino is under suspicion. The casino thinks everybody who walks into a casino is a sucker and rightly so. Someone once said "Of course the game is rigged, but you can't win if you don't play."
        Besides, the casinos are sanctioned by the government which doesn't like cheaters and theives, too much competion.

    • "Be greedy and you raise suspicion."

      Win and you raise suspicion.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Right here.

      He got himself caught by being greedy. If he would LOSE often he would have gotten away with it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:21AM (#44983731)

    On the other hand, how did the "lawyer working for the casino" know the hand that the crook folded with? That sounds like we are talking about crooks on both sides. An important part of poker is that folding does not expose your betting strategy.

    • Glass tables (Score:2, Informative)

      by AC-x (735297)

      Large televised poker games use a glass table [youtube.com] so that viewers and commentators can see the players' cards. This may even be true of all large games regardless of whether they're televised to try and catch unusual betting behaviour (as was the case here).

      • Re:Glass tables (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Rockoon (1252108) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @08:13AM (#44984733)
        No, high limit casino poker games do not use glass tables or have cameras on them. That is strictly a television thing.

        Also of note is that high limit casino poker games are often filled with players that are playing quite badly. The phenomena is sort of based on the players "threshold of pain" when it comes to what limit they are playing. There are several common types of players that sit in the highest stakes game in a public poker room but cannot play well for long period of time precisely because they are in that particular game.

        The first common type is the player with a very big ego that cannot admit to themselves or let others know that the game is too large for their bankroll: Every time they lose a pot it hurts like a motherfucker because they cannot afford it, leading to them going on tilt or otherwise making decisions that arent even an approximation of optimal.

        The second common type is the player that has an obscene amount of money in the bank. They are in the largest game in the room because there isnt a larger game in the room. Nothing that happens in the game will meaningfully effect their lives in any way, so sooner or later they start gambling-it-up because thats a lot funner than trying to play a solid game of poker when the results dont really matter.

        As far as this story goes.. these guys werent playing actual poker.. they were playing a house game.
  • by DontScotty (978874) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:27AM (#44983757) Homepage Journal

    If you find a way to game the gaming system, you will appear as an anomaly.

    And, anomaly detection will highlight you as such.

    Winning at a game of chance over a long enough sample period? Cheating is more probable than an improbable string of luck.

    The only effective way to steal is to steal from people who are powerless to detect it, powerless to stop it, or weak enough in both areas.

    Can you win the day at a casino? YES.

    Can you win during your entire life? YES, considering your life will probably be forfeit when you've stolen too much from the wrong people.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:44AM (#44983819)

      Poker is a bit more than 'a game of chance'. There's a chance element, of course, but skill is a major factor. The most important aspect is you're not playing against the house. There's no such thing as 'winning the day at a casino' in poker. 'It's all one big session.'

      It's not a typical casino game like roulette or craps where you're playing against the house and the payouts are structured such that every bet has negative expectation. If you consistently play against people who make worse betting decisions than you, you will be a consistent winner in the long term.

      So your assertion that winning over a long period in poker is cheating is false (although, it is true that most players are long-term losing players).

      The reason the casino went after them is that it's in the casinos interest to run a fair game. The casino takes a cut of each pot over a certain amount, and some also collect an hourly vig from sitting at the table. Players won't play in an unfair game though, so the casino has to protect this model or lose its players. It was the threat of an indirect loss of money that necessitated action, not that the players were taking directly from the casino.

      And the reality is - these guys got caught because they were greedy. There have been several highly publicised (within the poker community anyway) cases of cheating, and its always the same. The cheater makes some ridiculous reads, bets / bluffs consistently at the right time with very marginal holdings, or folds big hands in big pots when they are beat. Once that suspicion is triggered, anyone who understands the game will spot it easily.

      If they were smart, they would be much more subtle about it, losing their fair share but making sure they get the big pots. Once the cash starts rolling in though, I guess it's very hard to resist pushing it just a little too hard.

      Casinos take this shit very seriously. From a purely academic point of view the IR contact lenses are an interesting concept, but you have to be pretty damn stupid to try it so brazenly.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Interesting - but they weren't playing poker against other players ...

    • Winning at a game of chance over a long enough sample period?

      FWIW poker is a game of skill.

      • It's a game of chance, and awareness off the odds allows you to make judgement calls and improve your chances. "Skill" is a strong word.
    • ...when you've stolen too much from the wrong people.

      So it's stealing when you control the odds but it's not stealing when the 'wrong people' control the odds?

      Just who is stealing from whom here?

  • They got off easy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by VinylRecords (1292374) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:38AM (#44983799)

    Two years? For cheating at cards? That's nothing. Lots of people are killed over cheating at high stakes gambling. You cheat the casinos and they usually take it up with the police and lawyers. They can't break your legs and keep operating a legitimate business.

    You cheat a private game? You deal with individuals who might smash your fucking face in and throw you in a six foot feet hole in the desert. At the very least you get beaten within an inch of your life and then they take back all of your 'winnings'. Those guys should have tried to get into a private game where high rollers in organized crime or even professional sports play.

    The most hilarious part about this story though. Is that there are bankers that make billions cheating the system. Insider trading, fraud, embezzlement, Ponzi scheme, and so on. And those guys get a free pass as long as they throw the occasional six-figure-pass to the politicians. These morons get two years for cheating the casinos.

    • You cheat a private game? You deal with individuals who might smash your fucking face in and throw you in a six foot feet hole in the desert.

      I am kind of worried about the kind of people you play poker with.....For me the worst that would happen is they'd make me buy donuts for the next poker-night....

    • Eh? Killing people would be illegal.

      If you're going to allow illegal killing of people as a valid penalty things, then you might as well say that anyone who isn't killed gets off easy for /anything/.

      • by AC-x (735297)

        Well, yes, killing people is illegal, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. This case springs to mind [wikipedia.org], Akio Kashiwagi was winning big against Trump's casinos. Trump managed to tempt Akio into playing a high stakes game that he lost big time. Before Trump got his money the Yakuza murdered Akio, presumably because they were bank-rolling him.

  • This reminds me of the Absolute Poker scandal in 2007. Even a relative novice should realize at some point you have to lose a showdown so it isn't obvious you're cheating.
  • oh, yes - an expensive gadget was used in a crime. news at 11
  • OK, point looks to already have been made (-1, redundant?)

    They weren't careful. A careful strategy, would not raise alarms by taking extraordinarily high wins, and would accept reasonable losses, ie, not fold with a great hand *even if* you know you'll loose.

    What you'd want, is to scrape in marginally better positive wins, not great hits, -- and then move on. Heck, just in case, take some more-than-usual losses at some casinos. Build a data model; speadsheet it; look for a reasonably higher

    • The only problem is that this is a cheat that leaves evidence -- you don't get to take the marked cards away at the end of the night. Because of this, there's a risk that the scam has a very short shelf-life. They got €71k in a singe night, and were caught on the second attempt. Every gambler knows they should quit while they're ahead. No gambler does.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 29, 2013 @03:06AM (#44983871)

    Most people associate "poker" with games where the players compete against each other, rather than the house. Texas Holdem and Draw poker are two well known variants. Many casinos have poker tables now - they provide a dealer, and make their money by taking a small percentage of each pot.

    The article talks about Stefano Ampollini knowing which cards the croupier had. The croupier would not have any cards in a normal game of poker.

    Looking at their website, it appears that the Les Princes Casino in Cannes does not have any normal poker tables. Instead, they run a casino game called "Casino Stud" or "Caribbean Stud Poker". It is a normal casino game that gives the house a 5% edge if the player uses the best possible strategy.

    The players must ante before each game. After they have seen their cards, if they want to continue they must place a "raise" - a bet which is double the ante.

    When the cheat decided whether or not to raise, he looked at the dealer's face down hand. He knew if the dealer would win or lose before he made his "raise" bet.

    It's likely that the casino knew the cheat's cards from the video surveillance footage.

  • by dutchwhizzman (817898) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @03:12AM (#44983883)

    Shut up and take my money!

    How do you make these? You need something that will convert a frequency our eyes can't detect, in your focal plane (it's a contact lens) into something you can detect without changing direction of the light wave. Never mind they cost allegedly $2000 I want to know what the science behind them is.

    • Well actually it's not in the focal plane, that would be the retina, but your point is valid!

    • by retchdog (1319261)

      maybe the lenses are actually a very precise notch filter for a color of ink matched close (but not quite) to the color of the design on the card backs? by applying this ink very carefully you could, in principle at least, add what appear to you as dark markings that way. seems pretty tough to pull off, but i have no other idea.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      http://www.instructables.com/id/Homemade-Infrared-Goggles!-For-Under-$10/

      I think this is how they did it. This isn't true IR, but near-IR. The ink would need to be near IR but I think you could find something that would work and it would be all but invisible under brought lights at a casino.

      For those to lazy to follow the link. Someone makes near-IR goggles using welding glasses and two theatrical movie light gel sheets. Am guessing someone in china would be willing to make this into contact lenses. With th

    • by Cyberax (705495)
      Simple - they aren't. Frequency doubling materials can make near infrared visible, but they can't really fit into contact lenses.

      Most probably, these lenses are simple polarizing filters and the invisible paint is an optically-active liquid. Alternatively, it can be a highly-refractive liquid - it'll be visible because it polarizes light a little bit differently than the reflection from the card's surface (different Brewster angles). Bonus points: it'll be visible only at a certain range of angles.
      • by Greyfox (87712)
        If it was polarity, that's an awfully big chance that another player will notice if they wear polarized sun glasses. I tend to forget mine are until I turn my head a certain away and can't read a gas station fuel readout or something. In a house game you're not so likely to wear them, though, and it sounds like they were playing a house game variant of poker.
    • by mysidia (191772)

      They probably hid a pattern on the card using visible colors, so a lense tinted with the right color would make the pattern visible to the human eye.

      What's so nasty here is the degree of the penalty.... they cheated the Casino out of 21,000 EUR, so they don't get to keep the 21K and each of them has to pay a 100,000 EUR fine, plus two years jail.

      Now if instead; the Casino was cheating, the Casino could have to pay a fine or damages that would be some miniscule fraction of the casino's revenue.

      • by Eskarel (565631)

        Well actually the penalty for a casino cheating is to have their gaming license revoked, at least in civilised countries where they don't just kill you for cheating the casino. Having your gaming license revoked shuts down your casino, potentially for ever. Even a new owner may not be able to get a license so even the property itself isn't necessarily worth anything to you.

        Given how much revenue a casino generates, that's one hell of a fine.

      • by Greyfox (87712)
        Why should the casino cheat? The odds are already in their favor. All they have to do is sit there and collect their money. I could see the dealers here having some incentive to consider it, as the non-tournament poker tables have a bad beat jackpot that accumulates and is paid out when an awesome hand loses to another awesome hand. It's usually something like a full house with aces over kings losing to another hand (And both player's hole cards must play.) It's usually around $100000 - $150000 with the los
    • My guess... maybe the glasses block certain frequencies instead of adding to the human visible range, enhancing contrast rather than enhancing range?

      An explanation:

      1) Suppose your eyes can see near-infrared (NIR) light (they can).
      2) Then suppose your eyes are more sensitive to lower-frequency light, especially around the yellow-green portion of the spectrum [cambridgeincolour.com] (so far this isn't controversial)
      3) (This is where it gets hypothetical) Maybe minute changes in the NIR portion of the spectrum aren't very noticeable

      • by tinkerton (199273)

        That's a reasonable explanation, but I would generalize it to any filter.

        For starters, the only meaning of infrared lenses I know is lenses that are transparent for infrared, which is rather useless in this case since you can't see them.

        A step of frequency conversion is also pretty hard since you've got to increase the frequency and using low energy photons to release high energy photons is a nontrivial undertaking.

        But then we think of the fact that we are in fact extremely colourblind. If we take a bundle

    • by Sqr(twg) (2126054)

      It's near-infrared - not infrared - whoever wrote TFA probably does not understand the distinciton. Essentially, the near-IR markings on the cards are too faint to see in normal light. You then wear lenses that diminish all light, except near-IR, by a factor 100 or so. The eye compensates for this, and as a result the markings become visible.

      I found this by googling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCO2y0zszyE [youtube.com]

    • by hankwang (413283) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @05:14AM (#44984193) Homepage
      Near-infrared ink (as posted by an AC) sounds like the most plausible approach. In the range 700-750 nm, the sensitivity for light is less than 1% of the peak sensitivity. You would need (1) a proper long-wavelength-pass filter, (2) ink that absorbs only in this wavelength range, and (3) an illumination source that is heavy in this wavelength area (e.g. halogen/incandescent lights).

      For the naked eye, the ink would appear as a very pale cyan color. With a proper filter, everything would look very dark due to the filter removing 99% of the visible light, but the ink would show up with much more contrast. Effective long-pass filters do exist, e.g. Schott RG695 or RG715 for a 695 or 715 nm cut-off [schott.com], respectively. There are plenty of suitable dyes [sigmaaldrich.com]. Probably you would want to have this filter only on one eye, otherwise the world around you might appear very dark.

      The other theories that have been posted here make no sense.

      Frequency-doubling needs extremely high intensities (like a high-power or focused low-power laser beam), which would render you blind. Moreeover, frequency-doubling requires proper phase matching, which boils down to the requirement of an exact combination of angle and wavelength.

      Polarizers: it is not possible to turn unpolarized light into polarized light without throwing away half of the light. Once the light is polarized, the polarization direction can be manipulated with optically active materials, though.

      A high-refractive index coating would not only change at the Brewster angle, it would make the cards much more glossy as seen from any angle. It is not possible to make the refractive index change dramatically within a short wavelength range without changing the absorption as well, so the glossiness would appear in visible light as well.

      A phosphor coating would not work for several reasons: phosphors do not emit the phosphorence in the same direction as the absorbed radiation; they always convert from short wavelengths to long wavelengths, and the phosphorence light would be completely out of focus.

  • It must not be forgotten that two casino employees were involved as well. That were the people who arranged for the cards to be marked, so the cheats could play their game.

    No mention on punishment for those two. Not only were they accomplices, without whom the scheme would not have worked to begin with, they also breached the trust their employer placed in them. The latter is also a serious issue.

    • "Employer trust" hahahahaha.

      The only way an employer can put "trust" in an employee is to share ownership of the business, as in a partnership or co-operative. Anything else is just sleight of hand to get your employer to accept worse remuneration.

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        Dunno in what kind of backwards country you live, but where I live I have seen employees getting harsher sentences as breach of trust of an employer was involved.

        Here there is the expectation of honesty of an employee. So that you can e.g. have an employee work with customers, without expectation that said employee is trying to cheat the company using their position. Or that you can expect that a casino employee is not out to help customers cheat on the casino.

        • My point, unnecessary as it seems to repeat it, was that you're not putting trust in your employee unless you give them an ownership stake.

          IOW, trust is something which leaves you fucked if someone breaks it - as in trust in a personal relationship. It's not trust if you have a well-established legal framework to run to if things go wrong. Make sense?

  • by bactus (101056) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @03:34AM (#44983947)

    https://www.gambleromania.com/5-sets-ir-contact-lenses

  • This is a story right out of the old Mission: Impossible TV series. An episode used this exact premise in at least one episode I can think of to cheat a guy who was using the same trick at his own game. They way they beat him was by remarking the cards and then remarking them using a different technology. In that show, the game was baccarat instead of poker. Of course, this was television and rather fanciful, yet I'm glad to see that someone actually has done it.... and even happier to see that they got

  • What kind of poker games are they running over there that the house plays a hand?

  • They might have been able to buy an expensive gadget, but they did not have what it takes to understand the game. Folding with a really good hand is an absolute beginners mistake in this type of games.

  • I was hoping they'd have done something cool with those lenses, like looking at the other players' face and body heat to determine their level of excitement/stress. Instead it's just a regular card marking fraud.

  • Out of curiousity, how did the casino know that he had "folded with an unbelievably good hand"? Everytime I've been to a casino, if I've folded, I didn't have to show my hand.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @09:05AM (#44984987) Homepage

    Let the gamblers game in every way. Gambling is a stupid thing and let them all have it. "Cheating"? Really? We have gamblers losing the world's economy and at the expense of the rest of the world, the gamblers are getting bailed out so they can do it some more.

    Let actual gamblers do what they want. It doesn't harm the world. And let their continued operation go on as it is.

  • by braindrainbahrain (874202) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @09:25AM (#44985089)

    If these laws had been applied in another era, two well known scientists would have been jailed for cheating at roulette [engadget.com] . (Those would be Edward Thorp [wikipedia.org] and Claude Shannon [wikipedia.org])

    • As for the roulette prediction computers, they are the reason most jurisdiction now have anti-device laws. Counting cards is legal, although the casino can also legally throw you out for doing it. But using a computer is actually illegal.

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