Dear Straight Dope:
I was wondering how you go about loading your own dice. If I were to shave one edge of my dice down to make it smooth (I'm talking about casino dice with the square edges), how will I know which numbers' odds increase? Also: do you know where I can find books, videos, DVDs, etc on cons and scams?
Ian Rowland, Guest Contributor (Ianzin) replies:
The simple answer to “How do you go about loading your own dice?” is that you don’t – at least not if you’re intending to gamble in a professional casino. This is a very specialized job, and there are probably only a handful of people in the world with the skill and the tools to make sets of loaded dice that will pass for legitimate in a professional environment like Las Vegas. Bear in mind that you will have to either (a) start from scratch and create dice that look and feel identical to those used by your target casino (bearing, for instance, the casino’s logo and branding), or (b) steal some of the casino’s dice, tamper with them, and then smuggle them back into play. Both these options present formidable difficulties, and when you get caught (and you will) you’ll be looking at some very unpleasant consequences.
Even if you want to make loaded dice just for fun, it’s still a difficult job. A die is a cube (we’re talking about craps here, not D & D) designed to be equally likely, given a fair throwing or tossing process, to land with any one of its six faces on top. Anything you do to alter these odds, by tampering with the die’s internal weight distribution or external dimensions, can be said to constitute loading. When altering the cube’s weight distribution you clearly have two basic options: you can either add some weight to one side or one part of the cube, or take some away. (In the gambling trade, any form of loaded dice are known simply as “weight” for this reason.) Most of the dice for sale in stores are opaque, so you can (in theory) drill a small hole into the cube, insert a substance that is heavier or lighter than whatever the cube is made of, patch up your work, and thus produce a loaded die. This is more or less impossible to do with the dice used in casinos, as they are made of translucent plastic. Another, more subtle way is to tamper with the pips – the dots that make up the numbers on each face. On most dice purchased from a store, these are recessed, and you could add a small amount of some heavy substance, such as lead, to certain of the dots and paint over the added material. Once again, this is not so easy with casino dice, where the pips are flush with the surface of the cube (these are known as “flush spots”) – the casinos even take care to use paint that has the same specific gravity as the material the cube is made from. Some go even further and use rings rather than dots (these are known as “bird’s-eye spots”); this makes it even harder to conceal any work someone might have done on the die. I guess casinos just don’t like loaded dice.
A still more subtle process is the one you refer to in your question; generally, though, you don’t shave the edges of the die but rather its faces. The most typical method is to shave very slightly two opposing sides of the die, thus reducing the surface area of the other four faces. If you shave two opposite sides of a regular die, such as the one and the six, these two numbers will tend to come up more often than the two, three, four, or five. Dice that are gaffed in this way are not intended to produce the same numbers every time (which obviously would soon be detected); the idea is that over a long enough period of play, they slightly increase the likelihood of certain numbers coming up, and therefore distort the true odds in a way the crooked gambler can exploit. In a related process, known as bevelling, some faces of the die are shaved so as to be very slightly rounded rather than flat, meaning the die will be less likely to come to rest on those faces – meaning, in turn, that the numbers on the opposing faces will come up less often.
Gambling Scams by Darwin Ortiz is an authoritative text on these and related scams; Dealing With Cheats by A.D. Livingston actually features illustrations of some gaffed dice and instructions for making them. The definitive work on con games in general and the life of the con artist is The Big Con by David Maurer, which has been used as a source for movies such as House of Games, among others. Magic stores can supply books and DVDs that explain some gambling fakery, although these tend to focus mainly on sleight of hand with cards. Steve Forte is one expert who has released books and DVDs that demonstrate a wide range of extremely skilled cheating moves with cards, and the same goes for the aforementioned Darwin Ortiz.
Ian Rowland, Guest Contributor (Ianzin)
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