Friday, June 14, 2013

Busting Vega$

Busting Vegas: The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought the Casinos to Their Knees by Ben Mezrich

I bought the ebook when it was discounted at Barnes & Noble.

My review:

Card-counting MIT students hit the national radar when the movie 21 was released several years ago, and this story is something of a sequel to that one. While the math geniuses in Busting Vegas don't count cards, they have discovered a handful of techniques to manipulate when the blackjack dealer will "bust," or lose the hand and pay out to the players.

This story is an odd mash-up of math, relationships between the team members, and descriptions of the seedier sides of Vegas and the casinos in other cities around the world. There are multiple "story lines" going at once, none of which is particularly strong and all of which resurface and intertwine jerkily. The individual events are compelling, but the reader will probably feel detached from the action and the characters.

Good for a light read for those who have a passing interest in gambling or in the darker sides of power and wealth. 

Stars: 3

I found Semyon Dukach's afterword bizarre. He tries to persuade the readers that he and his team weren't so much in it for the money as they were striking a blow at evil, greedy casinos on behalf of the "little guys". He compares their actions to those of Robin Hood (as Mezrich also does at various points in the book itself). What he fails to acknowledge is that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor. The MIT team was not giving their gains away to anyone; they bought planes and bespoke suits and lived the lives of high-rollers. And to paint the casinos as thieves is, I think, putting it on pretty thick. While the casinos undoubtedly make a killing, every gambler walking in the door has heard that "the house always wins".

While the team's actions may not have been illegal or even quite unethical, to say that they were noble or unselfish is a transparent and pathetic attempt at self-justification.

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