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Curzi, 35, had moved to Oregon in from San Francisco after selling a software company he'd helped found a decade earlier.
He was fascinated with the games—the ubiquitous, flashing terminals found in bars, delis and even pancake houses—and he played occasionally when out drinking with friends. He used the break to study his hand—a 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of different suits. The game Curzi was playing, draw poker, allowed him to discard cards and get new ones from the dealer.
He knew his best chance was to discard the 2 and hope the machine dealt him a 3 or an 8 to complete a straight. But the machine suggested he do something Curzi thought strange: It recommended he discard the 7. He would get his straight only if he drew a 3. That would cut Curzi's chances of winning by half—and he thought it was terrible advice.
Curzi took out his iPhone and snapped photos of the screen and the machine's serial number. Here's how the video poker hand Justin Curzi got on Jan. The lottery encourages dreams of riches. But the games are engineered to take your money. That's why news reports two months ago that a Portland man was suing the lottery to recoup video poker players' losses struck some as ludicrous. Who would sue over losing money while gambling? But it's not so simple.
Curzi—who friends say is intelligent, analytical and obsessively curious—launched a personal investigation of Oregon video poker machines that led him to conclude the machines were cheating players out of millions of dollars every month.
That's why he filed a class-action lawsuit against the Oregon Lottery in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleging fraud. Lottery officials deny Curzi's allegations. Curzi is aware some people might assume he's suing to make money. He insists he's not. Six days after his curious experience with the Jacks or Better game at Quimby's, Curzi sent a polite and inquisitive email to the Oregon Lottery.
Curzi explained how he believed the video poker machine should have given him the best advice. Draw poker is a game of luck, strategy and second chances. The dealer gives players five cards. Players then get a chance to discard cards in the hopes of being Pokies Big Winners&results Oregon Lottery Winning better ones. When you're playing poker around a table in real life, you're betting against other players in hopes of having the best hand.
But in video poker, you're not betting against anyone. Each hand costs you 25 cents or more, if you increase your wagerand you win money based on a scale of how strong your hand is. A pair of jacks might win you your 25 cents back. Unlike slot machines, video poker gives the player a sense that strategy matters. In reality, if you play long enough, the machines are geared to eventually take your money, no matter how many wins you record.
Still, the sense that a player can outsmart the game is part of its allure. What caught Curzi's attention was a feature on the draw poker games called "auto-hold. Players can reject the suggestions at any time. But auto-hold has a second, less obvious function.
It allows players to play faster, because Pokies Big Red Davis don't have to stop to think about what cards to hold before hitting the button to draw again.
That's important because faster play translates to more money for the Oregon Lottery. Before he got a response from the lottery, Curzi Pokies Big Winners&results Oregon Lottery Winning to Quimby's, wondering whether the game's bad advice had only been a fluke. Within 10 minutes, the game was again advising him to hold cards that cut his chances of winning in half.
Curzi says he just wanted a simple explanation. Curzi grew up as a sports-focused kid in small-town New Jersey, Pokies Wild Mustangs Horses son of a prominent lawyer and a stay-at-home mom. Curzi—who played football despite his small size—also wrestled, played baseball and graduated near the top of his high-school class.
He played wide receiver at Amherst Collegewhere he majored in economics and history. That led him to New York City after graduation.
He landed his first job selling investments. Working on commission, he'd target an office building, climb to the top floor, then work his way down, knocking on doors. He soon climbed the monthly leader board. His boss told him he was one of the youngest salespeople to reach the top.
He wasn't destined for a traditional job. A sticker on Curzi's apartment door showed a group of people heading one direction, and one person walking the other way. Inhe moved to Brazil and quickly immersed himself in the culture, teaching himself Portuguese within months.
In Brazil, Curzi met an American computer programmer working on a way to help accountants share QuickBook files. The two teamed up and sold the program, cold-calling potential clients from Rio de Janeiro on an Internet phone line. They called the business Emochila —mochila means "backpack" in Spanish and Portuguese—and it blossomed to 30 employees. InCurzi and his partner sold the company to Thomson Reuters in a private deal; Curzi declines to say for how much.
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But friends describe him as wealthy. He consults for private clients, provides microloans to entrepreneurs through the website Kiva and drives a Isuzu Rodeo "whose crowning feature is where a dog chewed the back seats.
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Friends say they are not surprised Curzi—who's just as likely to want to discuss North Dakota's fracking economy as the business model for Purringtons Cat Lounge —zeroed in on something as small and seemingly innocuous as a quirk in a video poker game.
Marlene Meissner, a spokeswoman for the lottery, drafted a response. Auto-hold, she wrote, "is based on optimizing the player's opportunity to win the best highest prize rather than simply increasing the odds of winning any prize. But, as Curzi later discovered, lottery officials guided Meissner to a different answer, so she revised her email before sending it.
In other words, the lottery was backing away from telling Curzi auto-hold offered the best option. Curzi turned to Jay Zollinger, a lawyer who had Pokies Winner Woodworking Equip negotiate the sale of Curzi's business. Zollinger suggested a public records request might turn up some answers.
The lottery responded on April 8, saying it would take 30 hours of staff time just to review the records Curzi requested. That fee would have stopped most people. But Curzi's lawyer paid it. Six months after his request, in AugustCurzi received the first of five batches of records.
By September, Curzi had hundreds of pages of emails, memos and spreadsheets. He made a copy of the originals, arranging one set chronologically and the second by topic.
He took notes on his laptop in a file that grew to 4, words. Curzi came across a Feb. The spreadsheet listed all the types of Oregon video poker machines by manufacturer, the millions of games played in one quarter of and how much money players spent.
In one column, the document showed what various video poker machines, based on calculations of probabilities, were expected to pay out to players over time. In another column, the document showed what the machines were actually paying out. Curzi thought Pokies Big Win Trash payouts should have been very close to what the game's programmers predicted.
It actually paid out about 87 cents. He kept digging and made a second big discovery: Lottery officials knew about the discrepancy, and the auto-hold function on some machines was to blame.
Curzi discovered a survey of video poker players the lottery commissioned from Mosaka marketing research firm. Curzi had only hoped Pokies Big Winners&results Oregon Lottery Winning understand how auto-hold Pokies Big Winners&results Oregon Lottery Winning. He had instead discovered the lottery knew auto-hold sucked millions away from players—and players actually thought auto-hold helped them.
The lottery's rules require "a close approximation of the odds of winning some prize for each game" and say those odds "must be displayed on a Video Lottery game terminal screen.
Documents Curzi received show lottery officials debated whether or not they should tell players the actual odds if they relied on auto-hold. In a memo labeled "confidential" and dated Sept. Instead, they found machines whose payouts were too low.
Lottery officials, according to a separate memo, decided to put accurate auto-hold payouts on the Web. But Curzi went looking online, even using the Internet Archive search engine, to see if the lottery had ever made public the lower odds.
He found no evidence it had. Over the next month, Curzi built a spreadsheet to estimate how much money the video poker machines, based on the odds, should have paid out, compared to what they actually did. What he found startled him.
Payouts to video lottery players were as much as 5 percent lower when they used auto-hold than when they didn't. To Curzi, it was an outrageous discrepancy—especially given that players believed auto-hold helped them, and the lottery knew otherwise.
Buried on the lottery's website is one disclaimer: Curzi says that's not enough. The lottery is supposed to be based on chance.
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In Octoberhe sent the Oregon Lottery a letter detailing his findings and notifying officials he intended to sue unless the lottery reimbursed players within 30 days. Jack Roberts, the lottery director, took over the agency in Decemberfollowing years of controversy and accusations the agency wasn't doing enough to address problem gambling.
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