How Casinos Led to the Emergence of Techwear

How Casinos Led to the Emergence of Techwear

February 2, 2016.

If you don’t own a piece of wearable tech, someone you know probably does. Over the past 2 years, high-tech watches, syncing heart rate monitors, and tons of other wearable devices have really taken off. But where did it all begin?

Well, it turns out, the earliest wearable tech came from smart players looking to conquer the casino.

Beating the house… with a little help

Before he became the grandfather of card counting, Edward Thorp devised several ways of gaining an edge over the house. He and his pal Claude Shannon put their heads together in 1961 to beat a game where no skill is involved: roulette.

How did they do it? With the help of a miniature computer. This small device was able to track abnormalities in the wheel and tell the wearer which numbers the ball was more likely to land on. The results were astounding: used properly, the computer gave the player a whopping 44% advantage over the house!

After Thorp’s famous Beat the Dealer had been in circulation for ten years, Keith Taft took the art of card counting to another (now illegal) level. He used his electrical know-how to build a counting device inside his shoes that he named George. All it took was a few toe taps and he could know whether he was the favorite to win on the next hand.

These technologies were virtually unheard of back in the 60s and 70s

It just goes to show what a little harmless greed can lead to. These technologies were virtually unheard of back in the 60s and 70s. Remember: most computers of the era took up the size of whole rooms! The fact that these men were able to put this tech on themselves is pretty awesome.

All good things must come to an end

Thorp, Taft, and potentially dozens of other unknown gamblers were able to rake in the cash for more than a decade with their early techwear. But when the State of Nevada finally caught wind of these devices, they didn’t waste any time putting an end to their use. The state legislature passed Nevada Revised Statute 465.075 in 1985, which states:

“It is unlawful for any person to use… a device that:

  1. Projects the outcome of a game;
  2. Keeps track of cards played or card prepared for play in the game;
  3. Analyzes the probability of the occurrence of an event relating to the game, or;
  4. Analyzes the strategy for playing or betting to be used in the game”

Other jurisdictions like New Jersey, Indian reservations, and Macao have passed similar statutes. The era of beating the house with the help of a brilliant machine is far behind us.

Fast-forward to today

Even though devices like Thorp’s computer and Taft’s smart shoes are now illegal for land-based casino use, there’s no doubt they’ve had an impact on technology today. Steve Mann built on the concept by making a computerized backpack in 1981, then the world’s first headgear webcam at the dawn of the Internet Age in 1994.

Today, techwear is all around us. Everything from Fitbit and Nike+iPod to Google Glass and the Apple Watch are revolutionizing the way we interact with technology. And with online casinos more popular than ever, there’s no limit to what gadgets could be coming up next. Some casinos have already made it possible to play on your smart watch!

Who knows? Virtual reality gaming might be just around the corner.