Card-counting application for iPhones sees sales spike

Nevada gaming regulators hoped to freeze sales of a blackjack card-counting application for iPhones by telling the world the software could convert the high-tech phone into an electronic cheating device.

So much for that idea: The announcement had the opposite effect.

Travis Yates, an Australian software designer who developed the Blackjack Card Counter application that uses four different strategies, said his sales were averaging about 10 per day at $4.99 a pop on the iTunes Application Store.

The day after the Review-Journal reported on the regulators’ Feb. 5 warning to casino operators to be on the watch for patrons using the device, sales for the application jumped to 500 in the United States alone and Yates cut the price to $2.49.

By Wednesday, after CNN, The Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC and other national and international media outlets reported on the card-counting program, Yates said sales topped 1,400. He’s reduced the price to 99 cents, hoping the program makes the top 10 sales list for all iPhone applications.

Maybe Nevada, in the depths of a budget crisis, should have asked for a piece of the action.

“We put this out there for the public because we were concerned an uninformed tourist could get themselves in trouble by using this program,” Control Board member Randy Sayre said. “We haven’t detected anyone using the device yet in Nevada, but there needs to be awareness.”

Sayre believes the gaming industry is just beginning to see a new wave of technology that could assist in cheating activities. Several variations of electronic cheating devices have been tried on slot machines.

“We’re facing this stuff on a daily basis,” Sayre said. “There have been tremendous technological advances in the (casino) industry. There are always going to be some folks trying to defeat it.”

Card counting is not illegal in Nevada casinos. However, using a device to aid in the counting of cards is considered a felony under Nevada laws governing cheating.

Sayre said his main concern was that casino customers may not realize they are doing something illegal by gambling with the iPhone application, which calculates the true count as the player enters the value of a card as it is drawn from the deck.

Sayre said it is up to individual casino officials to decide whether they want to ban iPhones from gaming tables. In fact, Sayre said, customers caught using the application to cheat could be detained by casino operators and arrested by state gaming agents.

“There is a concern for the industry,” Sayre said. “We know this is a popular device and we’ve seen a lot of people downloading the program. We just don’t want an innocent customer sitting down at a table and exposing themselves to a felony charge.”

Yates, 35 and a resident of Carns in Northern Queensland, said in an e-mail Wednesday he didn’t develop the card-counting program for use in a casino, although the application does feature a “stealth mode” button that allows the user to quickly remove the card-counting information from the screen.

“I never intended it for to be used in a casino,” Yates said. “It’s really just for people to play with at home with their friends. I certainly wouldn’t risk using it in a casino myself.”

Yates operates a Web site development service called webtopia.com.au. He also creates “entertainment” applications for the Apple iPhone, which hit the market in 2007 and has numerous capabilities.

“I’ve been a bit of a gambler on and off for a few years,” Yates said. “I have a bachelor of applied science (in) mathematics with honors in statistics so I like calculating odds. Although I’ve never been a card counter myself, with my background it’s always been the type of thing that interests me.”

Yates said he thought a card-counting application could easily be developed for the iPhone. His first variation took about a day to create.

The attention the application created has surprised him. He hired a public relations firm to help handle the media interest. He’s given interviews in both Australia and the United States. Australia casino operators were also warned by government regulators to watch out for the card-counting program.

Sayre said the control board is taking a close look at the program internally.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

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