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10 Things You Need to Know about Indian Reservation Gambling

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I'm planning a trip back East and will be hitting my first Indian Reservation casino, which got me thinking: I know nothing about their history at all! So, after much research, here's the highlights of what I unearthed. Please share any Indian gambling experience you have in the comments below!

The Beginnings

1. The phenomenon of Indian reservation gambling began in the '70s when the Seminole tribe in Florida opened a high-stakes bingo operation, which is against Florida law. The authorities tried to shut the instant-tourist-attraction down and a slew of lawsuits followed. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that the State did not have the right to regulate Indian reservation activities nor could they tax reservation occupants.

2. In 1987, in the Cabazon Decision, the Supreme Court ruled that as long as a form of gambling is legal in the state where the reservation is located, the state can't regulate activities on the reservation. This decision led to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which requires reservations confer with the state before offering any games that would be played against the casino such as slots or blackjack tables. If the state refuses to negotiate—as several have—then the Secretary of the Interior works out his own deal, which is always in the favor of the Indian tribe.

Big Money

3. Indian reservation gambling generates more income than Atlantic City and Las Vegas combined. In 2009, this totaled $26.5 billion in revenue from 425 facilities, run by 233 tribes in 28 states. Tribes receive $4 of every $10 that Americans wager at casinos.

4. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe's Foxwoods Resort and Casinos in Connecticut is one of the world's largest casinos. The resort covers 4.7 million square feet, has over 380 gaming tables, over 6,200 slot machines—the most in the world—and houses the world's largest bingo hall. The resort pays 25% of it slot revenue to the state of Connecticut as part of their deal to allow slot machines.

5. The second largest Casino in the United States, Mohegan Sun, which is operated by the Mohegan Tribe, is located just a few miles from Foxwoods Resort. Mohegan Sun sports the world's largest planetarium dome. In 2005, Mohegan Sun purchased Pocono Downs Racetrack in Pennsylvania and began operating the first slot machine casino in Pennsylvania in 2006.

6. Tribal Casinos are not always run by the tribe itself, but often by an outside management company. Harrah's manages Cherokee Casino in North Carolina, the Prairie Band Casino in Kansas and the Ak-Chin Casino in Arizona. Mohegan Sun is managed by a South African company in conjunction with the tribe. Donald Trump even tried his hand at running a reservation casino when he owned and managed the Trump 29 casino in California. It was the first Californian reservation casino to open under a non-Indian name; however Trumps ownership ended in 2006 and it's now called Spotlight 29.

So where does the money go?

7. Revenues from gaming are required to be used for tribal governmental and charitable ventures only. The revenues are exempt from federal, state, and local taxes, however there are exceptions. In the cases where the revenues are divided evenly and then distributed directly to tribal members, the federal government gets a nice cut. State taxes are often part of the agreements for large scale casinos.

8. There are 562 recognized tribes in the United States, only about 200 operate full scale casinos. There are approximately 150 additional tribes seeking recognition. Many complain that these tribes have no real membership and are only seeking to cash in on the casino business. Supporters of Native American rights point to centuries old treaties put in place to protect these unrecognized tribes. The Pequot tribe, which operates Foxwoods, received recognition in the early 1980s, after the last surviving member living on the reservation died and her grandchildren came together to recreate the tribe.

Big Controversy

9. In the mid-nineties, The Coeur D'Alene Tribe in Idaho began the National Indian Lottery on-line. This was a revolutionary idea at the time. However, it was met with much opposition and many lawsuits. The controversy stemmed from defining where the gambling took place—in the state where the gambler was playing or on the reservation where the site was based. The site was shut down in 1998, but as of November 2009 the Coeur D'Alene tribe was once again drumming up business for their upcoming on-line lottery. Stay tuned!

10. The Navajo's Fire Rock Casino has been a hotbed of an unworldly controversy. After reports of soil from an archeological site being used as landfill for the casino—which goes against Navajo beliefs concerning the dead—and debate over possible uranium in the soil, some started to suspect skinwalker curses! (Skinwalkers are people who practice a form of witchcraft in Native American legends.) The tribal leadership was determined to move forward with the project and in November, 2008, the casino opened to much fanfare. However, early morning reports surfaced of staff members seeing skinwalkers in the casino on opening day. Navajo Gaming Enterprise CEO Robert Winter assured visitors that the tribe had bestowed many protective blessings upon the casino resort and it's a great place to visit. :-)

Anyone ever been there? See any skinwalkers? Anyone ever been to any of these Indian casinos? Tell us about your experience.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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