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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
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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