Steelers ready for Conner to carry load if Bell no-shows
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Tuesday, September 4
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Tomlin doesn’t know when Le’Veon Bell is going to show up for work.
Maybe it’ll be in time for the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro running back to be ready for Sunday’s season opener at Cleveland.
Or maybe Bell will skip a week to send one last message about his frustration over not being able to sign a long-term deal during the offseason.
Or maybe Bell will wait until early November to sign his one-year franchise tender, a move that would cost him millions in lost salary up front, a windfall Bell hopes to recoup when he hits free agency next spring.
Tomlin insists he has too much going on getting ready to chase a third straight AFC North title to keep checking Bell’s locker for evidence of his arrival.
“When he gets here, that’s when we’ll start quantifying Le’Veon Bell-related things,” Tomlin said Tuesday.
Though Tomlin has been in contact with Bell during Bell’s lengthy sabbatical — the three-time Pro Bowler’s last appearance with the team was during a playoff loss to Jacksonville in January — Tomlin has no idea what to expect whenever Bell signs the contract that will make him both the highest-paid running back in the league and start the countdown to his departure in 2019.
So Tomlin declined to get into specifics about how long it might take for Bell to get ready to play after not practicing for eight months. Could be a week, as it was last year. Could be longer.
“Right now, (I’m) singularly focused on the guys focused that have been here,” Tomlin said.
Second-year running back James Conner chief among them. The former Pitt star made significant strides during training camp. Following an uneven rookie season in which he dealt with various health concerns — including a knee injury in December that landed him on injured reserve — Conner’s rise over the spring and summer left his teammates confident and his head coach impressed.
Asked if he’s more comfortable with the depth behind Bell than he was heading into the 2017 opener, Tomlin said yes. When asked why, Tomlin simply replied “James.”
“The status and condition and the approach of James,” Tomlin said. “We had a rookie that missed a lot of time due to soft tissue injuries and lack of general readiness to a guy that’s done the things that we’ve outlined.”
The Steelers drafted Conner in the third round in 2017, capping a remarkable 18 months in which he recovered from a cancer diagnosis in November 2015 to become the ACC’s all-time leading touchdown scorer at Pitt.
Conner tweaked his hamstring on the first day of rookie minicamp shortly after being selected and only showed flashes of the player who ran for 3,733 yards and found the end zone 56 times for the Panthers.
Conner ran 23 times for 144 yards while occasionally spelling Bell last season. Now he finds himself atop the depth chart until Bell arrives.
Conner looked the part of a starter during the preseason, running for a team-high 100 yards, including a bruising 26-yard touchdown run against Green Bay’s starting defense. Conner has also drawn raves for his improvement as a receiver out of the backfield — a weakness last summer — and his work in pass protection.
“If we start off with James, I think we’ll be fine either way,” guard Ramon Foster said. “He’s a guy that’s made strides. He’s made us confident in him. So he gets the start, we roll with him. No disrespect to (Bell), we’ve got to move. This is a moving train.”
NOTES: Tomlin said he believes the team is relatively healthy heading into the opener and did not rule anyone out for Cleveland. WR Antonio Brown (groin) did not play at all during the preseason. TE Vance McDonald (foot) has been out since the first week of training camp while CB Mike Hilton and rookie WR James Washington (oblique) were slowed in late August. … Tomlin said he’s fine with the depth at outside linebacker, but did not rule out whether the team would look to add at the position.
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Steelers RB Bell a no-show as opener vs. Browns looms
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Monday, September 3
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers stressed all summer the need to avoid the kind of off-the-field distractions they couldn’t seem to shake in 2017.
So much for that.
While the two-time defending AFC North champions hit the practice field on Monday to prepare for their Week 1 opener in Cleveland, All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell was nowhere to be found. Bell still hasn’t signed his one-year franchise tender or given any indication on when he might show up, leaving his teammates to answer for him.
“I’m not annoyed by (being asked about) it,” guard Ramon Foster said, tongue firmly in cheek. “Who are you talking about? I didn’t even notice.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey called Bell’s absence “fine” and insisted it won’t be an issue going forward.
“The team is so locked in and focused on what we’ve got to do at hand this weekend that whenever he comes, we’ll welcome him with open arms,” Pouncey said. “Hopefully he’s in shape and ready to run the football.”
A year ago Bell skipped training camp, showed up on Labor Day and was ready to play in the opener, though he and the entire offense looked sluggish in narrow 21-18 victory over the Browns. Bell finished with 32 yards on 10 carries in Cleveland and didn’t really get rolling until October.
“I think the whole offense started out kind of slow last year,” Pouncey said. “To point out one thing at one person because he wasn’t here (for camp) is totally wrong.”
Bell recovered in time to lead the NFL with 406 touches and likely would have won the league rushing title if he wasn’t held out of a meaningless finale with Pittsburgh’s playoff position already secure.
The Steelers placed the franchise tag on him for a second straight spring hoping a long-term deal could be worked out. When the two sides failed to reach an agreement by the July 17th deadline, Bell offered an apology while promising that “2018 will be my best season to date.”
At the moment, it’s a season that currently lacks a starting point.
The players are off Tuesday, meaning Bell would have just three days of practice to get ready for the Browns if he signed his $14.5 million tender before the team took the field on Wednesday. That’s not a lot of time regardless of Bell’s pedigree.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the team was “disappointed” in Bell’s late arrival, but will focus on preparing for Cleveland with the 53 men currently on the roster.
If Bell is not available, the Steelers will turn to second-year running back James Conner. The former Pitt star ran for 100 yards during limited action in the preseason and has won raves from his teammates for his improvement as both a blocker and a receiver.
“I feel like James has been in a great spot this entire camp,” Foster said. “He’s the one that’s taken all the reps. And we’ve got (Stevan) Ridley who is an experienced hard downfield runner too. We’ll be fine in the run game and focus on those guys over there.”
While Bell is missing, Josh Dobbs is still around. The second-year quarterback capped a stellar training camp by edging veteran Landry Jones for the right to be Ben Roethlisberger’s backup.
Dobbs, who threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the exhibition finale against Carolina, said he wasn’t sure he made the team until offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner called him just minutes before rosters were trimmed from 90 to 53.
“I thought I played well when my opportunities came,” Dobbs said. “I didn’t know how it was going to shake out but I felt we prepared well and played well. We’ve just got to continue to improve moving forward.”
Rookie Mason Rudolph will be the third-stringer for now behind Dobbs and the 36-year-old Roethlisberger, who has been remarkably durable in recent seasons. Roethlisberger has missed just five games because of injury since the start of 2013.
NOTES: The team selected Roethlisberger, Pouncey, defensive end Cam Heyward and kicker Chris Boswell as captains for the 2018 season. … Pittsburgh re-signed S Nat Berhe on Monday and placed LB Ola Adeniyi on injured reserve.
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How slot machines work – and why you should think twice before playing them
September 5, 2018
Anthony Frederick Lucas
Professor of Casino Management, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Anthony Frederick Lucas receives funding from the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The gaming industry is big business in the U.S., contributing an estimated US $240 billion to the economy each year, while generating $38 billion in tax revenues and supporting 17 million jobs.
What people may not realize is that slot machines, video poker machines and other electronic gaming devices make up the bulk of all that economic activity. At casinos in Iowa and South Dakota, for example, such devices have contributed up to 89 percent of annual gaming revenue.
Spinning-reel slots in particular are profit juggernauts for most casinos, outperforming table games like blackjack, video poker machines and other forms of gambling.
What about slot machines makes them such reliable money makers? In part, it has something to do with casinos’ ability to hide their true price from even the savviest of gamblers.
The price of a slot
An important economic theory holds that when the price of something goes up, demand for it tends to fall.
But that depends on price transparency, which exists for most of the day-to-day purchases we make. That is, other than visits to the doctor’s office and possibly the auto mechanic, we know the price of most products and services before we decide to pay for them.
Slots may be even worse than the doctor’s office, in that most of us will never know the true price of our wagers. Which means the law of supply and demand breaks down.
Casino operators usually think of price in terms of what is known as the average or expected house advantage on each bet placed by players. Basically, it’s the long-term edge that is built into the game. For an individual player, his or her limited interaction with the game will result in a “price” that looks a lot different.
For example, consider a game with a 10 percent house advantage – which is fairly typical. This means that over the long run, the game will return 10 percent of all wagers it accepts to the casino that owns it. So if it accepts $1 million in wagers over 2 million spins, it would be expected to pay out $900,000, resulting in a casino gain of $100,000. Thus from the management’s perspective, the “price” it charges is the 10 percent it expects to collect from gamblers over time.
Individual players, however, will likely define price as the cost of the spin. For example, if a player bets $1, spins the reels and receives no payout, that’ll be the price – not 10 cents.
So who is correct? Both, in a way. While the game has certainly collected $1 from the player, management knows that eventually 90 cents of that will be dispensed to other players.
A player could never know this, however, given he will only be playing for an hour or two, during which he may hope a large payout will make up for his many losses and then some. And at this rate of play it could take years of playing a single slot machine for the casino’s long-term advantage to become evident.
Short-term vs. long-term
This difference in price perspective is rooted in the gap between the short-term view of the players and the long-term view of management. This is one of the lessons I’ve learned in my more than three decades in the gambling industry analyzing the performance of casino games and as a researcher studying them.
Let’s consider George, who just got his paycheck and heads to the casino with $80 to spend over an hour on a Tuesday night. There are basically three outcomes: He loses everything, hits a considerable jackpot and wins big, or makes or loses a little but manages to walk away before the odds turn decidedly against him.
Of course, the first outcome is far more common than the other two – it has to be for the casino to maintain its house advantage. The funds to pay big jackpots come from frequent losers (who get wiped out). Without all these losers, there can be no big winners – which is why so many people play in the first place.
Specifically, the sum of all the individual losses is used to fund the big jackpots. Therefore, to provide enticing jackpots, many players must lose all of their Tuesday night bankroll.
What is less obvious to many is that the long-term experience rarely occurs at the player level. That is, players rarely lose their $80 in a uniform manner (that is, a rate of 10 percent per spin). If this were the typical slot experience, it would be predictably disappointing. But it would make it very easy for a player to identify the price he’s paying.
Raising the price
Ultimately, the casino is selling excitement, which is comprised of hope and variance. Even though a slot may have a modest house advantage from management’s perspective, such as 4 percent, it can and often does win all of George’s Tuesday night bankroll in short order.
This is primarily due to the variance in the slot machine’s pay table – which lists all the winning symbol combinations and the number of credits awarded for each one. While the pay table is visible to the player, the probability of producing each winning symbol combination remains hidden. Of course, these probabilities are a critical determinant of the house advantage – that is, the long-term price of the wager.
This rare ability to hide the price of a good or service offers an opportunity for casino management to raise the price without notifying the players – if they can get away with it.
Casino managers are under tremendous pressure to maximize their all-important slot revenue, but they do not want to kill the golden goose by raising the “price” too much. If players are able to detect these concealed price increases simply by playing the games, then they may choose to play at another casino.
This terrifies casino operators, as it is difficult and expensive to recover from perceptions of a high-priced slot product.
Getting away with it
Consequently, many operators resist increasing the house advantages of their slot machines, believing that players can detect these price shocks.
Our new research, however, has found that increases in the casino advantage have produced significant gains in revenue with no signs of detection even by savvy players. In multiple comparisons of two otherwise identical reel games, the high-priced games produced significantly greater revenue for the casino. These findings were confirmed in a second study.
Further analysis revealed no evidence of play migration from the high-priced games, despite the fact their low-priced counterparts were located a mere 3 feet away.
Importantly, these results occurred in spite of the egregious economic disincentive to play the high-priced games. That is, the visible pay tables were identical on both the high- and low-priced games, within each of the two-game pairings. The only difference was the concealed probabilities of each payout.
Armed with this knowledge, management may be more willing to increase prices. And for price-sensitive gamblers, reel slot machines may become something to avoid.
‘Savvy slot machine players’ sounds like a funny term to me. More astute gamblers may recognize the different payout odds, but at the end of the day slot machines are pure chance. No amount of savvy can change that fact.
Very similar to local lottery tickets. In my state the break even odds of a state lottery ticket is one in six. Savvy players may think they have a system to win, but once again at the end of the day only one in six will break even.
What I don’t understand is the disconnect of these types of gamblers. Most know they will lose money over time, but continue to hold hope anyway. Some say it is for the entertainment only, but they still hope to win big. If there were no large jackpots they wouldn’t play – so the entertainment tact sounds incorrect to me. Is it just that Humans like video displays, bells and whistles so much?
Why isn’t a game like Blackjack more popular? If you know statistics fairly well your odds of a break-even are about 99%. That sounds like much more entertainment to me than just knowing that you are feeding a cash hungry machine.
BBB Study Shows How Fake Check Scams Bait Consumers
Columbus, OH (September 5, 2018) – An in-depth study by Better Business Bureau finds that, while consumers may write fewer checks in this era of electronic financial transactions, fake check scams are on the rise. Fake checks are used in a variety of frauds, from employment scams to prize and sweepstakes fraud. In all cases, victims deposit the check and send money back to scammers. BBB warns consumers to be on guard against these serious and pervasive frauds and their perpetrators.
The investigative study “Don’t Cash That Check: Better Business Bureau Study Shows How Fake Check Scams Bait Consumers” looks at how fake checks dupe consumers. It digs into the scope of the problem, who is behind it, and the need for law enforcement and consumer education to address the issue.
Scammers often succeed because consumers don’t realize:
Crediting a bank account does not mean the cashed check is valid.
Federal banking rules require that when someone deposits a check into an account, the bank must make the funds available right away – within a day or two. Even when a check is credited to an account, it does not mean the check is good. A week or so later, if the check bounces, the bank will want the money back. Consumers, not the fraudsters, will be on the hook for the funds.
Cashier’s checks and postal money orders can be forged.
A cashier’s check is a check guaranteed by a bank, drawn on the bank’s own funds and signed by a cashier. If a person deposits a cashier’s check, the person’s bank must credit the account by the next day. The same holds true for postal money orders. Scammers use cashier’s checks and postal money orders because many people don’t realize they can be forged.
Fraud employing fake checks is rapidly growing and costing billions of dollars. Fake checks were involved in 7% of all complaints filed with BBB’s Scam Tracker. The number of complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel database and the Internet Fraud Complaint Center more than doubled between 2014 and 2017. Based on complaint data trends, the study suggests that there may be over 500,000 victims of counterfeit checks in 2017.
The study found the fraud affects victims of all ages and income levels, but consumers between 20-29 reported being victimized by the scam more than consumers of any other age range.
Nigerian gangs appear to be behind most of this fraud, often using romance fraud victims and other “money mules” to receive money from victims. Many fake checks and money orders are shipped to the U.S. from Nigeria.
What to do if you have deposited a fake check into your account:
Notify your bank or the bank that appears to have issued the check.
File a complaint:
- Better Business Bureau
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or call 877-FTC-Help
- Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service
- Western Union, 1-800-448-1492 https://www.westernunion.com/us/en/file-complaint.html
- MoneyGram, 1-800-926-9400 http://global.moneygram.com/nl/en/how-to-report-a-problem
- Green Dot, 1-866-795-7597
Victims who are seniors or other vulnerable adults may be able to obtain help through Adult Protective Services, which has offices in every state and many counties. Find a local office at www.elderjustice.gov.
For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2017, people turned to BBB more than 160 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central Ohio, which was founded in 1921 and serves 21 counties in Central Ohio.