Jeremy Sussman.. In one Google Places Help
thread, he said, and I quote:
"I can assure you that the last thing we want is for the business who hires the best SEO to win a better slot. But, the SEOs are, unfortunately, pretty good at what they do, and so sometimes they out smart us."
Jeremy from Google said, "a simple answer like "the closest to you" is not always the right answer. But, all things being equal, the closest to you is the right answer. Figuring out the relative weights of the different factors in the rankings is one of the most difficult parts of our algorithm."
But then goes on to explain that some SEOs know how to manipulate stuff and he simply isn't a fan.
In this Google Places Help
thread he said:
"You know what I love about the help forum? Every now and then someone points out a problem that is not merely "my business is not ranked where I want it to be" but rather represents a real hole in our system. csteinle, this post definitely falls into that latter category..."