When it comes to casinos and gambling, there is one ugly reality, which operators must face, cheating. Casinos are constantly battling with casino cheats and other such nefarious characters looking to stay a step ahead of the game in order to make a quick buck illegally.
Although casinos cannot eliminate or even prevent cheating, newer technology and security features are improving to not only catch cheaters in the act, but also bring them to justice. For example, in the Entertainment Capital of World, Las Vegas, Nevada, whether you pinch two dollars or two thousand dollars on table games at a casino, cheating is a felony; and you can do some serious time for it. Depending on the severity of the case, a casino cheat can receive as much as ten years in prison for cheating in a Las Vegas casino.
However, for some, the reward is simply worth the risk.
Throughout history cheaters from all over have made efforts to find newer, craftier ways to cheat the casinos. Some manage to get away with it too, but in most cases, the one thing that ultimately brings all cheaters down is greed.
What are their motives? Money? Fame? The thrill of outsmarting the casino operators? It most likely boils down to a combination of these and other varying factors. Some cheaters have managed to pull off scores worth a mention – helping cement them as noteworthy crooks in thieving history. CoolCat Casino is going to look the most notorious of those who dared to cross the casinos with infamous casino cheats in gambling history!
Tommy Glenn Carmichael
Casino slot games are by far the number one profit makers for gambling institutions worldwide, constituting roughly 70% of annual revenue. The bright lights and promises of whopping payouts have helped make casino slot games big moneymakers.
By the late 1970s, video poker and casino slot games were making waves on the casino floors. One particular casino-goer however, decided to take it upon himself to make money on slots in a different way.
Tommy Glenn Carmichael, a former TV repairman, shop owner and small-time crook, had a knack for fixing and taking things apart. After a friend introduced him to the inner workings of slot machines and an item known as a “top-bottom joint”, it didn’t take long for Carmichael to leave his failing business and take a chance on cheating the casinos of Vegas. The device was a cheater’s tool for hacking casino slot games, and his gamble would prove to be quite the success, for a time anyway.
For almost a decade, Carmichael would hit slot after slot in the various casinos along the Vegas Strip, in an age before video surveillance was standard in the casinos, it took a long time for operators to catch on to Tommy’s illicit activities.
Even at casinos that utilized cameras, Carmichael would bring individuals in on his antics, helping block his actions from view of casino security. Carmichael used the top-bottom joint, and incorporated various tools such as the monkey paw and light wand to trigger slot machines to dish out coins at will.
The light wand was a simple yet effective device that can blind a slot machine inner camera, which counts the amount of coins awarded, essentially paying the recipient as much as they want in coins. Casino experts estimate that this device was so successful, it managed to steal up to hundreds of millions for various cheaters across casinos worldwide.
Carmichael’s scams were so successful that he could earn as much as $50,000 in a single day with the help of friends.
By the end of his run, his total scores reached an estimated $5 million. However, Carmichael’s luck eventually ran out, and the FBI busted him for multiple counts of fraud and theft for hacking casino slot games.
Although, there have been many imitators, Carmichael is considered the godfather of slot machine scammers. Almost every casino throughout the country blacklisted Carmichael. However, upon his release from prison, he turned his life around by helping various casinos’ efforts to prevent future cheating.
Richard Marcus, an ex-croupier and self-proclaimed “world’s greatest casino cheat”, knew that he loved to gamble ever since he was a child; betting his parents their nickels if he could correctly guess the color of a car coming around the street corner.
It wasn’t until Marcus became a young man, however, that he realized that he possessed the smarts and courage to successfully cheat casinos. According to Marcus, for nearly three decades starting in the 1970s, he managed to earn $12 million as a professional cheater.
Eventually retiring without ever being caught. Marcus’s scams focused on table games such as Baccarat, Blackjack and Roulette, and although simple, were extraordinarily effective; perfecting a cheating technique known as “past-posting” for both Blackjack and Roulette.
A combination of sleight of hand and psychology had Marcus earning tens of thousands of dollars at once on table games.
Joe Classon, another well-known casino cheat and Marcus’s mentor, stated that Marcus was the smartest casino cheat he had ever seen. Marcus took Classon’s tactics to entirely new levels. His favorite move was a reverse past-post technique dubbed the “Savannah scam”, which he would use for Roulette. It involved two $5 chips stacked at an angle on top of a $5000 chip placed on the column bet of the Roulette table. The $5000 chip would hide in plain sight from the croupier, who could not call out the “high bet”. If the bet lost, Marcus would quickly remove his chips before the croupier could collect. If the dealer caught Marcus, he would simply put three $5 chips back on the table, with the $5000 chip in his pocket. If the bet won, he would shout with joy and the casinos would have to pay him once security cameras verified his win as legitimate.
As a dealer, Marcus also mastered false shuffles; recruiting other cheaters to wager based on given signals during table games, earning additional tens of thousands from various casinos in the process.
Ron Harris and Reid McNeal
In 1995, a man by the name of Reid McNeal won the Keno jackpot at Bally’s Park Place Casino Resort in Atlantic City. The amount he won was a stunning $100,000, but casino staff became perplexed when they noticed that McNeal hardly seemed elated or even surprised after hitting the jackpot. He simply asked to be paid in cash and exited the casino.
Since New Jersey law requires casino gambling wins of a certain amount to be verified, an investigation followed. After more than a month of examination, McNeal’s seemingly lucky win led back to Ron Harris, a computer programmer in charge of analyzing potential flaws for the gaming machines at Bally’s Casino.
It turned out that Harris had found a way to modify the gaming software to his and accomplice McNeal’s advantage. The machines Harris hacked included casino slots games and electronic lottery games, and by manipulating their internal code, he could get them to produce false wins. One example involved a sequence of coin inputs that would trigger a jackpot win for a slot machine. This same tactic was featured in the popular gambling film “Ocean’s Thirteen” featuring George Clooney.
For years, the two men’s scams went unnoticed, successfully cheating casinos out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It wasn’t until Harris hacked the random number generator (RNG) of the electronic Keno game in Atlantic City that Bally’s Casino was able to prove foul play. The two men were caught, blacklisted and charged. Both McNeal and Harris eventually served time in prison for their casino cheating.
In the early 2000s, a criminal enterprise known as the Tran Organization based out of San Diego, California managed to cheat 29 casinos across the U.S. and Canada in one of the largest casino frauds in North American history.
With the help of dealers, this real “Ocean’s Eleven” managed to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in single Blackjack and Baccarat table games using a combination of false shuffles and hand signals. The scam was the brainchild of criminal mastermind Phuong “Pai Gow John” Truong, a former casino employee and avid gambler.
Truong, his wife Van Thu Tranof, friend Tai Khiem Tran and various other members of the Tran family who were able to recruit dealers throughout the country to join in on their efforts to cheat the casinos. Corrupt dealers were instructed to arrange playing cards in a predetermined order, perform false shuffles to throw off casino security, and then members of the group would bet on hands signaled by the dealers during table games.
Casinos were left bewildered, taking years until operators were able to unravel the extent of the scheme. Eventually, the casinos turned to the FBI for help, and “Operation Tran Wreck” was launched.
With the help of dealers turned informants, the Tran Organization was finally stopped in 2007, and charged for criminal collusion, racketeering and money laundering. A total 47 people were indicted for the crimes, and ringleader Truong received 70 months in prison.
In 1973, a young woman and casino hustler known as Monique Laurent devised an ingenious scheme with her husband to cheat a local casino gambling establishment in their native France. Laurent’s brother worked at the Deauville Casino and in addition to being a Roulette croupier, his job included checking the accuracy of the casino’s Roulette wheels for faults. Little did his employers know that the young croupier was also looking for flaws in the wheels that he and his sister could utilize to their advantage.
Laurent’s brother was knowledgeable in radio technology, and with the help of Laurent’s husband, the two came up with a scam involving a radio-transmitter hidden in a pack of cigarettes and a loaded Roulette ball containing a receiver.
The way the scam worked was simple, a button hidden in the pack of smokes would trigger the loaded ball, switched by the croupier, to fall within a range of numbers on the Roulette wheel. Laurent’s husband would act as the bettor by placing bets on these series of numbers, turning a game of chance into a game of near certainty. Their device had an astounding 90% rate of accuracy, and in a single week, the team of cheaters was able to take home 5 million francs, equivalent to $1 million.
The casino eventually found out and police arrested and charged the group for their actions.
These days it is becoming increasingly difficult to cheat the casinos largely because casino security has improved to such a degree that casino staff can catch you in the act, the “eye in the sky” is watching you. Hundreds even thousands of cameras can monitor your every move the moment you step foot inside a casino. Even if you are not a cheater, casino security must always suspect everyone, which is why the technology is in place to catch people looking to capitalize on any weaknesses.
These technologies include Pantel Zoom Cameras or PTZs, a computer program known as N.O.R.A. (non-obvious relationship awareness), high-definition recording technology, which can store weeks’ worth of data, and even heat sensing technology.
As the saying goes, “If can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”. If these stories are any indication, casino cheats will ultimately face the same downfall.
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