Before anything else, let me make one thing clear – don’t try these at home! Remember, the common theme is that they all got caught.
People have been trying to scam the house since official casinos first showed up hundreds of years ago. Most of the time it ends with a jail cell, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking at how it happened. The mythology surrounding a good ol’ fashioned casino heist makes you think that maybe the movies got some things right after all.
In this article, I’ll lay out five casino scandals that will make you wonder how they ever thought they’d get away with it.
1 – Monkey’s Paw and Slot Machines
Tommy Glenn Carmichael was committed to the idea of rigging slot machines in a way that couldn’t be detected. Since nothing existed at the time, he invented his own devices that would accomplish his nefarious goals of taking the casino for millions.
If you’re thinking, “Come on, the casino has to catch up to that,” you would be right! The technology did improve to block this type of cheating. However, Carmichael’s techniques evolved as well.
His next invention? The “light wand.” This device used a camera battery and a small light bulb to trick the machine’s sensor into giving him tons of coins. These were no small winnings. The LA Times reported that he could win hundreds of thousands of dollars per day using these techniques.
In the end, he was brought to justice through an FBI investigation. He served 326 days in jail and also was slapped with three years of probation. As you may have guessed, he was also banned from casinos in perpetuity.
2 – The MIT Crew (As Seen in the Movie ‘21’)
Rarely do the movies about huge scandals accurately depict the truth, but the movie ‘21’ starring Kevin Spacey was not too far off.
In fact, there was a team of highly intelligent MIT students who took card counting to the next level. The surprising part was how long it lasted, with almost 20 years of time spent skimming money from unsuspecting casinos who underrated the power of some of the smartest students (and alumni) in the world.
The strategies that were employed went beyond regular card counting tactics as advanced scientific statistical models were used to get an even bigger edge. The ring leader? Bill Kaplan.
Over the years, Kaplan trained more than 100 blackjack players. For his efforts, he is said to have made nearly $10 million.
One interesting thing about the scheme as a whole is that it wasn’t necessarily illegal. Contrary to popular belief, card counting isn’t against the rules, although it is highly frowned upon. Casinos can remove players who they suspect are using card counting, they just can’t be prosecuted.
Most casinos became aware of the scheme and stopped letting MIT students and alums into the casinos. However, some players did continue to play up until the mid-2000s, although most of the team was disbanded in the early 90s.
In the end, nobody really got in trouble, and the winnings were still kept by all.
3 – An Inside Job
If you were going to devise a scheme to manipulate a coded algorithm, who better to look toward than a software engineer? Some lucky accomplice gamblers something even better – a software engineer who was in charge of writing anti-cheating software code for – you guessed it – the Nevada Gaming Board.
Harris was very particular about not rigging too many machines, and ended up putting his secret code on 30 in total. Using accomplices, he was able to keep attention off himself, while still pulling in some money for his efforts.
He ended up with a few hundred thousand dollars, but things would eventually come crashing down, as they always do. Harris’s secret was found out when one of his partners got caught trying to cheat in a game of keno they were playing in Atlantic City.
The story ends with Harris pleading guilty in 1996. Four counts of slot-cheating landed him a 7-year prison sentence.
4 – Replay Magic
One of the great moral dilemmas involved in many of these scandals is the question of, “Is it really cheating?”
Of course, many people would say that obviously cheating is immoral, but in some cases there was a gray area that makes things a bit more complicated. John Kane found himself in such a situation.
While playing real money video poker, he discovered that there was a software bug that could be found in many machines that were in use across the country. The temptation was too much, and he eventually took advantage of the programming error.
The issue with the video poker game, which was in the Game King line of video poker, was that you could replay a hand with a different betting amount. His strategy was to bet a minimal amount on every hand and wait until he hit a jackpot. Then, he would replay the hand with the maximum bet, which was only $10. This $10 would earn a payout upwards of $10,000 and even more in some scenarios.
Now for the interesting part. They were eventually caught (Kane and his friend Andre), and were subsequently arrested. They were charged with hacking and conspiracy, but walked free following a meeting with federal prosecutors.
In the end, Kane’s lawyers argued that he was simply playing the game and did not do anything on his own to manipulate the system. It worked, and he was allowed to keep the money he had won. My guess is that someone in the video poker programming team did not fare as well.
5 – The Las Vegas Dream
Following a move to Sin City, Richard Marcus found himself on the streets. Despite being homeless, he was able to land a job as a blackjack and baccarat dealer in a Las Vegas casino.
Though many underestimated his intelligence, he was able to learn the intricate details of the games he was dealing and found several ways that he could cheat. The funny part is, his schemes didn’t involve anything innovative or utilize technology – it was simply sleight of hand.
His most profitable way of cheating was a method known as “post posting” or more commonly known as late betting. The methodology involves betting a low amount, waiting to see if he had won, and then secretly switching out his low-denomination chips for ones of a higher amount.
If you’re wondering the impact this little magic trick could have on his bank account, you might be surprised to learn how lucrative it was. He has since explained that he could turn a mere $300 win into $10,000 in a matter of seconds, simply by swapping out his chips without being detected.
Like all of the others I’ve written about, he was caught by the law. The number that was attached to his cheating was an astounding $5 million. Surely they would lock him away for years, right?
Wrong. He was never convicted, and was even permitted to keep the money. Today, Marcus works as a casino protection consultant. It probably doesn’t pay quite as well as his prior employment, but it’s all legal work.
If you’re interested in learning more about his story, he has published several books recounting his endeavors in great detail.
The fight between law enforcement and casino scammers is always going to provide entertainment to those of us looking on from the side. Even with modern security technology, cheaters are still finding new ways to lighten the house’s cash reserves.