In the classic flick Ocean’s Eleven, a gang of sophisticated thieves conspire to rob the Bellagio, Mirage, and MGM Grand casinos in a perfectly planned simultaneous heist.
Danny Ocean and the boys might’ve made the ultimate gamble work in their favor, but in real life, casino-robbing criminals aren’t so lucky.
Whether they’re motivated by a compulsion to keep gambling, abuse substances, or simply the sight of such a seemingly easy target, armed robberies targeting Las Vegas casinos have become a regular occurrence over the years.
Below, you’ll find five stories involving desperate desperados who tried, and failed, to stick up Sin City’s famed Bellagio a la Ocean and crew.
Michael Cohen Doubles Down on Robbing the Bellagio
In one of the more spectacular and sinister Las Vegas robberies to date, 49-year-old Michael Cohen targeted the poker room at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in 2019.
Wearing a wig, sunglasses, and a hooded sweatshirt, Cohen can be seen on surveillance footage strolling purposefully from the north valet entrance and into the poker room.
After heading straight for the cashier’s cage, the footage shows Cohen brandish a small black gun while demanding money and chips.
After filling a large bag with both forms of currency, Cohen makes his way to the valet area and attempts to steal a parked car. Unfortunately for him, a group of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) officers are already on the scene investigating an unrelated report.
When he sees the three uniformed officers coming his way, Cohen makes a fatal mistake by firing his weapon point blank into one man’s chest. Within a second or two, officer Joaquin Escobar returns fire and strikes Cohen in the head to end the shootout.
Thankfully, the stricken officer suffered only minor injuries courtesy of his trusty bulletproof vest.
It didn’t take long for investigators to identify Cohen as the assailant in a 2017 robbery which followed an almost identical modus operandi. In that incident, a man dressed in the same sweatshirt, sunglasses, and wig successfully robbed the Bellagio poker room.
At the time, Hollywood actor turned avid poker player James Woods took to Twitter to recap the robbery in real time:
Bellagio staff were fantastic. They surrendered the money quietly, so no customers would get hurt. Nobody even realized it was happening. Excellent staff, cool under pressure.
You can watch the surveillance footage of Cohen’s 2017 robbery here:
And the footage of the deadly shootout in 2019 can be viewed here:
The “Biker Bandit” Grabs $1.5 Million in High-Value Chips
Back in 2010, the glittering Bellagio became the site of perhaps the most notorious armed robbery in recent Las Vegas memory.
Just 29 years old at the time, Anthony Carleo appeared to be on the fast track to a successful life. A licensed real estate agent and graduate of UNLV, Carleo was the son of former Las Vegas municipal court judge George Assad.
But like so many young gamblers before him, Carleo couldn’t quite make himself quit after going broke on the tables. Having lost his last $12,000 playing high stakes poker and blackjack at the Bellagio, Carleo found himself hitting rock bottom.
In an interview with Rolling Stone published in 2011, Carleo described his sense of despondency after losing it all:
These guys were just waiting for drunk tourists or assholes like me to put their money on the table. It was like the Alamo. That was going to be my last stand. I felt like a plane going down, just spiraling.
Fueled by a desire for revenge, along with a mounting addiction to prescription pain pills, Carleo quickly decided to get his money back—and then some.
Within the week, he was back at the Bellagio walking up to Table #35 and its ongoing craps game. Waving his gun in the air and ordering the dealers to move away from their chip tray, Carleo proceeded to stuff a small pouch with high-denomination chips.
With over 40 of the Bellagio’s fabled cranberry colored $25,000 chips in his bag, along with several $10,000 and $5,000 chips to boot, Carleo jogged to his awaiting motorcycle with over $1.5 million in ill-gotten gains.
As he hid out and hoped to escape detection, Carleo watched as news outlets spread footage of his brazen escape far and wide:
Shielded by a black helmet, and racing into the night on his street bike, Carleo was soon dubbed the “Biker Bandit.”
Rather than leave town or lay low, Carleo found himself back at the Bellagio gambling for high stakes and enjoying the high-roller lifestyle. In fact, he took special delight in betting big bucks on bad bets like the “Hard 8” in craps at Table #35 itself.
Eventually, with the Bellagio on the lookout for any unknown players attempting to cash in cranberry $25,000 chips, Carleo’s wild ride came to an end. After attempting to sell the cranberries to pro poker players online, Carleo was busted in an undercover sting operation.
In the end, he was sentenced to a minimum of nine years in state prison for both the Suncoast and Bellagio robberies.
Oscar Cisneros, Jose Vigoa, and Luis Suarez Take $160,000
In 2000, three members of a drug running gang decided to switch things up by robbing Las Vegas casinos.
In more specific terms, Oscar Cisneros, Jose Vigoa, and Luis Suarez were interested in the armored cars used to transport money in and out of the Bellagio. After successfully robbing a series of armored car deliveries on the Las Vegas Strip, the trio escalated their violent ways.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the attack, but the robbers were eventually arrested and found guilty in the murder of two armored car drivers a decade earlier. All three received life sentences, a punishment Cisneros thwarted by taking his own life in jail just a few months after the Bellagio scheme.
Scott Carmitchel Spends Thousands of “Bellagio” Marked Bills
After arriving in Sin City from Kansas in 2014, career criminal Scott Carmitchel soon set to work emulating Las Vegas’ signature motto.
The party was soon cut short, however, when local police barged in to bust things up.
They’d tracked Carmitchel on surveillance footage and soon found all the evidence they needed. As the ladies were escorted out of the room, several of them were found holding stacks of cash neatly wrapped in labels bearing the word “Bellagio.”
Sebastian Gonzalez Uses a Pig Mask and a Sledgehammer
A panda bear, a cat, and a pig walk into the Bellagio…
No, that’s the not the setup for a zoological gambling joke, but rather, it’s an actual scene which took place in 2017.
According to an eyewitness identified only as “Kira” by local news outlet NEWS-3-LV, a gang of thieves wore distinctive animal masks while doing their dirty deeds:
The first thing I saw was someone in a pig mask yelling at people. I looked more closely and realized he had a gun and a sledgehammer.
The man allegedly hiding behind a Porky Pig visage was 20-year old Sebastian Gonzalez, the only one of four robbers who wound up under arrest. Along with his cohorts, Gonzalez was caught on tape using a sledgehammer to knock out a Bellagio jewelry store’s glass door.
The group then proceeded to smash display cases and pocket handfuls of rings, chains, and other valuables.
Gonzales wound up discarding his mask and hiding in a parking garage before police caught up with him. Afterward, he claimed that armed assailants in Mexico City ordered him to commit the crime, threatening his family if Gonzalez declined to cooperate.
Whether that tall tale is true remains to be seen, as Gonzalez’ case is still winding its way through the legal system.
Robbing Casinos Is a Losing Bet
A casino heist can easily seem like a big score when you have no compunction about robbery, theft, and other criminal acts. For the folks who don’t mind risking everything for a short-term score, the endless stacks of chips sitting on every Bellagio table are simply too tempting to pass up.
But between omnipresent camera surveillance and easily traceable high-value chips, casinos don’t leave anything to chance. And as the five tales of woe presented above demonstrate quite clearly, attempting to abscond with house money is always a losing bet.