Casinos are in the business of cash.
They almost always have the house edge, which means that gamblers are working with odds that aren’t in their favor.
Since the house almost always wins, there is a lot of money (cash or other currency forms like bitcoin and gold) in their vaults. This also means that some thief is looking for an easier, softer way to win it big.
There are a lot of casino movies about robbing, crooks, and big dreams.
The Oceans 11 movie franchise is built on this dream.
Just in case you’ve been stranded on an island since the first Oceans 11 movie came out, here’s the plot:
- 2 high rollers (played by George Clooney and Brad Pitt) build a team of criminals.
- They plan to rip off all the money in the casino (Bellagio in Las Vegas) and win back Clooney’s love interest, Julia Roberts.
Casino robberies have been romanticized by Western culture. Rarely do the thieves get away. When they do, it’s not for long.
In this post, I’m going to tell you about the biggest (moneywise) heist in history and the most expensive drink ever sold.
This true story is an example of human faults, betrayal, and not knowing when to call it quits.
The Crown Casino Never Saw It Coming
In 2013, the Crown Casino in Melbourne Australia was swindled out of 33 million dollars (USD). I wish that there was more information on the internet about this, but the casino didn’t even report it to the local police.
You read that correctly.
The casino and its management didn’t report the biggest casino heist in history to the local police.
We’ll get into my theory why later.
A New Zealand businessman was invited to play at the casino’s high roller room. He had been a previous customer.
Much like American casinos, the Crown caters to the high roller players. Bigger bets almost always equal bigger losses. This means more money in the vault. You get the idea.
The businessman, millionaire James Manning, played 8 winning hands of blackjack to win a total of 32,000,000 Australian dollars (33 million USD). This tipped off the Crown Casino’s security.
It turns out that the VIP services manager had recruited Manning to come play in their high roller room that week. Manning was also scheduled to star in a record-setting event when he would buy “The Winston,” the most expensive drink in the world.
The Guinness Book of World Records would be there to record the purchase. The casino’s bar, Club 23, was gearing up for the event and the record being set by the bar.
How Did This Happen?
This heist is reminiscent of the Ocean’s 11 original film. There is hacking, behind the scenes treason, and even a PR nightmare.
This is how it all went down:
- Manning and the VIP services manager worked ahead of time to hack into the casino’s security camera system. According to some tech experts, this is not a hard task.
- Now that they have access to the high-resolution camera across the casino, they can see everything they need to put Manning in a winning player position in the high roller room.
- The VIP services manager is also supposed to be involved in a $12,500 cognac drink launch. We will talk about that later.
- Manning checks into the casino with his family into a VIP villa. This will become the home base of the largest casino heist in history.
- James plays the eight winning hands with the help of the hacked security cameras and signaling from the VIP services manager.
- Casino security is starting to get curious. The Crown’s security team realizes it’s their own VIP services manager that is signaling to Manning how to win each of the hands.
- Manning leaves the casino floor with the biggest win in the casino’s history.
- Manning carries on as if nothing is out of place.
- In the middle of the night, the Crown security team discovers the heist and evicts Manning from the property. Here’s the kicker: Manning had not transferred the winning money (USD 33,000,000) to his personal account.
- Considering the money had not left the casino’s vault, they decided to not press charges. What they did do was expel him from the property, file a no-trespass order, and cancel the drink event.
- The casino didn’t contact local police as the money was still “in house.” Unfathomable, right?
Let’s Drink About It – The World’s Most Expensive Drink
Let’s talk about that expensive cognac drink. Manning was scheduled to buy the world’s most expensive drink. The goal was a PR event to set a world record for the most expensive drink.
What’s in a $12,500 drink?
“The Winston” has 1858-vintage Croizet Cuvee Leonie cognac.
Its namesake comes from the same vintage as Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower shared when they discussed the D-Day landings of WWII.
The Crown Casino Melbourne had a problem — an expensive problem. They had no buyer for their drink. The casino had no way of knowing that the buyer for the record-setting event would also attempt to steal $33,000,000 (USD) from the casino during the same trip.
The Guinness Book of World Records was on-site to view the event. A representative from Croziet, the owner of the 1886 bottle of cognac, was on-site to deliver the $150,000 bottle of cognac.
The event had been marketed worldwide to media and other industries. This was going to put Club 23 on the map.
So, what is a bar and casino to do with no buyer for their record-setting cocktail?
Manning had been banished from the casino, and who else had an extra $12.5k laying around for one cocktail?
The marketing team for the Crown Melbourne was scrambling to find a replacement buyer. This is where my theory comes in.
Great Plans Always Have a Fault
I have been in PR and marketing since I graduated from college. I have never organized an event of this type. I have had to scramble for coverage of a celebrity that decided to cancel an event at the last moment.
If I were on the PR/marketing team for the Crown, I wouldn’t notify the police either. The money is still in house. The buyer has been marketed as buying the drink. No buyer equals find a buyer.
I would silently sweep my $33 million problem under the rug and proceed like nothing happened. I wouldn’t want the blowback and would want to salvage what I could from this event.
The Crown, I think, had a similar idea. Let’s find a new buyer. No harm, no foul.
Almost a Record, but Not Quite
Two of the executive staff from the Crown – Vice President of VIP Services, Ishan Ratnam, and the Chief Operating Officer of Crown Hotels, Peter Crinis – approached Giang Nguyen.
Nguyen is the biggest financial contributor to the Geelong Football Club. Geelong Football Club is a professional Australian rules soccer team based out of Geelong, Victoria, Australia.
Ratnam and Crinis had another problem to tackle. Nguyen is a discreet spender. He is a regular at the Villa at the Crown Tower but isn’t known to throw around money. Unlike Manning, Nguyen wasn’t willing to throw down the $12,500 for the cost of the drink.
They came up with a workaround.
Nguyen would pay for the drink, and the casino would pay him back after the record was set, and the event was over.
Not so much.
The casino was already swimming in a PR nightmare with the gambling scandal. Even though the casino didn’t report the robbery to the local police, the public knew. It was swirling around like wildfire on social media and traditional media outlets.
This event needed to go off without a hitch. Nguyen showed up and bought the drink with his own money. It was recorded, and the hosting bar, Club 23, would receive the world record for the most expensive drink ever sold.
There was one problem:
The bar didn’t actually sell the drink.
Nguyen showed up at Club 23 wearing casual clothes considering he was brought in for the high-end record-setting event. He was escorted by his friend, Ishan Ratnam.
He ordered the drink and paid for the drink.
He took a sip and left the unfinished drink on the bar.
Obviously, Nguyen was not interested in the record and was unimpressed by the entire event.
This raised some eyebrows with the media. Words soon leaked that Nguyen was paid back for the record expense.
Things went from bad to worse. Nguyen was transparent when he said he was just helping a friend. Not good.
As of the time of this post, the Crown Casino still holds the title for the biggest casino heist and the most expensive cocktail ever sold.
I had planned on sharing with you the top three biggest casino heists in history, but this one was too good to just give a couple paragraphs.
I’ll be posting about the other two contenders for the biggest casino heists in history in the second part of this 2-parter. Stay tuned.
Humans aren’t good at admitting defeat, neither is The Crown Casino Melbourne. I hope you enjoyed this ultra-PR fail story about cheating, casino heists, and marketing flops, check out part two here.