The 5 Ballsiest Casino Cheats of All Time
Most of the fun of watching movies like Ocean's Eleven is seeing all the planning, attention to detail and Chinese body contortion that happen behind the scenes of first-rate heists. And while we're 95 percent sure Ocean's wasn't a documentary, there are some real world Danny Oceans using real world Danny Oceanesque cheats. Only they didn't have to risk breaking into a vault to rob the casinos for piles of cash; they did it right from the casino floor, with ingenious tricks like ...
A Remote Control Roulette Ball
This high-tech casino cheat could have come straight out of a James Bond movie, but one strictly populated with French people and ham radio enthusiasts. If that's hard to picture, keep reading.
The scam took three people: There was an inside man who was the roulette croupier, his brother-in-law (who would pose as the player) and that guy's sister, Monique Laurent, who would always go to the next table over. The key was that the inside man, in addition to knowing how to run a roulette table, also happened to be a ham radio hobbyist. And he was the one who came up with the idea of constructing a tiny radio receiver that was placed inside a custom-made roulette ball. Considering that this was 1973, we're practically talking about NASA-level technology here.
WARNING: Ham radio does not contain actual ham.
The croupier would run his roulette table as usual, with his brother-in-law placing bets at his table. The croupier would sneak his robot ball into play, and from a table away Monique activated it with her transmitter (which was hidden in a pack of cigarettes), which allowed the ball to enter a controlled dive where it would always land within a grouping of six numbers with 90 percent accuracy. In one week, the team raked in 5 million francs.
So how did they ever get caught? Well, as you can clearly see in the picture below, Monique was a stone cold fox ...
She's known as "La Belle Voleuse," which is French for "The Belle Voleuse."
... which was actually what doomed the trio in the end. While the management pored over security tapes and dismantled the roulette table trying to figure out how the brother-in-law kept winning, the casino owner just couldn't help but notice the brunette always standing around a nearby table. So he hit on her, only to be turned down.
And that's when he really started watching her, and as creepily as possible. Pretty soon he noticed a few things that were unusual, like how she was always alone and only played at a losing table. And how that table was within a short distance from the roulette table where this one incredibly lucky dude kept winning. Finally, she always had her hands on a cigarette case.
"If I say it's a bomb, they'll put her in the interrogation room and then she'll have to talk to me!"
The manager put two and two together, which in itself is pretty impressive, considering he wasn't an actual character in an actual James Bond movie. Knowing something was up, he asked the femme fatale for a cigarette and le police confiscated the pack before she had a chance to le run.
While some cheaters make their way through Vegas and Reno with sleight of hand or innovative technology, others rely on their natural gift of nerdery. Dennis Nikrasch, for example, may not look like a typical geek ...
"You got a real purdy serial port."
... but don't let the missing shirt sleeves fool you. Dennis would probably be just as at home in a cubicle as he is in a prison cell, which, not coincidentally, is his actual home. That's because he used his hacking skills to rip $6 million off from computer-based slot machines. So how the hell do you "hack" a machine that isn't connected to any kind of network, and is locked up tight to keep people just like this guy away? Let's put it this way: It sure as hell wasn't easy.
First, he bought himself his own slot machine to practice on at home, and also for fun. Then he bought the computer chips that regulated the slots from the machine manufacturer, because apparently that's something that's totally available to anyone. He figured out how to modify his chips so that he could trigger a payoff any time he wanted, but of course that only let him beat the slot machine he owned, and we assume he quickly got tired of winning his own quarters back. What he needed to do was get his hacked chips inside the casino's machines.
"Matthew Broderick didn't have to put up with this shit."
What he didn't have was the key to physically open one up, but he found one on the black market. Then Nikrasch put together his team. They would position themselves so that surveillance cameras couldn't watch, then Nikrasch would open the slot machine, replace the computer chip and close it back up in under a minute. Another accomplice would play the machine, triggering the jackpot, and everybody won. Except the casinos. And except Nikrasch, eventually, when his own jerk team set him up for a bust.
"SNITCHES GET STI-- pulated plea bargain agreements."
There was a similar scam by Ronald "The Dude" Harris, who used his position as an inspector with the Nevada Gaming Control Board to modify the very machines it was his job to inspect. Genius!
If you can't trust an employee named "The Dude," who can you trust?
His task was much easier than Nikrasch's -- all he had to do was hide a tiny bit of programming in the machines he modified so that when coins were entered and the lever was pulled in a certain order (for example, three coins, pull lever once, insert one coin, pull lever twice, enter one coin), the machine would give the maximum allowable payout.
Think this, but for slots.
The problem was that as an employee of the Nevada Gaming Whatever, Harris wasn't supposed to collect winnings from machines (since they knew somebody would try something like this eventually). So he found an accomplice, Reid Errol McNeal, to do his winning for him. And McNeal turned out to be as dumb as a sack of especially dumb bricks. When McNeal "won" his $100,000, he immediately acted suspicious: He showed absolutely no enthusiasm whatsoever, lacked the proper identification needed to collect the jackpot and then proceeded to leave the casino only half a step ahead of security. McNeal might have been able to talk his way out of the situation if his room hadn't been loaded with a police scanner, computer equipment, blueprints of the keno machines and software containing confidential source code for the machine. Oh, and his buddy Ron Harris.
Yes, Ron Harris, Nevada Gaming Board slot machine troubleshooter, was right there in a room full of blueprints and a disk containing the codes he used to modify machines when he repaired them. We take back what we said about Harris being a genius.
A Tiny Hidden Card-Spying Camera
Imagine playing a card game while possessing the power to see the cards in the dealer's deck. Perhaps you were bitten by a radioactive spider with a crippling gambling addiction. Think of the damage you could do, especially if you weren't just some schmuck off the street. The "cutters" gang did just that when they exploited a major hole in the game of baccarat.
According to this picture, baccarat is basically blackjack with paddling.
In baccarat, a player is traditionally asked to cut the deck after the dealer shuffles. It's just one of those weird rituals people do. In this case, one member of the gang would cut the deck, then drag the cut card over the top of the deck while slightly separating the cards from one another with an index finger (thus the nickname "cutters gang") while a tiny camera hidden in his cufflink recorded the card order.
"Those are sweet cufflinks, bro!"
Anyway, having a video of the cards in your dealer's hands is useless if you can't actually watch it before playing. So the player with the camera would then excuse himself from the table to use the restroom. There the images would be handed off to an accomplice and analyzed, and a cheat sheet recorded, all in the time that it would take a person to reasonably take a crap. The player would dump the camera, then head back with the cheat sheet to take the casino for everything that wasn't bolted down.
"Just a couple of dudes hanging out, with a camera and some math problems. Casually."
At the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, that meant more than $1 million. And when regulators in the Philippines finally caught and arrested three members red-handed, the cutters still escaped. Maybe at that point they finally used their creativity and genius to get real jobs. But probably not.
Chip Sleight of Hand (That Worked Every Time)
Think back to when you were a kid and asked your mom for some cookies. She said yes, but only one. And because you were a little badass, you palmed a second cookie by hiding it under the first. Incidentally, that's why you now have Type 2 diabetes. Well, professional cheater Richard Marcus farted his way across Vegas with essentially the same childish sleight of hand strategy. And because he was classy, he named his signature move after his favorite stripper, the "Savannah."
"Awww yeah, baby, show me that acacia."
Here's how it worked: Marcus would boozily saunter up to a roulette table, drink in hand, and place his chips on the table. He would angle a $5 top chip so that the bottom one was unseen. And that bottom chip was worth, you guessed it, a kabillion dollars.
So the dealer sees what appears to be a couple of $5 chips. Now here's where the con comes in: If Marcus lost the bet, he openly grabbed his chips before the dealer got them -- which is a huge taboo in the casino world. Like, just-touched-a-butthole taboo. So the dealer would freak and Marcus would play up the drunk charade. Fine, fine, he would say, you can have your stupid pair of $5 chips.
"I hope you choke on them. And I also hope you aren't particularly observant."
But if he won ... hoooo boy, watch out. Marcus raised a ruckus, complete with shouting and high-fiving and spastic hip gyrating (so we've heard), all while the dealer gave a befuddled stare. After all, Marcus clearly just had a few baby chips on the table. "Not so fast!" Marcus would say, then reveal that the second chip down was worth many times more than the visible $5 one. Watch in the video below as he demonstrates the whole routine:
Keep in mind that Marcus was never actually caught doing the Savannah. Or the chip move. The only reason anyone knows about it is because once he was rich enough to retire, Marcus wrote a damn book about his life as a casino cheat.
Great. Now our book about how to steal extra doughnuts by shoving them down your shirt and claiming they're tumors is just starting to look stupid.
Delicious, sweet, glazed tumors.
A Wearable Card-Counting Computer ... in 1972
Years before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates invented personal computers, Baptist family man Keith Taft built a personal computer for the sole purpose of cheating at blackjack. Only back in 1972, it didn't count as cheating, because no one had invented rules against using computers to count cards for you -- because no one had invented computers that weren't football-field size. No one, that is, except for Keith Taft.
Trust us, those holes are not work safe.
Sure, the electronic behemoth he stashed in his gut weighed in at 15 pounds and was controlled with switches above and below Taft's big toes in his shoes. And yes, it had the processing power of a modern musical greeting card. But you don't exactly need a supercomputer to count cards. The real miracle was that Taft walked around Reno without getting pegged as a suicide bomber.
"I don't count toward the 72 virgins, right?"
And that his foot didn't flat out turn him into a cyborg.
You should've seen his underwear.
So how exactly does a computer help you win at blackjack? As Taft played the game, he used his toes to input the cards that were dealt. His belly computer did some quick calculations, then transmitted codes for the remaining cards through LED lights hidden in the frames of his Buddy Holly glasses. So it was kind of like the Google Glasses, but with flashing red lights instead of text. It was like an ambulance in his eyeballs!
The trouble was that Taft didn't always win. So over the years, he and his son teamed up with the big boys, all the while developing smaller and smaller devices. One computer magically tracked where the cards fell after a shuffle. Another connected members of the cheat team through tiny wires -- in other words, a computer network. In 1982. We're pretty sure that's the kind of thing that could get you hanged for witchcraft back then.
"Burn him! Burn that kindly looking older gentleman!"
A few of Benjamin's friends will be appearing in a movie later this year. You can watch the trailer here!
For more real-life events that belong on film, check out The 6 Most Terrifying Historical Car Races and 6 Insane Prison Escapes That Actually Happened.