The Biggest Casino Cheats in History

There will always be people who think they can beat the casino. After all, if that wasn’t the case then the biggest casinos wouldn’t attract so many visitors through their doors every year. However, for some it’s not about getting a slight edge during a game of blackjack, or using a “system” they think can take down roulette. Some people understand just how difficult it is to beat the house when playing by the rules, so they do what they can to twist those rules.

In this article we’ll look at some of the biggest and most impressive casino cheats in history. Not all of these cheats have gotten away with their crimes, but for some of them, crime definitely paid.

Richard Marcus

Marcus was a professional gambler that hit a rough patch. He was struggling to pay the bills and his life was a far cry from the glamorous life of a professional gambler that he had always strived for. He hit rock bottom and found himself homeless on the streets of Sin City, but he had a plan.

Marcus became a dealer in a Las Vegas casino, but rather than seeking a legal profession on the other side of the fence, he used his time to figure out how the casino operated. His focus was on the blackjack tables in particular, and as he worked, he dreamed up a scheme that he knew would work.

The scheme was simple. Marcus would place a bet using three chips. The top two chips would be red, worth $5. The bottom chip would be brown — a shade of brown that didn’t differ too greatly from the red, but was worth $495 more. He knew that the dealer and security would assume the chips were all worth $5 and if he lost, he would utilize sleight of hand to change the final chip. If he won, he would simply expose the bottom chip or tell the dealer the true value of his bet.

He could earn as much as $1,000 at a time with this simple trick and some estimations suggest that he earned millions of dollars over the course of a couple of years doing it. In the end he was caught, as is usually the case. He was prosecuted and banned from all casinos. These days he tells his story to anyone willing to listen and also mentors other aspiring casino cheats on how to beat the system.

Tommy Carmichael

If you want to know anything about the inner workings of every land-based slot machine for the last few decades, then forget about asking insiders and developers, Tommy Carmichael is the man you should seek. In the early days of mechanical slot machines, when he was working as a TV repair man, Carmichael used a device to rob them of small jackpots, pocketing hundreds of dollars at a time. When the developers realized what was going on, they imprisoned Carmichael and changed their machines. When he was released from prison, Carmichael simply changed his tactics, figured out how to beat the new machines and did just that.

Fewer people throughout history have had a better grip on slot machines. Carmichael knew the ins and outs of most of them and could tell you how to cheat them all. If you met him during the 80s and 90s, he might have even sold you a device that would help you to trigger a jackpot in a matter of seconds.

Carmichael’s reign came to an end in 2001, but he left a huge legacy, having changed the way that slot machines work, turning them from simple mechanical devices into advanced, electronic ones.

Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo

Gonzalo was a Spanish record producer with a passion for gambling and an obsession for roulette. This obsession stemmed from the belief that not all roulette wheels were as random as they proposed, and that there simply had to be a pattern. To test his theory, Garcia-Pelayo recorded the results of thousands of spins, testing many wheels. In the end he was proved right, and he realized that due to minor imperfections in the roulette wheels themselves, certain numbers were more likely to land than others.

Using this newfound knowledge, Garcia-Pelayo was able to win over half a million Euros in a single night of gambling. This was in Madrid, his home city, but Garcia-Pelayo had bigger plans and soon booked a ticket to Las Vegas, where it is reported he was able to win as much as $2 million playing roulette at the biggest casinos on the strip.

He was later banned from all casinos, but he took those casinos to the Supreme Court, who ruled in his favor. However, thanks to Garcia-Pelayo and his methods, modern casinos constantly test their roulette wheels for any inconsistencies in the randomness, and when they report findings like the ones Garcia-Pelayo discovered, they fix or change the wheels. Still, he made a lot of money using this exploit and he also left a legacy as one of the most successful roulette cheats in history.

The MIT Team

If you have seen the film “21”, then you’ll already know this story. In fact, many people in the industry know this story, as it involves some of the most famous cheats ever to step foot in a casino. Of course, as it involves card counting, with no devices used, it’s not really fair to call them “cheats”, but we’re sure the casinos will have a different opinion.

The MIT team involved a number of mathematic students from the famous college who colluded to take down the biggest casinos on the strip. They practiced their scheme in advance, making sure every detail was worked out to the last, and when it came to putting it into practical use, they were hugely successful.

Their scheme involved planting card counters at separate tables. These players would play for small amounts and keep a running count in their head. When the count was favorable, they would then signal to a nearby team member. That team member would then plonk themselves down at the table and play the roll of a reckless high-roller, someone who sits down briefly, spends a small fortune and then disappears. Because the count was favorable when they did this, they were able to secure bit pots in just a few bets, before another signal was given when the count was no longer favorable, and the high roller departed.

Card counting is not actually illegal, but casinos in Las Vegas can ban players that they suspect of doing it. In the old days there were stories of people being beaten up and even killed by the casinos for counting cards, but this was in the days of mob rule and they could have just as easily been scare stories spread by the casinos themselves to stop people from counting cards. The MIT team could have just as easily gone to Atlantic City, where it is illegal for casinos to ban players for counting cards, but the house edge is also higher, which means the easy money was clearly in Las Vegas.

Louis Colavecchio

Colavecchio never chased the big money like many other people on this list. He targeted slot machines and slot tokens, small metal rounds that would gift the player a number of spins or could be swapped for cash. Colavecchio counterfeited these tokens, but he used such intricate techniques and materials that when law enforcement bought some of them off him during a sting, they actually thought he had sold them the real thing.

This is because he didn’t use cheap metals or techniques to make them. If anything, the tokens he created were the same as the genuine ones being handed out by the casinos. They were made using similar metals, laser-cut into shape and punched using a 150-ton press. In all, it is estimated that Colavecchio took as much as half a million dollars from casinos, although it could have been as little as $100,000. The exact figure he stole was difficult to arrive at because few casinos wanted to admit that they had been cheated. It was also hard to trace the fake tokens, considering they looked so much like the real thing.

So fascinated about what Louis Colavecchio had done and how he had done it, law enforcement struck a deal with him to reduce the severity of his penalties. He told them exactly how his operation worked and showed them his intricate setup, so that no one else could replicate it in the future. However, even without this information and the increased security that followed, it is unlikely that anyone else would have been able to replicate what is, in effect, one of the most advanced counterfeiting schemes in history. Law enforcement should think themselves lucky that Colavecchio never set his sights on the US Mint.

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