World’s biggest casino cheats

If you are anything like me, you love to hear about people who concoct cunning schemes to swindle casinos out of their money. The cheats give us all a little hope when we’ve had a bad run at the tables or poker machines. It is this premise that has fed movies like the Ocean’s trilogy, 21 and even Rain Man.

But who are the real people out there, toiling tirelessly each day to conceive new and amazing schemes and collusion plans to rout the casinos? Who are the top five world’s biggest casino cheats of all time?

5. Dennis Nikrasch

Nikrasch is reputed to have got away with at least $16 million from Las Vegas casinos throughout his career as a slot machine manipulator. Nikrasch started out as a locksmith who eventually turned his trade to theft and burglary, eventually getting himself pinched and sent to jail in 1961.

After his release, Nikrasch made his way to Las Vegas. There, he found he could put his locksmithing abilities to a new and even more profitable use: breaking into slot machines and manually rigging them to become jackpot winners. This was before the digital age of slots, when they were simple, mechanical devices which were actually widely susceptible to being tampered with.

Nikrasch was again arrested and sent to jail for five years in 1983 for tampering with slots to trigger the jackpots. Again, once he was released, Nikrasch was back to his old tricks. But he came to realise that with the digitisation of the slots, his methods had to change.

Nikrasch hit casinos with an improved method of rigging the machines and a crew to help him this time. The new method required someone to block physically block Nikrasch from being seen by security cameras tampering with the machines, then he would leave for another member of the team to win the jackpot that he had just rigged.

Nikrasch was again arrested in 1998 preparing to cheat his way to a $17 million dollar jackpot. His method was so ingenious that he was given a reduced sentence for revealing his cheating methods to the Nevada Gambling Authorities.

4. Monique Laurent

This scheme seems to have been lifted straight out of Ocean’s 13. In 1973, Monique Laurent and two accomplices, her brother and a corrupt roulette dealer executed an ingenious scheme. The team devised a radio-controlled roulette ball that, when activated by a HAM radio concealed in a cigarette packet held by Laurent, would fall into a controlled dive and fall within six numbers with a 90% accuracy.

The corrupt dealer would switch the balls, playing the game with the team’s rigged ball, while Laurent’s brother would bet big at the table and Laurent would sit at the next table over, discreetly triggering the ball via the radio receiver in her packet of cigarettes.

The team allegedly made off with more than $1 million in a week, leaving the casino operators scratching their heads. As they pawed over security vision they noticed that Laurent was always at the next table over to the big winner (her brother) and always brandishing a packet of cigarettes.

The jig was up when a very clued on Pit Boss kept approaching Laurent, eventually asking her for a cigarette from the packet. The Pit Boss saw there was something wrong and had her arrested.

3. MIT Blackjack Team

This is the gang that inspired the book “Bringing Down the House” and the subsequent movie “21” starring Kevin Spacey.

This group operated around American casinos between 1980 and 1999. The group had a lot of different members come and go over the years, at one point there were as many as 80 players.

Essentially new team members were trained in the art of Blackjack card counting and team playing by established members. The group would hit the casinos in teams of three. Each team would consist of three members per table. The three players were categorised as the Control, Spotter and Big Player. The Spotter would keep count of the deck and signal the Big Player when the deck is favourable to the team, while the Control would bet small, constantly losing, verifying the Spotter.

There have been a number of books, articles, television shows and a movie based around this group – their notoriety was that expansive.

2. Richard Marcus

Marcus pioneered a pretty simple scheme for swindling the casinos. It was as sort of a reverse “capping” scheme that he called the “Savannah” method.

Playing blackjack, Marcus would, as an example, place three chips with say a $500 chip on the bottom with two $5 chips on top. The top chips would be stacked just right so the dealer wouldn’t notice the denomination of the bottom chip. If the bet won, he would point out the $500 chip underneath to the dealer and get paid accordingly.

If the bet lost, however, Marcus would break casino protocol and grab his chips and throw it at the dealer, quickly palming the $500 chip and switching it for another $5 chip.

Marcus detailed his cheating at craps, blackjack and poker tables in his book American Roulette (The Great Casino Heist). Marcus is now considered an authority on gambling and cheating.

1. Tommy Glenn Carmichael

Carmichael is arguably the king of pokie cheats. His pioneering devices have been mimicked time and time again. Like the machines themselves, Carmichael adapted with the times and refined his techniques to keep up with the latest advances in pokie science and technology.

His career as a cheat began in 1980 when a friend brought an old slot machine to Carmichael’s television repair shop and the pair discovered how easy it was to trigger a pay-out using an old cheat’s tool call a top-bottom joint. Carmichael was arrested in 1985 with a top-bottom joint and sentenced to five years jail.

Eventually released in 1987, Carmichael came to realise the technology he was used to tampering with before he went behind bars was all but gone, replaced with new computer powered slots. To adapt to the new times, Carmichael conceived a device called the monkey paw, which was used through the coin hopper to trigger a payout. Technology was moving so fast at this point that the monkey paw was out of date by around 1991.

Again, Carmichael went to work. Carmichael was no Harry Potter, what he did wasn’t magic, but he did create what has been referred to as the wand. Carmichael then hooked up with a national cheating outfit until he was again arrested in 1996, 1998 and 1999.

Since his release, Carmichael has been working with casinos and poker machine manufacturers in creating anti-cheating technology.

If learning about these cheating scams has got you nervous about your security when playing online, read our guide to how online casinos can detect gambling cheats.