It is common knowledge that Casinos offer excitement, allure, and anticipation that one could walk out with a nice jackpot. It also goes without saying that the Casino, or the ‘House’ is designed to have an edge over any given player. House edge may vary by game but the fact remains that the House will always maintain the upper hand. Despite the statistics, thousands congregate at gaming arenas around the globe. Americans may even take the front seat for gaming enthusiasm – with Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and other gaming hot spots. Most folks come for the ambiance and exhilaration in hopes that they will walk out with a few extra bucks in tow. Some individuals, however, have a more devious plan in mind that includes coming out ahead regardless of ‘house odds’. In fact, they utilize their brain power or any other means necessary to beat the odds with a surety. The following people implemented schemes that were quite clever, to say the least.
Edward Thorpe, mathematics genius is considered to be the genius behind card-counting today. He has in fact been inducted by the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Utilizing his sheer brilliance for numbers and dedication to finding a method for players to acquire an advantage over the house he and friend Claude Shannon hit the Vegas strip. Armed with awareness that if smaller cards were dealt out of a deck – the odds are in the players favor and gamers could bet large. On the other hand, if large cards were dealt out of the deck, the odds shift to the House and players should bet smaller. Thorpe and Shannon made thousands implementing the ability to count cards and inspired many others to learn. Thorpe authored a book in 1962 entitled “Beat the Dealer” which outlined his ‘ten count system’ of counting cards.
The next trick is now known as ‘The Savanah’, or more commonly as ‘past posting’. Originally this visual illusion would be conducted by betting small amounts at the Roulette table. If the bet won, the gamer would add large sum chips to the stack while the dealer was watching the wheel. Richard Marcus worked it out the opposite by leaving a large chip underneath the smaller chips on the bet. If he won, he would reveal the large chip at the bottom of the stack. If the bet lost – he would simply remove the large chip before the dealer collected the bets. Word has it that Marcus took the Casinos for approximately $5 million before he was detected and subsequently prosecuted. He claims to be cheating the system today in a way in which the Casinos or law enforcement will never discover.
The number eight rouse is reminiscent of Edward Thorpe and his legendary ‘card-counting’. A group of MIT students took to the Blackjack tables to win. A well-orchestrated and highly organized team approach, the team of MIT co-eds recruited and trained students that they were convinced were the best. Then they honed their strategy by practicing with ‘mock’ blackjack tables in an effort to conceal any indication that card-counting was part of the game. With investors willing to take a chance on their system they were able to win big. The story goes that this crew raked in $400,000 in one weekend alone! In the two years running this grandiose scheme, the students are said to have profited by a total of $5 million. Eventually casinos in Europe and the US were privy to the game – and the run was over. The crew produced enough attention to consider this ‘pop culture’ lore, and a movie was produced about the scam, as well.
Louis Colavecchio went straight to Italy to implement his grand plan. Colavecchio, now known as “The Coin” was a counterfeiting mastermind. He designed exact matches to coins from Casinos around North America. He acquired a 150-ton press from Italy and very specific metals including nickel, copper, and zinc to reproduce the coins to exact specifications. With laser-cutting tools to ensure precision he set out on his gaming spree. An exact figure as to how much “The Coin” was able to make-off with has never been determined, since some Casinos did not want to admit that they had been duped. Some figures suggest that Colavecchio collected anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000. Authorities cut a deal with “The Coin” in exchange for his knowledge as to how reproduction was made possible. His equipment and material filled two storage units rented by officials.
Meet Tommy Glenn Carmichael – master of slot machines. Carmichael had an affinity for the slots and the savvy to spin the wheel and get a jackpot – with a simple piece of metal. The tools he originally utilized are referred to as a ‘Slider’ and a ‘Monkey Paw’ and allowed Carmichael to flip a switch and voila – coins were released. Carmichael had to improvise when slot machines became computerized. He studied the mechanics of the new machines by posing as a slot machine salesperson for a manufacturer. He then proceeded to design a mechanism called a ‘light wand’ which was essentially a mini light with a small camera-like battery that would blind the sensor inside the slot machine and once again – voila – coins are released. Eventually Carmichael was busted with the wand and he now consults with Casinos to prevent similar inventions from finding their way to the slot machines. After reportedly making upwards of $10,000 a day he now designs equipment to guard against technologically savvy cheaters.
The sixth Casino scheme involved the lovely Ida Summers, now notorious for her 1960’s and 1970’s clever approach and smooth sleight of hand tricks that went undetected for years. The very daring lady had no qualms about waltzing up to a blackjack table and inserting a ‘cooler’ card – a card she brought to the table with her and slipped into play when it was going to benefit her. The gaming terminology for this slick trick is ‘hand mucking’. Another way of completing this visual hoax is to remove a card from play until it becomes beneficial to slide it back into play. With growing boldness Summers was able to sneak an entire deck, or a ‘cold’ deck, into the game. Perhaps because she was an unsuspecting female in an era when cheaters were presumed to be male, or perhaps because her vivacious personality drew more attention than her hand maneuvers, she was likely one of the first individuals to attempt this type of cheat. She was, however, detected and taken down for her brazen behavior.
Enter the next mastermind – a mechanical and electronic genius of sorts. Keith Taft spent nearly 30 years perfecting his bogus Casino rip. Reminiscent of Edward Thorpe, who inspired many in the card counting arena, Taft and his son Marty set out in the early 1970’s to make a bundle of bucks. Taft began his spree by designing a computer that he wore under his clothing and operated with his toes! He later made a smaller computer device and named it David and sold them for $10,000 a-piece. Taft later developed a camera to video tape images by standing near the dealer. The camera was generally placed inside of a belt-buckle and could detect the dealer’s hole card. The information would then be relayed to an accomplice via satellite and the accomplice would signal the player as to the best move to make. In the mid-1980’s Taft met his demise when Nevada made electronic devices used as gaming aids an illegal venture that would cost 10 years in prison. In 2004 Keith Taft made the cut into the Blackjack Hall of Fame for his genius.
The number three Casino ruse involves Domonic LoRiggio, a man known by many names. Some call him ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’, others go by ‘The Dominator’ and the list goes on. LoRiggio is a dice rolling pro and team member of dice rolling aficionados called team ‘Rosebud’. LoRiggio claims that he has the ability to control the dice and win big at the Craps table. The Dominator later combined forces with Frank Scoblete to win large sums at the Craps tables. Controlled shooting is not illegal – and LoRiggio insists that the skill is all in the physics of the maneuver. If anyone wishes to learn the trick of this trade they can actually take LoRiggio’s controlled dice rolling class! Just don’t let the dealer detect the skill because the Casino will insist that you roll another way if they suspect that you are controlling the dice.
Visualize Spain, circa 1990 and picture Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo spending hours upon hours recording spin results on the Roulette wheel and analyzing the data. Garcia-Pelayo would enter a Casino and watch the wheel spin many times before he would identify ‘hot’ numbers and place a bet. The assumption that Garcia-Pelayo was operating under was that each Roulette wheel has tiny mechanical differences that would cause the ball to be more likely to drop in certain numbers. When he felt that he had identified these numbers for each wheel, he would place his bet. After he became easily recognized in Spain he traveled to the US and continued to win with his computer savvy and genius technique. Although Spain attempted to prosecute him for his winnings, the court ultimately ruled that he had done nothing illegal. Garcia-Pelayo is believed to be ‘retired’ from the Roulette game with a rumored $1.5 million in winnings sitting in his bank account.
And in yet another Las Vegas tale of a shrewd and strategic plot to turn House odds into ‘player- favor’ Mr. Ron Harris calculated huge jackpots with his inside scoop. Harris and comrade Reid McNeal raised eyebrows at Bally’s Park Place Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey but not before raising $100,000 in a Keno jackpot. After beating the 1 million to 1 ‘odds’ to beat Keno the Casino called in the State officials as required by New Jersey law. Any winning over $35,000 must be investigated and verified as legitimate. State troopers arrived at McNeal’s hotel room to find McNeal in the company of Ron Harris. Upon questioning, McNeal informed the authorities that Harris was an employee for the Nevada Gaming Control Board and his job entailed computer technician duties that gave him inside knowledge of equipment calculations. Harris shared the calculations with McNeal who proceeded to use the information to beat the odds on Keno and ‘almost’ get away with it. Authorities took McNeal into custody immediately and later apprehended Harris who had slipped out of the hotel when he saw his odds of fleeing as better than the alternative. Needless to say, Mr. Harris is no longer an employee for the Nevada Gaming Control Board.