Casinos draw a big crowd of people who are looking to get rich quick. While most of us genuine online and land-based casino fans know that these games of chance and luck are purely for the purposes of fun and entertainment, there are still those out there who think they’ll be the (incredibly, unbelievably, implausibly) fortunate one who hits that life-changing progressive jackpot or that run on the roulette table or those winning hands at cards.
While there’s nothing wrong with misplaced optimism – those who don’t see a glass of water half empty but rather a glass waiting to be topped up with fine whiskey – there are those skelm people out there who will go to any lengths to shirk a good, honest day at work to make the cash to go gaming and rather just try to cheat the casinos out of their money.
There are a lot of ways that cheaters operate and have been since the first person thought they could give Lady Luck a bit of a nudge. Card marking, hand mucking, past posting, ‘holdout’ devices, marked decks, top hats, collusion, the list goes on. And yes, these do sound like some weird Cockney rhyming slang non-sensical words, but they are all actually methods that cheaters use to con casinos and players out of their cash.
Whether they are using devices, mind games, sleight of hand, or teams of crooks, the result is the same – they are taking money from us as honest players.
And these five people (well, three people and two groups) are possibly the worst of the bunch.
Monique Laurent, known as ‘La Belle Voleuse’ or ‘The Beautiful Thief’, is one of the most famous roulette cheats in history. This incredible beauty teamed up with her brother and husband to scam the prestigious Casino Deauville in France out of millions of dollars in 1973, in what came to be known as the ‘French Cigarette Pack Scandal’.
Laurent’s brother was a croupier at Casino Deauville who studied how the wheel worked to see if he could somehow figure out how to use it to his advantage (and his wealth). He roped in his sister and the pair soon realised that they could affect the outcome by using technology – specifically, by placing a tiny radio receiver in the roulette ball that would cause it to fall on one of six numbers with a 90% success rate.
Obviously, Monique couldn’t be seen holding the transmitter while standing at the roulette table (this is not actually a James Bond movie so the transmitter would have been very noticeable). The sibling decided to do two things: 1) bring in Monique’s husband as a third accomplice and, 2) hide the transmitter in a pack of Marlboro cigarettes – an item that would not be out of place in a French casino at the time.
Monique’s husband would play at the roulette table where her brother was the croupier. Monique would stand off at a discreet distance. Her brother would signal her when he had switched the real ball for the doctored ball, and she would send the signal to drop the ball onto the chosen group of numbers.
This scheme worked so well that the trio amassed over a million dollars in a week.
That much money going out of the casino raised alarm bells. But it wasn’t the winnings (or the fact that the winner consistently played at his brother-in-law’s table) that got the cunning crew caught – it was good old-fashioned horniness. As mentioned, Monique was quite the French beauty, and she caught the eye of the casino owner. After she continually rejected his amorous advances, he became a bit of a creep and started following her on the casino cameras where he noticed that she was always near the table and player with the big wins. Confronting her, he demanded a cigarette, and thus discovered the transmitter and ended the ruse for good.
What really stands out for us at CasinoPlay is that they never mention how or why the radio receiver could make the ball land where it did, and why, when there are three accomplices, it’s only Monique who is ever mentioned? Maybe she was that stunning that everyone else just sort of faded into the background?
Another brazen beauty who used her good looks and crooked talents to fleece the casinos. Ida Summers, the ‘Vegas Vixen’, is one of the most successful cheats in history who used sleight of hand to make a killing at the blackjack tables.
Sleight of hand (the use of dexterity or cunning to deceive) is a technique used by magicians to amaze and astound and used by crooks to distract and steal. And Ida Summers was a magician at using it on the Las Vegas casinos in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Her game of choice was blackjack, although she did use it at the poker tables as well, and her technique is what is known as hand-mucking or bringing your own desirable cards to the table and then swapping them in for less desirable cards. This may sound a bit difficult seeing as casinos have special decks of cards and you can’t just pick up any deck and try swap cards from it, but Ida was so good that she was able to steal entire decks from under the dealers’ noses. These decks would be hidden in her sleeves until she needed a specific card which would then be secretly slipped into the game.
She got so good (or maybe that should be she got so arrogant) that, at one stage, she was swapping entire shoes, keeping the stolen shoe in her lap, and then slipping it to an accomplice – all while the game was going on. These shoes filled with prearranged decks are also known as ‘coolers’.
While the FBI claims to have had Ida under surveillance for months, it’s not known what eventually got her caught. The fact that she was under supposed observation for so long is a testament to how good the Vegas Vixen was!
This is a story of being in the right place at the right time. In 2014, a St. Louis casino noticed that number of their slot machines had begun paying out a lot more winnings than was mathematically modelled by their software. Studying the security footage showed one individual gambler making bets on various machines and getting some very unlikely wins. The fact that these wins came to this individual, across different machines, and based on his behaviour, raised red flags, and started an investigation by the Missouri Gaming Commission.
It turned out that the individual was Murat Bliev, a 37-year-old Russian citizen. And a member of a gang of very fortuitous thieves.
The Russian government outlawed gambling in the country in 2009 (with the enthusiastic support of President Vladimir Putin who, ironically, is linked to the ownership multi-billion-dollar mega-mansion with its own casino on the Black Sea coast). Thousands of casinos closed down and their inventory of slot machines were disposed of. Some of these machines ended up in the hands of Bliev’s bosses in St. Petersburg.
Having access to the inner workings of these machines allowed the crew to work out exactly how the algorithms worked and to analyze how the PRNG (pseudorandom number generator, a precursor to the RNG used by modern casinos) selected numbers.
Bliev, and other members of the Russian crew, would sit at a slot, play a few dozen spins, record them on their mobile phones, and send the recording to the techies in St. Petersburg. Here, armed with what they knew about the slot machines programming from the machines they had bought, they were able to predict when a winning spin would come up. The timings for the spins would be sent back to Bliev and his mobile would vibrate about a quarter of second before he had to hit the spin button.
Bliev and three co-conspirators were arrested, but the main St. Petersburg crew still operate today.
What makes Richard Marcus stand out in the lists of casino cheats is the brazen and bold way he went out about scamming casinos. There is a well-known cheating system called past-posters where cheats will add extra chips to their bet in order to get a bigger payout if they win.
Marcus did it a bit differently.
His scheme was to place a pile of chips on a roulette number, with high value chips hidden by low value ones (for example, a brown $500 chip hidden among a few red $5 chips). If he won, he would take his winnings. If he lost, he would pretend to grab his chips and throw them at the dealer – all while removing the high value ones.
It was an incredible display of sleight of hand, misdirection, and acting. Why acting? Because Richard Marcus was always that one drunk gambler who really makes others uncomfortable with his antics. Well, that was the act anyway. In reality, it was a carefully orchestrated ploy to rip off the roulette table.
What is most remarkable is that Richard Marcus was never caught. No one was aware of what he was doing until he released a book about his dodgy dealings. He now consults with casinos to catch con artists like himself.
Tommy Glenn Carmichael is probably the most famous slot machine cheat in history. His decades spanning career as a serial slots scammer has paid him out to the tune of millions of dollars. It has also seen him spend a lot of time bars – prison bars not the bars on a fruit machine!
Tommy began his criminal career in the 1980s when he was given an old slot machine by a friend, along with a tool called a top-bottom joint. This tool was used to jam slot machines and force them to release all their sored coins and used by Tommy to steal millions from the Vegas casinos.
Casinos soon began upping their security by installing cameras to catch cheaters, and by upgrading their slot machines to operate with PRNGs. Tommy was caught cheating a slot on camera and sent to prison.
While in prison, unfortunately, Tommy put his skills to bad use and began developing a new tool to trick the slots – the Monkey Paw.
The launching of games like video poker made the top-bottom joint an ineffectual tool. The Monkey Paw soon began to take its place. The Monkey Paw was a guitar string with a bent metal hook that could be inserted through the slot machine’s air vent or up the payout chute. Once inside the workings of the machine, all Tommy needed to do was wriggle it around until it caught the trigger for the coin hopper and released all the coins. Pay day!
But he didn’t stop there.
As casinos continually made changes to how the slot machines operated, so Tommy devised new and innovative ways to scam them. His final, and possibly most successful, invention was the ‘Light Wand’. This tool was used to ‘blind’ the sensors inside the machine, confusing it as to how many coins had been deposited, and turning small wins into huge payouts.
Tommy had a lucrative second ‘career’ selling these Light Wands on the black market, but it was when he started a small team of scammers that he really began to rake it in. This team would work together to mask the cheater from surveillance while he operated the Light Wand and pulled in the cash. It has been estimated that his teams brought in an average of $50,000 per day and hit every casino on the Las Vegas Strip!