Fed up with giving their money to casinos night after night, these famous gamblers used the following philosophy: if you can’t beat them, cheat them!
Casinos make their money by manipulating the house edges of games to move the odds in their favor. While you will win some of the time, if you play long enough you will always leave with a bit less than you came with.
While “beating the casino” is one of the most difficult things to do, some smart gamblers have found ways to do it. In blackjack, professionals use advantage play techniques like card counting systems to gain an advantage over the house. In luck-based games like slots and roulette, however, there isn’t much you can do to tip the scales in your favor.
That’s where cheating comes in. We wouldn’t advise you to do it, as it’s easy to get caught and will result in a lifetime ban from any casino as well possible criminal charges. But some skillful cheats have used a range of genius techniques to beat the casino over the years.
Richard Marcus: fast hands and brilliant acting
Richard Marcus was a colossal failure as a professional gambler, turning to dealing blackjack and baccarat games to put food on the table. The experience taught him valuable lessons in casino strategy, which he then used to become a successful cheater.
He pioneered a technique called “The Savannah” in which he would place three $5 chips on the roulette table. If he lost, no problem as the bet was modest. But if he won he would behave in an ecstatic manner. Thrilled about winning $15? Nope. More like $515.
The baffled dealer would lift the stack of chips revealing a $500 underneath the smaller denominations. But if Marcus had lost he would quickly remove the bottom chip from the stack, losing only $15.
At the time it wasn’t uncommon for casino cheaters to attempt a technique called the “past-post” whereby they would add another chip to the top of the stack when the dealer wasn’t looking. But eventually casinos wizened up to this. Marcus turned it on its head by removing a chip from the bottom, something that no one expected and no one looked for.
As he become more confident he would use denominations as large as $5,000 (!!!) to swindle unsuspecting dealers, and it’s believed that he took $5 million from Las Vegas casinos over the years. He was eventually found out but has now settled into a less risky but nearly as lucrative career: writing gambling books.
Louis Colavecchio: beat them by never giving them money
During the 1990s federal agents raided the home of Colorado orthotics maker Louis Colavecchio. What they found was one of the most extensive coin counterfeiting operations in recent memory. But rather than counterfeiting money, Colavecchio (“the coin” as he was later nicknamed), he had made thousands of counterfeit slot tokes.
He had taken tokens from several casinos in North America and copied the design to produce counterfeits. But while most counterfeits are convincing imitations of the real thing, his were much better. He did everything down the last detail, producing exact replicas of real tokens.
They didn’t just look real, they were real. And that’s what made him so successful. When he won a jackpot the casino didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary, because they couldn’t have picked one of his tokens out of a pile.
How had he done this? By expertly using extremely expensive and complex materials and machinery, including copper, nickel and zinc, laser-cutting tools and a 150-pound press imported from Italy. It’s not certain how much money he won from casinos this way but estimates top out at around $500,000. And reportedly, he was just getting started.
Tommy Glenn Carmichael: how to be the smartest, not how to be the luckiest
This mechanical wizard once boasted: “give me a slot machine and I’ll beat it.” He was smart enough to realize that beating the slot machine wasn’t a question of how to be the luckiest. It was about how to be the smartest. Throughout the course of his cheating career that’s exactly what he did.
Blessed with a brilliant talent for understanding machinery the legendary cheat developed a series of increasingly complex devices to trip slot machines.
He started back in 1980, during the old days when Vegas casinos still used mechanical slot machines. His first successful invention wasa wire-rigged device called a “top-bottom joint” which could induce a payout when put into the coin slot. He was caught and served a prison sentence, which really just gave him time to think up other genius inventions.
Later casinos came out with computerized systems using random number generators, making Carmichael’s job a bit more complicated. No problem. He posed as a casino employee to get a manufacturer to show him the inner workings of a machine. He then came up with the “light wand,” a simple electronic contraption that could trip the internal sensor on a machine, causing it to pay out coins.
He was caught and arrested again in 1996, then several more times over the next few years. His long-term contribution to the gambling industry? Casinos had to come out with increasingly complicated technology.
This made things harder for other would-be cheats, but it turned out to be good business for computer programmers and slot machine manufacturers!