The significant money turnover to be found at the casino has always been attractive to people who want to grab some winnings. But with all that said, it’s interesting to find out how they’ve found some ways to bring on their side something bigger than luck… And no, we’re not talking about guns! Instead, let’s learn a little about how the power of the mind and sheer intellectual brilliance can lead to many lucky punters winning millions in cash!
Now even if tricksters see themselves as “professional gamblers,” the casinos tend to call them cheaters! Now, we have to make this clear: using any of the various techniques to predict the outcome of the casino game in advance is indeed considered to be fraud. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be cool to know the real people that inspired stories like “Ocean’s Eleven?” So if you’re curious, just enjoy our list of the most prominent casino sharks of all time!
Richard is on top of our chart for a simple reason – he moved with such artistry that he never got caught. He even curated a merry band of friends who helped him win millions of dollars while mastering their own skills into the bargain! They developed a perfectly functioning scenario for a group of artists, and Marcus was obviously the figurehead. After 20 years of successful ‘business’ he retired with a whopping $12 million in his pockets. Amazing, but when did it all start?
Well, the backstory is that Richard (or should we call him Richie Rich?) worked as a casino croupier in 1976. He soon understood that the crowded casinos of the ’70s were close to heaven for fraudsters who could win in a way that was not entirely legal. All in all, you can see that many unusual casino frauds did happen in the 70s. Of course, we’re not sure about the reasons for that, maybe it was a freaky fashion of those times. Like “Hey, Rich, they say you could make a smart odd counting machine out of ham radio. Let’s do it! We’ll be rich!”
But Richie wasn’t a computer nerd who dreamed about the computer all the time. Instead, he preferred using some sleight of hand. So what he did at the very beginning of his career was simple. He acted like a drunk and came to the roulette table when the bets were already made. So he would walk up and place a few $5 chips on the layout. If he lost the bet, he would try to take his chips back as a crazy drunk would do, but then changed his mind. But if he won, he would dance around and then reveal the $5000 chip hidden under the $5 chip, which the dealer didn’t notice earlier! As you might have guessed, after the loss he would quickly change the chips of higher value to those $5 chips. He named this trick Savannah after his favorite stripper in Vegas.
When the casinos started hanging surveillance cameras above every table and the pit bosses became more proficient in knowing various creative ways of cheating, Marcus had to evolve in the art of trickery, too. So, he gathered a team and developed more advanced strategies that largely involved playing Blackjack.
Year later, Richard Marcus wrote a book about his adventures which later became a bestseller. Here, he gave some honest descriptions of all the sleight of hand tricks his team practiced. And, the happy ending culminates in the fact that not only did he manage to avoid arrest, but he also worked as a casino consultant to help with their anti-fraud policies.
A talented apprentice of Richard Marcus, Sherri is another example of a story with happy ending. But the truth is that for her, it took much more than pure luck. Her ‘dizzy blonde’ persona made it safe enough to be in the most dangerous position of all, as a claimer – as someone who claimed switched bets to be legitimate and took away high-value chips that were multiplied by x35 after straight-up betting. Yet strangely enough, even in the 90s, the male-dominated casino industry people found it hard to believe that a capricious blonde woman like her could be plotting to trick them all out of their money.
Anyway, she started as the girlfriend of Salvatore Gillette, a member of the Richard Marcus team at the time. In their early casino tours, she filled a seat at the Roulette or Blackjack table and helped other team members with doing their thing. Later, she grew up to the position of “checkbettor.” This role was fairly simple as well. Sherri had to place bets in a particular order. This forced the croupier to move in some directions, making him or her turn away their eyes. And those few seconds were enough for Sherri to switch her $5 chips to $500 or $1000 except for the top one, which stayed the same as if nothing had happened. She also perfected the skill of charming pit bosses, both men and women, so that no one could ever tell she was up for anything other than just having a good time!
In 1995, Sherri got tired of her endless casino spree and decided she needed to do something serious. So she went back to the university to study forensic criminology, and now she’s a real CSI agent!
We have to admit that back in the 70s, it wasn’t that hard to figure out the mechanism of how mechanical slot machines. And as long as there were hundreds of them in Nevada, practically every TV repair shop worker was able to rig the machine and win a couple of millions. So Dennis Nikrasch found the way around random number generators of the old times in the late 70s. But, perhaps his methods weren’t all that sophisticated back then, which is why he ended up in jail.
When Dennis was free again, he found out that the slots had become more technologically advanced, and now they operated with the help of computer chips. And not only this: the casinos were chock-full of surveillance cameras monitoring every foot of the area. And that didn’t stop Nikrasch. On the contrary, it made him even more curious! Some say he bought a slot machine for himself and played the nights away until he got interested in how it was constructed. Then he wondered how those machines could be manipulated. A bit later, it turned out that some manipulations were indeed possible and that he could do it quicker and easier than with mechanical slots before.
So Nikrasch worked on the next big casino cheat and everything was going as he planned. But meanwhile, this new and promising scam wasn’t an immediate success for him. He was convicted again in 1986 and released on parole in 1991. After so many failures, anyone could have stopped, but not this guy! And as they say, hard work really does pay off.
So Dennis made his own electronic chips, which were programmed to give out jackpots at a certain point of the play. Then he gathered a team. It worked as follows. There was a person called the “blocker” who “unintentionally” stood in the way of the CCTV camera, blocking their views on what was happening with one of the slot machines. Then Dennis came in, opened the machine and changed the computer chip. Finally, another person came around to play the slots and – boom! – they won the jackpot. Smart, isn’t it?
According to the estimations by the Nevada gaming control board, Nikrasch alone raised around $16 million over the years, by contributing to different slots cheating rings; mainly in Nevada and Atlantic City. This cheating scheme proved to be flawless, even while the pit bosses were becoming smarter, and the casinos more technologically advanced. But in the end, the human factor turned out to be the only flaw! So in 1998, when the group was about to grab the Megabucks $17 million jackpot, Nikrasch was set up by his buddies. That was something he couldn’t control, or even guess! So after this, he gave up his secrets, in exchange for a reduced prison term. He also ended up with a lifelong ban from all the casinos in Nevada.
Another woman in our constellation of cheaters is Monique Laurent. She was born in France on Valentine’s Day 1948; and apparently, she was tres chic, as her gambling friends would say! It so happened that she was a sister of a man, whose brother-in-law was a croupier at Casino Deauville. A nice coincidence for the beginning of a story about raking in millions in cash… which is exactly what they did, of course!
Just imagine a mysterious raven-haired woman who is standing near the roulette table from time to time, to watch the game. She smokes Marlboros all the time, and she always comes and goes alone. And strangely enough, the table where she stands every night suffers huge losses to the casino players using it. Is this some kind of magic? No. It was a technological marvel made by guys who really hated to work every night when the piles of money were so close. And as it usually happens in France, none of our extravagant characters managed to escape the temptation.
As for the 70s, a mechanism invented by the ingenious croupier and his clever friend was way ahead of its time. They assembled a tiny radio receiver and built it into a roulette ball specifically carved for this purpose. Next, a little transmitter was hidden in a cigarette case. As a result, the two pieces of miniature equipment interfered with each other, which made the ball go into a controlled dive at the exact moment Monique pressed a secret button inside the cigarette pack. The ball landed in predetermined areas of six numbers each. The exact ball position at the time of landing could be predicted with 90% accuracy.
Ultimately, inventive cheaters and the charming brunette won 5 million francs in a week, which in 1973 was equal to $1 million. Of course, the casino hosts weren’t convinced by such a huge stroke of luck, and that’s why they decided to begin an investigation. They called some experts and after checking the wheel, it turned out there were no tilts or any other flaws. So that’s when surveillance came into play instead. They watched the dealer and found nothing suspicious about his actions. Then, they watched Monique. They tried to talk to her. And for some reason, they did suspect some kind of radio connection between the wheel and remote control. Unfortunately, very shortly Monique got busted by the FBI, and so her brothers had to reveal the whole plan!
For most Vegas cheaters, the Nevada Gaming Control Board is a pretty scary thing they need to watch out for. Except for one particular fraudster, Ron Harris. Despite his friendly nickname “Dude,” he is the ballsiest fraudster in our hall of casino cheats fame. Because believe it or not, the Dude actually worked for the NGCB at the time he found out how to cheat the casinos! No one would even think about one of them being the swindler. Or so he thought! But, as usually happens with most of the heroes on this list, at some point it all went wrong.
Ron Harris was an inspector who was responsible for checking the accuracy of the slot machines and worked on finding “bugs” in their operation. And one day he decided to use this knowledge to his advantage? So he programmed the computer chips for the slots (and later the Keno machines as well) to run according to certain algorithms that were easy to memorize. Naturally, he wasn’t prepared to play the slots himself to win the jackpot, so he asked a friend to do this for him instead.
For example, a simple sequence of coin-spin-two coins-spin-three coins-two spins activated a mechanism that granted a jackpot. It really was that easy! But unfortunately, as with many other cheaters, Ron should have thought about selecting his team members more carefully. His friend didn’t care enough about the identity verification process, and didn’t bring the documents he needed to cash out the prize. Also, he didn’t show any emotional response when he found out he won the big jackpot. That’s why he fell immediately under suspicion from the casino pit bosses. So when they began asking him questions, he must have given away the plan that was seemingly so fine and stealthy that no one should have noticed.
They use surveillance cameras, then carefully pore through hours and hours of video material. There are also such employees called pit bosses who, whether secretly or not, watch players by every table up close by standing near them. Casinos often employ former cheaters to consult them.
They create step by step plans that they believe ought to work, then they practice them to perfection. Often enough, they act like true artists, forcing people to believe something that is not true. Other cheaters are technical geeks working on unseen mechanisms to trick the casino machines. Finally, there are some cheaters who work solely with sleight of hand. The key thing is to win big and to make the casino believe it’s a one of a kind event; given that everyone who wins big immediately falls under suspicion.
They call the police to arrest them! And of course, they confiscate the winnings.
The truth is, an important part of every cheater’s job is to look like an ordinary player. That’s why they sometimes win small amounts, while sometimes they lose, in order to create the impression that they are another random person trying their luck in the casino. Then, when they feel that the moment is right, they do some fraudulent things to try and win big.
Most of them study carefully how the entire casino industry works. Others rely heavily on maths, probabilities, and things like that. Meanwhile, some cheaters still make use of old-school methods like edge sorting. Even the world superstar Phil Ivey was suspected of edge sorting, but there wasn’t enough proof that he really did something like that.
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