Robbing Las Vegas (4 Who Got Caught and 1 Who Got Away)


Photo: misterbisson [Flickr]

Not all the bandits in Sin City are one-armed. Here are a few different ways people have tried to beat the odds:

1. A Little Off The Top

Here's how it worked. In the 1970s, the Mob coerced the Teamsters Union into making loans to a San Diego businessman buying four casinos in Vegas. As hidden partners, Mob bosses then "skimmed" millions of dollars from the joints by rigging slots so they showed winners when there were none, or by fixing scales so they underweighed coins. One estimate had the wise guys swiping $7 million in quarters in just one 18-month period. In the end, though, federal wiretaps and informants broke the scam. The Feds even tapped conversations between mobsters in the visitors room at Leavenworth Penitentiary, and in 1986, a dozen bosses from gangs in Chicago, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cleveland were convicted in the biggest Mob-Vegas case ever.

2. Playing Your Cards Right

Blackjack is a beatable game - that is, if you can count cards well enough to know when the deck favors the player, not the house. And while solitary card counters are relatively easy to spot for most casino security outfits, it took them six years during the 1990s to tumble to the strategy used by a group of MIT students. Using card-counting teams, complete with diversionary players - the cavalier math-letes raked in millions. One player recounted walking from one casino to another carrying a paper hat stuffed with $180,000 in cash. Amazingly, the MIT ring was never actually caught in the act. Some members retired. A few others were ratted out by a team traitor and banned from the casinos, which learned a lesson about the concept of team play.

3. The Genius

Like a football quarterback, Dennis Nikrasch needed his blockers. In Nickrasch's case, however, they were blocking surveillance cameras while he worked his sweet computer magic on slot machines. Once the machines were rigged, the clever hacker vacated the premises, leaving it to confederates to win the jackpots. Cops have reported that the Nikrasch gang raked in at least $16 million between 1976 and 1998, even with a 10-year time-out while NIkrasch spent in federal prison and on parole. When he was caught again in 1998, Nikrasch indicated that he'd share his secrets in return for a lighter sentence. He got seven years - and apparently refused to talk. "I have no desire to explain anything to the public," he wrote to an Internet magazine in 1999 from jail. "Never smarted up a chump." (Photo: gaming.nv.gov)

4. The Mechanic

Starting in 1980 in the back of his TV repair shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tommy Glenn Carmichael invented, refined, then manufactured devices for cheating slot machines. Tommy's bag of tricks ranged from coins on strings to light wands that blinded machine sensors, fooling them into dropping their coins. For most of two decades, Carmichael and his partners raked in millions of dollars. But his luck finally ran out when federal agents tapped his phone and heard him discussing a new device that would rack up hundreds of credits per minute on slot machines. In 2001, Carmichael was sentenced to about a year in jail, and was ordered to stay out of casinos. In 2003, he told an Associated Press reporter he was developing a new gadget, called "the Protector." It was designed to stop slot cheaters. (Photo: gaming.nv.gov)

5. And If All Else Fails ...

Jose Vigoa was one cocky crook. After doing a five-year stint from 1991 to 1996 for drug dealing, Vigoa decided to change career paths in 1998. Well, only slightly. As the mastermind of a string of armed robberies over two years that rocked the Vegas Strip, Vigoa armed his outfit with high-tech weapons, body armor, and sophisticated planning. In fact, the Vigoa gang hit up the MGM Grand, the Desert Inn, the Mandalay Bay, and the Bellagio. Not looking to slack off, they even robbed an armored car in between gigs, and killed the two guards. Vigoa was tripped up, however, when video cameras at the Bellagio caught him without a mask during a robbery. He was sentenced in 2002 to life without parole, proving crime doesn't pay, even in Vegas.

From mental_floss' book Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits, published in Neatorama with permission.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!


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I feel that if you're clever enough to make a device of devise a strategy to beat the odds, without violence, you should get to keep your winnings just cause you're that frigging smart. Once only, of course.
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I'll never gamble in Vegas..or anywhere legal. Someone with his/her own eyes is taking notice of the cards dealt face up in a game of Blackjack he/she is playing and that's considered cheating? You can only gamble if you agree to be a dumb, deaf and blind idiot? Machines are rigged to rip people off, to make money no matter what, that's why Vegas will remain strong for eternity..it always makes money. And yet when someone figures out a 'system' or even a machine to rip them off back..it's punishable with a prison sentence. As is gambling in your rec room with friends.
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