Casinos all over the world see their fair share of attempted robberies and heists. Much like banks, casinos hold many stacks of cash and other assets in their vaults which criminals are ever so eager to steal. While improved technology and increased security has made it difficult for even the most careful planners to steal from today's casinos, there have still been many famous successful casino heists over the years. In this article, we'll tell the stories of 10 such crazy casino heists, some of which were successful, and others that were downright bizarre.
Reginald Johnson had already attempted two heists at the Treasure Island Hotel in 2007. Later that year in December, he decided to try his luck yet again. Perhaps the third time's the charm.
Johnson walked into Treasure Island, approached a security guard, and fired a single shot at him. He then headed for the cashier's cage, where he intended to load up on cash and make a run for it. However, he saw that bars had been installed there that made breaking inside difficult. At this point, the cashiers were taking cover and calling the police. Johnson decided to give up on the heist, fired another shot at the computers, and made his escape.
However, his freedom would be short-lived, as police managed to identify and arrest Johnson just hours after the attempted heist. In January 2001, during his court trial, Johnson pleaded guilty to the robberies and received 130 years of jail time. The case has become quite high-profile and is still very well-known in the Vegas Casino scene, despite being unsuccessful for Johnson.
What happens if you pull off a successful casino heist, but instead of taking cash, you took high denomination chips instead? That was for Akingide Cole to figure out after he walked into a restricted area in The Venetian and stole $1,600,000 worth of chips.
According to a member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, it's unlikely that Cole was able to cash out on his score. At most, he may be able to get a measly $10,000 to $20,000 for his troubles. Nowadays, casinos use more than one set of chips to prevent fake or forged chips from being used.
Still, it's concerning that Cole was able to enter such a highly-restricted area (unarmed and without running into anyone, by the way) and leave with so many stolen chips. According to security camera footage, Cole was seen in an empty blackjack room using a tool to pry open a tray containing the chips. The casino did not notice the stolen chips until 22 hours after the event. In the end, police were able to find and arrest Cole. So despite the successful heist, Cole never got to realize his gains. He should have just found a USA no deposit casino instead.
Is it considered a heist if you count cards at the blackjack table? While many gamblers consider this a legitimate strategy, a lot of casinos think otherwise. In fact, they would consider this a breach of their violations, especially since a team of MIT college students used counting cards to win huge amounts of money at blackjack. In what would later be recreated in movies such as '21' and other documentaries, students from MIT and Harvard University took to the casinos to prove that the house doesn't always have the advantage in this casino classic game.
Bill Kaplan was the mastermind and leader of the MIT Blackjack team. He devised a strategy counting cards where the traditional 0.5% house advantage actually becomes approximately 1% in favor of the player. In a nutshell, counting cards involves keeping track of how many high or low cards remain in the dealer's deck, and choosing a betting strategy accordingly. Kaplan says that he eventually got kicked out of every casino where he employed this strategy. In some extreme cases, the casino would steal their money and they'd have to hire lawyers to get it back. So whether you think this is a real casino heist or not, you can be sure it was a successful operation... while it lasted!
In another curious case of chip theft, Tony Carleo once marched into the Bellagio and made away with $1.5 million in casino chips. Carleo has been dubbed 'The Biker Bandit' because he arrived on a Suzuki motorcycle and robbed a poker table at the Bellagio with his helmet still on. But, as we've seen in The Venetian robbery, Carleo's loot was useless outside of the world of the Bellagio. So, as crazy as it sounds, Carleo returned to the scene of the crime the very next night, eager to cash in on his chips.
That night, somehow Carleo went undetected as he played poker and craps with his stolen chips like a highroller. There were no obvious signs of suspicion thrown his way, nor were there any Wanted posters of him. All this, despite the fact that the Biker Bandit had become local news. At some poker tables, the conversation actually revolved around the Biker Bandit and whether he'd get away with his crime. Little did they know one of the patrons at the table was Carleo himself! By the end of the night, Carleo took his chips to the cashier and managed to cash out. Eventually, Carleo would get caught, but not before blowing his huge score on drugs and women.
Casinos place a lot of trust in their employees to keep their cash, chips, and other assets safe. Huge problems arise when a casino technician decides to launch an inside job to rob their employer! That's exactly what Rolando Luda Ramos did in 2007 at the Soboba Casino in California.
Inspired by the movie Ocean's Eleven, Ramos armed himself with a gun and stormed into a casino vault full of cash. Along with three others, he hogtied three surveillance guards and held seven other vault workers hostage. He managed to escape the vault with a score of over $1.5 million with his getaway driver, Eric Aguilera.
Ultimately, authorities caught up with the mastermind Ramos and convicted him of multiple felonies, including robbery, false imprisonment, battery, burglary, and unlawfully using tear gas. Jurors were also unrelenting with Aguliera, who was also convicted. Inside jobs are always tough to pull off successfully!
In 2013, The Crown Casino which is one of the best casinos in Australia was the target for one of the biggest casino heists in history. An insider among the VIP services team invited businessman James Manning from New Zealand to come and play at their blackjack tables. Little did the casino know, Manning and the VIP services manager were both in on an inside job. They had hacked the surveillance camera system which allowed Manning to receive signals on how to play each blackjack hand.
In a mere eight rounds of blackjack, Manning was able to accumulate winnings of $32 million. Of course, this starts to make casino security suspicious. Manning decided to call it a night and returned to his hotel room. However, security discovered the heist in the middle of the night, and evicted Manning from the casino and hotel.
At this point, it's obvious that the casino should press charges, right? However, a complicated PR situation prevented all this. First of all, since Manning had not actually cashed out his winnings, there wasn't really a point in pursuing charges. In addition, Manning had actually scheduled a PR event the next day, where he would buy a $12,500 cognac cocktail in front of the Guinness team to set a new world record for the most expensive drink. Unfortunately for the casino, they did not want word to leak out that the buyer of their drink was also robbing them of $32 million! Ultimately, the casino found another patron and begged them to buy the drink in order to fulfill the world record, and Manning got away without facing charges.
Junket operators are especially common in the Macau casino scene, where this heist at Wynn Macau took place. Junkets are third-party operators who work within casinos to bring in VIPs and high rollers to the casino. To incentivize high rollers, they often offer paid accommodations and lend money to them to use for gambling, which will be paid back later. Junkets actually benefit the casino as well, as they make up a big chunk of casino revenue.
However, such a relationship can be abused. Dore Entertainment, Co. is a junket operator in Macau who owns two VIP rooms at the Wynn Macau. In 2015, Dore junket operators escaped from the vaults of Wynn with a reported $258 million score. Junket operators are extremely powerful in Macau, building up trust within casinos and potentially exploiting that trust like in this heist. The event has rocked Macau's gaming scene, especially among high rollers who are worried about the safety of their funds. It could spell disaster for Macau, whose casino scene is one of the major draws and drivers of their economy.
Roberto Solis had already been sentenced to 24 years in prison as a convicted murderer. But once he was out, he continued to set his sights on crime and began planning his next big score on the Circus Circus casino in Vegas. In order to carry out his attack, 20 year old Heather Tallchief, Solis's girlfriend at the time, had to play a crucial role. Upon Tallchief securing a job driving an armored van that delivered cash to casinos along the Strip, Solis had all the pieces he needed to strike.
With Tallchief behind the wheel of her now armored getaway vehicle, her two accomplices rushed into Circus Circus casino on October 1st and came out with $3 million in cash. Police were quick to act, but not quick enough. Solis and Tallchief had already escaped via a private jet and were on the other side of the country in Miami. It would seem that they had gotten away clean.
However, the couple's romance quickly faded and Solis fled the country with nearly all of the stolen cash. 12 years later in 2005, to everyone's surprise, Tallchief self-surrendered to the police and confessed to the heist, saying she could no longer live with the burden of keeping it a secret. She was sentenced to 6 years in prison. Solis, on the other hand, was never caught and still on the loose, reportedly living a life of luxury outside the United States.
With the amount of randomness involved in dropping a roulette ball, you would think it'd be rather hard to cheat in classic roulette. However, a trio of gamblers took to The Ritz in London in 2004 with a setup that allowed them to predict where the ball was likely to land. Authorities suspected that they used a high-tech laser scanner to perform 'sector targeting,' a technique that records where the ball passes upon release and after the first two revolutions. It can then calculate the ball's 'decaying orbit' to determine where the ball will ultimately land. Using the laser scanner along with a mobile device, the trio was able to walk away with one hundred thousand pounds on the first night, and 1.2 million the next.
Initially, they were arrested on suspicion of winning by deception. After a nine month long investigation, Scotland Yard ultimately allowed the trio to keep their 1.3 million pound winnings, saying that no concrete evidence of cheating could be found. Despite this, news of the event quickly spread to local casinos, most of which banned the trio from ever gambling on their premises.
It remains to be seen whether they really did use such a high-tech gadget to cheat at roulette. Experts have been developing accurate mathematical models to predict the ball's trajectory for a while now. Apparently it is possible under laboratory conditions, but under the heavy scrutiny of a real casino's roulette table, it's much harder to pull off.
It seemed like just another day on the job for sports book casino cashier William Brennan. With Monday Night Football attracting tons of sports bettors to the Stardust Casino, Brennan was in charge of taking bets and counting the money. But for Brennan, this time he had something else in mind. After bagging up around $500,000 in cash, instead of placing it in the casino's deposit, he simply walked out of the casino and disappeared into the night.
If that sounds crazy and bizarre, well, it was. Back in 1992, this was actually the largest casino robbery to date, and the fact that Brennan was a cashier who simply walked out with the cash was unheard of. Stardust Casino has since closed its doors in 2006, and thus Brennan's case was closed. But even today, Brennan is still nowhere to be found, despite having been put on the FBI's most wanted list. Even Brennan's own family do not know where he is, leading many to believe that Brennan had possibly been murdered for the money. A successful heist, but a mysterious case.
While most of these crazy criminals were able to successfully rob casinos, in many cases this is only half the battle. Being able to cash out on the winnings and living a peaceful life free of scrutiny is the next big challenge. As we've seen in these 10 cases, even the successful criminals were not able to stay away from the police for long before getting caught. Still, it's fun to learn about the stories of these casino heists which have become almost a staple of Las Vegas lore, and have shaped the various casino regulations we have today.