In Ocean’s 11, a plot is hatched by a bunch of masterminds to conduct the perfect casino robbery and get away scot free. This isn’t the only movie to dive into the depths that is how to crack a casino, as countless more Hollywood Productions have worked their way into our cultural reference bank. This fascination with beating a casino and stealing from them is a part of our lure, and there have been many real life scandals over the years. These cheats use a variety of methods, from the grandiose, to vulgar, to mundane. Some disappear forever, and some stick around in an act of hubris to live a life of luxury in the faces of their nemesis. While casino heists have been made popular by Hollywood films such as Ocean’s 11, and we love them for the audacity, these characters got nothing on the real life thieves.
This is one of the mundane heists, but that is why we find it fascinating. Bill Brennan was a sportsbook cashier at The Stardust Casino in Las Vegas from the late 1980’s into the early 90’s. A quiet and “nice kid”, according to his apartment manager, Brennan lived alone with his cat and worked at the Casino. Some keep a low profile, others just are low profile.
The Stardust Casino isn’t around anymore, but it was one of those old-timey places, with more than just whispers of Mafia connections. Apparently Brennan had started to hang around with one of these wise guys, and it influenced his behavior. One day Brennan left work, like any ordinary day. But it just so happened that no security footage was recorded of him leaving, and he never returned. What makes this out of the ordinary is that this day Brennan took with him over $500,000 in cash and chips. And not only did he never come back to work, he was never seen from again. Some suspect he never got out of the city alive, while other believe he left the country and started new in a foreign land.
Roulette is a game that may seem rather impossible to hack, but in the early 1990’s Spanish record producer Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo claimed to have cracked the code. He had a theory that each roulette wheel carried different traits, making them less than random, and he spent time analyzing different wheels to find if they had their own probabilities.
The work paid off, as he soon discovered that certain numbers indeed fell more often than others, and he took his theory to trial in Madrid, where he earned more than €600,000 in a night. With a night like that, Garcia now had the confidence to move to Las Vegas. Working for some years, he came away with almost $2 million, before being barred from casinos. He was deemed unethical, but fought his case and took it up the court circuit, where he finally won a Supreme Court ruling, stating he had done nothing illegal. Garcia didn’t need to play anymore after his banishment, and he was able to maintain a wealthy lifestyle. He also left a legacy by pioneering hacking roulette tables, and his work led to the production of a system of monitoring roulette wheels by casinos.
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Just because casinos were now testing and monitoring roulette tables, doesn’t mean they were not possible to still hack. In 2004 three men entered the Ritz in London with nothing but some cell phones. These devices were outfitted with lasers and modified to measure the roulette wheel and ball’s speed, charting probabilities. Coupled with a betting strategy developed between the men, they were able to win almost $1.9 million.
This was a murky situation, as technically speaking, they did nothing illegal. Regardless, they were arrested and taken to court. Lucky for them, the judge presiding over their trial ruled that they committed no crimes by their actions at the Ritz, and they were to be released without punishment, winnings intact. They did receive a lifetime ban from casinos, though we doubt that mattered much to the three men who split the money.
Some people simply can’t help themselves. You would imagine that if you were to come away with $1.5 million, in any situation, you would walk away into the sunset, but that is hardly the case. Perhaps it was an internal guilt or remorse, perhaps it was dreams of a glamorous lifestyle, but in 2010 Anthony Carleo was beat by his own ego.
After a rocky life, Carleo has finally settled into his life living in Las Vegas. He was living under the roof of his father, a well-known Judge, and was studying to get into Medical School. But, after some time, he grew impatient and decided to take the high road to the life he wanted for himself, and started robbing casinos. In December 2010, fueled by cocaine and oxycontin while dressed in coveralls and wearing a motorcycle helmet, he walked into Las Vegas’ infamous Bellagio. He ransacked a high limit craps table, stashing cash and chips into a backpack fitted to his chest, and flew out of the casino with $1.5 million. Not bad for 15 seconds.
News spread quickly of the ‘Biker Bandit’ and Carleo hid in plain sight. He couldn’t help himself. He started entering high limit poker games, and threw money around the tables. He spent money on drugs and women, and spiraled into a deep hole he wouldn’t be able to escape from. He was aware that the chips contained electronic tracking devices in them and he couldn't sell them back to the Bellagio, so he tried to sell them online. Wrong move. He sold chips to an undercover cop and was nabbed. He is now serving 9 years in a Nevada prison.
By now you know the story. A group of MIT math geniuses team up under the tutelage of Bill Kaplan, AKA Mr. M, developing advanced techniques of card counting and beat casino blackjack dealers, not just in Las Vegas, but around the world for over 2 decades. There had been a history of developing card counting strategy to beat the house at MIT, as the team used the research previously done by professor Edward Thorpe, who spent years honing the craft before publishing a book on the subject.
Instead of going the route of Thorpe, the MIT Blackjack Team took to the tables in what has now been well documented through several books and movies about their exploits. Although we prefer the books, they have influenced not only other blackjack players, but our general culture quite a bit over the years. It is not known how much they earned through the reign, but it only adds to their allure. It only goes to show, in gambling it takes patience and brains to find a way to victory.
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