Biggest Cheaters in Gambling History
Written by Phoebe
Published date · July 14, 2022 | Last Updated · Dec. 14, 2022 | Read Time: 4 mins
Casino gambling is big business. Very big business, with the value of the global online and bricks & mortar gaming industry estimated at over £200billion. As with all areas of business, whenever there is big money involved, there will always be those who attempt to grab a slice of the action. Most do so fairly, whether by using their skills as a sports enthusiast or poker player or simply by chancing their luck. However, not all are so honest. Ever since the dawn of gambling, those individuals have dedicated themselves to cheating the system. A difficult task, but not impossible, as illustrated by the following scammers, swindles, and scandals.
Tommy Glen Carmichael
We begin with possibly the most successful slots cheater in gambling history. However, Tommy didn’t get off to the best of starts. His initial efforts – utilising a primitive slot rigging device known as the “top-bottom joint” – earned him little more than five years in a law enforcement facility. Undeterred, the flawed but intelligent Carmichael used his time in jail to devise his very own cheating device – “The Monkey Paw”. After that, Tommy was back in business. Until that is, the Vegas casinos upgraded their slot technology via the use of electronic sensors. Ever innovative, Carmichael purchased one of these new machines and set about concocting another cunning plan. Enter the “Light Wand”, Tommy’s signature contraption. The gambling kingpin ultimately scammed casinos out of millions before his final arrest in 1999. Seemingly a reformed character, Tommy currently works with the casinos in devising anti-cheating systems.
Before setting out on his immoral adventure, it’s fair to say that Richard Marcus was a little down on his luck. So down that he found himself homeless in Las Vegas. Getting back on his feet as a blackjack and baccarat dealer, he soon decided to take his chances on the other side of the felt. Playing the role of a gambling drunk, Richard would place two chips stacked on top of each other – a low-value chip on the top, and a much higher-value chip hidden underneath. Should the bet lose, our hero would grab his chips in disgust and throw them back down – using sleight of hand to replace the high-value chip with another of low denomination. But, of course, should the bet win, Richard would celebrate wildly, as the croupier discovered that what looked to be two $5 chips was, in fact, one $5 chip and one $500 chip. Such a simple scheme seemed destined to come unstuck, and sure enough, it did, although not before Marcus had racked up millions in winnings over 25 years. Now banned from all casinos, Richard currently consults for his former victims and even released a book about his experiences.
What could be more random than a little white ball spinning around the roulette wheel? Surely an impossible code to crack. Not if you are Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo. Based in Madrid, Garcia-Pelayo developed a theory that, rather than being completely random, imperfections in roulette wheel manufacturing would lead to certain numbers coming up more than others. Using computer analysis to record the results of thousands of spins on specific wheels, the Madrid native was confident enough in his findings to back them with real cash. Cash which his system spectacularly multiplied. Next stop, Vegas. Bagging a further $ 2 million in the gambling capital of the world, Garcia-Pelayo’s roulette career ended abruptly, courtesy of a wide-ranging casino ban. Found to have committed no crime when taking his case to the Supreme Court, the ban nevertheless still stands. A cheat, or a gambler who simply meticulously did his homework? You decide.
Ron Harris and Reid McNeal
Working as a computer programmer for the Nevada Gaming Company, the temptation to fix the odds in his favour proved too much for Ron Harris. Targeting the Keno machines at Bally’s, Ron devised an innovative programme whereby a specific series of coins and button presses would trigger the jackpot. Keen to avoid detection – as all good scammers are – Ron roped in Reid McNeal as an all too willing assistant. Harris perhaps should have hired a better actor! Suspicions were raised when McNeal displayed very little emotion when claiming the Keno jackpot prize money, prompting a thorough investigation. The investigation led back to Harris, who was handed a seven-year sentence for his insidious scheme.
MIT BlackJack Team
And last but not least, one of the most famous gambling teams of all time. Famous enough to inspire the 2008 Holywood movie, 21. The MIT system centred around having one or two small staking card counters at the same Blackjack table, dutifully placing their bets, and tracking the deck. Lurking in the background, however, was the team’s BIG player – often masquerading as a drunk or tourist. The moment the deck tilted strongly in the players’ favour, the big player would spring into action. Making a beeline to the table with a mountain of chips, this “stranger” would proceed to place astronomical bets before disappearing once again into the night with his winnings. What exactly became of the MIT blackjack team remains something of a mystery, although it is rumoured that the genius minds behind the operation simply drifted into other pursuits.
Cheaters Never Prosper…
Or so the old so saying goes. And whilst many on this list made a bold attempt at disproving that adage, in the end, their ventures were all brought to a halt. But, rest assured that the effort put into devising cheats and scams is more than matched by the casino security teams, helping to ensure a safe and secure environment for all.