How To Beat the Casino: The Legends Of Scammers

A win by chance is a win by chance. But beating the casino with deception and cunningness and a bold ploy… Oh! What a feeling, what a victory this is!

Truth be told, anyone with a gun and a lack of moral conscience can rob a casino. Take for example, Reginald Johnson, who on his third attempt succeeded to steal $30,000 from the Treasure Island Casino before being caught and duly sentenced for his armed robbery.

Or take the duo of robbers Eric Aguilera and Roland Ramos, who bound and gagged employees at gunpoint and stole a whopping $1.5 million before getting caught in a car chase.

Neither of these cases of rascals are big or smart. These attempts of idiotic brutishness are not what any of us admire or respect. No, we like our casinos to be cheated fairly… with the power of brains, and the battle of intellect.

Take a look at our list of ingenious fraudsters!

famous casino cheaters
Cheaters who beat the casinos

MIT Team – Blackjack card counting

What better place to start that with the famous math whizz MIT Team, who managed to make millions from casinos by beating blackjack. From late 1979 through 1989 they formed teams that decimated the blackjack tables by counting cards. The MIT team was not a specific, static team. Members came and went and in the 90’s the team split in various independent groups of players. Members of the initial team made fortunes which were eventually further invested in absolutely legal activities like real estate and the stock market.

By counting which cards have already been spent, and which ones are likely to come, the team could increase their odds enough to make a very decent profit, sometimes up to $400,000 in a weekend.

The biggest risk of the card counting method is that the casino usually catches on after a while of easy winning. To avoid this, some team members signaled high cards to another, who would place big winning bets, while others still would distract the dealer by placing large break-even bets.

Nowadays card counting is much harder to apply as more and more casinos are adopting automatic shuffling machines as a countermeasure.

Using casino surveillance to cheat on card games

The next story happened in 2013, and deserves a place among the greats for two reasons. Firstly because of the sheer amount of money stolen; a whopping $33 million dollars. Secondly because of the ingenuity of the scam. The MIT students may have been able to detect cards with calculated maths and memory, but this pair did it with technology.

It is often the casinos' surveillance that saves them from scams, but on this occasion it was what allowed the cheating to take place. A nerdy guy managed to take hold of the casino’s cameras, and watch what the dealer had in their hand. This information could be fed to an insider, who could place a profitable bet. But $33 million… c’mon!

According to the casino, who were not keen to reveal details of the scam, the insider has now been caught, but the hacker is still out there, perhaps enjoying some riches, or watching you swim in a public pool.

Phil Ivey: Edge sorting at Baccarat

Everyone loves to hear of a high profile gambler cheating, and if you haven’t heard already you might be surprised to know that Phil Ivey is one of them. The world famous poker player, considered one of the greatest of all times, has been caught cheating at… baccarat.

The story goes, and it must have a ring of truth because the casino is filing a lawsuit, that Phil Ivey managed to win $10 million from Borgata Casino in Atlantic City. His method is known as “edge sorting”.

Edge sorting exploits defects in certain decks of cards, where the top of the card has a slightly different pattern than the bottom. The idea is to turn the “good” baracca cards vertically (6,7,8,9), so that they stand out from the rest of the deck. Knowing when one of these cards came out, allowed him to gain a 20% edge against the casino.

It’s easy to see how this little cheat would work in a home-dealt game, but how did Phil Ivey cheat the casino? Well, basically Ivey and his gambling partner on the occasion, Cheng Yin Sun, simply asked for the cards to be flipped, claiming that Cheng Sun was superstitious.

Usually, the casinos would reject this offer, and be suspicious, but at the same time they also try to accommodate for the needs and superstitions of high rollers. Needless to say, the pair pulled a fast one, and Phil is fine with admitting that he uses this move. Again, this isn’t the kind of cheating that will land you in a jail cell, as much as a Las Vegas casino backroom.

Roulette cheat with mobile phones at the Ritz London

In a famous case of clever casino swindling in 2014, The Ritz Casino in London lost out on a significant £1.3 million to a trio of sophisticated cheaters. Two technologically savvy Serbian men and a Hungarian woman used mobile phone laser scanners hooked up to computers to predict an area where the roulette ball was likely to land.

This is known as sector targeting. The theory goes that if the player can work out when the ball was released, and when it passes a certain point on the roulette wheel after a couple of spins, then they can work out the decaying orbit, and predict a segment of the wheel in which the ball is likely to land.

In theory, this works, but the mathematics is too difficult for the human mind to compute, especially with the added pressures of being in a casino. The trio added to the magic, by using a mobile phone equipped with laser technology to predict the speed, along with a computer to feedback the appropriate bet.

It must have given the trio an edge, because they walked away with a swift £300,000 cash, and a cheque for the rest. After a court appearance, they were not charged, but received a lifetime ban. Oh well!

Richard Marcus: cheating the casinos for a living

richard marcus
Richard Marcus. The cheating days are over. He now trains casino security personnel.

Richard Marcus is the quintessential trickster, fraudster and con artist. Whether or not you agree with him, he has little remorse for taking millions off the casinos in Las Vegas using his roulette sleight of hand cheats. And why should he? Big casinos aren’t exactly the sort of establishment that it’s easy to feel sorry for. I’ll let you decide. Regardless of your philosophical views, Richard Marcus’ cheats were ingenious and glorious.

Marcus began as a croupier in Vegas in 1976, before taking up a 20 year career in past-posting, a roulette technique that more or less involves teams of people working together to throw in bets once the outcome has already occurred. He made $100,000 a weekend at times.

Security caught up. They had to. Marcus was part of a larger network of cheaters, and they were collectively taking the casinos to the dry cleaners. They introduced CCTV to cover every single roulette table in an effort to prevent their loss.

Richard Marcus was not going to quit, and so he went to battle. He invented the ‘Savannah‘ a sleight of hand move which he named after his favorite Vegas stripper. Classy name, no, but the move was beautiful. It involved a complete reversal of the previous method.

A large bet chip was concealed underneath two smaller $5 chips, so that it looked to the dealer like the bet was for $15 total, when it fact a $5000 chip lay on the bottom.

If the bet lost, Marcus would quickly swipe back the three chips, and replace them with three $5 chips, which to the dealer looked identical. If the dealer made a fuss he would play up to his drunken image. If the bet won, he would shout out in joy, and reveal the larger chip. Even the CCTV would reveal that the chip was there the whole time, and that the win was legitimate.

The hidden high chip gave Richard Marcus another 5 years of fun and riches, before he retired, having never been arrested, with a neat $12 million.

How Dennis Nikrasch hacked the Slots

In 1998 Dennis Nikrasch managed to scam a cool $6 million from electronic slots, by hacking and modifying them to trigger a payoff. Some sources report that in total, he and his team, managed to actually scam the casinos for over $40 million. The process wasn’t a simple one:

  1. First Dennis bought a slot machine to practice at home.
  2. Then he got hold of the manufacturer’s computer chip.
  3. He learns how to modify this chip, so that it would pay out given a certain pattern of betting.
  4. This allowed him to beat his own machine, but now he needed to get into the casino.

In order to cheat the casino slot machines, Nikrasch assembled a team. They would stand out of view of cameras, and then Dennis would quickly open a slot machine, replace the chip with his own hacked chip, and close it back up again, all in under a minute. An associate would come along, play, and trigger a jackpot win!

Unlike some of our cheaters here, Dennis Nikrasch ended up serving prison time, after his own team set him up!

Counterfeit casino chips

Lately a very trendy way of cheating casinos has been the use of counterfeit casino chips.
They do. Quite a bit, actually. And no, most cashiers are NOT trained to notice the difference.
The most common way is to take low value chips and make them look like high denomination chips like $100, $500 or even $1.000 tokens.

Some casinos have a policy to check chips under a UV light as the new paint won’t glow correctly. But very often casinos don’t have that policy and most cashiers are not well trained to notice the difference. Casino countermeasures are changing fast, however, since there have been quite a few incidents of fake chips recently that increased the awareness of this method.

Most often, the counterfeits are played directly on a table game, as opposed to cashed in at the cashier, because the dealers are too busy to check.
So far (2016) these fake chip scams have been disclosed publicly:

  • The most famous case of counterfeit casino tokens took place in 2005 in Las Vegas. Eric Morikawa and Jeremy Lewis were originally charged with 822 counts. In three months the forgers have used over $50K worth of fake chips at eight US casino properties, including Four Queens, Green Valley Ranch, Monte Carlo, Caesars and Mandalay Bay.
  • In 2009 at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, over 50 fake $1.000 chips have been discovered. No further information was disclosed.
  • In December 2015 three lucky scammers with British passports (Sajid Rashid, Qamar Hussain and Zahidul Haque Khan) were jailed for a couple years in the idyllic Monaco prison for defrauding the Casino of Monte Carlo with fake chips. According to the odd court decision the team should return back only $1 million of the $4 million they won fraudulently

Reflection on cheating

There are some interesting fraudsters, drifters and scammers out there who have managed to prove that, by sheer luck or by brilliant cunningness and bold execution, it is possible to beat casinos without… a mathematical system. It is big business for those involved, who will do anything they can to beat the odds. Many of them have not been criminalized and face only casino bans.

Do we feel sorry for casinos that have had millions taken from them? The short answer is no. While we certainly don’t condone stealing and in any form, the casinos have odds that are rigged to give the customer a losing proposition. We can’t help but respect those who try to even the score, as long as no innocent employees were harmed in the making.

But let’s leave it to the professionals because cheating a casino is never a good idea. Right, I’m off to learn some card counting.