8 Casino Scams That Actually Worked

istock
istock

The average person you'll find in a casino is playing honestly. But some ambitious gamblers come up with schemes to beat the house for millions. Although most cheaters get caught, there are others who manage to hustle casinos successfully ... until they eventually get caught too. Here are eight casino scams that actually worked.   

1. Special Contact Lenses

Four con artists ripped off 64,000 euros (about $88,000) from poker tables at Les Princes Casino in Cannes, France in 2011. One of the cheaters (an employee of the casino) used invisible ink to mark the backs of playing cards—drawing a line for an ace and a cross for a king, for example—while the others used special contact lenses to spot the cards that would give them winning hands. Les Princes Casino grew suspicious of the players when they returned later in the week for a second round of high stakes poker. French authorities found the marked cards and noticed the cheaters' contact lenses after they ruled out cameras and infrared glasses.     

2. Cigarette Pack Radio Transmitters

In 1973, a French roulette dealer at the Casino Deauville, along with his sister and brother-in-law, took the casino for 5 million francs (about $1 million). The dealer built a radio transmitter inside of a pack of cigarettes and a roulette ball with a small receiver inside. When a button was pushed on the pack of cigarettes, the ball could be controlled to land on a specific part of the roulette wheel. The cheating trio had a 90 percent accuracy rate with the scam.

The only reason why they were eventually caught was the casino owner was infatuated with the roulette dealer's sister, who was in charge of pushing the button on the pack of cigarettes. The owner wondered why she always sat at the same roulette table and made very low bets without winning. Along with his growing suspicion and heavy losses at the roulette table, he called in a debugging crew to sweep the casino. The authorities found the radio transmitter and tiny receiver, as they also caught the trio in the act of cheating.

A French film titled Tricheurs (The Cheaters) was made about the trio and its clever scheme in 1984.

3. Edge Sorting

Professional poker player Phil Ivey, Jr. was accused of cheating the Crockfords Casino in London out of £7.3 million (about $11 million) during a high stakes game of Punto Banco in 2012. The casino believed that Ivey used a method of cheating called "edge sorting," which is the practice of keeping track of the tiny and minor imperfections on the back of face-down playing cards.

Edge sorting works because some cards aren’t cut symmetrically. For example, a card with a diamond pattern on the back might have a half diamond on the top right and a quarter diamond on the bottom left. Ivey and his associate had the dealer go through multiple decks until they found one that was asymmetric. Then Ivey had the dealer rotate some of the “lucky” cards to make the sevens, eights, and nines more noticeable (going back to the earlier example, those cards might now have the quarter diamond on the top right). Once they found their lucky deck, Ivey had the table increased from a $50,000 to a $150,000 maximum. While Ivey claims that "there's a difference between increasing one's odds and cheating," British courts ruled that edge sorting constitutes cheating and sided with Crockfords.

In 2014, Ivey won $9.6 million at a baccarat table at Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, but the casino refused to pay him; the house believed that he used edge sorting to win.

4. Sector Targeting with Lasers

In 2004, three gamblers used a unique system of lasers and computers called "sector targeting," which calculates the falling descent of an object in motion, to correctly predict the part of the roulette wheel where a ball might land, hustling £1.3 million (about $2.1 million) at London's Ritz Casino. Based on the speed of the roulette ball, it's believed the players would secretly scan the wheel with lasers in their cell phones, which were connected to small computers, to determine where the ball might land. Although the system predicted the area it might land on, it doesn't predict the number or color the ball might fall on. The players would then make bets accordingly.

While the trio managed to take millions from the casino, they were arrested but ultimately not charged with any wrongdoing because there were no laws prohibiting the use of sector targeting at the time. Of course, it is possible that they were just using their phones as stopwatches.

5. Counting Cards

In 2011, Phuong Quoc Truong assembled a team of 30 card counters and blackjack dealers to rip off various casinos in Southern California. Dealers would pretend to shuffle a deck of cards, but they'd just put the corners together to make the sound and appearance of shuffling while actually keeping the cards in the right order for dealing winning hands. A signaler pretended to smoke a cigarette, but was really using a small microphone on the inside of his sleeve to tell an outside person what was on the table. Once the right cards were in place, the outside person would tell the smoker how to place bets, while the smoker signaled the players with his cigarette.

Sickwan Gaming Commission finally caught the gang, but not until after they took nearly $7 million from 25 different casinos. Truong and most of his accomplices pled guilty and are serving sentences that range from probation to six years in prison. Truong also forfeited his two luxury homes in San Diego, a Porsche, a diamond-encrusted pendant, and a Rolex watch for his part in the crimes.

6. The ATM Job

In 2012, ringleader Ara Keshishyan recruited 13 people to pull an Ocean's 11-esque bank heist on Citibank ATMs throughout casinos in Southern California and Nevada. The scam involved exploiting the security protocol on Citibank’s cash advance kiosks, which allowed multiple withdrawals at 10 times the amount deposited—if the transaction was made within 60 seconds. The scam would then result in hefty cash payouts from casinos. Keshishyan also instructed his gang to keep withdrawals under $10,000, so their illegal activities would not be reported to the government. The team would use the stolen money to gamble and thus have casinos give them complimentary rooms, food, drink, and entertainment based on their "high roller" gambling level.

Ultimately, Citibank noticed the discrepancies and alerted the FBI. The scammers were caught and faced up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Keshishyan was ultimately sentenced to 57 months in prison and ordered to repay Citi the $1,045,585 he stole from them.

7. Counterfeit Coins

Louis "The Coin" Colavecchio successfully made counterfeit coins and tokens to use at slot machines at various casinos across the country. He used his ties with organized crime as well as his day job as a jeweler to make perfect dies. Casinos figured out they were being scammed when they discovered a surplus of tokens and slot machine coins in their vaults.

Colavecchio was arrested in 1998 and sentenced to six years in prison. In 2006, he was arrested when he started to reproduce fake casino tokens again. The History Channel made a documentary about Colavecchio called Breaking Vegas; many casinos now use special paper vouchers instead of tokens when players want to cash out of slot machines.

8. Roulette Scam

Ohio Casino Control Commission believed that 50 to 70 people were involved in an elaborate casino scam at roulette tables throughout the Buckeye State in 2012. The hustle involved players entering busy roulette games with bets as low as $1 and swiping casino chips while their accomplices distracted roulette dealers. The players would then go to areas in the casino that were not under surveillance like public restrooms to pass along stolen chips to other players, who would return to use them to buy more chips at a higher rate and cash out.

Scammers were caught in casinos throughout Ohio pulling the same gambit, with groups taking as much as $1000 to $2000 per job. Authorities believed that the group was based in New York City and hit multiple casinos in 18 different states. Many of the roulette scammers are still at large, while a small handful were caught and face strict penalties in Ohio, such as a $2500 fine and one year in prison.

13 Great Rockumentaries Every Music (and Movie) Fan Should See

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.

Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.

Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.

1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)

A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.

2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)

Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.

3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)

The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”

4. WOODSTOCK (1970)

The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.

5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)

Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.

6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.

7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)

Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)

It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.

9. RHYME & REASON (1997)

An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.

10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)

For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.

11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)

Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.

12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)

It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).

13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)

A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.

20 Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. Here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

ON AMBITION

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES

“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”

“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”

ON THE ARMY

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”

“The army teaches boys to think like men.”

ON TRUTH

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”

ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”

ON KEEPING POSITIVE

“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”

ON STARDOM

“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”

“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”

“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”

ON LOVE

“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”

ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

ON GETTING OLDER

“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”

ON LEAVING A LEGACY

“Do something worth remembering.”

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