All of us can easily call to mind the images of various elaborate schemes, pulled off by teams of smooth criminals with impossibly foolproof plans and clever quips. But in reality, the classic casino robbery is a pretty uncommon spectacle. Due to increasingly sophisticated security systems, heists have become less common and much more difficult to pull off.
Instead, intelligent people who are driven by motivation to outsmart casinos must engineer new, innovative ways. You’ve probably heard the story of a group of MIT college student card counters – but the thing is, they weren’t actually even cheaters. They weren’t tricking anybody; the casinos knew what they were up to. They were just managing to avoid being identified and stopped. Or, when those players were identified and banned, new members joined quickly enough to take their places seamlessly.
Read on for some truly entertaining stories about clever tricksters who gave casinos a run for their money, including insider information about the MIT team.
4 – The French Cigarette Pack Scam
Casino Game: Roulette
Basic Strategy: Radio transmitters
Winnings: 5 million francs, the equivalent of approximately 1 million dollars
Location: Deauville Casino – Deauville, France
Although she wasn’t actually the mastermind behind the plan, Monique Laurent was the essential link that pulled everything together into one seamless operation. In fact, although it was her brother who devised this clever scheme, Monique Laurent is the one who has remained relatively famous in the casino world, or shall we saw infamous.
Why was Monique Laurent the key figure to go down in history for this scheme? Well, first, she’s said to have been an exceptionally beautiful woman. And second, without her key role, the roulette cheat never would have worked – but then again, the scam also never would have been discovered.
How it worked
In 1973, Monique Laurent’s brother was a roulette croupier at the Deauville Casino in France. He also happened to have a radio technology hobby, and the scam was simple – on the surface, it involved just a pack of cigarettes and a roulette ball. But in reality, that pack of cigarettes was a device that contained a radio transmitter, and the roulette ball contained a receiver. All that needed to happen was for Monique’s brother to replace the roulette ball with his own, then her husband would place bets at the table within a range of six numbers.
Once everything was in place, Laurent would simply push a button on the “pack of Marlboros,” causing the ball to land within that specific set of numbers on the wheel. The device had an impressive accuracy rate of 90%, and the team won 5 million francs in the course of a single week.
How it ended
So how did their arrangement get uncovered, and what did Monique Laurent have to do with it? They were doing everything right – no unexpected mishaps or close calls, but they didn’t count on the impact that Monique’s good looks would have. Any operation of this kind requires the ability to blend into the crowd and remain unnoticed, but her striking physical appearance turned out to be a disadvantage.
Enamored with her beauty, the casino owner noticed Laurent sitting at a roulette table one day. He approached her, and though she rejected his advances, it wasn’t long before he saw her regularly. She visited the casino relatively frequently, always sitting at the same roulette table close to the table in question and placing consistently conservative bets.
Another key detail: the casino owner never saw Laurent actually take a cigarette out of her pack and smoke it. Now at this point, the casino had already dismantled the roulette wheel in order to examine whether there was any evidence of a malfunction, bias, or tampering. They’d also scrutinized the dealer for signs of cheating, without any success. When they noticed Monique Laurent, however, they began to suspect a team effort.
If not for Monique Laurent’s captivating beauty, perhaps the team would have gone on to cheat the casino out of millions more. As it was, their arrangement was discovered, and they were arrested, though none of them ended up serving jail time because they agreed to return their winnings. Their story eventually inspired “Les Tricheurs,” a 1984 French film about cheating scandals and gambling addiction.
3 – The MIT Blackjack Team
Casino Game: Blackjack
Basic Strategy: Card counting
Winnings: Approximately 6 to 10 million dollars
Location: Casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Canada
One of the most widely known examples of gamblers who succeeded in cheating casinos out of millions isn’t just one individual. The MIT blackjack team was a group, and their activities weren’t technically an example of cheating at all. Blackjack card counting is legal – it’s just that casinos have every right to kick you out or even ban you from reentering the casino.
How it worked
Recent developments in card counting strategies meant that a huge wave of people was learning to play blackjack. Among these people were a handful of students from MIT, highly intelligent individuals with the ability to perfect their strategies and make a significant amount of money as a team. Over the course of its existence, the group grew to massive proportions: it had approximately 80 players towards the end of its run, and at some points, there were about 30 members simultaneously playing blackjack at casinos all around the globe. As a team, they meticulously developed various card-counting techniques that evolved over time, managing to win millions over the years.
How it ended
Despite the glamorous portrayals, being a part of this team was a grueling job. You had to be on top of your game at all times, and the pressure, time, and energy caused players to burn out relatively quickly. Due to its size and potential for profit, the team was also run like a business, and the operation eventually ran its course. In all, they were in operation from 1979 to 1993, after which they split off into the Amphibians and the Reptiles, two independent teams that both were dissolved by the year 2000.
It’s such a compelling story that it inspired the New York Times bestseller “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions” and a subsequent film adaptation called “21.” Although both were criticized for a significant number of inaccuracies and dramatizations, they undoubtedly contributed even more to the fame and enduring popularity of this unbelievable story about a group of smart kids gaming the system.
2 – The Tran Organization
Casino Game: Mini-baccarat and Blackjack
Basic Strategy: False shuffles, communication with corrupt dealers through wireless microphones and earpieces
Winnings: Approximately 7 million dollars
Location: 29 casinos total, 28 within the United States and 1 in Canada
Interested in more massive group efforts? Look into the Tran Organization, led by Phuong Quoc “Pai Gao John” Truong with help from his wife, Van Thu Tran, and many of her family members.
How it worked
With prior experience as card dealers, Truong and his family had insider knowledge regarding how casinos worked. The premise was simple: they bribed card dealers to perform false shuffles so that the order of cards in the deck could be communicated to players beforehand. They applied this method to mini-baccarat and blackjack, with players using mics and earpieces to work with their collaborators, relying on computer technology to calculate the probability of cards reappearing.
How it ended
Casino operators were left baffled – they often didn’t even realize they’d been cheated until after the group was long gone. With the strong suspicion that they were the victims of a larger scheme, a few of these casinos went to the FBI for help. “Operation Tran Wreck” was ultimately a success – it turned out that Truong had gotten stingy with the dealers they were partnering with, and those dealers became FBI informants who ultimately brought the Tran Organization down in 2007.
All in all, they swindled approximately seven million dollars out of casinos. Unlike the MIT Blackjack players who were technically not breaking the law, this organization was involved some serious clear-cut cheating, and a total of 47 people were indicted of the crimes.
1 – Tommy Glenn Carmichael
Casino Game: Slot Machines
Basic Strategy: Personal inventions – slider/monkey paw, light wand, hanger
Winnings: Estimated to be in the millions
Location: Las Vegas and Atlantic City
Before the start of Tommy Glenn Carmichael’s slots cheating career, he owned a TV repair shop in Oklahoma. He had some personal drama going on with marriage troubles and drug convictions, and his business was slowly failing – nothing like the fast-paced, high-rolling lifestyle he would soon adopt.
In 1980, Tommy’s friend showed up one day at his repair shop with two things that would change his life: a slot machine and a top-bottom joint, the classic slot machine cheat tool of the time. Carmichael liked to fix things – that meant taking them apart and examining them to understand how they worked, and he applied his skills to slot machines and how to beat them. It didn’t take long for him to understand the slot machine’s mechanics and how the top-bottom joint worked.
Carmichael went on to use it for several years, but casinos had caught wind of these devices and he was apprehended by the police. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but instead of deterring him from getting back in the game, it inspired him to be better. During his stint in prison, Tommy met Mike Balsamo, and they agreed to join forces after being released.
As gaming technology improved, Carmichael developed a device called a slider, or monkey paw. The simple tool was designed to go through the payout chute and trigger the machine to payout, offering Carmichael about $1,000 an hour.
Again, improved technology later rendered the device useless – and again, Carmichael met the challenge with the same zeal. This time, he went to an International Game Technology showroom. Pretending to be an interested customer, he inspected the inside of one of the slot machines and got an engineer to answer a few very detailed questions. Carmichael bought one of the machines from IGT, and days later, he had invented the light wand, a simple tool that shined a light to trigger the sensor and cause a payout.
Tommy’s story involves some entrepreneurship as well – not only was he hitting the casinos, but he was also selling his device to other cheats to use. To this day, other slots cheats remain great admirers of his work – he’s considered a legend within the field.
How it worked
Simply put: Tommy Carmichael was a genius. He had an uncanny knack for being able to completely break something down in his mind and analyze all of the parts. He got down to the crux of how these mechanisms functioned and devised counter mechanisms to bypass or trick the machines. And, he was shrewd – selling his inventions to other slots cheats and working strategically in groups to avoid being caught.
How it ended
You could liken Tommy Carmichael to Icarus, flying too close to the sun. He knew he was a genius, and he really felt that he couldn’t be touched. He imagined that this could go on forever – earning thousands of dollars a day, going on cruises every other week, beating each and every new development in slot machine technology, pulling the wool over casinos’ eyes time after time. But, that level of success and luxury meant that he was visible – too visible. FBI informants had been collecting evidence against him and his partners for quite some time.
An attempt in Vegas was apprehended because of new surveillance cameras – his accomplices, who normally stood strategically to block the view, didn’t know about them, and he was caught with the light wand and charged. Although the charges were later dropped, he was arrested again soon after, with a new and improved version of the device. Ultimately, Carmichael, Pereira, and Balsamo were arrested, along with Lisa Luxem, Carmichael’s girlfriend at the time and three involved parties.
From start to finish, his career activities resulted in two convictions for slot cheating in Nevada, one in New Jersey, and a federal conviction for his key role in a nationwide cheating operation. Authorities believed that the group stole over $5 million, but the exact amount is impossible to determine.
Tommy Carmichael’s last known activities are significantly less risky: he was last working on “The Protector,” a device he claimed would defend slot machines from all kind of cheats – patent pending. However, gambling authorities are skeptical – a device like this could likely be modified to be used as a cheating device. After some discussion, the Nevada Gaming Commission voted to put Carmichael’s name in the Black Book, banning him from all Nevada casinos for life.
For slots lovers, poker buffs, and general casino fans, these stories hold an irresistible attraction. They involve daring gamblers and ingenious plans – what’s not to love? But for those of us who perhaps aren’t interested in taking such risks, and more importantly, breaking the law, we’re in luck. You don’t have to cheat the system to win big.
Planet 7 Casino offers a multitude of games and a nearly infinite number of chances to hit the jackpot. Play today for your chance to win thousands, or even millions, without the criminal activity.