If you can’t beat them, cheat them…
1. Tommy Carmichael
Tommy Glenn Carmichael took the gambling world by storm all throughout the 1980s, culminating in his famous quote “Give me a slot machine and I’ll beat it.” He was a wiz with mechanics and spent his life developing a series of devices to cheat slot machines.
Way back when Vegas were still using mechanical slots, Carmichael invented a wire-rigged trap called the “top-bottom joint.” This tiny chip could induce an instant pay-out when put into the coin slot. However, he was caught red-handed relatively quickly and thrown in prison. A lot of people speculate that Carmichael used the majority of his sentence coming up with even more tricks and cheats!
When finally free from jail time, Carmichael went straight back to his favourite cheat testing ground, only to discover slot machines now featured random number generators. It was time for a bit of undercover reconnaissance.
Carmichael disguised himself as a casino employee, convincing a manufacturer to show him the inner workings of new slot machines. He then came up with the “light wand,” a simple electronic contraption that could trip the internal sensor on a machine, causing it to pay out coins.
It seems the man never learned his lesson. He was caught and arrested again in 1996, then several more times over the next few years. On the bright side, Carmichael forced casinos to come out with increasingly advanced technology, resulting in the high tech slots we enjoy today!
2. Louis Colavecchio
Next up is Louis Colavecchio, nicknamed “The Coin”, who ran one of the most incredible coin counterfeiting operations of the 1900s. However, Colavecchio wasn’t imitating actual money, but casino tokens!
Tokens are unique to the casino they come from, so Colavecchio was forced to steal a single coin each from several casinos in North America. By using them as a template alongside highly complex materials and technology, Colavecchio didn’t just create imitations, but somehow managed to produce exact replicas, previously believed to be impossible!
Experts estimate Colavecchio managed to steal around $500,000 before the feds finally caught on to him – raiding his Colorado home to discover laser-cutting tools and a 150-pound press imported from Italy.
3. Ida Summers
Ida Summers was the femme fatale of gambling all throughout the 1960s/70s, back when it was still very much a man’s world. She was known to be extremely beautiful and sociable, using her charms to distract from the sleight of hand tricks she favoured. Plus, her slim frame and 5’3 height made her appearance as small, unintimidating and innocent as possible.
Many Vegas casinos had mob connections in the 1960s, so cheating could be downright suicidal. Summers remained brassy and unimpressed in the face of danger. Using techniques like “hand mucking” and switching in “coolers” at the blackjack tables, it is estimated she robbed the Vegas scene of well over tens of thousands of dollars, evading capture for one of the longest stretches of time in gambling history.
Summers continued to grow increasingly cocky, bringing “cold decks” (pre-stacked decks) into play. This is an incredibly dangerous manoeuvre, but somehow she pulled it off, and right in the middle of a crowded casino too. Summers became a legend; no one in their right mind had ever attempted to insert a cold deck before.
Eventually, rumours spread and the FBI got involved, teaming up with gaming officials to bring the vixen down. However, even in court Summers managed to charm the crowd with a bit of ‘razzle dazzle’; she only got probation – no jail time or fines were issued.
4. Ron Harris
Ron Harris is one of the most notorious cheats in Vegas’ gambling history, blacklisted from all casinos across the world and even inducted into the online cheaters’ Hall of Fame. He was a computer programmer for one of the biggest casino gaming providers, Nevada. He worked in the early 1990s finding flaws and bugs in software that runs computerized casino games; he soon found a much more illegal use for these talents. Taking advantage of his expertise, reputation and access to source code, Harris was able to modify certain slot machines, tricking them into paying out enormous real money jackpots when a specific sequence and number of coins was inserted.
It is estimated that Harris and his accomplice, Reid Errol McNeal, stole thousands of dollars from all the top Vegas casinos at the height of his scamming streak between 1993 and 1995. This soon became one of the most successful undetected fraud scams officials had ever encountered. However, partners in crime cannot always be trusted, and it was the accomplice McNeal who proved to be the end of this operation. Casino executives grew suspicious at Bally’s Atlantic City Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, when McNeal attempted to redeem a high value winning keno ticket. He showed a lack of excitement and surprise that immediately put witness suspicions on edge. An investigation was launched.
It didn’t take long for the authorities to find a link to Harris’ involvement, especially considering his occupation as a casino computer programmer. After a trial, Harris was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was released after serving 2 years, and currently resides in Las Vegas, which is rather ironic in our opinion! Harris became so notorious that his story can be seen on the Bio Channel, History Channel and Discovery Channel program Breaking Vegas, which features interviews and reenactments of some of Harris’ memorable moments in his casino-breaking scheme. In the opinion of casino experts, WizardsofOdds.com, Harris is one of the most “infamous cheats” of modern times.
5. Archie Karas
Archie Karas, 62, broke records with the largest and longest documented winning streak in gambling history from 1992 to 1995. The poker player came to Las Vegas with $50 in his pocket and left after three years with a $40 million high-stakes fortune.
Unfortunately, he later lost the majority on baccarat and dice games within just three weeks! Karas returned to poker several more times since, usually backed by rich investors. He ended up crushing many of the world’s best players.
However, just last year Karas was caught marking cards at a California blackjack table. He was pulled from his Las Vegas home into police custody, charged with burglary, winning by fraudulent means and cheating. This wasn’t the first time Karas was caught cheating either. Enforcement chief, Karl Bennison, revealed ‘The Nevada Gaming Control Board has investigated Karas on multiple occasions resulting in four arrests,’ and in a further statement he claimed ‘Karas has been a threat to the gaming industry in many jurisdictions.’