Casinos are places where millions of dollars can exchange hands as thousands of players place their bets with the hopes of winning big. The large amounts of cash makes them seem like the best targets for thieves, robbers and cheaters and while there have been quite a few daring casino heists to take place over the years, they are never as spectacular as they seem to be in movies.
A while back we talked about some of the most successful films based around casinos and the list of course included several plots created around complicated heists. The Ocean’s series comes to mind rather quickly and the complicated storyline with various twists and the cast filled with charismatic actors really made it entertaining to watch.
By comparison, the real casino heists that took place are not that amazing and the use of futuristic gadgets or daredevil escapes is disappointing to say the least. With that being said, the fact that they actually took place makes them special, especially as the amounts get pretty big, even despite the fact that most of the times the culprits are arrested.
$30,000 from Treasure Island Casino (Las Vegas)
We start our list with a small score. In the year 2000, casino robberies were quite common, especially if we compare the time to the improved security protocols now available. Las Vegas was of course the ideal scene and Treasure Island Casino was actually the target of multiple robberies as the millennium turned; it must have been something about the name that attracted so many “pirates” looking to become rich.
The biggest and most successful heist took place in October and it was as simple as they come. No flashy gadgets or complicated plans were used in the process as Reginald Johnson came bursting into the casino with a gun. He demanded the money and managed to get away with around $30,000. The funny part is that this was not his first attempt at robbing this casino and he actually tried a couple of times before but failed to get anything.
His determination to return to the scene of the crime got him arrested in January 2001 and he was given 130 years as a vacation behind bars.
$160,000 from Bellagio Casino (Las Vegas)
For something a bit better planed out, we must go back to 1998 and take a look at the story of three fairly persistent robbers. Oscar Sanchez, Luis Suarez and Jose Vigoa had their minds set on beating the house at the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas but they weren’t really willing to take their seats at the table and wait for the right cards to come. Instead, the three went in and tried to rob the place several times in the late 1990s.
Their third and most successful attempt resulted in them getting a very nice sum of $160,000 from the casino. The bad part however was that one of them made a big mistake and showed his face to one of the cameras. Vigoa was quickly identified and the authorities didn’t take long to bring him and his known associates in for questioning. After seeing that there was no way out, Sanchez started spilling the beans and told the cops everything about the other two musketeers so that he could get a lighter sentence. The two accomplices were sentenced to life in prison.
£200,000 from multiple casinos (London)
Not all casino heists have to be done with guns blazing and face masks. Sometimes it just takes some small gadgets in order to get away with the money. This is what happened in 2000 when three casino players in London hit multiple locations throughout the capital for a total of £200,000 by using state-of-the-art equipment.
One of the players would go inside and a take a seat at the table while having a small camera on his sleeve. The video was streamed to a van outside where an accomplice would review the cards and then give back instructions to a small ear piece. Things went fairly smoothly for a while but eventually the three gentlemen were captured and arrested.
$500,000 from Stardust Casino (Las Vegas)
The best way to get away with money is to have a guy on the inside but sometimes it is even better to be the guy on the inside. In 1992, Bill Brennan decided that he didn’t want to work at The Stardust Casino in Las Vegas anymore and so he thought of a way to make sure that he would get a nice severance pay.
As a sportsbook cashier, Mr. Brennan had access to cash money and chips and one day he just took half a million dollars’ worth from the box and got out. This is one of the rare instances where the culprit was not captured, and some of the authorities believed that he was murdered by an accomplice, but he might have just made his way to a sunny beach somewhere. Sadly, it seems like we will never know how the story actually ends.
£1.3 Million from Ritz Casino (London)
With gadgets improving, casinos have seen more than their fair share of cheating attempts over the last couple of decades. One of the most interesting and successful examples took place in 2004. Three cheaters were playing roulette at the Ritz Casino in London, UK, and they managed to win very big.
However, they did not rely on luck as much as they used lasers in their phones to predict the outcome of the wheels. By measuring the speed of the each spin, they were able to get an idea of where the ball will stop and thus they placed bets to cover those options. The winnings added up to over £1.3 million across multiple sessions before they were arrested.
An interesting part is that the judge determined that the three casino players didn’t actually commit any crime and were allowed to go free after their returned the winnings to the casino. They did however receive a ban for life in the luxurious casino.
$1.5 Million from Soboba Casino (Las Vegas)
The most common heist seen in movies doesn’t involve any fancy gadgets and neither does this real casino heist which took place in 2005 in Las Vegas. Two robbers by the name of Roland Ramos and Eric Aguilera relied on the old-fashion method when they went in to steal $1.5 million from the Soboba Casino. They busted into the casino with guns, gagged three of the key employees and had several others at gunpoint in order to make sure that they wouldn’t sound the alarm.
They then got as much money as they could in large bags and got out before the police came. However, they did not make it very far before the cop cars caught up to them and they were unable to outrun the heat, eventually being forced to stop the car and be arrested.
$2.5 Million from Circus Circus Casino (Las Vegas)
The most recent representation of the Bonnie and Clyde story took place in 1993, when a couple managed to get away with $2.5 million from the Circus Circus Casino in Las Vegas, making for one of the most impressive heists in history. Roberto Solis and Heather Tallchief also used old-fashioned techniques to steal the money and while the entire amount was not recovered, not both of them were able to benefit from the big score.
In fact, shortly after they got the money, Solis got most of it and left in order to not have to share it with Tallchief, despite the fact that they were romantically involved when the robbery took place. Heather was only left with $1,000 from the seven-figure amount.
Nothing from multiple casinos (California)
Despite the fact that this story didn’t actually see the robbers get anything, it is one of the most interesting ones on the list and deserves a top spot. In the 1970s, two students at the University of California created small computers that would look at the roulette wheel and calculate where it will stop.
In order to get into the casinos undetected, they place the miniature computers in their shoes, with one of them having a receiver and the other an emitter. Between the two, they were expecting to precisely make out where the ball would stop on the wheel and make the proper bets in order to win money from the casino. The story didn’t actually have the ending they were hopping for and the computers caught fire after they short circuited and not only did they electrocuted both of the robbers but also caused their socks to catch fire. Needless to say that the scene was quite amusing on the casino floor.
$33 Million from the Crown Casino (Perth, Australia)
The most recent entry to make our list took place only a couple of years ago and the sum is impressive to say the least. Despite the fact that the casino was not quite exact about the total amount, it is believed that the hit was over 33 million Australia dollars.
This was done in a very ingenious way as a hacker managed to break into the casino surveillance system at the luxurious Crown in Australia. He then used to the footage to look the dealer cards and fed information to a player at the table. It didn’t take much strategy to win at this point and they stole tens of millions before the casino figured it out. While the player was arrested, the hacker is still free and has pocked the lion share of the score. It remains to be seen if this was enough for him or if he will attempt something even more ingenious at another casino with the hopes of getting away with more money.
Multi-millions from multiple casinos (worldwide)
Probably the most popular story is also the most successful one in history and it didn’t require any guns, any robberies or anything of that nature. Instead, it just needed some understanding of how one of the most common casino games works and a few brilliant minds to crack the code.
Between the years 1979 and 1993, a team of MIT students used their math skills to play blackjack for very high stakes in casinos from around the world. Las Vegas was of course the main location for them but anywhere that accepted their bets and let them play for big amounts was just perfect. Their exploits are so infamous that they were turned into a book in 2003 and a movie in 2008. The latter is called 21 and it is on the list we talked about a few months ago and mentioned earlier in the article.
The notorious group of math geniuses perfected the art of card counting and won millions over 14 years of activity at the high stakes tables. They were led by Bill Kaplan, an MBA graduate from Harvard. Although the main group dissolved in 1993, there were plenty of eager players looking to step into their shoes and carry on the legacy of breaking a casino game with the proper skills. The strategy continues to this day despite the fact that casinos have taken various measures to make card counting more difficult. If you are interested in how it works, you can check out more info about it, and about other ways to beat the casino, right here.