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Gambling: Smart, But Not Smart Enough

When it comes to gambling, even board games at home with the family for Christmas, there is always someone who tries to cheat.

Some people are notoriously known for cheating, some continue to succeed in the darkness, and some are just the favourite of the family and are continuously defended by mothers (if only there was CCTV around the dining room table at Christmas). Stepping up from the family fraudsters, are the professionals. Casinos are hotspots for cheaters and fraudsters, people looking to unethically make millions overnight.


The majority get caught, making for an interesting news article and but also preventing others succeeding in the same way. Here we take a look at some of those people who were smart, but just not smart enough.

The first is Louis ‘The Coin’ Colavecchio. Colavecchio focussed on the slots by creating counterfeit coins. Spreading his gambling throughout slot machines in Atlantic City and Connecticut, he would go from casino to casino playing the slots without betting a single penny of real money.

The counterfeit coins he created were, at the time, quite incredible; they had the same size, weight and markings like a real coin which is why the machines swallowed them up. Knowing they were worth nothing, Colavecchio would continue to play until he hit a jackpot, dispensing real coins and giving him huge wealth.

Colavecchio was caught and convicted in 1998, serving seven years in prison – not that that taught him any lessons as he was released in 2006 only to be caught a few months later, up to his old tricks again. His activities are so famous, he is the centre focus of a documentary series called Breaking Vegas.

To protect against any other future Colavecchios, gaming companies have slowly phased out coin payout slots and now produce a barcoded slip where the cash-outs can be redeemed as well as having slots produced online like these: https://games.paddypower.com/c/slots.

Tommy Glen Carmichael was another scammer who used his inventions to beat the system. Spanning over four decades, Carmichael scammed casinos out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in Las Vegas, again targeting slot machines. Using a series of devices including the ‘Monkey Paw’ and ‘Light Wand’, Carmichael was able to trick slot machines into thinking a jackpot had been won. By completing the electric circuit using different wires, an electrical pulse would go through the machine and activate the hopper, dispensing a lot of money.

When slots got smarter, so did Carmichael by using the light wand. By shining the light into the coin sensor, effectively blinding it, it couldn’t count the number of coins coming out of the hopper when some winnings were earnt, meaning that Carmichael could empty every single hopper in a casino with ease until he was caught. He served a sentence of just under a year in jail and three years of probation, his two homes were repossessed and he couldn’t go into a casino until his probation was over.

After his probation was up, he went on to help casinos and created anti-cheating devices for slot machines.

Some scammers take things to a new level by including others, Ali Tekintamgac is one of the most famous for doing this. At the 2010 Partouche Poker Tour, a tip was given that a group of scammers had been active across Europe. Tekintamgac had created a group of spotters who would surround the tables he played on by pretending to be a film crew making a documentary.

By making slight hand gestures and noises to suggest what his opponents had in their hands, Tekintamgac was able to reach the final table. A system that had been previously worked out and practised but all came to a head after years of success. Tekintamgac even tried to sue the Partouche Poker Tour but ultimately, he was served justice of three years in a German jail.

Another notorious, and possibly the most famous scamming team, is the MIT Card Counting team. In 1980 Bill Kaplan and J.P. Massar created a team of players from MIT current and graduate students, alongside Harvard Business students, to go into casinos and count cards whilst playing blackjack to win big. At one point the team was as large as 35 people. To be invited into the team you had to show incredible intelligence, passing particular tests and trained to perform undercover without raising suspicion.

This team became so successful because they had multiple methods, everyone played a unique role and each could be interchanged should circumstances change. Card counting, as well as ace tracking, team strategies and advanced shuffle tracking, were all common ways for this team to scam casinos.

Some of the team members had to wear disguises to get into casinos as eventually as they were being recognised, but most of the team had gone their separate ways by 1993. The MIT Blackjack team, inspired films such as 21 and The Last Casino, as well as books and TV series.

There are teams, and there are lone wolfs working alone to scam casinos; every one being caught in the end and facing some sort of consequence, whether it is monetary, prison or a ban. Someone who managed to twist the system into benefitting him is Richard Marcus – the one who was smart enough. Marcus victimised the Roulette wheel to make his millions.

After failing as a professional Poker player, Marcus ended up as a dealer on the Roulette table, where he noticed a way to scam the system. Marcus would place down two red chips on top of a brown chip and onto a certain bet, with a slight shadow cast, the $510 worth of chips would appear as $15. If the bet came in, to the dealer’s surprise, Marcus was a high winner, if it didn’t, he would use his sleight of hand to replace the brown chips for a red chip, appearing the same to the dealer but only worth only $15. Known as the ‘Savannah’, Marcus continued this trick throughout Europe.

Eventually being caught, Marcus capitalised on this, by operating a website, blog and writing two books, Marcus is the self-proclaimed ‘World’s #1 Casino and Poker Cheating Expert’, and continues to mentor others, making a success of cheating, without actually doing it.

Ultimately it is people like this who have forced casinos to up their surveillance to insane measures. With multiple cameras at every table, incredible attentive dealers, professional security sweeping the casino floor constantly, there is marginal room to get away with any scam these days. Even if people were to scam, the likelihood of being caught is incredibly high, and with the law changes completely on the casino’s side, the reprimands are huge – would you take that gamble? We definitely wouldn’t!

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