Biggest Live Casino Heists of All Time
I don’t know about you, but I really like the heist movie genre and its tropes. I love the sequences where the masterminds get their team together and come up with a plan. Parallel narration with a voiceover of the shot and the things that actually happen when the band puts it into action will never amuse me, especially when the two differ wildly. But these scenes always make me think about how likely some of these plans are to succeed in the real world.
Casinos provide us with the perfect setting for a heist movie. There are colorful visuals, a hint of luxury and above all a sleazy capitalist as the target. They rob those who profit from the misfortune of others. To succeed in their plans, the team must rely on a mixture of luck and skill, just like any other visitor to the casino.
Often these films are not just about breaking a safe, but also about using clever methods to “cheat” at casino games. It’s less about brute force and more about intelligence. The complexity of these games, their many sets of rules, and the strategies to increase your chances of winning are among the many discussions on gaming communities like casino master. Some of them are based on methods that have helped real players cheat the system.
Here are some real-life robbery teams, who have used their gambling skills or criminal energy to rob casinos:
● The Crown Casino Heist
The Crown Casino Heist 2013 has all the elements for a great movie. The mastermind was millionaire businessman James Manning, who never even cashed in on his fraudulent $33 million winnings. He was simply kicked off the casino premises and the burglary was kept a secret, leaving no one harmed in the process.
Manning was invited by a VIP service manager at Crown Casino Perth to play in the exclusive high rollers room. He won eight hands of blackjack in total, dazzling other players with his skill and luck. Except it wasn’t luck at all, but teamwork with said VIP manager, who helped him by flagging cards and even breaching security camera footage.
● MIT Blackjack Team
The MIT Blackjack team single-handedly made blackjack card counting famous. The mastermind behind the strategy was Bill Kaplan, who developed a way to increase the odds of winning at blackjack using statistical analysis. He assembled a team of students from several prestigious universities and taught them.
Together they played in several casinos across the planet and reportedly won between $22 million and $57 million over two decades. Since card counting is not technically illegal when not using tools, the method is still used by gamblers today.
● Circus Circus Heist
There is no gambling involved in the Circus Circus Heist of 1993. The culprits, Heather Tallchief and Roberto Solis, simply used their jobs as armored vehicle drivers and cash haulers to rob a truck with around 3 million of dollars. While Tallchief surrendered in 2005, Solis had still not been located. He allegedly took most of the money and left Heather with about $1,000.
● Soboba Casino
The 2007 Soboba casino robbery was also not based on gambling skills. The culprit was a casino surveillance technician, Rolando Luda Ramos. He used his inside knowledge and access to tie up his colleagues and steal around $1.5 million from the casino’s safe. However, he was apprehended two days later.
● Ritz Casino
The team behind the 2004 Ritz Casino heist used a strategy called sector targeting. They used modern technology to improve on a method that was first employed in the 1970s, when a team of graduate physics students created a system with lasers and computers to scan and calculate the trajectory of a roulette ball.
In 2004, it was easier to achieve with smartphones and microcomputers, easier to conceal. In this heist, the players were able to keep their winnings because the police could not catch them for a crime. They won around $1.7 million.
● Bellagio twice
The Bellagio has been targeted twice, in 2000 and 2010. The first time the culprit was Jose Vigoa, a former member of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces. This heist was just the latest in his two-year crime spree, which included multiple murders and robberies. He used firearms and bulletproof equipment to break into the cash counter and take approximately $160,000. As he did not conceal his identity at all, he was quickly apprehended and is currently serving four life sentences.
Likewise, the culprit in 2010 used the same kind of brazen method. Anthony Michael Carleo used a gun and hid his face under a motorcycle helmet when he stole around $1.5 million in chips. It was a repeat felony of his theft from the Suncoast Hotel & Casino a few days prior. Although he concealed his identity, he was still captured simply because he couldn’t resist taking credit for the crime.
● Stardust Casino twice
Like the Bellagio, the Stardust Casino was targeted twice, in 1991 and 1992. One was an elaborate plot, the other definitely not. Both were inside jobs. In 1991, a security guard, Royal Hopper, asked his two sons to stage a fake robbery as he flew off with $150,000. They repeated the crime six months later, stole $1.1 million from an armored truck and even used smoke bombs to escape.
In 1992, not so flashy, casino cashier Bill Brennen simply walked out with $500,000 while counting the money at work. Neither he nor the money have been seen by authorities since, although he was on the FBI’s most wanted list until 2006 when the case was closed.
● treasure island
In 2000, Reginald Johnson robbed or attempted to rob Treasure Island Casino not once or twice, but three times in total in just one year. On his first two attempts, he stole around $30,000. On his third attempt, he was finally captured and arrested. Since shooting and wounding guards several times, he has been charged with robbery and attempted murder.
The actual casino heists may not be as elaborate or entertaining as their cinematic counterparts, but they prove that Ocean’s Eleven and co. had many sources to draw inspiration from. Whether they used guns and violence, technology or skill, many culprits have stolen millions of dollars from casinos over the past decades. While the smoke bombs and minicomputers might sound exciting, Bill Brennen simply goes out with the stolen money and manages to evade capture since then might be the greatest achievement of them all.