Gambling in its truest forms was never meant to be a reliable way to get rich. Any game that pits you against the casino is going to favor the casino by at least a small margin. While you can certainly get lucky and walk away with a fortune, you’re always going to be at the mercy of the odds in the long run.
Unless, of course, you cheat.
People have been trying to cheat casinos out of their money since the first crude roulette wheels popped up in French gambling halls. The risk is too great for most people to try, but the men you’re about to meet aren’t most people. Though their cheating ways ended in almost unanimous ruin, you have to admit it takes a big pair of…Aces?…to do what they did.
Leave it to an employee of the Nevada Gaming Control Board to become one of the most infamous casino cheats of all time. Harris worked for the NGCB as a computer programmer, a job that put him in prime position to turn the odds in his favor. After growing disillusioned with the Board in the early 90s, Harris recruited an accomplice named John O’Connor and made off with thousands of dollars. By modifying the source code of certain slot machines, Harris was able to rig them to pay off in response to a specific, reproducible input. Had he stopped there, he might have gotten away with it. Like most criminals, though, his greed became his undoing. More on that later.
Though he was able to accomplish his scam from outside the system, Dennis Nikrasch also used slot machines to make his illegal fortune. Nikrasch owned a slot machine of his own and used some modified computer chips to trigger a payoff at will. Since it was going to be difficult to get rich simply by winning his own tokens, he assembled a crew of confederates, bought a key on the black market, and put his cheating plan into action. With his partners strategically blocking the floor cameras, Nikrasch would open up a machine, install the hacked computer chip, and close it back up in under a minute. All told, Nikrasch was able to wring nearly $6 million from Vegas casinos before the authorities caught up with him.
Blackjack is perhaps the most commonly-exploited game in gambling history. With the right set of skills, a card counter can reliably defeat the casino, or at least they could before the Vegas establishment got wise to the signs. Dustin Marks wasn’t a card counter, though; he was a blackjack dealer. He used sleight-of-hand and techniques such as false shuffling to make sure his confederates won their hands. Unlike most casino cheaters, Marks was never caught. The only reason we know he made off with millions is because he detailed his criminal success in an autobiography.
Reid McNeal stunned onlookers when he beat the keno game at Bally’s Park Place Casino Resort in Atlantic City for the $100,000 jackpot. What alarmed officials, though, was that McNeal himself seemed utterly unmoved by his sudden windfall. What really raised suspicions, however, was his lack of ID and his insistence on a cash payout. Because New Jersey law requires gaming officials to verify winnings in excess of $35,000, they went up to McNeal’s hotel room to investigate. Who should they find there but Ron Harris! In the room, they found detailed journals on the keno game’s random number generator and the jig was up. McNeal was immediately taken into custody. Later, Harris was arrested back in Vegas, putting an end to one of the most audacious casino cheating careers of all time.