Cheating a casino is never a good idea. For the vast majority who have tried, the result is an investigation by the authorities, swiftly followed by a healthy dose of jail time. But for a select few, their scams have gone undetected, or they’ve otherwise been able to escape the long arm of the law once their scams have been rumbled.
There’s no way of knowing everyone who has cheated successfully, and many are still at large, no doubt successfully pulling these scams still today. However, amongst those who do get discovered, only a handful have been known to avoid a lengthy sentence.
Women have long featured at the heart of casino scams, often used to distract players or dealers, or indeed to execute the scams with less suspicion than their male accomplices. Ida Summers was one example who went a step further, playing both roles herself in a scam that would work well for a number of years. Known ultimately as the Vegas Vixen, Summers’ game of choice was blackjack. She would turn up at a blackjack table and play through a number of hands, mucking as she went along. With a honed sleight of hand technique, she would switch out the cards she was dealt with her own cards, essentially adding new cards to the deck to skew the odds of winning more in her favour – using what’s known as ‘cold decks’ to influence the probabilities of the game.
She didn’t escape detection however, and after calling in support from the FBI, casino management did uncover her ploy. For what should have been a lengthy jail sentence, Summers was instead handed down probation, and retained her liberty. Some have attributed this result to her good looks and charm – whatever it was, she was incredibly lucky to escape custody, the inevitable fate that befalls the vast majority of casino cheats like her.
Richard Marcus will go down in history as one of the most successful cheats ever to hit the casinos. He remains a free man, and has never been caught or investigated for his scams. In fact, his exploits only came to light when he retired, and published a book about his time rinsing roulette tables of their money. Marcus’ case begs the question how many more out there are like him, plying their tactics underneath the radar of the casinos and the authorities.
His strategy was simple, but hugely effective. When playing roulette, Marcus would stack his chips with a low value chip on top, and a higher value chip underneath. Playing the drunk act, Marcus would grab his losing bets and throw the chips at the dealer – in the process, switching out the higher value chip for another lower value chip. In the confusion, he was effectively switching out higher losses for smaller losses, or in other words, cheating on his losing spins. When his numbers came up, he would leave the chips as they were, and point out to the dealer mid-celebration that his stack was worth significantly more than the value of the top chip.
Marcus escaped detection because casinos tend to focus on the bets players win, rather than lose, when attempting to spot underhanded tactics. Marcus now works with casinos to uncover cheats, but remains a free and presumably still very wealthy man as a result. Completely undetected throughout his cheating career, he remains part of the select band who have actually managed to get away with it.
Some casino cheats who do get caught still manage to worm their way out of an appropriate sentence. But some are actually serial offenders, who become useful to the casinos they cheat, for their inside knowledge in limiting future opportunities for other players to cheat successfully. Louis Colavecchio was one such character, being caught cheating several times over his career, but managing to avoid sentence at the latest opportunity by agreeing to work with the casinos he scammed.
Colavecchio was an unusual cheat, in that his skills lay primarily in counterfeiting. He would create counterfeit slot machine coins on an industrial scale, with astonishing accuracy in the reproduction. He would then take these coins to casinos and use them to play slot machines, fooling the machines into thinking he was playing with real currency. Time after time, he pulled this technique, yielding impressive results. But Colavecchio was caught, sentenced, and reoffended on a couple of occasions. In 2006, when facing a further investigation, he was able to barter his way out of a custodial sentence, through arranging to work with the casinos and to teach them the intricacies of his scams, helping prevent others from cheating in the same way.
He can’t have been confident this strategy would pay off, but it did. Colavecchio today remains a free man, in spite of a career of counterfeiting and ripping off casinos across the US.
Casino scams and cheats are often renowned for their ingenuity. But sometimes, all it takes is a brazen attitude and all the confidence in the world to escape without detection. Bill Brennan was a cashier at a large Vegas casino, who decided one day to simply stuff his bag with half a million in chips and cash. He finished his shift, and calmly left the building, like he did every other day, with the loot on his person. Unbelievably he was able to walk out of the casino undetected, and to this day has never been seen or heard of again. There are even some rumours he has been killed, but no-one other than Bill Brennan knows for sure what become of him and the money. While the casino noticed the money was missing and alerted the authorities, Brennan has been able to avoid detection since 1992, and still remains at large.