Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Trilogy popularised the idea of the casino heist, presenting its plucky band of thieves as the pinnacle of cool. However, history in many cases outstrips the fiction.
The audacity of these genuine casino heists put Danny Ocean and co. to shame. From roulette-reading super-shoes to a lethal team of card-counting maths buffs, read on for the 10 most daring casino robberies in history.
10) Plundering Treasure Island
Casino: Treasure Island, Las Vegas
This Las Vegas casino was actually subject to multiple robberies at the turn of millennium, though only one was successful.
In October, 2000, Reginald Johnson burst into the Treasure Island Casino wielding a gun, making off with $30,000. This followed two previous hits on the establishment, during which Johnson failed to nab any dough and wounded a security guard.
Johnson’s general incompetence and habit of returning to the scene of the crime meant he was eventually apprehended in January 2001. This psychopathic klutz was eventually sentenced to 130 years behind bars.
9) Third time’s the charm?
Casino: Bellagio, Las Vegas
Score: (nearly) $160,000
Jose Vigoa, Luis Suarez, and Oscar Sanchez made several attempts to fleece the Bellagio Casino in the late ‘90s. Despite getting their mitts on a substantial take, the would-be thieves bungled the endgame.
Vigoa’s face was caught on camera, giving the authorities a clear lead. Realising the jig was up; Sanchez confessed all, stabbing his colleagues in the back for a lighter sentence. Both of his accomplices received life in prison.
8) Casino Royale
Casino: multiple across London
Perhaps taking inspiration from the Bond franchise, three Londoners armed themselves with state-of-the-art spy equipment and hit six casinos across Britain’s capital.
One of the bandits used a miniature camera hidden in his sleeve to film cards as they were dealt, feeding images to an accomplice in a van outside. The footage was reviewed in slow motion and wagering instructions were fed to the inside man via a small ear piece.
All three of these shady gentlemen were arrested for their crimes.
7) Severance pay
Casino: the Stardust, Las Vegas
This was not so much a heist as a really badass way to hand in your notice. A sportsbook cashier at The Stardust, Bill Brennan, decided one day that the casino game wasn’t for him and made off with half a million dollars in chips and cash.
Brennan vanished without a trace after lifting the money, leading some to speculate that he might’ve been killed by a greedy accomplice. 22 years later, it’s likely that we will never know.
6) Laser swag
Casino: Ritz, London
Score: £1.3 million
The Ritz made an involuntary pay-out of £1.3 million to three cheaters in 2004, who used lasers in their mobile phones to measure the speed of roulette wheels and predict the outcome of spins.
Incredibly, although all three men were arrested, the judge presiding over their trial determined that no crime had been committed and the accused were let off scot-free. Bet they got a lifetime ban, though.
5) Brute force
Casino: Soboba Casino, Las Vegas
Score: $1.5 million
Eschewing fancy gadgets, Eric Alan Aguilera and Roland Luda Ramos relied on tried-and-true techniques when robbing the Soboba. They burst in, bound and gagged three employees and held seven more at gunpoint before making off with a pile of ill-gotten gains.
After quitting the casino and hitting the road, the bandits attempted to outrun a fleet of pursuing squad cars. They didn’t get far.
4) Bonnie and Clyde
Casino: Circus Circus
Score: $2.5 million
They say love takes us to strange places. Heather Tallchief and Roberto Solis took this truism to new extremes in 1993, embarking on a couple’s tour of casino robbery and making off with two and a half million in an armoured truck.
There’s no honour among thieves, even when they’re intimately involved, and Solis soon skipped town with the cash, leaving Tallchief and her son only $1,000. Ouch.
3) Riches of the sole
Casino: multiple across California
Although the heist failed pretty spectacularly, it makes it into the top three for its sheer chutzpah. In the 1970s a couple of enterprising University of California students developed miniature computers with the ability to read the movements of a roulette wheel.
Each student slipped a computer into one of their shoes, one a receiver and the other an emitter. Between them, the students hoped to measure and predict the outcome of roulette spins. Unfortunately, the computers short circuited, electrocuting the aspiring sharks and setting their socks on fire.
2) All-seeing eye
Casino: Crown, Perth
Score: $33 million (AUS)
An ingenious uber-nerd nabbed a hefty sum by remotely hacking into the surveillance system at the Crown Casino in Perth, Australia. By manipulating the casino’s camera array and sneaking peaks at dealers’ plays, he was able to feed winning strategies to an inside man via an earpiece, pocketing the lion’s share of the take.
The Crown was cagey about the exact nature of the scam, but has allegedly captured the inside man, though the hacker remains at large.
1) The MIT blackjack whizz-kids
Casino: various worldwide
The big one. The exploits of the MIT Blackjack team have become so infamous they were adapted into an (awesome) book, Bringing Down the House in 2003 and a (rubbish) Kevin Spacey flick in 2008.
For 14 years, this notorious team of student maths geniuses ran the most prolific card-counting ring in history under the auspices of Harvard MBA Graduate, Bill Kaplan (Mr. M). Over the course of their long career, the MIT crew nabbed millions at high-stakes blackjack tables.
Despite ostensibly dissolving in 1993, various splinter groups, imitators and adventurous newcomers carry on the MIT team’s legacy.