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The 6 Most Shocking Casino Crime Stories Ever

In this news article, we will tell you the six most shocking casino robbery, theft and crime stories which ever took place in history.

Real-life Ocean's Eleven

Crime and gambling is a combination which has gone hand-in-hand in the world’s history and which continues to be a popular subject in films. We all know movies such as Ocean’s Eleven, where an all-star gang led by George Clooney and Brad Pitt managed to perform a successful heist of the venerable Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mirage casinos in Las Vegas. If we look back in history, we of course cannot escape the Prohibition era when the mafia controlled underground speakeasies where people could drink and gamble all they wanted. Of course, some of these stories like Ocean’s Eleven are pure fiction. That does however not mean that there aren’t some extraordinary true historic tales about crime and casinos. We have chosen the six most shocking, bad-ass crime stories and will share these with you in our list below.

1. One of the most ingenious bombs ever made was planted in an American casino

Harvey’s Resort Hotel and Casino, which is located on the Nevada-California state border near Lake Tahoe, was the target of an ingenious bob attack in 1980. A criminal managed to plant a bomb in the building and wrote a letter to the casino’s management demanding three million dollar. If he would not receive the money, they would blow up the entire casino.

Disarming the bomb

The FBI was dispatched to the casino and immediately decided to evacuate the entire building. They managed to find the bomb but quickly learned that disarming it would be next to impossible. The anonymous mastermind behind the bomb said himself that it was impossible for any outsider to disarm it. If he would however receive the money, he would be kind enough to give the FBI instructions how to disarm the bomb by turning the right levers, after which the cops could safely move the bomb out of the building to another location for it to be blown up.

Brilliant design

The bomb was so brilliantly made that any attempt to disarm, move or even touch it would automatically trigger an explosion. The bomb even had a few sensors built into it which would again cause an explosion if even the slightest movement in the direct surroundings was detected. Even a change of atmospheric pressure would make the bomb explode.

Triggered explosion

Eventually the Feds decided to try to disarm the bomb by using a targetted explosion. They hoped that this would cause the 400lbs of dynamite used in the bomb to separate from the detonator. The bomb maker however warned the FBI that this attempt would fail. What the FBI did not know was that a circuit around the detonator was also packed with a little bit of dynamite. When they tried to separate the detonator from the rest of the bomb using a small explosion, the bit of dynamite in the detonator circuit exploded as well. It was however powerful enough to detonate the 400lbs of dynamite in the main part of the bomb. The consequences were grave. A huge explosion ripped through the casino, causing immense damage on almost every casino and hotel floor.

Investigation

The FBI did had more success tracking down the culprit. They learned that the bomb maker was a man called John Birges, a former millionaire who claimed he lost 750,000 dollar in the casino. He was so angry about this that he developed an intense hatred towards Harvey’s. Birges, an immigrant from Hungary who flew in World War II as a pilot for the Nazi Luftwaffe, was eventually arrested and sentenced to life in prison. He died in his prison cell in 1996 aged 74. The FBI still uses a replica of his bomb during training sessions as they still consider it the most ingenious bomb ever made by an individual.

casino bomb crime harvey's

The bomb explosion which ripped through all floors of the Harvey’s Hotel Resort and Casino.

2. A man and his cat once managed to evade the cops after the largest casino theft ever

When we think about casinos we often think about the subject of robberies and thefts. This connotation is no surprise as our literature and films are abound of casino crime examples. Who doesn’t know the film Ocean’s Eleven in which an Hollywood all-star cast led by George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon come up with a cunning plan to break into a Las Vegas safe with in it the combined gambling profits of three casinos. Fortunately, these casino heists are next to impossible in real life and did never really happen on a scale similar to Ocean’s Eleven. It does however happen that persons try to rob or steal smaller amounts of money or casino chips from gambling tables or casino cashiers. That said, casinos are often more worried about their own employees stealing money than casino visitors doing this!

Las Vegas casino

There are certain individuals who did manage to pull of cunning casino crimes. The biggest amount of money which an individual managed to steal from a casino is 500,000 dollar. The thief, Bill Brennan, simply managed to take the money and walk out of the Stardust Casino in Las Vegas. At that time, Brennan was employed by the Stardust. On 22nd September 1992 he had enough of it, grabbed a bag, put the money into it, and walked out of the door. After that moment not a single person ever saw or heard anything about him. When the casino bosses noticed the missing money they informed the police. Cops quickly drove to Brennan’s apartment, but could not find a single trace of him. Both Brennan as well as his cat – who according to Brennan’s old colleagues was his only true friend – managed to disappear completely.

Mystery

It is still a mystery what exactly happened to Brennan after the successful theft. Some of his old colleagues at the Stardust Casino think he is no longer alive and might have been killed soon afterwards by the mafia for refusing to share the booty. According to casino gossips, Brennan had increasingly sought the company of mobsters and other shady figures in the months before the theft. Others say that Brennan probably made a successful escape out of the country and is now sipping cocktails somewhere in South America. What really happened is likely to remain a mystery as the FBI has reportedly officially closed the investigation.

3. A criminal once stole 1.5 million dollar worth of Bellagio casino chips

Stealing cash from a casino is hard to pull off and not many criminals manage. Bill Brennan, who featured in our story number two above, is one of the few who ever managed. It is more common for amateur criminals to try their hands at stealing some casino tokens. This actually happens quite a lot among ordinary people who see the opportunity to quickly grab some chips from a casino table while gambling in a casino. Dealers, croupiers and security officers watching over the casino floor with the help of CCTV cameras are trained to keep an eye on this. Sometimes, professional criminals also try this at a much larger scale.

Robbing the Bellagio

One man named Tony Carleo is infamous for robbing the famous Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas. On a December day around 4am, Carleo arrived on his Suzuki motorcycle which he parked in such a way to allow for a speedy escape. Even though he was armed with a gun, he managed to step onto the casino floor, even waving towards the old lady who worked as security guard at the door. Carleo walked towards the only high-limit craps table which was open at this late hour. While showing his gun to the boxman, he grabbed as many purple-and-yellow and red-white-blue coloured chips from the table as he could get, these being the casino tokens which have the highest value. Only after 15 seconds did someone ask for help and pushed in an alarm button. Carleo fled back to his motorbike and managed to escape.

Millionaire, or not..?

When Carleo counted the value of the chips at home he found out that they had a net worth of just under 1.5 million dollar. There was however one big problem. Because he stole Bellagio chips, it meant that he was only a millionaire within the Bellagio Casino as there was obviously not a way how he could redeem the tokens outside of the casino floor. The night after he therefore returned to the Bellagio, where he sat down at a high-limit poker table. At first, Carleo used cash dollars which he stole before in another robbery at the Suncoast Casino. After a while Carleo concluded that nobody had recognised him and that it was safe to put some of his stolen Bellagio chips with the rest of his stack on the table. After a night of gambling, Carleo had no problems at all exchanging all the casino chips back to real money at one of the cashiers.

Money laundering

Of course, Carleo could not simply exchange all of his stolen chips in one go as this would raise suspicion with the cashier. He knew he had to move slowly to successfully launder the money. Carleo made several returns to the Bellagio to gamble. At one point, he even overheard people at a high limit craps table talk about his robbery. To his great hilarity, he heard his fellow gamblers talk about the “Bellagio Bandit”, which seemingly became his nickname in the Las Vegas media. They were however completely unaware that they were actually sitting at the table with the Bellagio Bandit himself!

High roller benefits

The Bellagio management however started to recognise Carleo. Not as a criminal, but as a high roller! They were so happy with all the time he spent in the casino that the casino even gave him free meal coupons and a suite in the hotel worth 600 dollar per night. In the weeks which followed, Carleo spent a small fortune on gambling, drugs and prostitutes while staying in the hotel room paid for by the Bellagio management.

Joe Pesci

Even though all seemed to go well for Carleo, he gave himself away in the end. Detectives managed to track Carleo thanks to a tip from a poker dealer. The dealer said that shortly before the Bellagio heist, a gambler was complaining at his table that he was nearly bankrupt. The man told the poker dealer that he planned to rob some casinos to get some more money to gamble. At first, the police officers did not take the witness very serious as he reminded them of Joe Pesci (from the Lethal Weapon and Home Alone films). When they heard from others that the same poor gambler returned to casinos and was able to wage big amounts at high limit tables, they started to investigate.

Arrest and imprisonment

The man turned out to be Carleo, who was arrested after an undercover operation in which an officer impersonated a criminal willing to buy part of his stolen stack of Bellagio chips. Carleo was later found guilty for the robbery and sentenced to nine years in prison.

bellagio casino crime

The famous fountains in front of the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas.

4. A gambler once managed to 'win' 32 million dollar from a casino after hacking the CCTV system

This fact almost sounds like it came straight out of Ocean’s Eleven! In that famous movie classic, an all-star cast led by Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and of course George Clooney managed to rob a casino safe in which the gambling profits of the Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mirage were stored. Their plan basically evolved around hacking into CCTV system and broadcasting images of a mock-up safe to the security room, while our heroes robbed the safe in real-time.

Hacking the CCTV cameras

Of course, the story of Ocean’s Eleven is pure fantasy, but the Australian robbery did really take place. It happened in 2013 at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Victoria, which is Australia’s second biggest city. The top men behind the sting were a high-stakes gambler from abroad and a VIP casino manager, who was later fired for the role he played in the plot. The plot evolved around CCTV images of the casino being secretly broadcast to someone outside of the casino. This person used the footage to look into the hands of opponents and dealers alike, and called in the information to the high-stakes gamblers on the casino floor. The gambler could then use all this information for his own benefit, managing to craft a perfect strategy to win nearly every hand in his power by betting big and to fold or check hands in which he did not have any chance.

32 million dollar

According to Australian media, the gambler managed to win a whopping 32 million dollar from the casino this way, although the casino in question never wanted to confirm or deny this particular amount. The casino did however announce that it had full confidence that a significant chunk of the money could be recovered, although it is unclear whether this has indeed occurred in the end. It was not reported whether the gambler and the casino manager were arrested and convicted for their stunning casino sting.

5. A casino has been using microwaves to keep guns away from the casino floor

For our fact number five we will not focus on criminals but instead look at the other side of the spectrum. How do casinos manage to keep gangsters out of their casino and how do they prevent robberies? One casino has come up with an ingenious solution to improve safety – and they got the idea by looking at a microwave!

A great challenge

It is a great challenge for casinos to keep their premises as safe as possible, whether it is about the personal safety of visitors and personnel or about making sure that nobody steals anything and that all cash and casino tokens are kept safe. This might be relatively simple for a small casino to achieve but can be a major headache for the mega casinos which can be found in the US or Macau. It involves a lot more than the placement of a few CCTV cameras and some doormen to watch over the entrance.

Westgate Las Vegas

The Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino came up with an unique solution to make the casino even safer than it already was. The casino and hotel has been built in the shape of the letter Y – just like many other Vegas casinos. The Y is a popular shape because in this way they can concentrate all casino games, shops and restaurants in the middle while putting the hotel rooms in the legs (called ‘wings’ in hotel and resort terms) of the Y. This way, all guests staying at the resort have to pass through the central part where the three wings meet. Needless to say, this greatly improves spontaneous sales. It however also brings in extra security risks as lots of people gather at the same place, which can become very crowded.

New security measure

A new weapon which the Westgate has been using to secure the casino and hotel is the so-called Patscan Cognitive Microwave Radar. This special radar has been developed by Canadian company PatriotOne and is better known under the name of Patscan CMR. The radar can discover weapons which people try to smuggle into the casino by hiding them in their jackets, clothes or bags. The Patscan CMR uses a radar combined with a computer algorithm which can scan all guests and detect whether or not they might carry a firearm, knife or perhaps even a bomb.

Big advantage

The big advantage of the radar is that the casino can use it without guests even realising it exists. This way, visitors do not have to walk through metal detector gates like you see at airport terminals – they are instead automatically scanned when they walk into the casino. The radar devices are so small that they can be hidden inside walls or even escalators. As a visitor, you simply do not notice that you are being scanned – and this exactly what the casino and the makers of the Patscan CMR intended.

Microwave

The Patscan CMR is nicknamed the “microwave radar” because it uses frequencies between 500 megahertz and 5 gigahertz – exactly the same frequencies as a microwave. PatriotOne decided for these frequencies because they do not disrupt other connections such as GPS and mobile phones. Every radar device has two antennas, with the first antenna beaming 1000 pulses of electromagnetic radiation per second. The radar devices however do not have a big reach and can on average only detect weapons in a 7 foot (2 meter) diameter, which is why the devices are often placed at choke points such as doors or escalators.

Recognising shapes and objects

The second antenna searches for electromagnetic patterns within the same 7 foot diameter. As the beams reflect differently on each material which is scanned, the operators can see shapes of objects which people might carry. This way, firearms, grenades, machetes, machine guns and bombs can all be recognised as the material used resonates back. Sure, clothes, laptops, visitors’ luggage and even prostheses resonate as well, but as the frequency is slightly different, a trained operator can easily distinguish on the radar signatures between something innocent and something which might be potentially harmful.

Algorithm

The operators are being helped here by an algorithm. PatriotOne has an increasingly growing database with known radar signatures which the computers automatically use to separate innocent objects from harmful ones. Especially after the Las Vegas shooting in which 58 people were killed at a music festival by Stephen Paddock, who opened fire from his Mandalay Bay hotel room, the demand for the “microwave scanner” has increased dramatically. Even if you do not see any security measures in a Vegas casino, do not think that you can outsmart security – as they have many invisible high-tech tools at their disposal to catch criminals.

6. An infamous mobster who earned 250 million dollar with kidnappings lost all his money in a casino

For our last story we take a look at something rather unusual. Normally, it is the casino which loses its money to a cunning criminal or trickster. In this story, we take a look at a criminal who lost all his money (and quite a fortune that is!) to a casino.

China

Cheung Tze-keung was one of China’s best known mobsters. Cheung managed to gather a fortune of around 2 billion Hong Kong dollar (around 250 million US dollar) by kidnapping wealthy people in Hong Kong and demanding huge sums of ransom. Cheung, who was born on 7th April 1955 in the Chinese province of Guangdong, was however also known for his love of gambling. He even got the nickname ‘Big Spender’ because he had a lavish lifestyle and loved to showcase his wealth, often spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single day by giving grand gifts to friends and even complete strangers who he met in casinos or on the city streets. One time he even gave several tens of thousands of dollars to a street artist in Bangkok, Thailand, because he simply loved his paintings a lot.

Hong Kong

When Cheung was only four years old, he and his family moved from mainland China to Hong Kong. When he grew up, Cheung realised that the only thing he wanted was to become rich – the sooner the better. He was not in the mood to try to get rich working hard and honestly like the majority of people in Hong Kong. Cheung once said: “I do not have the patient to work for a living. In this world, the most important thing is money.”

Airport robbery

Cheung teamed up with a guy named Yip Kai-foon and together they committed a few robberies. On 22nd February 1990 they robbed Kai Tak International Airport in Hong Kong, returning home with a booty of 30 million HKD (almost 4 million USD) worth of Rolex watches. Cheung returned to the same airport on 12th July 1991 to rob an armoured van. This time he managed to steal some 167 million Hong Kong dollar (21.4 million UD). However, the police managed to track him and Cheung was sentenced to 18 years in prison in September 1991. Cheung decided to appeal the verdict and was released again in 1995 when the judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence linking him to the crime. The court ruled that there were significant gaps in the evidence, with the prosecutors not being helped by a security officer who initially said he recognised Cheung withdrawing his witness statement. Cheung’s partner Yip was however found guilty and got a jail sentence of 41 years.

Ransom

Upon this Cheung decided to change tactics as he moved to other crimes. He started to get active in the world of kidnappings. On 23rd May he kidnapped Victor Li Taz-kuoi, the son of a wealthy businessman named Li Ka-shing (that name is real and not a joke!). On 29th September 1997 he kidnapped Walter Kwok, a businessman who headed a vast real estate empire. Cheung allegedly received 1.38 billion HKD (177 million USD) in ransom for the release of Victor Li Taz-kuoi and another 600 million HKD (77 million USD) ransom for Kwok.

Failed kidnapping

When Cheung however failed to kidnap Anson Chan, an important government figure, he fled to China because he feared retribution. He managed to cross the border between Hong Kong and mainland China by bribing some border guards. The same year, the Hong Kong police prevented a large explosion in a government building after being tipped that Cheung had placed explosives inside the building. He reportedly acquired those explosives from a criminal in the Chinese gambling city of Macau, which is just a short boat ride away from Hong Kong. In August 1998 Cheung was arrested together with 35 other criminals said to belong to his gang.

Lost money

After he was arrested it turned out that Cheung had lost almost all the money which he earned through the kidnappings in casinos. As revenge – and to make sure he would have some cash flow again – he had already drawn up plans to kidnap Stanley Ho, a big casino chief from Macau. It was in one of Ho’s casinos where Cheung lost about 200 million US dollar. Luckily, the police was just in time to prevent Ho’s kidnapping. Cheung and his gang were put on trial in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, being charged among others for the many kidnappings. Cheung’s lawyer tried to fight the court case by demanding his client to be extradited to Hong Kong. For years, Hong Kong has been a British colony until it was handed over to China in 1997. Hong Kong did however retain some sort of autonomy and self-government. Cheung’s lawyer argued that mainland China had no jurisdiction over Cheung’s crimes and that he could only be put on trial in Hong Kong under Hong Kong laws. This plea was however ignored by the Chinese court which dismissed the extradition request.

Death penalty

On the first day of the trial Cheung confessed all crimes according to the indictment. He was found guilty on 12th November 1998 and sentenced to death. On 5th December he was executed in Guangzhou. Even shortly before his death Cheung refused to give up his luxury lifestyle. Even though he occupied a normal prison cell and did not receive any preferential treatment, Cheung did ask some bizarre luxurious favours from the guards such as demanding bird’s nest soup for dinner – a prized delicacy in China. Needless to say, such requests were all denied by the Chinese.

Earn money the honest way!

Don’t ever think about robbing or conning a casino if you want to get rich. Needless to say, this is against the law and could see you being locked up in prison for a long, long time. You are much better off trying to win money in a honest way. Why not take a look at our list of recommended online casinos? Some of these casinos have great bonus offers for new members to give you a nice little bankroll to start playing with. Check out our independent reviews in which we have listed the pros and cons of every casino so that you can make up your own mind which online casino is the best fit for you!