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Casinos: not the fortresses they pretend to be
December 15, 2010 6:53 AM   Subscribe

After hearing of a recent heist in which a bandit wearing a motorcycle helmet robbed the Bellagio of $1.5 million in chips (the 10th Vegas casino robbery this year), I remembered the scene from Ocean's 11 where Reuben expounds upon why it is nigh impossible to steal from a Las Vegas casino. But that simply isn't true. Granted, no one has infiltrated a casino for a massive $160 million haul, but sizable losses have occurred over the years: 18 Casino Heists: The Strange, The Surgical, and The Stupid; 5 Most Famous Casino Heists in History, Top 10: Epic Las Vegas Heists; 13 Real Heists from Around the World (there is duplication of mentioned events on these sites, as well as non-casino-related crimes). Casino Security (Wiki) may be high tech (Google .pdf quickview), but it's not unbeatable (Casino insider tells (almost) all about security). Of course, there are other ways to steal from a casino, but you might still get caught. And it's hard to find much lore about successful robberies, mostly because casinos don't want that kind of publicity.

Some robberies over the years:

A string of robberies from September 1998

Off-Strip Robberies: 2005

Gold Coast Casino: 2006

Hilton Sports Book: 2008

Casino Robbery on Video

Goldie's Casino Robbery: 2009

Palace Station Casino: 2009
posted by bwg (37 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not to derail this excellent post right out of the gate, but I have been obsessing all morning about what (HYPOTHETICALLY) I would do with 1.5 million in casino chips, when I couldn't just cash in most of the big ones (say 10k+) because they'd quickly catch on that I'm not a high roller. What strategies could I use...contacting a high roller and discreetly selling him big chips at a discount?

Hypothetically obviously, i am nowhere near vegas plz do not arrest.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:58 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


a bandit wearing a motorcycle helmet

I can't picture anything other than The Stig calmly walking in, taking the chips, and calmly walking out.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:00 AM on December 15, 2010 [9 favorites]


Yeah, i was wondering the same thing.

Also, i mean, why wouldn't the casino put individual serial numbers or rfid on the chips? Maybe not for the $1 chips, but at least for anything over $100
posted by empath at 7:05 AM on December 15, 2010


Well, (Soderberg's) Oceans 11 was substantially just one big commercial for Las Vegas. At no point is this more clear than when our wizened ragtag team of heistsers marvel at that godawful water display at the end of the movie. Ultimately, casinos probably know that you're more willing to gamble there if you think they are vulnerable. So they make it seem like they can get taken, but you have to be a lovable yet diabolical genius willing to go to jail in order to do it. The fictionalized montage of failed robbery attempts fits this premise.
posted by jabberjaw at 7:06 AM on December 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Either these chips were stolen with a buyer already in mind (one of those big rollers) or they'll end up stuck under someone's bed as a private brag of how cool they were when they were younger.

I can't believe you'd steal these and then look for a buyer, because I'd assume the casino would react by changing the chips they use.

I'm assuming that casinos use unique chip designs and probably have a backup replacement design, but I've never so much as played a fruit machine, let alone visited a casino...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 7:09 AM on December 15, 2010


Even if they do mark all the big ones, there may be a way to profit off of it. High stakes poker players trade chips for, say, online credit. Step 1 to any plan would be: build a reputation as a high stakes player yourself--which may not be easy if you only have a few hundred K in unmarked lower denomination chips.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:09 AM on December 15, 2010


@empath: Most high-end casinos do use RFID in chips that are worth more than pocket change (>$20 or so.) The Bellagio is keeping hush-hush about whether or not their chips have RFID tags (as they probably should), but I suspect that as soon as more than one or two of these things makes its way into the casino, it's going to set off some flags with The Bellagio's security.
posted by BrandonW at 7:13 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obviously the bandit is planning to peel off the foil and melt the chocolate into ingots.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:15 AM on December 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


I can't picture anything other than The Stig calmly walking in, taking the chips, and calmly walking out.

With Powerhouse as his personal soundtrack.
posted by notyou at 7:16 AM on December 15, 2010


I'd assume the casino would react by changing the chips they use.

1.5 million is a tiny drop in the bucket to what the casinos use every day. They would never bother to change the whole design of the chips just for a measly 1.5 mil.

I'm assuming the easiest way they catch people is--if you try to cash in a large denomination chip without a record of having won it or a reputation for having a large stockpile of big denom chips--they refuse and call the cops while you're in a back room.

If I were the thief I would assume the big chips were marked and use the smaller chips to establish myself as a Bellagio regular over the course of a few years. Once I moved up to the big game I could start adding on the big chips in bigger poker games and breaking them that way, or getting change from other players. Though actually now that I think about it if they were marked they could trace that easily back to me.

Tough one.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:17 AM on December 15, 2010


I can't picture anything other than The Stig calmly walking in, taking the chips, and calmly walking out.

Or possibly half of Daft Punk.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 7:19 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Not a gambler, but as I understand it, most vegas casinos honor chips from neighboring casinos.

Not sure if that would make laundering stolen chips any easier.
posted by notyou at 7:19 AM on December 15, 2010


Other casinos don't honor big 10-25k chips without checking with the casino of origin to make sure you're not a thief.

The more I think about it the more I think this thief was probably a total moron and the casino is going to catch him within a week.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:22 AM on December 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm never going to win that awesome post contest.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:26 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this guy's toast. You have to fill out a declaration form and show ID for anything over $11,000 USD, and every casino in the state will be on the lookout for high-denomination Bellagio chips, as will any high-roller with enough sense to have become a high-roller in the first place.
posted by Optamystic at 7:32 AM on December 15, 2010


The more I think about it the more I think this thief was probably a total moron and the casino is going to catch him within a week.

Naw, it's a crime-to-order and the buyer already has the chips in his collection in the Swiss Alps, where he uses them as drink coasters for the beer bottles he stores in street fridges from New York.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:36 AM on December 15, 2010 [9 favorites]


...and I owe you guys from the thing with the guy in the place, and I'll never forget it.

The glee with which Elliot Gould spits out all those great lines is one of the reasons I can watch this "one big commercial for Las Vegas" over and over again.
posted by Ber at 7:42 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I worked for a company that made RFID chips and table readers (mostly for sale in Europe and Macau) and the state of the art is interesting. I mean, yes, the point is eventually to be able to track the stolen chips, but right now the goal is to very efficiently count bets, count chips being cashed in, and prevent collusion between dealer and player, in particular where the dealer claims that their pal bet much more money than they did. The chips are used to broadcast the amount that they are for, not which individual chip it is. Loss prevention from this kind of theft was a far secondary concern. (Note: this is 2 year old information, I am not sure what has changed since.)
posted by jeather at 8:27 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


So I take it that their vaults don't have visible laser protection either, lasers that you can jump over or whatever if you're tiny and/or sufficiently lithe and acrobatic?
posted by raysmj at 8:35 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd bet the RIFD chips have specific I'd numbers, no? They could use any number of ways to get a good guess as to the number of chips.

But didn't he take them from patrons? Do those patrons get refunded? Could the patron claim a bigger loss than actually occured? Here's where the money is made.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:45 AM on December 15, 2010


My suspicion is any chips larger than $500 will end up in the landfill, and the rest will be slowly cashed in at the Bellagio. Yes, other MGM-owned casinos will honor them, but they are going to be subject to more scrutiny for a little while. Meanwhile the Bellagio deals almost exclusively in Bellagio chips and can't scrutinize every stack of quarters that comes into the cage.
posted by bgrebs at 8:47 AM on December 15, 2010


best post this week.
posted by krautland at 8:59 AM on December 15, 2010


Diamonds are a girls best friend.

(this is my vote, great post, a jewel.)
posted by clavdivs at 9:04 AM on December 15, 2010


Footage of the European Poker Tour in Berlin where a gang of thieves stole several hundred thousand Euros:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1ua98CLtTQ
posted by Kevmath at 9:16 AM on December 15, 2010


Kevmath Those EPT guys were caught, yeah? But not thru rfid means if they took cash?
I'm with Potomic Avenue, I think this guy will be caught soon.
posted by pointystick at 9:19 AM on December 15, 2010


All four were arrested, although most of the money was not recovered:

http://www.pokernewsdaily.com/all-ept-berlin-poker-robbery-suspects-arrested-9222/
posted by Kevmath at 9:22 AM on December 15, 2010


Don't forget the amazing attempted heist of Harvey's which ended up in the detonation of an elaborate bomb - previously.
posted by exogenous at 9:30 AM on December 15, 2010


...and I owe you guys from the thing with the guy in the place, and I'll never forget it.

This is such a good line that "the thing with the guy in the place" has become a tag line in my family for any event you can't quite remember or be bothered to describe. The following lines are amazing as well:

Danny: That was our pleasure.
Rusty: I'd never been to Belize.


There is an enormous amount of back-story packed into that tight little throw-away exchange and that's what makes Ocean's 11 (as opposed to the sequels) such a great movie. There is so much in (for example) Danny and Rusty's relationship that we can see and feel without having it fleshed out in detail, and a lot of it is because of these kinds of references. It's a pitch-perfect screenplay and that (more even that the great performances and flawless direction) is what makes it so re-watchable. Yeah. I kinda dig that movie.
posted by The Bellman at 9:37 AM on December 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


Well, (Soderberg's) Oceans 11 was substantially just one big commercial for Las Vegas. At no point is this more clear than when our wizened ragtag team of heistsers marvel at that godawful water display at the end of the movie.

That closing scene is an homage to The Right Stuff. Philip Kaufman is thanked in the end credits.
posted by Skot at 10:15 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Won't anyone think of the poor casinos? Just trying to make a buck (or millions) in the middle of a sparkly desert paradise of conspicuous consumption?
posted by sarahnade at 10:20 AM on December 15, 2010


Most high-end casinos do use RFID in chips that are worth more than pocket change (>$20 or so.) The Bellagio is keeping hush-hush about whether or not their chips have RFID tags

RFID in chips became priority one after the Tyson fight fiasco awhile back. I have no doubt that the Bellagio is keeping quiet in order to catch the guy trying to cash them in.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:34 AM on December 15, 2010


There is an enormous amount of back-story packed into that tight little throw-away exchange

And the rest of the scene is all one take! No cuts from "I'd never been to Belize" to "Who you got in mind?"

Something weird about that movie: it's the only one I can watch over and over and never get sick of.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:17 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Something from a guy who's been around:

Its not out of the realm of possibility that hes helping cover something up but the reason why I think hes not is they did the Suncoast the week before. Now the article says he hit the poker room there and if you know the place, its right on top of an exit, so that was easy pickings except cashing in those chips will be as tough as Bellagio as this place watches $100 chips like a hawk, real sweat house.
Also, this guy took the chips off a crap table and not the cage so I cant see it as being a cover up.
I got to say though, the guys got steel stones. One man and didn't hurt anyone, good for him, he got his own version of the "bailout", lol.

posted by splice at 11:51 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I'd never been to Belize"

Belize has new Extradition laws.
posted by clavdivs at 12:56 PM on December 15, 2010


When I first moved to Vegas ('05), I would occasionally see, in the newspaper, legal notices from casinos about which chips were going to be "retired".

No idea if that's still true, haven't looked through the legal section of a local paper in a while.
posted by mmrtnt at 4:50 PM on December 15, 2010


I would occasionally see, in the newspaper, legal notices from casinos about which chips were going to be "retired".

They only do that because they let the chips leave the floor. And that's the problem right there: only the casino should have the chips. As soon as you let a person physically remove the chips from the casino, you get these sorts of problems.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:12 AM on December 16, 2010


naw, all wrong, it is retired meaning the chip is no longer in play and is protected by law for commerce, like cards are misshaped coins. It can make its way into the papers, into the papers, to collectors who seek these collectables, they get sold, encased in Lucite, whatever. The guy who owns the casino knows this. In the trade this is known as the H.H. tells Frank: pound sand
posted by clavdivs at 1:38 PM on December 22, 2010


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