The Biggest Casino Heists of all Time

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It’s no surprise that casinos get robbed from time to time. After all, there is more than one way of cashing out winnings. However, it takes great effort and a mastermind to plan a successful casino heist. And if you know how to do it right, you may even get away with it! 

Over the decades, many robberies were attempted, but few succeeded. In this article, we are going to talk about those that hit the jackpot of robberies. When creating our top, we mainly took into consideration the amount that was stolen, but also the complexity of the plot. Follow us along to discover the 9 greatest casino heists of all time!

9. Operation Cuban commando

Operation Cuban commando

Casino: The Bellagio (Las Vegas)

Thief: Jose Vigoa  

Year: 2000

Amount stolen: $160,000 in chips

How: bullet-proof attire

To start on a lighter note, let’s discuss the first Bellagio robbery, plotted by Jose Vigoa. Yes, you’ve heard it right! The famous Las Vegas casino has been the target of multiple heists over the years.

The first one happened in 2000 when a former Cuban commando named Jose Vigoa, laid eyes on the Bellagio casino.

He was already an experienced bank and casino robber with a vast criminal record when he managed to steal over $160,000 worth of chips and make his way out of the building. This may seem a lot but the top has just begun. Wait until you hear about the rest of the heists on our list!

How did he do it? Helped by two other armed accomplices, Vigoa jumped over the cashier cage counter, packed a bag with chips then quickly ran towards the exit. As he was also wearing bullet-proof equipment, he easily dodged the security guards’ shots.

Oh, and we forgot to mention that Jose was finally caught when he murdered two truck drivers on his escape route. He received an astonishing 500-year sentence for his crimes. This amazing heist was the main inspiration behind the movies Storming Las Vegas and Ocean’s 13.

8. The one that got away with $500,000

Casino: Stardust Casino (Las Vegas)

Thief: Bill Brennan  

Year: 1992

Amount stolen: $500,000

How: tricked the security system

Stardust was subject to one of the most popular and controversial casino robberies, back in 1992, when Bill Brennan stole a total of $500,000 in cash and chips. Unlike Jose, Brennan had no criminal records prior to the big event. He was just a regular casino employee who, one day, decided to take matters into his own hands and change his life forever.

As Bill was a devoted employee, he had extensive knowledge of how the casino’s security system works and managed to trick it. What’s more intriguing about this heist is that Brennan got away with it and hasn’t been spotted since then. Rumours have it that he fled to Mexico or Colombia, undertook a new identity and joined hands with drug cartels. We’ll probably never find out.

7. Family business goes wrong (at least for the dad)

Casino: Stardust Casino (Las Vegas)

Thief: Royal, Jake and Bobby Hopper    

Year: 1991

Amount stolen: $1.1 million

How: ‘fake robbery’ decoy

Here comes another Stardust heist! One year before the Brennan occurrence, the casino faced a ‘family business’ type of robbery. Royal Hopper, one of the casino’s security guards, used his sons, Jake and Bobby, as decoys for not one but two thefts.

The first time, the sons acted as ‘fake’ robbers, and while everyone was distracted, their father performed an inside job and sneaked out $150,000. However, that did not satisfy him, and the three men managed to arrange another heist worth $1 million. Their joy was short-lived as they were caught soon after the second robbery. What’s quite surprising is that only Royal was sentenced to prison while his sons escaped the law. Good lawyers pay off, right?

6. Hacking the Ritz with a mobile phone

Hacking The Ritz with mobile phone

Casino: The Ritz (London)

Thief: Royal, Jake and Bobby Hopper   

Year: 2004

Amount stolen: $1.3 million

How: high-tech equipment

Yet another trio who robbed a casino of £1.3 million is comprised of two Serbian men and a Hungarian woman. This time, the occurrence took place at the famous Ritz casino in London.

The three Eastern Europeans performed one of the most high-profile technological crimes of all time when they used a laser scanning system embedded in their mobile phones to hack a Roulette game. The technology was so advanced that it was able to determine the exact spot where the ball will land. After being caught, the trio got away easily with only a lifetime ban from all London casinos, as there were no clear laws against gambling cheating at that time.

5. Unconscious robbery of Soboba Casino

Casino: Soboba Casino (Las Vegas)

Thief: Rolando Ramos

Year: 2007

Amount stolen: $1.5 million

How: gunpoint robbery

Not much of a mastermind, Rolando Ramos robbed Soboba Casino of $1.5 million by using a pretty classic and straightforward strategy: gunpoint robbery. Quite an amateur if you ask us.

Rolando was part of the casino’s low-level security personnel and was helped by Eric Aguilera, one of his colleagues. Together, they held ten hostage employees by threatening them with a gun, which was later proved to be fake. Ramos loaded the cash while Aguilera drove the getaway car. What’s funny about this story is that Rolando claimed he had no memory of his actions after being caught and blamed the excessive drug consumption. Good luck using that as an alibi!

4. The birth of the Biker Bandit

Casino: The Bellagio (Las Vegas)

Thief: Anthony Carleo

Year: 2010

Amount stolen: $1.5 million in chips

How: gunpoint robbery but better (on a motorbike)

The second high-profile case on our list, involving Bellagio, has Anthony Carleo as its protagonist. He already committed a successful robbery before, at the Suncoast Casino, and almost managed to get away with this one.

In December 2010, Carleo arrived at the Bellagio on a motorbike. While still wearing his protection helmet, he ran inside the casino, pulled out a gun and grabbed over $1.5 million worth of chips. Because of this, he was referred to as the Biker Bandit. At first, he could not be identified but was eventually caught when he tried to sell the chips online on a poker forum. An undercover cop disguised as a potential buyer was the one who arrested Carleo. After all, truth is stranger than fiction indeed!

3. Truck driver turned casino thief

Truck driver turned casino thief

Casino: Circus Circus (Las Vegas)

Thief: Heather Tallchief

Year: 1993

Amount stolen: $2.5 million

How: armoured truck getaway

The Circus Circus heist is the only one on our list involving a woman, which makes it even more intriguing. Twenty-one-year-old Heather Tallchief worked as an armoured truck driver at the casino. Her job was to load ATM machines around the building with cash.

She was a trusted employee until one day when she drove away the truck packed with $2.5 million in cash. After almost 12 years with no trace of Tallchief, she surrendered to the police claiming that her husband, who was rumoured to have plotted the heist with her, ran away with the money. Heather ended up serving only five years in prison. Yet, some believe that she pulled off the perfect robbery and the couple still secretly has the money.

2. The MIT Blackjack masterminds

The MIT Blackjack masterminds

Casino: multiple casinos (around the world)

Thief: Bill Kaplan and his MIT team

Year: 1979-2000

Amount stolen: $22 million (estimated)

How: card counting strategy

Although we are not talking about a specific casino heist here, the infamous MIT Blackjack team could not go unmentioned. This case takes the second spot on our list because it is one of the most popular and elaborated series of organized crimes in history. It even inspired the successful ’21’ movie, which was based upon real events.

So, what happened exactly?

A Harvard graduate called Bill Kaplan, who became an expert in card counting while playing Blackjack, saw a huge opportunity of building a fortune around the game. He later recruited a group of MIT students and started training them in the ‘art’ of card counting. And that’s how it all begun! From 1979 to 2000, the team was believed to have ‘stolen’ over $22 million by using this strategy to trick several casinos around the world. Technically, this is not considered a heist but rather a not-so-legal way of obtaining money from gambling. Yet, their strategy was so ingenious that the story made headlines across the globe and became renowned as one of the greatest undercover casino heists in history.

1. The jackpot of casino heists 

Casino: Crown Casino (Australia)

Thief: James Manning

Year: 2013

Amount stolen: $32 million

How: surveillance camera hack

Now that we reached the first place on our list, it’s time to talk about the most ‘valuable’ heist of all time, accounting for not less than $32 million. What makes it even more special is that it is the most recent one, chronologically speaking, and it didn’t happen in a Las Vegas casino.  

This is how it goes:

New Zealand millionaire James Manning plotted the perfect decoy by becoming a Crown Casino VIP member. In this way, he also gained access to exclusive card tables packed with highrollers. He bet against the odds on all eight hands of a Poker game, winning a staggering $32 million. However, this was anything but a simple coincidence. After further investigation, officials concluded that Manning plotted with a casino employee to hack the surveillance cameras and enable him to win by giving away valuable signals during the game. Because, technically, Manning didn’t steal the casino’s money, he got away only with a life-ban from Crown Casino. 

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