8 Casino Scams That Actually Worked

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The average person you'll find in a casino is playing honestly. But some ambitious gamblers come up with schemes to beat the house for millions. Although most cheaters get caught, there are others who manage to hustle casinos successfully ... until they eventually get caught too. Here are eight casino scams that actually worked.   

1. Special Contact Lenses

Four con artists ripped off 64,000 euros (about $88,000) from poker tables at Les Princes Casino in Cannes, France in 2011. One of the cheaters (an employee of the casino) used invisible ink to mark the backs of playing cards—drawing a line for an ace and a cross for a king, for example—while the others used special contact lenses to spot the cards that would give them winning hands. Les Princes Casino grew suspicious of the players when they returned later in the week for a second round of high stakes poker. French authorities found the marked cards and noticed the cheaters' contact lenses after they ruled out cameras and infrared glasses.     

2. Cigarette Pack Radio Transmitters

In 1973, a French roulette dealer at the Casino Deauville, along with his sister and brother-in-law, took the casino for 5 million francs (about $1 million). The dealer built a radio transmitter inside of a pack of cigarettes and a roulette ball with a small receiver inside. When a button was pushed on the pack of cigarettes, the ball could be controlled to land on a specific part of the roulette wheel. The cheating trio had a 90 percent accuracy rate with the scam.

The only reason why they were eventually caught was the casino owner was infatuated with the roulette dealer's sister, who was in charge of pushing the button on the pack of cigarettes. The owner wondered why she always sat at the same roulette table and made very low bets without winning. Along with his growing suspicion and heavy losses at the roulette table, he called in a debugging crew to sweep the casino. The authorities found the radio transmitter and tiny receiver, as they also caught the trio in the act of cheating.

A French film titled Tricheurs (The Cheaters) was made about the trio and its clever scheme in 1984.

3. Edge Sorting

Professional poker player Phil Ivey, Jr. was accused of cheating the Crockfords Casino in London out of £7.3 million (about $11 million) during a high stakes game of Punto Banco in 2012. The casino believed that Ivey used a method of cheating called "edge sorting," which is the practice of keeping track of the tiny and minor imperfections on the back of face-down playing cards.

Edge sorting works because some cards aren’t cut symmetrically. For example, a card with a diamond pattern on the back might have a half diamond on the top right and a quarter diamond on the bottom left. Ivey and his associate had the dealer go through multiple decks until they found one that was asymmetric. Then Ivey had the dealer rotate some of the “lucky” cards to make the sevens, eights, and nines more noticeable (going back to the earlier example, those cards might now have the quarter diamond on the top right). Once they found their lucky deck, Ivey had the table increased from a $50,000 to a $150,000 maximum. While Ivey claims that "there's a difference between increasing one's odds and cheating," British courts ruled that edge sorting constitutes cheating and sided with Crockfords.

In 2014, Ivey won $9.6 million at a baccarat table at Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, but the casino refused to pay him; the house believed that he used edge sorting to win.

4. Sector Targeting with Lasers

In 2004, three gamblers used a unique system of lasers and computers called "sector targeting," which calculates the falling descent of an object in motion, to correctly predict the part of the roulette wheel where a ball might land, hustling £1.3 million (about $2.1 million) at London's Ritz Casino. Based on the speed of the roulette ball, it's believed the players would secretly scan the wheel with lasers in their cell phones, which were connected to small computers, to determine where the ball might land. Although the system predicted the area it might land on, it doesn't predict the number or color the ball might fall on. The players would then make bets accordingly.

While the trio managed to take millions from the casino, they were arrested but ultimately not charged with any wrongdoing because there were no laws prohibiting the use of sector targeting at the time. Of course, it is possible that they were just using their phones as stopwatches.

5. Counting Cards

In 2011, Phuong Quoc Truong assembled a team of 30 card counters and blackjack dealers to rip off various casinos in Southern California. Dealers would pretend to shuffle a deck of cards, but they'd just put the corners together to make the sound and appearance of shuffling while actually keeping the cards in the right order for dealing winning hands. A signaler pretended to smoke a cigarette, but was really using a small microphone on the inside of his sleeve to tell an outside person what was on the table. Once the right cards were in place, the outside person would tell the smoker how to place bets, while the smoker signaled the players with his cigarette.

Sickwan Gaming Commission finally caught the gang, but not until after they took nearly $7 million from 25 different casinos. Truong and most of his accomplices pled guilty and are serving sentences that range from probation to six years in prison. Truong also forfeited his two luxury homes in San Diego, a Porsche, a diamond-encrusted pendant, and a Rolex watch for his part in the crimes.

6. The ATM Job

In 2012, ringleader Ara Keshishyan recruited 13 people to pull an Ocean's 11-esque bank heist on Citibank ATMs throughout casinos in Southern California and Nevada. The scam involved exploiting the security protocol on Citibank’s cash advance kiosks, which allowed multiple withdrawals at 10 times the amount deposited—if the transaction was made within 60 seconds. The scam would then result in hefty cash payouts from casinos. Keshishyan also instructed his gang to keep withdrawals under $10,000, so their illegal activities would not be reported to the government. The team would use the stolen money to gamble and thus have casinos give them complimentary rooms, food, drink, and entertainment based on their "high roller" gambling level.

Ultimately, Citibank noticed the discrepancies and alerted the FBI. The scammers were caught and faced up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Keshishyan was ultimately sentenced to 57 months in prison and ordered to repay Citi the $1,045,585 he stole from them.

7. Counterfeit Coins

Louis "The Coin" Colavecchio successfully made counterfeit coins and tokens to use at slot machines at various casinos across the country. He used his ties with organized crime as well as his day job as a jeweler to make perfect dies. Casinos figured out they were being scammed when they discovered a surplus of tokens and slot machine coins in their vaults.

Colavecchio was arrested in 1998 and sentenced to six years in prison. In 2006, he was arrested when he started to reproduce fake casino tokens again. The History Channel made a documentary about Colavecchio called Breaking Vegas; many casinos now use special paper vouchers instead of tokens when players want to cash out of slot machines.

8. Roulette Scam

Ohio Casino Control Commission believed that 50 to 70 people were involved in an elaborate casino scam at roulette tables throughout the Buckeye State in 2012. The hustle involved players entering busy roulette games with bets as low as $1 and swiping casino chips while their accomplices distracted roulette dealers. The players would then go to areas in the casino that were not under surveillance like public restrooms to pass along stolen chips to other players, who would return to use them to buy more chips at a higher rate and cash out.

Scammers were caught in casinos throughout Ohio pulling the same gambit, with groups taking as much as $1000 to $2000 per job. Authorities believed that the group was based in New York City and hit multiple casinos in 18 different states. Many of the roulette scammers are still at large, while a small handful were caught and face strict penalties in Ohio, such as a $2500 fine and one year in prison.

The History Behind 10 Thanksgiving Dishes

VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images
VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images

Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. Turkey

A roasted turkey on a platter.
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Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as … served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. Stuffing

Pan of breaded stuffing.
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Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. Cranberries

Dish of cranberry sauce.
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Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. Mashed Potatoes

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
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Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting president to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. Gravy

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
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Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to create a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. Corn

Plate of corn.
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Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. Sweet Potatoes

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
bhofack2/iStock

In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. Green Bean Casserole

Plate of green bean casserole.
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Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you probably know was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. Pumpkin Pie

Slice of pumpkin pie.
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Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. Wine

Two glasses of wine.
Moncherie/iStock.com

Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

8 Festive Facts About Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies

The holiday season means gifts, lavish meals, stocking stuffers, and what appear to be literally hundreds of holiday-themed movies running in perpetuity on the Hallmark Channel, which has come to replace footage of a crackling fireplace as the background noise of choice for cozy evenings indoors. Last year, roughly 70 million people watched Hallmark's holiday scheduling block. If you’re curious how the network manages to assemble films like Check Inn to Christmas, Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays, and Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen with such efficiency—a total of 40 new films will debut this season on the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and Hallmark Movies Now—keep reading.

1. The Hallmark Channel Christmas movie tradition started with ABC.

The idea of unspooling a continuous run of holiday films started in the 1990s, when ABC offshoot network ABC Family started a "25 Days of Christmas" programming promotion that would go on to feature the likes of Joey Lawrence and Mario Lopez. The Hallmark Channel, which launched in 2001, didn’t fully embrace the concept until 2011, when ABC Family moved away from the concept in an effort to appeal to teen viewers.

2. Most Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are shot in Canada.

To maximize their $2 million budget, most Hallmark Channel holiday features are shot in Canada, where tax breaks can stretch the dollar. Wintry Vancouver is a popular destination, though films have also been shot in Montreal and Toronto. One film, 2018's Christmas at the Palace, was shot in Romania to take advantage of the country's castles.

3. Each Hallmark Channel Christmas movie only takes a couple of weeks to film.

If you’re wondering why a holiday movie on basic cable can regularly attract—and keep—a list of talent ranging from Candace Cameron Bure to Lacey Chabert, the answer is partly scheduling. Most Hallmark holiday movies take just two to three weeks to shoot, meaning actors don’t have to commit months out of the year to a project. Actors like Rachael Leigh Cook, who stars in this year's A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, have also complimented the channel on giving them opportunities to be with their families while on location: Cook said that the production schedule allowed her time to FaceTime with family back home.

4. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies use a variety of tricks to create snow.

Even more pervasive than Dean Cain in the Hallmark Channel Christmas line-up is snow. Because some of the films shoot in the summer, it’s not always possible to achieve that powder naturally. Producers use a variety of tricks to simulate snowfall, including snow blankets that mimic the real thing when laid out; foam; commercial replica snow; crushed limestone; and ice shavings. Actors might also get covered with soapy bubbles for close-ups. The typical budget for snow per movie is around $50,000.

5. There’s a psychological reason why Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are so addictive.

Like a drug, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies provide a neurological reward. Speaking with CNBC in 2019, Pamela Rutledge, behavioral scientist, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and a faculty member in the Media Psychology department at Fielding Graduate University, explained that the formulaic plots and predictability of the films is rewarding, especially when viewers are trying to unwind from the stress of the holiday season. “The lack of reality at all levels, from plot to production, signals that the movies are meant to be escapism entertainment,” Rutledge said. “The genre is well-defined, and our expectations follow. This enables us to suspend disbelief.”

6. Hallmark Channel Christmas movie fans now have their own convention.

Call it the Comic-Con of holiday cheer. This year, fans of Hallmark Channel’s Christmas programming got to attend ChristmasCon, a celebration of all things Hallmark in Edison, New Jersey. Throngs of people gathered to attend panels with movie actors and writers, scoop up merchandise, and vie for prizes during an ugly sweater competition. The first wave of $50 admission tickets sold out instantly. Hallmark Channel USA was the official sponsor.

7. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are helping keep cable afloat.

Actors Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas are pictured in a publicity still from the 2017 Hallmark Channel original movie 'Miss Christmas'
Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas in Miss Christmas (2017).
Hallmark Channel

In an era of cord-cutting and streaming apps, more and more people are turning away from cable television, preferring to queue up programming when they want it. But viewers of Hallmark Channel’s holiday offerings often tune in as the movie is airing. In 2016, 4 million viewers watched the line-up “live.” One reason might be the communal nature of the films. People tend to watch holiday-oriented programming in groups, tuning in as they air. The result? For the fourth quarter of 2018, the Hallmark Channel was the most-watched cable network among women 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, even outpacing broadcast network programming on Saturday nights.

8. You can get paid to watch Hallmark Channel Christmas movies.

If you think you have the constitution to make it through 24 Hallmark Channel holiday films in 12 days, you might want to consider applying for the Hallmark Movie Dream Job contest, which is sponsored by Internet Service Partners and will pay $1000 to the winning entrant who seems most capable of binging the two dozen films and making wry comments about them on social media. You can enter though December 6 here.

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