The Five Largest Casino Heists in History
One way to guarantee a profit when visiting a casino is to rob the place; the Tip Top Fox looks at the five largest casino heists in history
Everyone loves a good heist movie, and casino heists have inspired countless films. While movies like Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven are an entertaining watch and have spawned a slew of sequels, the inspiration for Hollywood came from the real thing.
Real-life is more compelling than fiction, and a hell of a lot more interesting. The Top Top Fox has compiled a list of the five largest casino heists in history for your reading pleasure:
Heist #5. The Biker Bandit
Heist Date: December 2010
Venue: Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Heist Value: US$1.5m
Taking place in the aptly named ‘Sin City’ of Las Vegas, the first of our largest casino heists played out like something more regularly seen in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto gaming franchise.
In the early hours of the morning on December 14, 2010, 29-year old Anthony ‘Tony’ Carleo parked his motorbike up near the valet stand of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. After waving at security, Carleo entered the property still wearing his motorcycle helmet before hitting the high stakes craps tables.
However, Carleo wasn’t there to gamble. Instead, he pulled a gun and robbed the place. Carleo stuffed gaming chips worth $1.5m into a backpack before running for the exit and speeding off on his motorbike.
It was almost the perfect crime. It was also Carleo’s second armed robbery in the space of a week, having robbed the Suncoast Casino poker room in a similar style for approximately $20,000 in cash just five days prior.
However, despite getting away cleanly from both robberies, Carleo had one problem with the Bellagio job – chips are only worth money in the casino property they are from.
Showing balls of steel, Carleo returned to the Bellagio the next day – sans motorbike and helmet – where he played some high stakes poker, slipping some of the stolen chips into his stack when he came to cash out.
Over the next few days, Carleo played poker and hit up the high stakes craps table he previously robbed. Amusingly as Carleo laundered his ill-gotten gains, nearby staff and punters discussed the escapades of the so-called ‘Biker Bandit’ little realising they were in his presence.
“It just gave me a thrill to be the one person there who knew what’s up,” Carleo said in a 2016 Rolling Stone magazine article on the ‘Bellagio Bandit’. “Maybe it was narcissistic, but I really enjoyed playing at that table.”
While Carleo unloaded all the smaller denomination chips, getting rid of the larger $25,000 cranberry coloured chips – nicknamed ‘cranberrys’ – proved problematic. Large-denomination casino chips are usually tracked by the house.
Carleo was eventually caught after trying to unload the chips via online poker forum TwoPlusTwo.com. Under the username ‘oceanspray25‘ from Cranada – not a typo – Carleo asked forum users: “Know anyone lookin for a bargain on a few pieces of fruit? Great for the liver and kidney and they make great stocking stuffers.”
Unfortunately, the potential buyer shopped him to the police. Carleo was arrested by an undercover cop at Bellagio in February 2011, receiving a sentence of between nine and 27 years for both robberies.
Heist #4. The Soboba Inside Job
Heist Date: August 2, 2007
Venue: Soboba Casino, Riverside County, California, United States
Heist Value: $1.58m
The fourth-largest casino heist in history comes in at an impressive $1.58m and was an inside job. Down on his luck, employee Rolando L. Ramos had worked at the Soboba in the video surveillance department for two years.
However, after filing for bankruptcy just 12 months prior to his daring heist, Ramos – 25 at the time – was looking to solve his money troubles and supplement his $2,080 a month income.
One Hell of a Drug
Fuelled by copious amounts of cocaine, Ramos came up with a daring plan. In the early hours of the morning on Thursday, August 2, 2007, at 5 a.m, Ramos, dressed in his work uniform complete with name badge, bound and gagged three employees in the surveillance room, pepper-spraying one of them before disabling the cameras.
Ramos then convinced two security guards to escort him to the vault, telling them he was there to repair surveillance equipment. However, once there, Ramos pulled a gun (later found to be a BB gun), held the guards and five other employees at bay, and filled a duffel bag with $1.58m in cash before making his getaway.
Accomplice and fellow casino employee Eric Alan Aguilera, 23 at the time, was waiting in the car with his girlfriend Sonya Boyorquez, who then drove the men to a motel.
Aguilera and his girlfriend were arrested the day after the robbery. Ramos was caught two days later at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.
““Did I top ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ or something? I didn’t even know how much I got away with,” Ramos told press reporters in an interview before his trial.
All cash was subsequently recovered. Ramos was sentenced to 18 years prison time – not quite the Hollywood ending he may have been looking for.
Heist #3. Laser Roulette
Heist Date: March 2004
Venue: The Ritz Club, London, United Kingdom
Heist Value: £1.3m (~US$1.9m)
Showcasing the wonders of modern technology, this casino heist is the most successful of our top five, with the perpetrators walking away scot-free with close to $2m in ill-gotten gains. It’s also one of the most ingenious.
On March 16 and 17, 2004, armed with only mobile phones, three European scammers targeted the roulette tables of one of London’s most exclusive gambling establishments. The trio, a Hungarian woman and two Serbian men, all in their 30s, took The Ritz Club in London’s Piccadilly for a cool £1.3m (around US$1.9m at the time).
Over two successive nights, utilising a technique called “clocking” or “sector targeting”, the three used laser technology hidden in mobile phones to predict the trajectory of the ball on a roulette wheel. They then placed sizable bets – which subsequently came in.
Their first session was just to test the waters. The 32-year-old Hungarian woman raised no suspicions and cashed out for £100,000. Buoyed by their initial success the trio got a little greedy. They returned the following night and cleaned up for a further £1.2m.
The three walked out with £300,000 in cash and a cheque for the balance of the funds. However, any wins over £1m are examined closely. After reviewing the security tapes, The Ritz called in the police, who arrested all three in a nearby hotel.
Police seized hi-tech gear and millions of pounds. However, despite the investigation revealing the three had prior gambling bans from a Budapest casino, no evidence of wrongdoing could be proven.
Gambling laws covering cheating in UK casinos date back to the 1845 Gaming Act – a good 150 years before the invention of the mobile phone. While section 17 of this act forbids the use of “unlawful devices”, mobile phones are not illegal. The three did not physically interfere with the roulette wheel so had not actually broken any laws.
After a nine-month investigation, police closed the case with no charges brought. The seized cash was returned to the three Europeans, and they were allowed to return home.
Now wise to the dangers modern technology poses, most casinos have imposed laws banning the use of mobiles at gaming tables. So the next time you’re playing live poker and you are told you can’t use your phone – that’s why.
Heist #2. It’s a Circus Out There
Heist Date: October 1, 1993
Venue: Circus Circus Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Heist Value: $3m
If we’re comparing heists to movies, then the 1993 Circus Circus heist is probably closest to Bonny and Clyde – only with less shooting and murders. It was also good for around $3m – the largest casino heist in history at the time.
On the morning of October 1, 1993, 21-year-old Loomis security truck driver Heather Tallchief was working the ATM run with fellow employees Steve Marshall and Scott Stewart.
The Loomis truck left the security depot that morning with $6m in untraceable used banknotes, earmarked for the use of ATMs situated at several of the Strip’s busy casinos.
Tallchief and her two co-workers pulled up at the Circus Circus casino. Marshall and Scott went inside to deliver $400,000, a job that would take them around 30-minutes.
That morning was changeover day, one of the busiest days of the year in Vegas. Several business conventions were finishing up, and several more starting. With nowhere to park, Tallchief told her co-workers she would meet them out the front of the casino.
However, she never showed, vanishing with the truck and close to $3m in cash. Tallchief vanished for 12 years, rising to #3 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list – making her the most wanted woman in America, the highest level reached by a woman in 23 years.
Then, out of the blue over a decade later, the now 33-year-old Tallchief contacted US authorities, offering to turn herself in. Tallchief served five-years, leaving prison in 2010.
Interestingly, Tallchief revealed exactly how her and then-boyfriend, convicted bank robber Roberto Solis, had pulled off the perfect crime.
It emerged later that Tallchief and Solis had spent months in preparation. With a clean criminal record, former San Francisco hospice nurse Tallchief relocated to Vegas around nine months prior with Solis.
There, with a squeaky clean background and no criminal record, Tallchief got a job as a Loomis security driver. She worked there for over 6 months, becoming a trusted employee.
Tallchief and Solis spent the months before the heist creating a paper trail of fake IDs. They also started a fake armored vehicle repair company, called Reinforced Steel, renting a garage in the company name. It was here Tallchief drove the truck on the day of the robbery. The duo then boxed up the cash and shipped it to Denver, Colorado.
Then, disguised as a doctor and elderly patient, the two charted a private plane from McCarran airport and made their escape. Tallchief and Solis lived in Amsterdam for several years, where they had a son.
However, the relationship didn’t work out. Tallchief left Solis with the majority of the cash, took the baby, and embarked on a new life under an assumed identity. Eventually, Tallchief decided a life on the run was not one she wished for her child and handed herself in. No trace of Solis or the money has ever been found.
Heist #1. The Jewel in the Crown
Heist Date: February 2013
Venue: Crown Casino, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Heist Value: AUD $32m (~US$29.1m)
The largest alleged casino heist in history comes in at a whopping AUD$32m (around US$29.1m at the time) and has all the hallmarks of Ocean’s Eleven, ticking all the boxes: A high roller, check; a ridiculously expensive cocktail and a Guinness World Record, check; high-tech chicanery, check; an inside man, check.
It all started when millionaire New Zealand property developer James Manning checked into Melbourne’s Crown casino back in February 2013. As someone who regularly plays high stakes, Manning describes himself as “a substantial gambler”.
Manning cemented his VIP status by announcing his intention to purchase “The Winston” during his stay – a five-figure cocktail made with the 1858 vintage cognac Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower drank while planning D-Day.
Coming with a hefty AUD$12,500 price tag, this made it the most expensive cocktail ever sold. This set a Guinness World Record and attracted quite a bit of PR attention.
However, Manning never ended up buying the drink, becoming involved in a rather interesting dispute with Crown instead. Reports in the Sydney Morning Herald published in 2015 claim the fancy expensive cocktail was a fake story run by Crown to cover up an alleged $32 million heist involving Manning that had taken place at the casino just days before.
According to news reports at the time, Manning played at the VIP tables where he was aided by an accomplice with access to the casino’s security system to embark on a winning streak adding up to the $32m in question.
After suspicious Crown security employees examined the security footage, they deemed action on eight hands suspect; Manning’s winnings were withheld and a member of the VIP casino staff was given their marching orders. Manning was subsequently ejected from his deluxe accommodation along with his family, receiving a lifetime ban.
While it would later be described by police as “an Ocean’s Eleven-style scam”, no charges were ever filed. In a 2015 interview with New Zealand media website Stuff, Manning denied the heist ever happened, claiming it was part of a dispute with Crown. With both parties signing confidentiality agreements, the truth of the matter remains unknown.
For the Record
The dispute also left Crown’s PR department in a bit of a tough spot. Having made arrangements for guests to witness a Guinness World Record and flown in a $150,000 bottle of 1858 Cuvee Leonie cognac, Crown was determined someone was going to order “The Winston”.
Reluctant local high rolling regular Giang Nguyen eventually assuaged the hungry media by purchasing the drink, with Crown steathily repaying the $12,500 price tag after interest had died down. Sometimes real life is a lot stranger than fiction.