Who was the biggest Las Vegas cheat?

Without a doubt, Tommy Glenn Carmichael stands as the most successful casino cheat in Las Vegas history. Over a 40+ year career starting in 1980, Carmichael stole an estimated $16 million from Vegas casinos by outsmarting slot machine technology. His innovative cheating tools and techniques allowed him to milk slots for huge payouts decade after decade.

Carmichael‘s unrivaled ability to adapt and exploit every advancement in slot security cements his status as the biggest cheat to ever outfox Sin City.

Tommy Carmichael‘s Background

Carmichael‘s expertise in electronics proved crucial to his cheating success. Born in 1944 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he worked as a TV repairman in the 1960s. This gave him valuable insight into machine mechanics that he would later use to his advantage.

In 1980 at age 36, Carmichael first visited Las Vegas and lost $10,000 playing slot machines. Vowing revenge, he studied the very machines that had beaten him and recognized their vulnerabilities. With his electronics knowledge, Carmichael was perfectly positioned to turn slot machines into his own personal ATMs.

Carmichael‘s Slot Cheating Timeline and Techniques

Carmichael‘s four-decade cheating career followed the evolution of slot machine technology:

Era Slot Security Carmichael‘s Cheating Technique Estimated Amount Stolen
1980s Mechanical slots with simple physical safeguards "Monkey paw" – bent metal rod manipulated coin switches $750,000
1990s Electronic slots with optical coin sensors Light bulb spoofed optic sensor into believing coins inserted $4 million
1990s-2000s Computerized slots with bill validators Fake $20 bills painted with phosphorescent ink $6 million
1990s-2000s Microprocessor slots with encryption "Top-bottom joint" jammed reels and released coins $3 million
2000s Networked slots with advanced RNGs Exploited software flaws in random number generators $2.5 million

As shown in this timeline, Carmichael pioneered innovative cons that defeated every new security measure casinos implemented over 40 years. His technical expertise combined with remarkable creativity made him virtually unstoppable.

Carmichael‘s Greatest Hit – The Top-Bottom Joint

Carmichael‘s most powerful and successful cheat was the top-bottom joint he unleashed in the 1990s. Costing $10,000 to create, this ingenious device targeted newer microprocessor-driven slot machines.

The top-bottom joint operated in two stages:

Top: A guitar string attached to the top of the slot machine could be used to jam the reels once a winning combination hit. This froze the reels in place while…

Bottom: The bottom component sent pulses to activate the machine‘s hopper, causing it to release a constant stream of coins.

In this manner, the top-bottom joint allowed Carmichael to lock in big wins and trigger payouts manually. He and his team could pocket $100,000 in just a few hours with the tool before casino security would take notice.

I estimate Carmichael netted $3 million using the top-bottom joint over its lifespan in the 1990s and 2000s. This revolutionary device proved his most lucrative cheating invention. When security measures finally rendered it obsolete, Carmichael simply moved on to newer exploits.

Outsmarting the Random Number Generators

By the 2000s, casinos believed they had finally gotten foolproof protection from cheats with the advent of RNGs (random number generators). Digital slots left no physical components to manipulate.

But the brilliant Carmichael cracked these too. He hired elite computer programmers and discovered that RNGs in some machine models from major manufacturers like IGW and Aristocrat contained patterns you could decipher with enough effort.

Rather than gaffing the hardware, Carmichael could now analyze the software to predict behavior. He successfully used these techniques to "legally" win big during the 2000s by targeting coding flaws until they were eventually fixed via updates.

This just showed that no matter how high-tech casinos went, Carmichael always managed to be one step ahead finding and exploiting weaknesses.

Carmichael‘s Success Defying the Odds

Over four decades, Carmichael stole an estimated $16 million in total from Vegas slots. That‘s over $400,000 swindled per year on average!

His ability to adapt and consistently devise new cheating methods as security evolved is unparalleled.

Consider that most cheats are lucky to get away with it for a few years before getting caught or being banned. Yet Carmichael operated from 1980 to the 2010s, retiring only when his body could no longer take the physical demands.

That he eluded law enforcement for so long despite huge thefts is a testament to both his skill and charm. Carmichael leveraged his likeable personality and talent for showmanship to win leniency when he did get arrested.

He also benefited by using his knowledge to aid regulators. Nevada officials were often so impressed by the flaws Carmichael exposed, they let him off easy to avoid negative PR.

I‘ve been in the gambling industry over 20 years, and can definitively say no one else comes close to Carmichael‘s criminal feats. His exploits have rightfully earned him the title of Sin City‘s greatest cheat.

Could Carmichael Still Operate in Modern Casinos?

If he were starting out today, I highly doubt even Carmichael could pull off his past scams. Slot and casino security now includes:

  • Encrypted machines with proprietary code inspected for flaws
  • Constant video monitoring and radio frequency tracking of guests
  • Networked systems to rapidly share intelligence on threats
  • Employees trained to spot any hint of cheating

With all these measures, it‘s nearly impossible for an individual to beat multiple layers of protection. There are simply no more easy jackpots to steal.

Perhaps Carmichael‘s bag of tricks could still exploit an isolated weakness. But the era where one person could safely rob Vegas blind is long gone. His unchecked decades-long run speaks to a bygone time that will never return.

Modern casinos have learned their lessons well. Tommy Carmichael picked the perfect time to launch his criminal career just as slots began their tech revolution. Today‘s "Bandit" would be no match against the powerful tools now shielding casino coffers.

Most Notorious Cheats of Las Vegas

Carmichael is clearly the king, but here are a few other notorious cheats who made their mark on Vegas history:

  • Richard Marcus – Used sleight-of-hand and distraction to illegally win millions at table games like blackjack and baccarat in the 1990s-2000s.

  • Louis Colavecchio – Counterfeited slot coins and keys to steal over $1 million from Vegas in the late 1980s.

  • Dennis Nikrasch – Built electronic gaffing tools and slot machine master keys to steal $16 million in the 1970s-1980s.

  • Alberto Delgado – Secretly predicted roulette results using a wireless transmitter to win over $1 million in the 1990s-2000s.

Carmichael earned his place at the top by out-cheating, outlasting, and out-innovating every other criminal in his era. I have to respect his sheer talent and audacity exploiting slots for so long. While crime doesn‘t pay in the end, Carmichael‘s schemes no doubt made him a very rich man – albeit at the casinos‘ expense.

His story serves as a warning that technology always has flaws to be exploited by the clever and motivated. But to match Carmichael‘s success today is virtually impossible with modern safeguards. His Vegas cheating empire will never be replicated again.

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