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Casino Heists and Scandals

4 min read

Casino life may be known for its glitter and glamour, but it also holds many shocking scandals. From heists to mysterious disappearances, here are the most shocking casino scandals of recent history.

Robbery of casinos may appear simple on film, but if done successfully it can still be quite remarkable.

1. William Brennan

Back then casinos only had minimal security systems in place to deter thieves, yet even that wasn’t enough to stop some criminals from trying to gain access to some cash. One of the most enigmatic casino heists ever was committed by William Brennan who worked as a sports book cashier at Stardust casino and stole over half a million dollars on September 22, 1992 without using explosives, guns or fast cars; instead he simply randomly collected stacks of chips from out of sight of cameras or guards and left with his haul – an achievement few have managed.

At first, he continued doing what he’d always done, until finally being caught and listed as one of America’s Most Wanted in June 1996. Since then he’s never been seen again.

Brennan was an isolated figure who did not seem to have any friends or family at all, living alone with only his cat in an apartment he never left until mysteriously disappearing more than 20 years later. His fate remains a complete mystery today.

2. Jose Vigoa

One of the largest casino heists that didn’t involve any illegal gambling took place at Australia’s Crown Casino when an unscrupulous gambler from London stole an eye-popping $32 Million by hacking into its surveillance system and receiving tips from an accomplice. Unfortunately for his plan though, it quickly unravelled, leading to his arrest, refunding all stolen funds as well as receiving a lifetime ban from brick-and-mortar casinos.

Jose Vigoa, an immigrant from Cuba, recruited eleven individuals for an elaborate plot modeled on the 1960 Rat Pack film Ocean’s Eleven involving high-tech equipment and all eleven members playing their roles on an individual plan.

Vigoa’s first successful heist was the Bellagio cash cage robbery in 2000. Together with Oscar Cisneros, Vigoa leapt over the casino counter wearing Kevlar and body armor to steal $160,000 in cash and chips from inside.

Vigoa’s second casino heist would become famous when Anthony Michael Carleo drove his motorcycle directly into Bellagio entrance and demanded they give him $1.5 million worth of casino chips from a craps table heist in 2010. Carleo later boasted about it on TV; for which he now serves between nine to 27 years in Nevada prison.

3. James Manning

Hollywood-style heist movies may feature daring thefts and elaborate schemes, but in real life such feats of daring can often prove difficult – especially if one works within a casino itself. As such, many of the largest casino heists ever attempted have been perpetrated by corrupt employees of that casino itself.

James Manning of Melbourne, Australia stands as an apt illustration. Manning served as VIP Services Manager of Crown casino before working with another individual to embezzle $2.5 Million from high-limit card tables at Crown.

He was an expert at donning disguise, wearing a dark boiler suit and balaclava that were nearly indistinguishable from workers on the floor. His plan was meticulous; upon exiting from the building he used a service door leading into a hotel complex connected by service corridor, so as to remain undetected.

It was an eventful night at one of London’s casinos when one was robbed, especially considering it was one of the first casinos robbed in years. Staff knew immediately it wasn’t random burglary – as soon as staff noticed, the man knew small notes are often marked, had secret exit plans in mind and seemed oddly calm without seeming eager to grab for money himself.

4. Heather Tallchief

When we think of casino heists, our minds often drift to scenes from Ocean’s 11. However, real-life casino robberies are much more widespread than many realize; while some heists may involve millions of dollars worth of thefts, others can be far less spectacular.

Heather Tallchief and Roberto Solis, convicted murderer and prison poet respectively, successfully completed one of the largest armored truck heists ever witnessed in Las Vegas history in 1993. Tallchief worked as an armored truck driver for Loomis delivering cash to casinos for ATMs when she loaded three million dollars onto her van and drove off without returning later that day; later it was discovered that all three million dollars had been taken.

Tallchief and Solis managed to escape capture for nearly twelve years; eventually they were caught and Tallchief served her sentence in prison. Her story can be found in Netflix documentary Heist, featuring archive footage, interviews with family and friends as well as recreations of their crime spree.

Heist does not explore who was behind the fake passports used by Tallchief and Solis during their time on the run, possibly due to their romantic attachment, as this may compromise their chances of returning to normal lives upon completion of their sentences.

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