Slot machine cheaters are a colorful bunch, but the Godfather of all slot machine cheaters was Tommy Glenn Carmichael.
In 1980, Carmichael began his career as a slots cheat. He was 30 years old. He used a device called a “top-bottom joint” to win. The device was actually a simple piece of machinery—you slide it into the coin slot, and the machine thinks you’ve won even when you haven’t.
Of course, in the mid-1980s, many of the larger casinos had switched to slot machine games which used a random number generator, and the “top-bottom join” only worked in older, smaller casinos, and Carmichael got busted. Cheating at gambling is a serious crime, so Carmichael served time.
When he was released, he invented and used new devices to cheat. These gizmos had colorful names like “the Slider” and “the Monkey’s Paw”. He even posed as a customer so that a slot machine manufacturer would show him how the insides of these new computer-powered games worked. He studied the machine’s insides during the demonstration, and this led to his invention of “the Light Wand”.
Not only did he use the Light Wand to make profits cheating at slots, he sold the gadget to other cheaters. Of course, he was eventually caught and served more time. How he works as a security consultant to casinos.
It’s easy to admire the ingenuity of someone who finds a way to take advantage of casinos, but at the same time, one wonders why casinos would employ someone who’d repeatedly taken advantage of him. Perhaps it’s merely a practical decision.
Another way to cheat slot machines doesn’t involve bringing special equipment into the casino, but it still requires special equipment. If you can manufacture counterfeit slot machine tokens, like Louis Colavecchio did in the late 1990s, you can win money at the slots without having to risk any real money.
Of course, this requires a very specific skillset that most people don’t have. Developing that skillset requires an investment of time and money, and the purchase of the equipment to create those tokens requires another investment of time and money. Most people would probably be better off learning how to count cards or play poker at the professional level. Both are lower risk ways of making money while gambling.
Another way of cheating would be to just flat out steal a slot machine and take the money out of it. That’s not very practical, but someone clever might get the idea that he could steal the coin box from a machine. We’re not convinced that this approach is any more practical. The coin box might be easier to carry, but getting past casino security is going to be a huge challenge. Slot machine cheaters who resort to outright theft have a much higher tolerance for risk than we do.
We don’t recommend cheating at slot machines. In every gambling jurisdiction that we’re aware of, cheating at gambling is a serious crime. If you’ve ever seen any movies set in casinos, you’re probably also aware that casinos who get involved in their own enforcement aren’t going to be especially generous when dealing with cheaters, either.
It’s important to point out, too, that there’s a difference between advantage gambling techniques and cheating. For example, counting cards is an advantage gambling technique that doesn’t legally count as cheating—the player doesn’t do anything to affect the outcome of the game. She just pays attention and thinks about how much to bet based on which cards have been dealt.
Casinos consider that cheating, and they’re quick to ban a card counter, but counting cards isn’t illegal. No one has ever served time over counting cards.
On the other hand, if you were to palm a card and switch it for a card you had in your sleeve, then you’d be committing a crime.
The difference is that cheating involves making a change to one of the elements of the game. That can include the components of the game, the amount bet, the amount paid out, or the frequency of the amounts bet.
Nevada charges a minimum $10,000 fine to cheaters. If you’re convicted of cheating, you can spend up to six years in prison. On top of the fine and the prison time, you will also have to make restitution to the casino. That’s a losing proposition no matter how much you win, and eventually you will get caught.
The “What Happens to Cheaters” should have made the consequences clearly unappealing, but if you’re still not convinced that you shouldn’t cheat at slot machines, consider this. Cheating is unethical.
Experts on the ethics of cheating discuss how people’s moral compasses aren’t fixed. Being in a permissive environment leads many people to commit unethical acts. For example, hanging out with a bunch of known cheaters would be a permissive environment, and it would become even more permissive if you had a few drinks.
The group mentality of “everyone is doing it” is also a big factor in cheating.