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Slot machines have been providing thrills to the punters for many decades. From penny slots right up to the big ones. As well as paying out some eye-watering jackpots over the years there have also been a few scandals of note.
Tommy Glenn Carmichael
Tommy Glenn Carmichael isn’t a name that rolls off your tongue. It is, however, a name that will send shivers down the spine of any casino exec who knows their industry history. Carmichael spent nearly 20 years using all kinds of technical wizardry to cheat casinos by interfering with their slot machines.
One invention was called the slider or monkey’s paw and used to fit up the machine’s payout chute. Inside was a microswitch that would trigger the jackpot payout.
Eventually, technology improved, but so did Carmichael’s ingenuity. The next ‘James Bond’ style invention was known as the light wand. Made from a camera battery and a small light bulb, the wand was able to ‘blind’ the slot machine’s sensor and coins would be spat out.
After thousands of dollars were being won every day Carmichael eventually fell foul of an FBI investigation and spent almost a year behind bars. It is not clear how much of his millions he had to pay back if anything.
In this crazy story Elmer Sherwin proved that lightning can strike twice in the same spot. At the Mirage Casino, Las Vegas, Sherwin hit the jackpot on a Megabucks slot machine for a massive $4.6 million in 1989.
Enough to retire on wouldn’t you say.
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Amazingly, 16 years later, Sherwin was playing slots again at the Cannery Casino in Las Vegas and won a record breaking sum of $21.1 million. Not only that, but at the age of 90 he was almost certainly breaking a record there too as one of the biggest winners of all-time..
Nearly 30 years ago, a software engineer called Ron Harris was tasked with writing anti-cheating code for the slot machines of Las Vegas - what could go wrong there, you might ask yourself…
The temptation to construct almost the perfect crime was too much to bear and Harris secretly coded a payout switch in some machines. When coins were inserted in a specific order it would trigger a huge jackpot.
In the end more than 30 machines were rigged and hundreds of thousands of dollars went missing through the actions of Harris’s accomplices.
The game was up when one of the accomplices was caught trying to rig a game of Keno and owned up to the whole scam. Four counts of slot cheating led to a seven year prison sentence, which probably put Tommy Glenn Carmichael off from trying any more of his shenanigans.
Louis 'The Coin' Colavecchio
The most obvious cheating method for slot machines is, of course, fake coins. Without knowing the exact metallic mix of legal tender it’s almost impossible to produce the identical size and weight.
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That said, ‘The Coin’ clearly knew that he didn’t need to be so precise and fabricated enough slots coins to leave over 750lbs worth sat in his car when he was eventually caught.
Colavecchio won thousands of dollars in the casinos of Las Vegas without ever putting his hand into his own pocket. Finally the law caught up with him in the gambling Mecca of Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In 1997 the scammer was sentenced to 27 months in a federal prison, which apparently didn’t teach him enough of a lesson. Just before Christmas 2018 the 77-year-old was picked up by the secret service for producing 2400 fake $100 bills and sentenced to another 15 months behind bars.
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John Kane is the one who got away. The American video poker fan walked away with more than half a million dollars after discovering a software glitch in a popular model used across the US.
After playing the same machine type for a long time, Kane noticed a glitch whereby punters could replay the exact same hand runout that was just played. All he had to do was wait until he hit the jackpot and then repeatedly cash in.
The clever trick in all this was that different wager sizes can be used on these machines. So all Kane did was to blast away betting just a single cent each time. When the jackpot came up he could immediately switch to the maximum bet size of $10 with a $10,000 prize.
As you would imagine, the casino bosses didn’t take too long to realise that something was amiss. Kane along with Andre Nestor, a friend he let into his little scheme, were arrested and sent to trial.
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Incredibly, the federal prosecutors were unable to convince a jury that the pair had broken any laws. The charges of hacking and conspiracy were thrown out and they were set free.
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Their attorney said:
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'All these guys did is simply push a sequence of buttons that they were legally entitled to push.'