Stealing Las Vegas
…And a Minivan.
We all deal with tragedy in our own way. Wow… yeah there’s a sentence you probably didn’t expect to see kicking off this particular blog. But I needed to explain my most recent disappearance from the blogosphere (on the heels of my previous disappearance). It was Sandy Hook. I don’t want to dwell on this, or even dedicate much thought and emotion to the subject of that horrific event, but explain how I personally deal with tragedy. Suddenly, to me, nothing seems funny. This is, after all, a humor blog, and what I write SHOULD be funny. But, over the last few weeks since the tragedy, I have found NOTHING to be funny.
Which is why I decided I needed to write this particular story down for you to read. Because, quite frankly, it’s not funny. But it is a true story and should be fun to read (everybody loves a good casino heist, right? Or else George Clooney would have stopped with just one Ocean’s film)… and it will get me back into the swing of things and writing again. This is the true story of how I stole a trip to Las Vegas, a trip to Disneyland, and a minivan from a casino.
Well, Stole is Such a Strong Word
At the time, I was self-employed as a computer technician. My business was a little like Geek Squad, but filled the niche of people living way out in the desert who needed computer help that the aforementioned squad wouldn’t come out to help. Most of my customers were businesses. There was a fruit packing company, a hay trucking company, and (believe it or not) even a manure trucking company which utilized my services, as well as a number of individuals and families. I had just lost my job as a computer tech for a major company, and while I was making ends meet being self-employed, it was clear that I needed to go find a real job soon.
In order to supplement my income, I began playing poker at a local casino. I started playing poker originally back in college, and found that I had a real talent for understanding the odds and reading people. Online poker had initially been great, but I fell for the great PartyPoker.com hand fixing scam, and never really trusted online poker again (I lost with quad queens against a straight flush… at least another person lost more money than I did with their full house on the same hand). At the casino, though, I found that I could read people like a book, and watching the cards being dealt by a human being comforted me that the hands likely weren’t fixed. So Hollie and I became casino regulars, spending usually 4 nights a week at the various casinos in the area. I liked to go to a different casino every night in order to avoid facing the same players all the time, but there was still one particular casino which was our favorite, so we visited that casino a lot more than all the others.
On one particular evening at our favorite casino, Hollie came into the poker room and approached me. This in and of itself wasn’t unusual. She played the slots, often losing money as fast as I won it. This time, however, she wasn’t asking for money.
Hollie: Hey, Todd, can you take a break. I want to show you something.
I had just folded out of the hand, and was one hand removed from the big blind, meaning I had 6 more hands before I would need to be at the table. Also, on this particular night, there was a ringer at the table. I had recognized him from watching poker on television, so I was playing a lot more slowly than usual, trying to limit the number of hands where I ran up against him. So, I got up and followed Hollie across the casino. She led me to a nickle slot on the far side of the casino and fed it a $20 bill while I watched.
Hollie: (without spinning the slot) Okay, how much money is in this machine?
Me: (assuming this was a trick question) You mean total? I don’t know… thousands of dollars.
Hollie: What?! NO… not total.. I mean, right now, on the screen, how many credits do I have?
Me: 400 credits.
Hollie: Which is $20, right?
Me: (still unsure where this was headed) Obviously.
Hollie then hit the cash out button, still without playing a single spin. Now, in this era, it’s important to note that dime, nickle, penny, and two cent slots all paid out in big, metal dollar tokens. It was a little trick of the casino to make you spin and (usually) lose the odd cents you may have in a machine, in order to get to an even dollar amount before cashing out. If you didn’t use up the odd change, a slot technician was forced to come to your machine and write you a hand payment for 75 cents or whatever stupid amount you had left over. So, after Hollie hit the cash out button, the dollar tokens began clanging into the metal tray, one after another, until the machine was finally finished paying out the amount owed.
Hollie: So, how many tokens are in the tray?
Me: (beginning to get annoyed at this point) Well, it SHOULD be twenty. Let me guess, it’s shorting you a dollar or something.
Hollie: Or something. Watch.
Then, as I watched, she took handfuls of tokens and dropped them one at a time into a casino bucket, counting as she went, until they had all been counted. In total, the machine had just paid her 30 tokens when it owed only 20.
Me: Holy shit! Is it doing that every time??
Hollie: I think so! I’ve cashed out 3 times now and it overpaid me every time!
Me: If you put that 30 back in and cash it out, what will it pay?
Hollie: I don’t know. I don’t want to keep putting money in and just cashing it out, though. Someone will notice something.
Me: Well, then play a few spins before cashing out.
Hollie: But then I might lose too much.
Me: You MIGHT, I suppose. How much does a spin cost on this machine?
Hollie: Well, it’s 9 lines… so minimum bet on 9 lines would be 45 cents.
I did a bit of quick math in my head.
Me: Okay, do this. Drop a token, play one spin at minimum. Drop another token and do the same. After you drop all 30 tokens, you will only have risked $13.50. If this machine pays the casino advertised payout of 87%, that’s going to mean you should get somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 of that money back. So, in other words, you should still have about $28 after you lose down to an even dollar amount.
We tried it. One token, one spin. We won a few, lost most, and at the end of our 30 tokens and after losing to an even dollar amount, we had $26 owed. Then Hollie hit cash out. The tokens began falling into the bin. Clank, clankety-clank, clank. We counted our booty, and found that there was $44 in tokens now. In the name of… uhm… science, we tried it again. One token, one spin. In the end, this time, we had an even $40 owed to us. Again, we hit the cash out button. Clank, clank, clankety clunk… crunch. The machine jammed, lights began flashing.
We waited. Luckily, a slot technician wasn’t far away, and since it was a Monday night, it wasn’t busy. The slot technician walked up and we did our best to act natural.
Me: Heh heh… Looks like we broke your machine.
Slot Tech: Nah, it’s not you. This damn machine jams all the time.
Me: Oh… really?
Slot Tech: Oh, yeah. A lot of these old hopper systems are just worn out and jam up all the time. That’s why we’re getting rid of them and going over to a coinless system soon.
Me: Uh, coinless? How would that work?
Slot Tech: Well, instead of these old coins, the machines will pay in a printed slip of paper with a barcode on it. The nice part is that the machines will pay out the exact amount, so no more stupid hand pays for 30 cents or whatever.
Me: (Trying not to sound disappointed) Oh, well that sounds like a great idea. When are you guys going over to that coinless thing?
Slot Tech: Soon. We start on the high roller room this week, and within three weeks, we should have the entire casino switched over to the new system. Anyway, there you go. That should do it!
The machine was closed, the coins began clanging into the bin. The slot tech hovered over us, chatting until the coins finished paying out to make sure the machine didn’t jam up again. I held my breath that she wasn’t counting, because this time it ended up paying us well over 60 tokens. She didn’t seem to notice, though, and said goodbye before moving on to another malfunctioning machine.
If this were a heist movie, this part would be done in a montage with some awesome music in the background. But, this is a blog, so you’ll just have to imagine the montage and keep reading along. I went back to my poker table and paid for the blinds I had missed, tipped the dealer, then took my chips to the cage and cashed out for the night. The slot tech had told us that the casino planned on going coinless over the next 3 weeks, which meant that we had no time to waste. We spent the evening “playing” cheap slots, meaning slots which were played in denominations of 5 cents or less. We payed close attention to the amount of money the machine owed us, and counted the tokens we were paid.
In the end, we discovered that just as many slots underpaid as overpaid, but there were, in total, 5 slots which overpaid by a significant amount. We spent the evening talking and scheming, and mostly deciding if this was stealing or merely legally taking advantage of a situation. We justified taking advantage of the broken machines with this argument: slot machines are games of chance. We were LUCKY to discover the overpaying machines before the casino had a chance to fix them. THEREFORE, we were just doing what people attempt to do every day at the casino… we were getting lucky.
Step 1: The Kids
At the time, we were living on a 5 acre plot of land with Hollie’s parents living at the other end of the same plot. They were happy to watch the kids for us on our excursions to the casino (since we never stayed very late, usually making it back home in time for dinner), but this was something else entirely. What we were talking about doing was basically taking a one week vacation from the kids, and asking her parents to watch them full time. After some discussion, they agreed that they could watch the kids for a week if in return we took the kids and went off on a vacation for a week ourselves. It was a fair exchange, and would give us a goal to work toward at the casino.
Step 2: The Hotel Room
The casino we were taking advantage of also had a resort hotel attached, and since I played table games and Hollie played slots using those little points cards the casinos hand out to players, we had accumulated a number of free nights in their hotel. In fact, we were able to book an entire week worth of nights between the two of us, but only on week days. In other words, we would be able to stay at the casino on Wednesday, and Thursday night of one week, and then Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night of the following week before we ran out of free nights at the casino hotel.
We booked our nights, packed our bags, and headed off to the casino on Wednesday. We would spend all our waking hours taking money slowly out of the broken machines. At the same time, I would need to occasionally play poker in the card room to maintain our usual gambling habits. More than anything, we didn’t want any other person in the casino, be they patrons or employees, to take notice of what we were doing.
Step 3: The Rules
Rule 1 – start at each machine with only $20 in cash. Don’t get greedy and start pumping a $100 bill in to speed up the process.
Rule 2 – After inserting the first $20 bill, cash out immediately. Play one token, one spin, until all the coins in the bin are gone. Then cash out and start again.
Rule 3 – When you hit $250 in your machine, stop. If you jam the hopper on a cash-out, stop. If you have a big win, act excited, then make your final cash-out and stop.
Rule 4 – Alternate taking your tokens to the cashier cages and the automatic counting machines. Try not to see the same cashier twice in the same hour, if possible.
Rule 5 – When you have $1000 in hundred dollar bills, go back to the hotel room and stash the cash in the room safe.
Rule 6 – Act fucking natural. If someone else gets on your machine, go to a different one. If someone seems to notice the over-payment, act surprised. Feel free to occasionally “burn through” a $20 and lose it to the casino, even if that means playing a machine that isn’t broken.
I won’t say how much we took out of that casino over the course of a week. After all, I feel like this falls into a legal gray area, even now. We managed to arouse no suspicion, although the stress of it all and forcing ourselves to stay awake for countless hours left both of us feeling exhausted. We truly NEEDED the vacations to Disneyland and Las Vegas we took the kids on in our new Kia Sedona minivan … all of which was paid for by our little casino heist.
P.S.: On a side note, if you ever get the chance to pay for a car in cash, I highly recommend it. The reaction of the car dealer is SO worth it (also… they have to photocopy every single serial number for record keeping purposes, which is extra funny to watch).