Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

Casinos make for a great movie setting. The $10,000 tuxedos, pretty models, corporal criminality, and careless display of wealth are some of the reasons why casino scenes are a common feature in Hollywood films. It gets even more cinematic when these directors orchestrate dramatic casino heists that leave the audience in awe. The fictional culprits carry out perfect robberies without breaking a sweat, and they often get away with it.

This glorification, coupled with the common knowledge of the enormous cash flows in and out of casinos, might have influenced a couple of real-life heists. Needless to say, Hollywood is far from reality as the real heists usually end with less screen-worthy outcomes.

Here are 12 of the most famous real-life casino heists throughout history in no particular order and how they panned out.

  1. MIT Blackjack Team

Location: Worldwide

City: Worldwide

Year: 1979 – 1999

This is a pure case of illegally bringing science to the game. Bill Kaplan, the mastermind of this heist, could not do the job alone, so he recruited from some of the top colleges in the US (Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and the University of Chicago). Kaplan’s team wasable to devise means and strategies to perfect card counting in blackjack. The MIT blackjack team amassed between $22 and $57 million within 20 years of playing blackjack games in different casinos around the world.

This team specialized in blackjack as this casino game can be influenced by sound statistical knowledge.

  1. Circus Circus Casino Heist

Location: Circus Circus Casino

City: Las Vegas

Year: 1993

This is one romantic casino heist that did not require years of strategic planning and plotting. Heather Tallchief committed the Circus Circus heist in 1993 after her boyfriend was released from prison.

She had gotten a job at Loomis, driving armored vehicles. Her services required transporting a tremendous amount of cash to fill casino ATMs. One fatefulday, she made a stop at the Circus Circus Casino and ended up driving off with about $3 million.

This is not the most dramatic of heists, but it was simple enough to get the job done. Tallchief and her boyfriend, Roberto Solis, immediately left the country and were nowhere to be found until 12 years later. Tallchief turned herself in, claiming she only got a third of the money and the rest was with Solis, who still couldn’t be traced.

  1. The Crown Casino Heist

Location: The Crown Casino

City: Perth, Australia

Year: 2013

This coordinated crime was as slick as a casino heist can be. It took place at the Crown Casino in 2013 and was a collaboration between a New Zealand businessman and the VIP services manager. This privileged staff member of the Crown Casino got the businessman, James Manning, into the high-roller’s room. He was able to pull off a Hollywood type of luck, winning up to $33 million from eight hands of blackjack.

However, this supposed lucky streak was a big con as his gameplay was being influenced by information from the manager. Manning receivedsignals from the manager, who had the security cameras rigged to get details of hisopponents’ hands. Unfortunately, the would-be millionaire could not walk away with hisnewly won millions as the casino got wind of the con.

  1. Ritz Casino Physics Heist

Location: Ritz Casino

City: London

Year: 2004

The Ritz casino heist was so good that it was later deemed lawful by the police. In 2004, a set of gamblers shocked the casino world as they could determine where the ball would land in a roulette game. It was neither magic nor a trick but ‘sector targeting,’ which entails the use of microchips and laser scanners to calculate the ball’s orbital decay.

As a result, these gamers were able to tell which pocket the ball would land, and that knowledge earned them close to $1.7 million.

Obviously, their opponents were not very happy, and the situation was reported to the police. After nine months of thorough investigation, it was concluded that their scheme was lawful, and they got their jackpots.

This is not the first time such core physics principles would be deployed in gambling, as there were prior cases in the late 1970s.

  1. The Bellagio Robberies

Location: Bellagio

City: Las Vegas

Year: 2010

‘Like father like son,’ they say, but this heist was the complete opposite. The son of a prominent judge in Las Vegas developed a habit of stealing valuable chips from casinos.

Anthony Michael Carleo would ride up to the casinowearinga motorcyclehelmet and then show his gun. In 2010, he made offwith casino chips worth $1.5million at the Bellagio. However, this was not his first rodeo, as he also pulled the same stunt at the Suncoast Hotel & Casino. He was always the type to take credit for the heists, so his capture came sooner than later.

  1. The Soboba Casino Heist

Location: Soboba Casino

City: River County

Year: 2007

This heist at Soboba Casino was perpetrated by a surveillance technician who worked in the same casino. In 2007, Rolando Luda Ramos took his co-workers hostage and broke into the casino vault. Of course, Ramoscould not do the job alone as he also needed an escape plan.He enlisted 25-year-old Eric Aguilera as his getaway driver.

Unfortunately for them, stealing $1.5 million from a casino in the late noughties would require a better strategy. This Ocean’s Eleven-style heist would go awry as the duo was caught two days later.

  1. The Stardust Casino Mystery

Location: Stardust Casino

City: Las Vegas

Year: 1992

What most casino movies fail to depict is that showy and flamboyant heists are usually unsuccessful in reality. The simpler inside-man jobs stand a higher chance, as seen in the Stardust Casino heist of Las Vegas.

In 1992, a cashier tasked with counting the money from the casino carted away all of it. He left with $500,000, half in cash and the rest in casino chips. Yes, it was that easy for Brill Brennan, who casually walked out of the casino with the bag of money slung over his shoulder.

Brennan occupied a top spot in the FBI’s Most Wanted list until 14 years later after Stardust shut down. This is considered not only one of the greatest robberies but also the most mysterious. The case has been closed, and he remains out of sight to date.

  1. The Stardust Casino Robberies

Location: Stardust Casino

City: Las Vegas

Year: 1991

Stardust Casino was victim to another heist a year before Bill Brennan struck. Involving a man and his two sons, this one would prove more theatrical.

The mastermind wentby the name Royal Hopper, who worked as a security guard in Stardust Casino. In a brilliant plan, Hopper had his two sons pretend to be robbers and together were able to make away with $150,000.

The family ring struck again just six months later when they attacked a truck carrying $1.1 million. The trio used smoke bombs as a charade to cover their escape. They did not just rob the casino; they also theatrically executed a perfect getaway.

  1. Three Times Robberies at Treasure Island

Location: Treasure Island

City: Las Vegas

Year: 2000

Very few people have the means to rob a casino, but fewer still can carry out such an act three times in a row. Reginald Johnson belongs to the latter group, having robbed Treasure Island casino twice in 2000. In these first two heists, he stole over $30,000, and like every criminal yet to be caught, he wanted more. On the third occasion, he came in his regular manner, shooting at security guards. His luck would run out as he was eventually caught. He pleaded guilty to all charges.

  1. Mandalay Bay Casino Robbery

Location: Mandalay Bay Casino

City: Las Vegas

Year: 2005

Sometimes casino heists are not much different from regular bank robberies, as seen in this 2005 heist. Two men in masks entered the change booth and held the cashier at gunpoint. They released a couple of bullets in the air, ordering everyone to the ground. The robbers made away with a large sum of money, hurried to their getaway car, and drove off.

It was such a regular robbery that the Mandalay casino wanted the situation under wraps without attracting anymore attention, not wanting the world to know just how easy it was to rob the casino. Well, the heistdid get more attention than expected, as the witnesses had stories to tell.

  1. $160k Bellagio Heist

Location: The Bellagio

City: Las Vegas

Year: 2005

This casino heist is proof that if you have the guts to rob a bank, you should also have the skills to plan it properly. Jose Vigoa scaled the cashier counter and stole casino chips worth $160,000. This former member of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces came in wearing a bulletproof vest, but perhaps out of overconfidence, his face was not covered.

This led to his capture as Vigoa was later sentenced to life imprisonment for multiple robbery charges and two murders.


Casino heists are often not as flashy and cinematic as Hollywood films make them seem. Everything can go south in a blink, even with the support of inside men. These top casino heists in history reveal the precariousnature of these acts and the real-life consequences.