CASINO CHEATS REVVED UP!
Now there are casino scams...and then there are casino scams! I participated in a TV series called the "World's Greatest Gambling Scams," and also wrote a book about them. Most good casino scams require lots of brains and lots of balls. But some only require the balls! Here is one of those, called the "Bet and Run scam," which was laid down on Las Vegas during the 1980s. The idea was simple: bet your chips to the max on a hand of blackjack; if you win, fine, collect your money...if you lose...well, I think you get the idea...BOLT! Get your ass out of Dodge! Hence the scam's name "Bet and Run."
In one scenario of this scam there were four players on the team: John, the bettor (and runner); Gunther, the escape specialist biker; and Raul and Rene, twins who provided blocking and interference against the casino. It happened at the Holiday casino in Las Vegas (now Harrah's), which was located on the Strip across from where the Mirage now stands. They had already cased the target casino and its surrounding grounds and deemed it one of the best for their operation. Even though it stood mid-Strip with no convenient perpendicular side street, ingress and egress were rather uncomplicated, with Las Vegas Boulevard only thirty feet from where Gunther's shiny black Harley would be waiting.
The blackjack table John laid his twenty black $100 chips on was ten feet from the door, a joke of a "runaway." Rene hung by the door like he was watching the action in the busy casino. Raul was just outside it. Gunther on the Harley was rearing to go but hoping not too soon. The beauty of this design was that they’d be using a side door. There was hardly traffic moving through it. On the inside, besides the occasional security guard making his rounds, there was absolutely nothing that would impede an escape.
A friendly Mexican pit boss named Miguel greeted John as soon as John’s mighty stack of black chips appeared in his betting circle, in centerfield position of the full table. “How’re the tables treating you?” he asked John amiably.
“I could use a little luck,” John said with his ingratiating smile.
“Well, good luck to you then, sir.”
“Thank you, Miguel.”
John turned his attention to the cards the dealer removed in succession from the shoe and snapped in a horseshoe arc onto the layout. A handsome king of diamonds landed in front of his chips. John stared at the red and blue paint on the card and prayed for another. He was then treated to a one-eyed jack, giving him a hard twenty. Very strong hand against the dealer’s up card of 7. If the dealer had a 10 or an ace in the hole, John would be instant winners. If not, the dealer would have to draw out until he reached seventeen or busted.
Each player played his hand. When it came time for the dealer to play his, John felt a nervous twinge in the pit of his stomach. The dealer flipped over his hole card, a 9. He had 16 and had to hit.
John tensed up like desert cactus. Please, he thought, anything but a 4 or 5.
The dealer pulled a card from the shoe and placed it next to his 9 and 7. It was a 6! Just enough to bust his hand and make John a winner.
John let out all his nervous energy in a joyful scream. Rene immediately flashed a “chin” through the door at Raul, the sign that John had won the hand. Raul removed his ball cap, giving Gunther the same good news. Upon receiving the signal, Gunther revved the scooter and drove off to park and wait until he was signalled back to the door for John’s next bet.
Inside the casino, Miguel the pit boss smiled warmly. “Nice hand, amigo. You got us good.”
“Thanks,” John said, thinking he’d get them better .
The dealer paid him four pretty purple chips, $2,000. John scooped them from the table with the twenty blacks and headed straight for the casino cage. He cashed out the purples, then walked through the casino to the sports book, where he met up with Rene. He gave Rene the cash, then proceeded back toward the table he’d just won on. Rene scurried back to his spot by the door and “chinned” Raul. Outside, Raul took off his hat, prompting Gunther’s new arrival at the door.
John stepped up to the same blackjack table and saw someone had taken his spot while he was gone. The next spot over was open. Given the adrenaline rush of winning the previous bet, John couldn’t care less from which spot he made his bet. He laid down the $2,000 in chips.
Miguel welcomed him back. “Good luck again, sir.”
“Thanks,” John said and smiled.
The dealer dealt John a nineteen, then drew out to eighteen for the house, another winning hand for John and a second reprieve from running out the door. Again he was paid with four purple chips.
“Would you like me to change your black chips into purples?” the dealer asked.
“That’s all right, Robert,” John said quickly, noting the dealer’s nameplate. “They’re my lucky black chips.” John didn’t give two shits about luck. He was thinking that he didn’t want the team to be stuck cashing out purple chips after a "runaway." He remembered that Gunther had warned him about casinos keeping track of their purple chips.
John carefully gathered his black and purple chips off the layout and went directly to the cage. At the same time, Rene flashed the “won” signal through the door outside to Raul, who again took off his cap to urge Gunther’s retreat back to the waiting position. John cashed out the four purples, then met up with Rene in the sports book and handed him $2,000 for the second time in five minutes. Finally, the team’s set-up signals bounced from Rene to Raul to Gunther, who again brought up the Harley. It took but five minutes for them to be in position for John’s third bet at what was becoming their lucky table.
Again seeing John’s tall stack of black chips in the betting circle, Miguel said amicably, “You really like to hit and run,” apparently not the slightest bit suspicious that John might be a card counter taking pot shots in the middle of the shoe, let alone that he might bolt out the door with $2,000 in losing black chips.
“Yeah, I do this all the time,” John said cheerfully. “Keeps me in action longer.”
“I’ll bet,” Miguel agreed, as if he liked to do the same thing.
The dealer acknowledged John with a smile, then surveyed his imposing black stack along with the other puny red and green piles on the layout.
John was dealt a blackjack! This time he received a $1,000 bonus for his ace and jack.
“This must really be your lucky night,” Miguel gushed. Then when he saw John was again leaving after the single wager, he inquired with puzzlement, “You’re going to leave right after a blackjack? Why not stay? You might hit a lucky streak.”
John loved it because now he really had him. Miguel had bought his act—-lock, stock, and barrel. Believed he was just a happy-go-lucky gambler who liked cherry-picking his spots for his huge bets. “That’s okay. I like winning ’em one at a time.”
Miguel shrugged. “More power to you.”
The third payoff to Rene in the sports book was $3,000.
John’s fourth hand at that table was dealt by a shapely California-blond relief dealer with pretty painted fingernails. She smiled when she busted her hand and paid him $2,000. She smiled wider five minutes later when she paid him again. John appreciated both smiles with a $25 tip.
He had now won five hands in a row! Rene’s pockets were lined with $11,000 in cash, and the night was still young. John still carried the $2,000 in Holiday black chips and could hardly wait to get them back in the betting circle. Maybe this would turn out to be the dream streak that every gambler strived for. Maybe not, but whatever the case, John was certainly enjoying this.
The original dealer, Robert, was back from his break when John arrived for bet number-six. “How’s it going?” he asked.
“Couldn’t be better,” John replied happily. “I’m five for five.”
Miguel came over. “Are you going to go for ten straight?”
John couldn’t help but notice that Miguel seemed awful cheery for a pit boss whose pit had lost eleven grand, even chummy with the lucky gambler who’d won it. He imagined how Miguel’s demeanor would change once he ran out the door with $2,000 in chips that were supposed to go into the dealer’s rack. “Why not?” he said in a carefree tone. “Ten straight would make my day.”
“Are you going to keep doing it one hand at a time?”
“Only till I lose,” John said, which of course was no lie.
When John saw his pair of 8s staring at him from the layout along with the dealer’s king, he realized quickly that the loss might be coming sooner rather than later. He reminded himself that he had to swipe the chips and run if it did. Having won five hands in a row, it might be easy to freeze up when losing the sixth, in a state of contentment that could be summarized by a “What the hell, I’m still up eight grand.”
But letting that happen would be a lapse that might cripple their entire operation before it really got off the ground. So when the dealer flipped over his hole card, a five that gave John a sudden rush of hope, but then slapped down a six for a perfect twenty-one, John swiped his stack of black chips like a bird of prey snatching a snake out of a pond and dashed toward the door.
He heard absolutely nothing behind him. Evidently Miguel and Robert were too stunned to react, or maybe their brains needed more time to process what happened. After all, it wasn’t easy to believe that a guy who won five hands in a row and $11,000, would balk at letting the casino win back $2,000 of it, to the point of grabbing the chips and running out the door! But that’s what John had done, and as his palm reached for the handle, the chips safely tucked in his jacket pocket, he broke out into the same fit of laughing he’d displayed running out of the Tropicana earlier that evening.
The second he burst through the door, Gunther revved up the Harley and John jumped on. He wrapped his arms around Gunther’s lower torso as the motorcycle lurched forward and disappeared into the Saturday night traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard.
This scam was certainly one of the ballsiest of all-time. You can read all about the planning and execution of it, and get to know these characters, in my book "The World's Greatest Gambling Scams."
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