Wild Las Vegas Stories of Heists and High Rollers



Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas goes the saying. However this is not always the case and the city has supplied lurid and incredible stories for over a century. The Hangover wasn’t based in Las Vegas by accident; it was the perfect setting for the wild stag weekend that featured in the movie. In fact for the sequel they could only top it by filming in the ‘other Sin City’, Bangkok.

America has a history of gambling dating back to the first settlers and to the saloons of the wild west. Las Vegas was founded in May of 1905 and it took only a couple of decades before the Mob had got their hands on the City. It was between the Mafia and some Vegas businessmen that the first casinos were built and opened.

Bugsy Siegel was one of the most prominent figures to feature in the early days of the casinos. Siegel had a vision for Las Vegas and between himself and Meyer Lansky they built and developed The Flamingo. Bugsy Siegel was a driving force in making Vegas into what it is today however he never got to see it. Just one year after The Flamingo was built Siegel was gunned down and killed.

There are stories about the bodies buried in the desert around Vegas and there are certainly enough crime movies depicting casinos run by organised crime. There are plenty of substantiated stories without needing to dig up any skeletons though.

The loyal Stardust employee

Many people dream of making a big win at a casino and getting the jackpot on a slot machine like reactoonz but it is just a dream for most of us. Other people decide to take the house by other means. Bill Brennan wasn’t concerned with playing in the casino as he had other plans which ended up with him being one of the most notorious robbers to ever go down in Las Vegas history.

On the 22nd September 1992 Bill Brennan went to work like any other day except for him this was going to be a day unlike any other. Bill was a trusted employee who had been working at the Stardust for many years and no one had any reason to suspect him of any wrongdoing. So no one questioned him as he left for his lunch break with a bag casually slung over his shoulder. Bill had filled the bag with $500,000 in cash and chips and was never seen again. It is believed he probably fled the country straight away and despite being on the FBI’s most wanted list he has never been caught.

Spin the wheel!

The Pelayos live on in casino history although they committed no crime at all. Gonzalo Garci Pelayo simply spotted something that was not quite right while in a Madrid casino. Gonzalo liked to play roulette and during one session he realised that some numbers seemed to be coming in more often than they should do. Roulette would be considered a luck game and not a skill based game so there should be no reason why some numbers were being favoured.

He decided there must be some slight fault with the wheel and then wondered if this was widespread or just in this one location. He sent his two eldest children out to casinos across Madrid to watch the roulette wheels and amass data on which numbers the ball was landing on.

Gonzalo put a system in place and then they started to implement his system betting on numbers he believed were statistically more likely to come in. After one year he had made around $700,000 and was getting banned by casinos across Madrid and Spain. Where do you go after that happens? Las Vegas of course. Once he had finished in Vegas he had another $2,000,000. All from playing a perfectly legal system. Casinos of course were not happy and one Spanish casino rather unsportingly tried to sue him. They lost. Gonzalo goes down in Vegas history as the only man to have beat the roulette wheel without cheating.

Archie Karas and the Run

Archie Karas is a name that any serious Las Vegas aficionado will have heard of. An infamous tale of winning and losing a fortune unmatched by anyone else.

Karas arrived in Vegas at the tail end of 1992. He had just $50 to his name. He had been having a terrible run and his bankroll had all but gone except this fifty bucks. Now, Archie managed to secure himself a $10,000 loan to help bankroll him in the casinos. This might take a little shine off the rags to riches story until you understand he turned that money into $40 million dollars by the start of 1995. This incredible more than two year run couldn’t last though. Karas loved to gamble and he played the maximum bets where he could. He went on to lose $11 million on dice games and then $17 million on baccarat. Still a very rich man he headed for Greece to get away from Vegas.

Unable to resist the lure of Vegas or just feeling lucky, Archie Karas returned. He then lost a further $11 million on baccarat and then the final million on both dice and baccarat.

MIT students

Although the casino movie ‘21’ and the book ‘Bringing Down the House’ contain a certain amount of fiction and artistic licence they are based on fact. The story is about the real life exploits of a team of card counters who came to Las Vegas regularly and took the casinos for sizable sums. In one weekend the team took home $400,000. One of the major players, Jeff Ma says he made around $2 million during the years he played. He used this money to invest into his own tech startups and one of these he sold to Twitter for $50 million.

The team were eventually disbanded when they were getting too many players banned and losing too much money. At least one of the team apparently still plays, in disguise of course.

There are far too many stories of Las Vegas to fit here but you can always create your own. If travelling there is impossible or too expensive then there are plenty of options online to try and be a high roller. Registering with a live casino is one way to get the casino experience. They have real life dealers running the games and through the casino webcams you can see the dealer and the cards being played. Although you see the dealer they cannot see you so you can play in the comfort of your own home in privacy. and there are many games to choose from.

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