People cheat at anything because they think they can get away with it, say experts in human psychology. Sometimes cheaters simply look for an easy score because they're lazy. Some cheaters are actually inventors who relish the challenge of beating someone else's machine. Some think they're merely tipping the odds in their favor at casinos, since they figure that table games are set up always to benefit the house.
However the cheaters might rationalize their motives or their sophisticated practices, cheating at slots means one thing only: Theft.
Just ask one of the biggest slot machine cheaters ever, a mechanically clever man by the name of Tommy . Profiled in 2007 in the "Slot Scoundrel" episode of the series "Breaking Vegas" on The History Channel, Carmichael has been cited as one of gambling's greatest slots cheaters ever.
At the height of his nefarious career, Carmichael and his cohorts made thousands of dollars off cheating slot machines in Nevada, New Jersey and Connecticut. For his troubles, Carmichael was apprehended and eventually pleaded guilty to running a gambling theft ring.
Today he lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he cares for his elderly mother and tries to convince the industry he once bilked that he has perfected a device to protect slot machines against thieves like him.
Casinos earn between 70 and 80 percent of their income from slot machine revenue. It's estimated there may be more than 3 million slot machines in land-based gambling houses and on cruise ships worldwide, and more are being built and installed every day. So to casinos, cheating is a huge deal.
Law enforcement and casino security experts estimate that hundreds of millions of dollars have been stolen from slot machines. Nevada authorities alone say they've documented losses totaling $100 million, and they surmised that nearly 92% of slot machine cheaters get away with it.
How does someone cheat at slots with all those security cameras and guards around a casino? The fact is that most security cameras are trained on areas such as cashier's cages, table games, elevators and doors.
A big casino may have as many as 5,000 slot machines installed, and it's practically impossible to survey them all at any time. What's more, professional slot machine thieves exploit blind spots in casino surveillance and employ other cheaters to avoid getting too much attention from guards.
In addition, successful slot cheaters such as Tommy Glenn Carmichael are really good at it. One of the New Jersey detectives who finally nabbed Carmichael said the thief was so slick at cheating slot machines that they might never have caught him if some of his gang hadn't informed on him.
Carmichael began his crime career in the early 1980s using a device called a "top-bottom joint" that his friend Ray Ming brought him. Carmichael was arrested with the device in his possession, and eventually served five years in prison.
While in prison he mostly thought about creating better cheating devices, according to newspaper accounts. Among them was a device he called The Monkey's Paw. This was a claw-ended piece of flexible steel that could be inserted into a machine to interfere with the coin counter, which made the machine overpay winnings.
When computers became the brains inside slot machines, Carmichael and other thieves came up with mini-lights that interfered with the optical sensors. Just like shining a bright light into a person's eyes, the mini-light blinded the slot machine's sensors so it couldn't tell how many coins it had paid a player.
The advent of computerized slot machines may have slowed the era of mechanical thievery, but it hasn't ended the efforts of slot machine cheaters to steal from the games. Mini-lights are still used, and woe is the cheater who's caught at a casino with one in his or her possession. Casinos don’t mind prosecuting cheaters to the fullest extent possible.
Some thieves have tried to bribe programmers at slot machine manufacturers to write errors into the computer code so that machines will pay out more than they're supposed to give.
However, these days both physical slot machines and online slots games are governed by something known as a Random Number Generator. Whether it's coded onto a microchip inside a physical machine, or resides on the server that runs online slots games, the RNG has proven to be one of the most effective ways to foil cheating at slots, whether by players or casinos.
An RNG isn't invincible; Wikipedia lists several ways that RNG software or an RNG microchip could be hacked into. But remember what we said at the beginning: people looking for easy money attempt cheating at slots. Attacking an RNG takes so much time and effort that it soon ceases to be cost-effective for even the most determined thief.
The complexity of today's slot machines and online slots games won't deter everyone, however. As long as gambling exists, there will still be thieves who try cheating at slots – and people who work to stop them.Share on: