It is every casino player’s dream to beat the casino, but very few are successful at it. Famously, an MIT-based blackjack team devised card counting to hammer the casinos, and in the 1950s one man used biased wheels to take a fortune off of roulette houses, but that’s just two successful examples in comparison to probably hundreds of failures.
One man who cannot be dubbed a failure though is Tommy Glenn Carmichael, a man who spent forty years beating slot machines in Las Vegas. His technique though was not based on mathematics or finding favourable machines, or even being incredibly lucky. The way he cheated the machines was altogether simpler – he rigged them. Unfortunately for Tommy though his success story came to a sticky end when he was found out and ended up serving time in prison.
Tommy began his pro-life in TV; not on it, but fixing and selling televisions
Tommy did not begin life as a slot cheat. Indeed, once his school years (and a few … ahem .. drug convictions) were behind him he opened up and ran a moderately successful TV repair and sales shop called ‘Ace TV Sales and Service’ in the 1980s.
After his third divorce, Tommy must have thought that the normal life was not for him … which is maybe why he became extremely interested when an associate of his called Ray Ming introduced him to the concept of the ‘top-bottom joint’ used to cheat slot machines.
(And if you, at this point in the article are becoming extremely interested about the thought of cheating real-world slot machines then here’s the bad news … the technique described here absolutely no longer works).
The joint was a very simple mechanic tool, or cheat. It consisted of nothing more than a long piece of guitar wire upon which was fixed a small piece of a spring. In the 1980s most slots machines operated mechanically in that when a specific combination of symbols appeared on the reels, a combination of devices would trip within the slot to release a cascade of coins. These days such machines are controlled by computer chips.
Tommy and Ray found a way of persuading slots to payout without paying in
By feeding the top-bottom joint into the machine, and with a bit of ‘touch and feel’ Carmichael and Ming found that they could cause the coin-release mechanism to trip without even spinning the reels. The result would be a cascade of quarters with no coinage required.
You would think that casinos would be wise to someone feeding a length of wire into a machine to cause it to splash the cash, but Tommy honed his technique so that he would not be noticed. He started on smaller-paying machines and then moved on to bigger slots in Las Vegas. Tommy later claimed that in his first ‘nefarious’ weekend in Las Vegas he took home over $10,000.
Staggeringly, Tommy amassed millions of dollars from Las Vegas casinos over the next twenty years or so without once being caught. Sadly though, for Tommy, this cash cow was about to go belly up. Las Vegas was slowly replacing all their mechanical slots with video-based ones. Even the mechanical slots were now controlled by computer chips, and it was the chips that triggered a pay-out. Unfortunately, it takes a little more than a bit of a spring on a guitar string to fool a computer chip.
Tommy was forced to conduct his hobby in lesser-known gambling halls that still housed mechanical slots. As there were less populated there was more chance of him being spotted … and eventually he was. Tommy enjoyed a very successful week at one particular spot but that week was about to come to an abrupt end … as he had been noticed and plain-clothed policemen had been following him all week, building the case against him.
Prison should have been the end of Tommy’s career … but it just saw him change track
Tommy was found guilty of fraud and served five years in prison. For most people, this would signal the end of the criminal career, but for Tommy, it just meant a change in direction. He met a man called Michael Balsamo in prison and together they devised new ways to cheat casinos.
The pair came up with new tools. One they christened The Monkey Paw which could be fed into the payout chute of a video poker machine in order to get the device to cough up. The second was called The Light Wand which would trigger the electronics within slots, also to make the payout. As well as hitting casinos, Tommy and his partners would sell their devices on the black market.
For four years Tommy, Balsamo and another associate called Ramon David Pereira ran their illicit operations until 1996 when the gang of miscreants were caught. Tommy though was only sentenced to a single year in prison, and then spent three years on probation during which he was not allowed to visit any casino.
Once released Tommy decided to turn his back on crime, and even offered to help the Nevada Gaming Commission to develop a way of blocking his devices. The device he came up with did indeed block his other devices … but Tommy could easily convert it to a device that was another cheating tool all of its own. The Nevada Gaming Commission eventually came up with a much better anti-cheating device – they banned Tommy from all casinos within the state.
Tommy eventually ended up living with his mother in Tulsa, still tinkering with gadgets. Not a lot has been heard from Tommy since 2003, but if you are playing a slot and a 70-year-old man next to you starts feeding wire into his machine, you might just be standing next to Tommy Glen Carmichael.
Ari Waknine was born in Brooklyn, New York and was the founder of iGamble Group, an online gaming critique firm that helps players pick online gambling websites that fit their profile, as well as, helping them to increase their winnings. He is also the founder of NewCasinos.org, and is strictly focusing on this project making stronger and better than ever.