There’s a famous story about when Sean Connery visited an Italian casino, betting at the roulette table for number 17 to win. After a couple of unlucky spins, the number 17 came in on three consecutive turns, betting Connery a cool £160,000 (in today’s money).
Not many players have that kind of luck, which is why people like Tommy Carmichael turned to cheating instead. For almost four decades, Tommy Carmichael managed to cheat the slots and earned himself millions of pounds in the process.
Like most cheats and fraudsters, he didn’t know when to stop and eventually got caught and jailed.
This is his story.
The Early Years
A natural proficiency for mechanics meant that Tommy Carmichael started off working with TV mechanisms, opening a shop for sales and repairs. Despite his fascination with technology and how things worked, life went off track, and he was slapped with community services for drug offences while he was going through his third divorce.
A school friend, Ray Ming, seemed to be the saviour for Tommy, introducing him to the intricacies of slot machines – and producing a tool that would help him to cheat them.
Tommy used his mechanical talents to disassemble a mini slot machine to learn how it worked, practising with the tool until he could use it discreetly. At his first attempt on a small device in Vegas, Tommy won $35 in just a few minutes. And just like that, he was hooked. In just one weekend, Tommy hit small machines all over Vegas, collecting thousands of pounds in fraudulent winnings.
In one of the most notable gambling scams of Vegas, Tommy Carmichael collected millions of dollars from Vegas casinos over the subsequent few years. More sophisticated fraud detection devices forced Tommy to switch to smaller casinos that hadn't invested in the software. It was much harder to pull off scams undetected in smaller venues, and eventually, Tommy was rumbled. He tried to proclaim his innocence, but the police spotted the top-bottom tool in his pocket. Unknown to Tommy, the police had been trailing him for a week and were well aware of what he was doing.
That may have seemed to be the end of Tommy’s story – but more was yet to come. While in prison serving his five-year sentence, he met another crook who was involved in the same type of scam, Michel Balsamo.
Planning to defraud more casinos on their release, they quickly realised that their existing tools couldn”t circumvent the new random number generators. Not one to give up easily, Tommy spent the next six months learning about the mechanisms of the new machines and trialling different tools. Eventually, he came up with a new one: the Monkey Paw. This slid into the payment channel, connecting with the micro-machine switch and forcing a payout.
Just for good measure, Tommy visited a casino and masqueraded as a potential buyer, persuading a casino worker to open the machine up and describe how it worked. It enabled Tommy to develop his second new tool: The Light Wand.
Rather than just using the Light Wand himself, Tommy joined forces with other scammers to maximise returns and also to sell the Light Wand for $10,000 to others. They scammed every casino in Las Vegas and frequented some in Atlantic City too. On average, the gang was creaming off $5 million every day.
Caught Once More
Tommy’s good fortune lasted for around four years until new sophisticated surveillance equipment caught him in the act at Circus Circus Hotel and Casino. Although he was taken into custody, Tommy was released just 24 hours later as the evidence was not strong enough.
He went on to be arrested multiple times, eventually being sentenced to a year in prison and three years of probation. He was banned from casinos, and his two houses were confiscated.
In an abrupt U-turn, Tommy volunteered to work with the Nevada Gaming Commission to create a fraud prevention device. His most successful device was The Protector and works against scamming devices which are still tried today.
Despite his excellent work, Tommy Carmichael is still banned from all Nevada casinos for life. He remains unrepentant and insists that the authorities “cannot accept” that he managed to “correct” the situation and collect a “little profit”