The popular image of a major casino is one that conveys glamour, excitement and style. Millions of people from around the globe visit the gambling meccas of Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Macau to play thrilling games of chance, have an entertaining vacation and, quite possibly, make all of their dreams come true.
However, not every story set in a casino involves big jackpots or lucky winners. Many true casino stories are amusing, bizarre or just downright criminal. Any place that handles millions of dollars a day and brings in so many different types of characters will evoke stories that are often much stranger and more unbelievable than any Hollywood fiction.
Below are some of our favorite true casino stories of 2010. Enjoy.
Indiana Governor Supports Blackjack Card Counter: True Gambling Stories
Blackjack card counter Thomas Donovan’s true casino story made its way from a small casino in Indiana all the way to the governor’s mansion. In a commencement speech at Franklin College, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels used Donovan’s card-counting experience as an example of how graduates could use their intellect and skill to “shift the odds” in their favor.
When officials at the Grand Victoria Casino got word that Donovan was counting cards, they immediately ejected him. Donovan later sued the casino and challenged their policy against card counters. Card counting is neither cheating nor illegal, but many casinos ban the practice and labels counters “advantage players” with unfair knowledge of the game.
“Unabomber” Breaks Endurance Record: True Gambling Stories
Poker pro Phil “Unabomber” Laak is known for his hooded sweatshirts, sunglasses and bizarre behavior at the tables. During televised poker broadcasts, he often celebrates winning a hand by doing calisthenics on the poker room floor. In June 2010, he showed off his physical fitness in a different way: he played poker at the Bellagio in Las Vegas for nearly five straight days.
Laak set a new poker endurance record by playing $10/$20 no-limit Texas Holdem for over 115 hours, five hours shy of five consecutive gays. He broke the previous record set by British poker pro Paul Zimbler by nearly two days. Over the five days, Laak netted $6,766, half of which he donated to Camp Sunshine, a summer camp for children with fatal illnesses.
Korean Gang Sets Up Fake Casinos: True Gambling Stories
A gang of South Korean con men set up fake “underground” casinos throughout China in order to attract rich businessmen. The con men promised the businessmen guided tours, hotel suites and golf trips to go along with the gambling excursions. Gambling is illegal in South Korea, and citizens are not allowed to gamble when they take trips abroad.
The criminals used hotel banquet halls to hold their rigged casino games. The con involved allowing the visitors to win at their rigged baccarat games, and then slowly turn the players’ “luck” against them. When the player’s debt ran high enough, another player (who also worked for the gang) would offer to help the “unlucky” player repay the debt, and then request a bank transfer to pay back the loan.
Californians Use Welfare Cards at Casino ATMs: True Gambling Stories
As a cost-cutting measure, California’s Department of Social Services began issuing debit cards to government assistance recipients in place of checks. An investigation uncovered that some welfare recipients were using the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards at automated teller machines in the state’s casinos.
The investigation showed that more than half of the state’s poker rooms and Native American casinos had ATMs that accepted the EBT cards for cash transfers. A spokesman for then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said that the use of EBT cards at casinos was “reprehensible” and promised that the governor would prevent any use of taxpayer money intended for welfare users to be used in casinos.
Seven-Year-Old Girl is a Poker Genius: True Gambling Stories
While most little girls want to spend their summer vacation at Disneyland, one special girl in Texas spent hers at the 2010 World Series of Poker. Alexa Fisher, a seven-year-old girl from Cibolo, Texas, skipped out on the chance to see Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Cinderella. Instead she went to Las Vegas to see Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson and Doyle Brunson.
Alexa’s father, Justin, used cards to teach his daughter to count at the age of three. Alexa watched poker broadcasts with her father and quickly picked up Texas Hold’em. The straight-A student also learned about games such as lowball, HORSE and badugi. She told an interviewer that her favorite poker game was Omaha and her favorite player was female poker pioneer Barbara Enright.
Four Brothers Cash in WSOP Main Event: True Gambling Stories
Veteran poker pro Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi had a memorable World Series of Poker in 2010. He became the first man to win $1 million in two different events in the same year. He won $1.56 million at the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship and earned $2.3 million when he finished fifth in the $10,000 buy-in Main Event.
He was also one of four brothers to cash in the Main Event, the first time in history a family has accomplished that feat in the same year. Michael’s older brother Robert, also a poker pro, finished in position 116 and earned $57,102. His youngest brother, Dani, went out in position 345 and took home $36,463. Michael’s twin brother, Eric, barely finished in the money. He won $19,263 after finishing in position 718.
Thief Steals US$1.5 Million in Chips: True Gambling Stories
A thief at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas pulled off a daring daylight armed robbery, netting himself $1.5 million in chips. He pointed a gun at a croupier, grabbed handfuls of chips off a craps table and sprinted for the door. Casino security guards followed his escape from the casino on their surveillance cameras, but did not attempt to stop him.
For all the daring and drama, the thief failed to consider how he would turn his ill-gotten gains into actual money. Casino chips are only redeemable for cash at the establishment in which they are won. Also, many casinos plant radio frequency identification tags (RFID) into higher-denomination chips in order to track high-rollers. What may have appeared to be $1.5 million to the thief was, in fact, nothing more than worthless plastic.
Poker Player Drinks 42 Beers: True Gambling Stories
An Australian poker player rang out 2010 in style at a Sydney casino. Instead of toasting the New Year with champagne, the unnamed player celebrated with beers – forty-two of them in fewer than eighteen hours. The player ordered five beers every two hours during his session and managed to keep his “poker face” intact – even when he dozed at the table.
The Australian Casino Liquor and Gaming Authority fined the Star City Casino $10,000 for allowing the player to continue to drink so heavily. The casino fired one bartender and suspended two other poker room staffers for continuing to serve the intoxicated player.