Armed man gets away with $32,000 in chips from the Rio

A man wearing a fedora, fake mustache and sunglasses walked into the Rio just west of the Strip on Thursday morning and stole $32,000 in chips at gunpoint.

Nobody was hurt during the early morning robbery at the casino resort on Flamingo Road west of Interstate 15. The culprit escaped in a taxi, Las Vegas police said.

Police described the suspect as a white man between the ages of 40 and 50.

A casino official familiar with the investigation described the robbery to The Associated Press and said the suspect made off with about $21,000 in $1,000 chips. The rest of the chips stolen were worth $500, $100 and $25 each. The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly release details of the crime.

Officer Barbara Morgan, a Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman, said the suspect fled the Rio at 4:33 a.m. Thirteen minutes later, the suspect was seen at the Terrible’s hotel-casino on Paradise Road, south of Flamingo, where he had been dropped off. There was conflicting information Thursday afternoon as to whether the suspect also had arrived at the Rio by cab.

Police interviewed the taxi driver who was cooperative, Morgan said. She said the driver didn’t see the suspect’s gun.

“He was never in fear of his life,” Morgan said.

The brazen robbery comes two months after a $1.5 million heist in chips during an early morning heist at the nearby Bellagio. In that case, at 3:50 a.m. on Dec. 14, the robber parked his motorcycle outside, walked in wearing a helmet, robbed a craps table, and fled. The suspect, Anthony Carleo, 29, was arrested earlier this month.

Carleo faces charges that include armed robbery and assault. Bail for Carleo was set at $1 million during a Wednesday court hearing. Jail records showed Carleo was still in custody Thursday afternoon.

In the Bellagio robbery, most of the chips stolen were worth $25,000 each — a denomination unusual for most gamblers. Chips worth $1,000 each or less are far more common in Las Vegas casinos, making them tougher to track individually.

Carleo, son of Las Vegas Municipal Judge George Assad, was arrested Feb. 2 at the Bellagio, where he had been staying for days at a time after the robbery, police said. Carleo appeared to have gambled away about $300,000 in stolen chips. The $25,000 chips had been taken out of circulation after the robbery.

Undercover detectives made several purchases of the $25,000 chips from Carleo, who sold them for between $7,000 to $10,000 each, police said.

There was no initial indication that the Rio robbery was a copycat crime, although police are concerned about a possible uptick in casino robberies involving gaming chips, Morgan said. In the Rio case, Morgan predicted the suspect won’t be free for long.

“We will get him in custody just like we got the last one in custody,” she said, referring to the Bellagio robbery suspect.

Jerry Keller, who was Clark County sheriff from 1995 to 2003, recalled robberies involving gaming chips happening in the 1970s. Keller called it a “fruitless crime” and couldn’t remember a single instance when a casino robber went unapprehended.

“As long as we’ve had casinos, people have been trying to rob them. It’s just like 7-Elevens,” Keller said.

Keller, who was vice president of security for Wynn Las Vegas from 2003 to 2006, said Rio security most likely has taken the casino’s $1,000 chips out of circulation. He was not sure how the theft of the smaller denomination chips would be handled, but said casinos are prepared to change to new chips after robberies occur.

He also said that as in the Bellagio heist where security allowed the gunman to leave the property to avoid a gunfight, Rio security would have avoided acting in a way that put patrons in harm’s way.

He said police and casino security have a strong partnership in which their roles are strictly defined.

“Nobody wants a gunfight inside a crowded casino,” Keller said. “That’s the police job. Security are there to enforce the rules. Police are there to enforce the laws.”

Thursday’s robbery was not the first casino robbery in which a suspect used a taxi to flee a crime scene.

In November 2008, a suspect walked into Fitzgeralds downtown, presented a note to the main casino cage attendant and walked off with $5,300. The suspect never showed a weapon and left in a cab.

Casino robberies are infrequent but not rare. During the past two years, there have been about 10 casino robberies each year under the jurisdiction of Las Vegas police.

David G. Schwartz, director of gaming research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said there really is no “intelligent” way to go about robbing a casino. Although casinos might appear to be soft targets, they are heavily monitored by surveillance cameras, he said. Cameras are the reason why casinos don’t install metal detectors at entrances, he said.

Schwartz said whoever committed the Rio robbery will most likely have to return to the casino, or have someone go back for them, to cash the stolen chips.

He did not rule out the possibility that the Rio robbery was inspired by the Bellagio heist, which captured worldwide headlines.

“It might be a copycat case,” Schwartz said. “Maybe they saw the first robbery happened and didn’t go so well for the perpetrator and thought they had a better way to do it.”

Anyone with information about the robberies is asked to call the Las Vegas Police Robbery Section at 828-3591. To remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 385-5555.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283. Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638.

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