Casino bandit’s feat may chip away at gamblers’ secrecy
December 19, 2010 - 12:00 am
Danny Ocean, he ain’t. But the Bellagio Bandit generated major headlines after robbing the Strip resort of an estimated $1.5 million in casino chips Tuesday and getting way on a motorcycle.
From the Grand Forks Herald to The Wall Street Journal, the heist made news. The brazen criminal act surely set Hollywood scriptwriters to scribbling. Some celluloid dreamer is probably pitching “Ocean’s Eleven — on Harleys” at this very moment.
In addition to headlines, the bandit also made a few enemies.
You would expect MGM Resorts International officials to take this seriously. The chips can be replaced, but waving a gun around is bad for Bellagio’s civilized image.
Escaping with $1.5 million in chips is a good way to get on the casino security chief’s bad side. Although Bellagio security did nothing to detain the armed robber, supposedly out of a desire to ensure customer safety, the easy getaway will encourage others to take a chance.
And it doesn’t say a lot for the countless millions the casinos and valley law enforcement have spent on high-tech surveillance post-Sept. 11.
Forget that the armed robber won’t likely be able to cash the $25,000 chips even if they aren’t outfitted with microchip technology. There just aren’t many gamblers walking around with $25,000 tokens in their pockets.
But high-rolling professional poker players do keep large-denomination chips in their casino lock boxes. And those players are sure to be sore at the bandit.
Because people, including the folks at the IRS, are bound to start wondering just how much loot is stashed in those boxes beyond prying eyes, ex-wives, and the Tax Man. Poker players use big chips to build their bankrolls and stay off the record. For top poker players and sports bettors, those lock boxes are like an extension of the Cayman Islands.
Now the next time one tries to cash a high-dollar chip from Bellagio, bells and whistles will go off. There will be more scrutiny, including interest from the IRS.
“The guys that are pissed off right now are the poker guys,” Las Vegas Advisor publisher and professional gambler Anthony Curtis says. “It’s a little more funky than it appears.”
Will the Bellagio take those high-dollar chips out of circulation? That might compel the robber to make a mistake, but it also might force those poker players and sports bettors to dust off their stash chips and redeem them.
“The most angry people are the guys who have been hoarding those chips,” Curtis cracks. “The second most angry guys are the people who walk around in motorcycle helmets.”
It reminds me of the time Ted Binion swiped stacks of $5,000 chips from Binion’s Horseshoe when he was forced out as a part owner of the downtown casino. The irrepressible Bob Stupak wound up with a pocketful and tried unsuccessfully to redeem them.
Outside the poker rooms, not everyone is angry with the Bellagio Bandit. In fact, I’d bet that privately the folks who developed and marketed the microchip gaming chip technology used at some casinos — alas, not at the Bellagio, I’m informed — are turning cartwheels. Their business just got a boost.
One final question: Will anyone have the audacity to blend some of those suspect chips in with their own stash when the time comes to cash in? Poker players are risk-takers by nature.
Curtis says he believes a few might be tempted if they can pick up a stolen stack for pennies on the dollar. However, “with all the heat, I doubt even these poker players will take a shot. The chips will probably end up in a landfill somewhere.”
In the old days, the Bellagio Bandit might have wound up there, too.
See how civilized Las Vegas is getting?
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.