the man who beat vegas - Richard Marcus

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the man who beat vegas - Richard Marcus

T H E M A N W H O B EAT V EGA SKINGOf TheCHEATS!AIn 1999, Richard Marcus was the most wanted man in Vegas afterterrorising casinos for two decades with his brilliant chip-switchingmoves. Now, after six years of lying low, FHM flies him back…WORDS: PIERS HERNU PHOTOGRAPHY: JAMES STENSON“FIFTEEN MILLIONdollars, give ortake a million.”It’s the answerto a questionwe’ve beenitching to ask allday, but reallyweren’t sure he’d tell us.The man sitting opposite FHM,playing with a pile of casino chips, isRichard Marcus, a young-looking 50-year-old New Yorker who speaks likehe’s straight out of GoodFellas. Andthat 15 mill he’s owned up to is the nettakings of his “career” – as he calls it –making money by cheating casinos.Playing blackjack, roulette, baccaratand craps, he and his team toured theworld, living like kings as they did so.Tonight, FHM is in the presence of098 FHMFHM plays a handwith the world’sgreatest casino cheatgreatness – Richard is thefinest casino cheat of all time.It’s 2am and we’re in his room onthe 22nd floor of the MGM Grand, thebiggest hotel in Vegas – and the wholegoddamn world. Throughout theNineties, this was one of the hotelcasinos that Richard and the other twomembers of his teamripped off for thousands ofdollars on an almost nightlybasis. As the lights of theStrip twinkle in thedistance,Richard shows us someof his chip “moves” onthe bedroom table:clever sleight-of-handmanoeuvres that helpedhim bag fortune after fortunewith staggering regularity.It’s jaw-dropping stuff.“Now,” he says witha smile, “I’m gonna show you how todo the Savannah.” He rolls up hissleeves and positions a stack of casinochips. “I came up with this move backin 1992, and it’s the greatest cheatingmove of all time.”Sweet Jesus. It is… s


Getty Images, LFITHE DOWN AND OUTEarlier in the day, we met Richard inthe lobby of the MGM Grand and tooka walk down Las Vegas’ famous Strip,a vast, six-lane highway dominated byenormous themed hotels on each side.This is the first time Richard has beenback in Vegas since he retired fromcasino cheating on New Year’s Eve1999 to write his memoirs, the resultof which is The Great Casino Heist,which we speed-read, mesmerised,on the flight over here. “I’ve alwaysloved Vegas,” sighs Richard, drinkingin the familiar sights and sounds. “Howcould I not? It’s been so good to me.”But that wasn’t always the case. Aswe head towards New York, New York– a hotel built to resemble Manhattan’sskyline – Richard points out a flyover infront of us. “See that bridge? That’s theone I had to sleep under when I firstcame out here.”Way back in the long, hotsummer of 1976, a 20-year-oldlad from New York who lovedgambling pulled into Vegas’Riviera Hotel in a MustangConvertible and booked intoan $800-a-night suite. Burninga hole in the boot of his carwas $20,000 he’d won ina lucky bet at the Saratogaracetrack in New York. Thatafternoon, he wasted no timein taking it straight to thebaccarat tables where his luckcontinued. “I was on a roll –I turned that 20 into 50, then80, then $100,000. The casinopaid for my suite and filled upmy champagne glass at itsbest parties.” Richard’schampagne bubble, however,was about to burst.On the night of his 21st birthday, inone nightmarish baccarat session, helost the whole $100,000. The next dayhe sold the Mustang and blew thatcash, too. Thrown out of his suite, hewent from the lap of luxury to sleepingalongside tramps under the very bridgewe’re now gazing at. “I had to use myduffel bag as a pillow,” he winces.Later that evening we take a taxito downtown Vegas where the neonburns just as bright as the Strip, but theAway from thesecurity cameras,Richard showsus his movescasinos and people are several shadesshabbier. It’s here where gamblers whohave lost everything – even the moneyto get home – stay, often for the rest oftheir lives, in a haze of booze andsquandered social security cheques.This is the dark underbelly of what,for the last three decades, has been thefastest growing city in the States, a townthat can mercilesslydazzle and destroythe unwary, greedyor plain unlucky.EASY COME, EASY GOVegas: the stuff of legends. And idiots…TRAMPOVERDOES ITIn the spring of 1996 atTreasure Island Casino, ahomeless man cashed hissocial security cheque of$400 and started playing$5 blackjack. His strategywas so erratic thatexperts were called in ashe kept on winning, anda week later was up over$2.5m. Two days later hewas back down to$50,000. He blew the restdowntown and soon diedof a heart attack.OZ GETS LUCKYThe biggest single winfor one stay at a casinois attributed to Aussiebillionaire Kerry Packer,who won $22 million atthe MGM Grand. Packergave back about a third ofVegas winnerKerry Packer(above) and loserJay Sarno (right).his winningsto the MGM’semployees as tips.CHIEF LOSES BIGJay Sarno, who foundedthe Circus Circus andCaesars Palace, was oneof Vegas’s biggest highT H E M A N W H O B EAT V EGA SFor 20 years,Richard rippedoff Vegas’biggest casinosALL IN THE HANDS!“Right here is where I got a job andpulled myself out of the shit,” explainsRichard as we walk through the doorsof The Four Queens casino. Havingshoplifted some clothes and blagged hisway into a dealing school, it was herethat he became a baccaratdealer and met the man whowould change his life.rollers throughoutthe Sixties and Seventies.He lost between 50 and60 million dollars in hisgambling career.LAS VEGASCAN DESTROYTHE GREEDYAND UNLUCKYLUCKY JOE“Wow,” Richard says, witha nostalgic glint in his eye.“This is the very table I usedto deal at. It was right here,late one night in June 1977, thatI dealt to a guy called Joe Classon.”As Richard talks, we wander acrossthe street to the most famous casino inthe world – Binion’s Horseshoe – theonly casino to accept any bet, whateverthe size. We have a drink at the barwhere, after his shift, Richard met upwith Classon, a well-dressed man inhis 40s who introduced himself as acasino cheat and made him an offer hecouldn’t refuse: “Come up with a scamto rip off the Four Queens and you canjoin my team and live the life of Reilly.”After racking his brain for a week,Richard came up with a scam thatinvolved shuffling the cards at the endof his shift in such a way that anyoneplaying against the dealer who tookover from him would win the nextfive hands in a row. It worked likea dream, netting Joe, his two partnersand the new boy $21,000 betweenthem. Richard immediately jacked inhis job and joined the team full time.He swiftly learned that the key to Joeand his team’s success lay in the art of“pastposting”, the subtle skill of replacinga pile of small denomination chips inroulette, blackjack, craps or baccarat sFHM 101


T H E M A N W H O B EAT V EGA SRoulette offers awhole galaxy ofcheating moveswith a different set of larger value chips.They would only make the switch afterthe result of the spin or hand wasknown and they could see they’d won.If the bet was a losing one, the originalstack was left untouched and they’dwave goodbye to a few bucks. But ifthey won – and could slide in the biggerchips without being caught – they werequids in. Using a combination ofmeticulous planning, discreetcommunication, timing and sheer balls,Joe’s four-man team would manipulatethe dealers and their pit bosses bothphysically and psychologically toensure big pay-offs every night.“After the first time I made a claim,I told Joe I couldn’t think of anything I’drather be doing with my life,” explainsRichard upstairs in Binion’s Steakhouse.“I felt great. It wasn’t just the money – itwas the camaraderie as well.”Eyes alight with memories, Richardgoes on to explain how, during thatfateful September, the team launchedan all-out assault on Vegas. But itwasn’t all plain sailing. “The payoffrate was about 85%, and we had a fewclose calls.” When things didn’t gosmoothly, careful retreats wereTHE SAVANNAHNO BET TOO BIG!necessary and soon, as word of theirexploits spread throughout Vegas, itwas time to get the hell out. “That’swhen we went on our world tour,” hegrins, “and it lasted for 22 years.”THE BLACKJACK MOVELater, Richard gives us a tour of thelegendary Caesars Palace. “This iswhere I want to be buried,” he says.“They just paid and paid us here.” Fromthere, it’s on to Peppermills restaurant,the team’s emergency meeting placewhenever they had to do a runner.All this talk of past glories hasRichard’s fingers itching again, and he’ssoon keen to show us his moves – butaway from the eye-in-the-sky security.We disappear to his room at the MGM.Outside Binion’sHorseshoe, theonly casino thatnever refuses a bet‘THE DEALERSALMOST NEVER SEEYOU SWITCHING CHIPS’“Okay,” he says, spreading somechips on the table. “This is theBlackjack Move – the real bread andbutter move of pastposting. It’s the onlyone you can do on your own.” We grinnervously, knowing that we’reprobably going to give it a go onceRichard heads back to New York.“You have to approach the table ina way that doesn’t draw attention toyourself,” he says. “When the dealer issweeping the cards from the last handplayed, place your bet squarely in thecircle and sit down at ‘third base’ – thefirst betting circle on the dealer’s right.Do not fuck up her robotical function –once you do that then you become thefuck up!” And so begins lesson one ofthe Blackjack Move. Third base, heThe greatest cheat move ever devised, revealed at last!explains, is the last place to be dealt ahand and the first to be paid. Richardshows us how immediately after beingpaid for a winning hand, he swaps hisoriginal three $5 chips for two $10sunder a five, pockets the original bet,taps the hand of the dealer and tells hershe’s paid him wrong – all in one fluidmotion. “Never be afraid that thedealer is gonna see you switch thechips, it almost never happens,” hesays. “The beauty of it is that, when shepays you, your hands are supposed tobe coming out there to get yourmoney.” Now it’s our turn and hemakes us repeat it time and time again.“That’s good,” he says after20 attempts. “Three weeks afterI taught my buddy Pat this move hewent through Caesars doing $5,000a pop and we made $112,000 in oneweekend.” Having revealed the basicsof the Blackjack Move, Richard moveson to his masterpiece – the Savannah(see panel). “The beauty of this moveis that there’s minimal risk,” hegrins, “even when you getcaught red-handed.”RETURNOF THE KINGThe next morning we headback to downtown Vegaswhere, inside the Fremont casino,two people are playing roulette. “Thisis the table where we first tested theSavannah,” Richard whispers, “and I’mgonna show you how. Now, if the dealersees my black $100 chip, because it’sa large amount he has to say ‘blackaction’. Go stand by the wheel.”With that, he pulls two chips out ofhis pocket, places the red $5 chip on topof the black $100 chip, making sure itjuts out over the red by about the widthof two matchsticks. From where I’mstanding the black chip is invisible.From where the dealer’s standing itobviously is too because, despitelooking twice at the bet, he saysnothing and spins the ball. Smiling,Richard removes his bet – quitelegitimately, before the dealer says “nomore bets” – and beckons me to followhim outside. “That’s the move,” sIllustration: Peter Liddiardn First, stack your small value chips (the red ones)on top of your big one (purple) in such a way thatthey hide the purple from the dealer.n If the hand wins, scream with delight and drawthe dealer’s attention to the unseen purple. He’llbe in a daze – but he’ll have to pay.n Losing bet? Just swipe up all your chips in anger.If the dealer catches you, replace them with astack of reds. Remember: he never saw the purple.102 FHM

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