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History of the Las Vegas Skim
If you’ve seen the various movies about Las Vegas, most of them deal with the history of the town and the events that have peppered its colorful history. Some are just fantasy stories (Ocean’s 11) and some are biographies about important figures in Vegas’ history (Bugsy). One in particular is a mix of fact and fiction called “Casino” (warning: not for the kids) that is an embellished recounting of Vegas’ history of involvement with the mafia.
Every wonder why you don’t hear much about the mob and Vegas these days? For that matter, have you ever wondered why it is you don’t hear much about Casinos being robbed? That’s because these days, thanks to technology, it's almost impossible to steal from a Casino.
The Golden Era of Las Vegas
First let’s take a look at the “Golden Era” of Las Vegas, and the way things were done back then.
1965, the height of the “Rat Pack” era. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Louis Prima (we know, he wasn’t officially in the Rat Pack), Wayne Newton, Judy Garland… Hollywood’s biggest performers were names on the marquee out in front of legendary first casinos in Las Vegas like Ceasar’s The Sahara, The Landmark, The Flamingo, and even Bob Stupak’s Vegas World (this isn’t about the colorful Bob Stupak, though we might profile him in another post). Money was the ultimate goal of both gambler and casino alike. And while there were plenty of gamblers who cheated, there were also plenty of casinos who weren’t necessarily on the up and up either. For the most part, Casinos didn’t cheat. They didn’t need to. Thanks to mafia influence, there were other ways of taking millions from a casino without having to draw too much attention.
So let’s say you’re a slot player in 1965. You put a hundred dollars into a quarter machine and over the course of the next three hours, slowly lose it all. That’s OK, you budgeted for it, and while you were hoping to make some extra cash, you had fun playing.
At some point after midnight, the machine you played is opened up by security guards and the money emptied into what are essentially buckets. Maybe not all that money makes it into the buckets; maybe some of it is pocketed. Than that money is transported to the count room where only three or four people are allowed to be at any given time. This is essentially the vault of the hotel. Here, your hundred dollars is combined with the rest of the money taken out of the machine, as well as the rest of the money taken in by the casino at other machines as well as the table games. If this were a crooked hotel, this is where the skim would happen.
What Is the Las Vegas Skim?
A skim is where a casino would make, say, two hundred thousand dollars in a night, but only report that they made a hundred and fifty thousand. That fifty thousand disappears, maybe into a bag, or suitcase, or the trunk of someone’s car. You see, that money is subject to Nevada State Gaming taxes, and the less money declared, the less the casino has to pay taxes, with the undeclared skim going to line the pockets of the mob. Other techniques used to skim were rigged scales; designed to weigh currency lighter than actually indicated so the casino could keep the remainder. Loose pulls were when a random machine would be emptied apart from its scheduled time and the contents never reported. Everything was regulated by the Nevada Gaming Commission and it was all too easy to get a gaming regulator to look the other way.
And then there was the technique of the staged robbery. After all the money had been counted and placed into an armored truck for transport, sometimes those trucks were robbed by member of the very mafia who ran the casino. That’s right, they robbed themselves, and then wrote off the losses, recouped most of it through insurance, and pocketed the ‘winnings’.
In 1977, the Stardust Casino in Las Vegas was caught skimming fifteen million dollars as a result of short counts. This gives you an idea of how lucrative casinos were for the mafia in those days.
Those Skimming Days Are Over
Now, all slot machines are connected to networks, most of which are private, and most are monitored by the Nevada State Gaming Commission. Yes, there is still a count room, because the tables still deal with cash transaction, but the amounts counted are far less than what they used to be (some of you more seasoned gamers may have noticed how many perks of playing at casinos – cheap food, comped rooms, etc. – have mostly disappeared. This may or may not be related to the fact that it is nearly impossible to skim the count these days), and they are heavily monitored by more than just one gaming regulator.
In the case of slot machines, let’s say you put a dollar into the ‘Running Buffalos’ slot (not an actual game, though there are similar themed slots). The computer in that game immediately communicates to a central server at both the game’s manufacturer headquarters and the Nevada Gaming Control headquarters that your dollar was just received. Throughout the night, that slot machine will keep a running tally of the money it has taken in (and paid out) and that information will be transmitted to the casino. This applies for every game manufactured after 2010, and every game in the casino where you’re playing. The results of the computerized tally are compared to the actual count of that evening’s take and if there are discrepancies, then there will be questions, and possibly investigations.
Technology Has Just Made It Too Hard to Skim
This is why you don’t really hear about the mafia being involved much in Vegas (and other gambling meccas) any more. Technology has just made it too hard to skim, and far too easy to get caught in the process.
By the way, if you belong to one of those players clubs, you should be aware that the casino is keeping track of your gambling activities in order to target you with perks that will entice you to spend more on the casino floor. Just a heads up from us.
CASH 1 does not condone irresponsible gambling or borrowing. Don’t get yourself into gambling debt, and never, ever take out a loan for the purposes of gaming. If you do find yourself in financial trouble, come see us about signature loans in Las Vegas or payday loans in Henderson, NV. If you're planning a visit to Las Vegas feel to check out these things to do in Vegas.
Joseph Priebe takes pride in assisting audiences with his articles to help them make sound financial decisions.
With over ten years of experience writing financial content his goal at CASH 1 has always been creating engaging and easy-to-digest information for anyone searching for immediate or long-term monetary solutions.
When Joseph is not writing about personal finance, you can find him photographing the Southwest United States with his 4x5 Graflex Crown Graphic camera. He is based in Phoenix, Arizona.