Top 10: Epic Las Vegas Heists

Top 10: Epic Las Vegas Heists

Tuesday, Jan 12, 2010 | By CasinoGuide

It can be hard to research Las Vegas heists because they are among the least publicized crimes in America. Due to their under-reported nature, the public tends to believe that Las Vegas casinos are impervious to robberies.

Heists are not as unusual as one might think, however, and successful heists are the rule rather than the exception.

In any given year, there are 10-20 casino robberies in Las Vegas, and about 65% of them go unsolved.  This is a very low clearance percentage given that bank robberies are solved at a rate of 80%.

Of course, smaller casinos are hit more often than larger or even online ones. If interested, save gaming is guaranteed at

In 2003, the Eureka Casino on East Sahara Avenue was robbed six times, making it the most frequently boosted gambling parlor of that time.

Given the labyrinthian nature of Strip casino layouts, omnipresent security cameras, and the lack of easy egress from the area surrounding the Boulevard -- it takes careful planning and a large amount of luck to pull off a successful heist, but it has been done.

Following are the most notable Las Vegas heists of the last few decades.

1.  Circus Circus (1993)

Heather Tallchief and Roberto stole an armored car from Circus Circus with around $2.5 million in it. They managed to escape to the Cayman Islands but Solis left Tallchief with only $1000 and a child ... he has since disappeared.

Tallchief turned herself in to authorities after being on the run for 13 years. When asked why she did it, Tallchief claimed Solis used hypnosis and sex magic to get her to help.

2.  Stardust (1992)

In 1992, Bill Brennan was an employee of the Stardust Hotel & Casino.  One day, he went on a lunch break and walked past security with $500,000 in cash and chips which he had stowed in a backpack.

He was never seen again, and has been on the FBI's most wanted list for 17 years. No solid leads about his whereabouts have ever been uncovered.

3.  Hilton (2008)

One of the most brazen large casino robberies occurred two blocks from The Las Vegas Strip.  At approximately 6:15am, two robbers wearing motorcycle helmets entered the Hilton Sportsbook from Joe W. Brown drive and pulled handguns.

They relieved the cashiers of a six figure sum in cash and chips (rumored to be in the neighborhood of $500,000), and fled in a series of stolen automobiles.  The entire robbery took about 45 seconds from start to finish.


4.  MIT Blackjack Team (1980 - ?)

Whether or not this counts as a heist is open to debate, but anytime money is taken from the house via covert means, it's close enough.

Now famous in books and films, the MIT Blackjack team ran one of the most successful card-counting operations in the history of Las Vegas.   Using advanced counting methods, shills, and bit players ... the team took in millions of dollars in questionably-gotten winnings.

While supposedly retired, I don't think there is any way to be 100% sure that they, or large teams of MIT wannabes are still not operating in some capacity.

5.  Bellagio, MGM Grand, and Others (1998-2000)

"In my world, you are either the hunter or the prey, and I am the hunter.  Vegas was my prey. I tell my crew - Vegas makes it, Vigoa takes it."  -  Jose Vigoa

One of the most prolific casino robbers in recent history, Jose Vigoa pulled off 5 Vegas casino robberies in 16 months and later went on to author the book "Storming Las Vegas".

Vigoa was finally caught after robbing the Bellagio wearing only sunglasses and a baseball cap.  After leading police on a 100mph car chase, which was broadcast on Vegas TV for several days, he was arrested.

Vigoa is currently serving 500 years in prison with no possibility for parole.

6.  Mandalay Bay (2005)

At 4pm on March 11, 2005, two men approached a casino change booth inside Mandalay Bay and held up the cashier working inside the booth.

The men fled in a vehicle parked near an entrance, making off with an untold amount of money.  Neither police nor Mandalay Bay spokesman Gordon Absher would specify which entrance they used or which booth was robbed -- leaving the entire event shrouded in mystery.

7.  Treasure Island (2000)

In 2000, a lone gunman jumped over the main casino cage just after midnight hitting and robbing a cashier, police said.  He shot at and missed two security guards as he fled with an undisclosed amount of money, said Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Mirage, which owned Treasure Island Hotel and Casino at the time.

Jurors found Reginald and Donell Johnson guilty of the crime in 2000. Donell Johnson previously pleaded guilty to a similar robbery in 1997 at Treasure Island.

During Reginald Johnson's taped confession, he said he struck the cashier with his gun during the July 2000 robbery because his brother had recognized the cashier from the earlier heist.

not actual cashier in the photo

8.  Palace Station (2009)

Low and behold, as this list was being created, an armored car outside of the Palace Station Hotel and Casino was robbed in broad daylight by a man with a semi-automatic shotgun who told the guard to "drop the bags".  The perpetrators (one robber and one driver) may have distracted the guards by first setting fire to another car in the Palace Station parking garage.

Initial estimates were that the robbers made off with $1,000,000 but this figure was later revised to $36,000.

Since it seems unlikely that two armored car bags would contain "only" $36K, the lower figure may have been floated to thwart subsequent robbery attempts, but either way, the robbers made off with a large amount of cash and have yet to be apprehended.

9.  Bertha's (1981)

Not a casino heist, but an important Las Vegas one nonetheless.  This one also happens to have taken place in my own neighborhood.

On July 4th, 1981 the Hole in the Wall Gang broke into Bertha's Gifts at 896 East Sahara Ave.  They were caught in the act and Frank Cullota, Lawrence Neumann, Wayne Matecki, Leo Guardino, and Ernie Davino were all arrested.

It was this failed heist that contributed to the later whacking of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro.

Many of the characters surrounding the Hole in the Wall Gang were portrayed in the movie "Casino".

10.  O.J. Simpson (2007)

While not a heist of the casino itself, this was nevertheless one of the higher profile Vegas robberies of the decade.

On September 12, 2007, O.J. Simpson and a group of men entered a Palace Station hotel room to "retrieve" memorabilia that they claim had been stolen from them.

Words were exchanged, guns were drawn, and now Mr. Simpson is a resident of Nevada for at least the next 9 years.


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