Dennis Nikrasch is infamous for creating some of the most
elaborate cheating strategies which he evolved to match the
advancements in slot machine technology. Nikrasch personally won
over fifteen million dollars by orchestrating a group of elite
professional cheats to win various jackpots from slot machines
of which he was able to rig.
The operation seemed to work flawlessly, as his team was able
to move to various casinos across Las Vegas without ever being
detected. However, controversies amongst team members led to the
team’s ultimate defeat.
A Broken Past
When Nikrasch used to live in the windy city of Chicago, he
would take advantage of his position as a locksmith to break
into various mansions and storefronts in the area. He was so
skilled at what he did that he could simply look into a keyhole
and replicate the perfect key from memory.
He certainly earned a name for himself and soon the Genovese
crime family recruited his help. They asked him to break into a
plethora of cars, homes, and jewelry stores, which Nikrasch did
successfully for quite some time before ever getting caught.
However, in 1961, he was caught and arrested for attempted
burglary and several accounts of burglary from the past.
Building a Reputation in Las Vegas
When Nikrasch was released after serving ten years in prison,
he moved to Las Vegas and spent his days at the casinos,
realizing quickly he had the necessary tools and skills to
manipulate the slot machines. Nikrasch just had to use his
locksmith keys and magnets to manually make the machines produce
a winning jackpot combination.
He managed to score a couple million dollars before being
exposed in the early 1980s, having to serve another five years
in prison on those accounts. In 1991, he returned to Las Vegas,
taking a job at a local jewelry store. He eventually returned to
the casinos to find that their systems were much more
sophisticated than before.
Back to the Drawing Board
The machines were now controlled by computer chips that
Nikrasch had never seen before, but he was up for the challenge.
Determined to break their systems and realizing he couldn’t
accomplish this task on his own, he recruited his old friend
from the mafia, Eugene Bulgarino, an expert when it came to
computer software programs.
Bulgarino purchased two slot machines for them to experiment
on and Nikrasch spent many weeks studying the owner’s manual and
the blueprint of the machine, hoping to find some loop hole that
could help him beat the system.
He knew where every latch was, what triggers the alarms, and
all the weakest points of the machine. Nikrasch also discovered
that the jackpot payouts are controlled by a computer chip that
was located in the heart of the machine, which was the key to
overcoming the machine.
Nikrasch learned how to overwrite jackpot codes within the
chips and download his own, which he would have to install into
the machine. He had to be very careful during this process, as
the machines were thoroughly checked after jackpot winnings and
if there was any evidence of tampering, the jackpot would be
After he learned to manipulate the machine, he had to focus
on avoiding security surveillance cameras to make sure he was
out of their direct view, but he got discouraged when he
realized that was ultimately impossible to do on his own.
He needed people to block the camera’s view of him while he
tampered with the machine and he needed people on lookout to
make sure security guards weren’t nearby. In the end, Nikrasch
had recruited around ten men and women that would help him
orchestrate one of the biggest slot machine scandals yet. “He
had the most sophisticated system we’ve ever seen,” said Keith
Copher, head of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
The Ultimate Slot Cheaters
On July 4th, 1997, Nikrasch’s team was ready to try out their
skills at The Harrah’s Hotel and Casino. It was very important
that they all walked in at different times, as to not raise
suspicion. When his team members were all in their assigned
positions, Nikrasch casually walked in with the tools he needed
being strategically placed underneath his shirt.
Nikrasch successfully shut the machine down, put it into
standby mode, hacked into the chip, and then entered the winning
jackpot code. Once these steps were complete, another team
member played the machine, instantly winning the jackpot on the
next spin. Their scheme had worked and the team successfully was
able to bring home $3.7 million dollars that night!
They were ecstatic, but unfortunately there was a lot of
controversy around how the funds were distributed. Seventy
percent of the final winnings automatically went to Nikrasch and
the other thirty percent was evenly distributed among the other
nine team members.
Despite the disagreements, the team stuck together and
traveled to several other casinos to execute the same plan.
After months of cheating the system, the team won seven cars in
total and millions more in revenue, but unfortunately jealousy
still was an over-riding factor that couldn’t be ignored.
One woman on the team in particular was so fed up with
Nikrasch that she actually reported him to the police. When the
FBI followed up on the report, everything she had told them
added up to be true. The police wire tapped into Nikrasch’s
calls to Bulgarino, but he was careful not to relay any vital
info discerning the scam over the phone.
The FBI eventually put a wire tap in the Bulgarino household
after they discovered that Nikrasch had regular meetings there.
At their next meeting Nikrasch proceeded to tell Bulgarino of
the $17 million jackpot that he was planning to hit, completely
unaware that others were listening.
Later that evening they came to Nikrasch’s home and took him
into custody. In his garage, they found two slot machines and a
myriad of other devices he had used to break into the machines,
further helping them build a strong case against him.
Nikrasch pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, interstate
travel in aid of racketeering, money laundering, and interstate
transportation of stolen property. Due to his confession, he
only received an eight year sentence.
He was finally released in 2004, after serving his entire
term. Sometime during his time in prison, his name had been
added to the Nevada’s Gaming Control Board’s Blackbook, which
banned him from all casinos for life. Although we don’t know
what Nikrasch is up to today, we do know that he isn’t up to his
old schemes of cheating slot machines.
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