Ron Harris Biography
Ron Harris is one of those guys that all casinos are weary of, but know that they need. The technology that is available in all casinos is overwhelming to a normal person, but is heaven on earth to a tech savvy guy like Ron Harris.
It would be a dream for any techy to be able to be the one who's responsible for some of the most high tech machines on the market and they would never dream of doing what Ron Harris did. However, Ron, like so many before him and many after him, will try to prove that they are smarter than the machine.
He wanted to prove to himself that he could outsmart the machine and the casinos while also making loads of money doing it. His scheme worked and made him a great deal of money; however, anytime you have to let others in on a plan there's a chance that everything will come crashing down. This was a lesson Ron had to learn the hard way.
Slot machines were invented in the late 1800's and ever since then it's been a challenge for people to figure out how to cheat the games. The games were made to give players a slim chance at winning and to guarantee the owner a nice profit. Although there have been many people throughout history who have mastered the art of cheating the casinos, Ron Harris was one who used all of his resources to make the job as easy as possible.
Ronald Dale Harris was born July 3, 1956, and there is little known about Ron's early days, but once employed by Nevada Gaming Control Board he saw an opportunity. He was hired on as a computer programmer and technician. Ron was one of those people who took to computer programming like it was a second skin. He could make a computer program do just about anything and the Nevada Gaming Control Board was going to find out the hard way just how good he really was.
Outsmarting the Machine
Ron worked in the electronic division of the Nevada Gaming Control Board which gave him unprecedented access to the machines he was planning on using to make himself a very rich man. His job was to examine new slot machines and the number counters on the keno machines before they were put out on to the casino floor.
This was when he found that the chips being used in the machines were EPROM. An EPROM, which stands for Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory, is not the type of chip that a slot game should've been made to use. These chips gave Ron all the opportunity he needed.
These chips allowed him to erase them and reprogram them using his own programs. He had developed a program that would enable the machine to payout jackpots based on how the player was playing the game. He set his program up so that if a player followed a certain sequence while playing the game they would be guaranteed to win the big money.
One of his duties for his job was to randomly go into casinos to check that the chips the machines were using were the same ones that had been approved when the game was first put into the casino. Since the chips that Ron was using were the ones that had already been authorized it didn't matter if one of his co-workers were to be assigned a game he had rigged because the chip would still match the game.
This is what made his plan so genius. He was able to leave the original chips in the machine just reprogrammed to follow a different path to jackpot payouts than the makers originally had setup. Since there were only small differences in the programming this scheme was almost completely undetectable for the casino and the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Ron was on his way to winning big at the casino and still being able to keep his well-paying job. But just like every great story the downfall is always something that could've been predicted had Ron not gotten sloppy.
He'd always been careful when sending others in to win the jackpots. He had used his ex-wife and other family members who were willing to help him with his scam. They would go in and play the games for a while then use the correct combinations Ron had given them to win. The jackpots had been small but this kept them from being too obvious and allowed them to continue working the scam under the radar.
Ron had been working with the Gaming Board going on 12 years by the time everything came crashing down. He had also been running his scheme in many casinos in Nevada and had decided to venture out to other states. He decided it was time to go to Atlantic City.
This trip would have been very lucrative for Ron had he been a more detail oriented person and had used someone who if trouble came calling wasn't going to automatically turn on him. That however is exactly how everything came crashing down.
Ron had started working with Keno machines. He wanted to figure out a way to guarantee a win while playing the Keno machines. These machines are one of the machines with the lowest likely payout but they also have the higher jackpots available.
Ron was smart and decided to go to Atlantic City this time to give this game a go. He knew he couldn't be the one who won the game so he enlisted the help of a friend he thought he could trust. This friend was Reid Errol McNeal.
On January 14, 1995 McNeal walked into the Bally's Park Place Casino in Atlantic City. The plan was he would go in and play the Keno machine for a while and then he would go through the steps so the jackpot for the game would be triggered.
McNeal bought $100 dollars' worth of tickets for the keno game and headed over to start playing. The odds for this game were sitting at 230,000 to 1, which anyone can see how bad those are. Regardless McNeal follows the directions that Harris has given him and he becomes that 1 and hits 8 of 8 on one of his tickets.
This jackpot win was one of the biggest that Harris had every achieved and McNeal was definitely the wrong person to send to get it. McNeal had just won a $100,000 jackpot and gave no reaction at all. This made him suspicious to the casino immediately. Anyone whether they cheat to win or actually get lucky enough to win that kind of money should be ecstatic, but not McNeal.
The complete lack of emotion wasn't the only mistake that Harris and McNeal made that night. According to the New Jersey law any jackpot that's above $35,000 must be verified by the state gaming division. The thing that tipped off the gaming commission that this win was probably achieved fraudulently was that McNeal had no identification at all on him when he went to claim his winnings.
So when the officials from the gaming commission arrived they brought along two state patrol officers along with them. The officers took McNeal up to his room at the casino and when they arrived in the room they meet Ron Harris. Although at first they don't think anything of it they will later. They find out he was the mastermind behind it all.
When the troopers enter the room with McNeal they decide to leave Ron there and take McNeal back downstairs to finish asking him questions. They didn't know that they had just left the very man who had done all the work to get here slip through their fingers.
After they had talked to McNeal downstairs the troopers returned to the room to talk with Ron but he was gone. They took this opportunity to search the room and what they found help put the case together and stop a highly sophisticated thief.
When they searched the room that Ron was sharing with McNeal the troopers found computer equipment, computer chips, books laying out the changes made to the machines at Bally's, directions to use when trying to scam the game, and Ron's own handwritten notes.
The police came to the realization that they needed to find Ron because he was the one who had put it all together. McNeal was arrested that night in Atlantic City but Ron had gotten the jump on them or at least he thought he had.
Instead of having a safe place to hide out in case something like this ever happened, Ron just went home to Nevada. The Nevada state troopers were waiting on him when he got off the plane and he was taken in to custody.
Upon his capture Ron had retooled over 30 machines in various casinos and had been making thousands of dollars over the two years he had been stealing. Like many other criminals Ron let greed get the best of him and like many others before him greed brought him down.
Ron Harris's Legacy
Ron will be forever be known as one of the most illustrious casino thief's in history. Using his intelligence to defraud multiple casinos of thousands of dollars in a relatively short amount of time is not something just anyone can do.
Ron was a smart man in many ways but his smarts didn't provide all the necessary skills that are needed for someone to pull off such a scheme alone. He could've profited a great deal for using his skills for good with the casinos instead of trying to use his skills to take away.
His plan was brilliant; reprogram the machines to pay out only when a predefined sequence was followed. This allowed him to decide when it was time for the player to win. If he had continued on his original path of winning small he probably could've continued on for a much longer time.
However, like in most stories like this greed won out and that big money was just too tempting. Not only making the mistake in going for the huge win; he made an error in judgement when enlisting the help of Reid McNeal. Mr. McNeal was not prepared to go into a casino and win big or maybe he made all of the mistakes that brought them both down on purpose. No one will ever know.
Upon his arrest for the botched job in New Jersey Ron was fired from the Nevada Gaming Control Board. This led to an investigation of his work while with the gaming board and he was also charged along with his ex-wife and two friends for all the other times as well.
Ron could've done so many things differently when it came to his scheme. He could've continued to only go for small jackpots which would have allowed him to stay under the radar and when this didn't satisfy him he should've done his homework a little better.
Had he made sure that McNeal had the required identification on him and maybe even coached him on how to act when he won they might have just gotten away with it. But the one thing that Ron should've realized from the start was that the whole thing would come crashing down eventually and he should've been better prepared.
In the end the guilty always have to pay for their crimes and Ron is no different. In July of 1998 Ron plead guilty to the charges in both Nevada and New Jersey and was sentenced to serve seven years in prison.
He was also placed on the black list in both Nevada and New Jersey. This means he is never allowed to gamble in either state for the rest of his life. If he had just made sure he had all of his bases covered he might not have wound up in this mess.
Updated: February 2017
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