The robberies of casino cages at both Resorts World Las Vegas and the Gold Coast Casino in the past two weeks have brought back a favorite topic of Las Vegas speculation. Is it possible to successfully rob a casino vault, as depicted in the 2001 movie “Ocean’s 11?”
“I don’t even know where to even begin with that,” said Fred Del Marva, an Arizona-based casino security consultant and expert. His clients over the past 36 years have included Caesars Palace, The Mirage, and the Golden Nugget.
First of all, according to Del Marva, a criminal would need to know exactly where a vault is. That’s a tall order because every casino keeps theirs in a different, top-secret location. “Somebody has to have the blueprints on how to get in and out,” he said. “Or a very inside source, like the contractor.”
Also, a criminal would need to know the access numbers or have a card programmed to unlock all of the digital deterrents encountered along the way. In “Ocean’s 11,” Matt Damon’s character uses his pickpocketing skills to steal the codes for the vault doors. (Del Marva laughed at the likelihood of this opportunity ever presenting itself in real life.)
There are, of course, gadgets designed to override a vault’s security measures, Del Marva said. “But there are likely to be too many security systems that require overriding to make robbing a vault achievable.”
An Ocean of Wrong
“Ocean’s 11” got a lot of basic information incorrect. For one thing, every casino needs to have $100-$150 million in its vault at any given time, Del Marva estimated, to cover potential big losses on the floor. However, the $150 million in the movie was split among three casinos, which leads us to another inaccuracy.
In “Ocean’s 11,” the Bellagio, Mirage, and MGM Grand also share a single vault because they also share an owner. This would never happen in real life, Del Marva said, because casinos switch owners all the time. In fact, those same three casinos – which were all owned by MGM Resorts properties during the movie shoot – now have three different owners (MGM, the Blackstone Group, and Hard Rock International).
“Listen, tomorrow, the newspaper could say that I’m wrong, that a casino vault was robbed, but I don’t think so,” Del Marva said, reasoning that, “If it could happen, someone would have at least tried it already.”
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Both the Resorts World and Gold Coast robberies happened, Del Marva said, because today’s casino personnel are trained not to resist demands made by criminals. Ensuring that a gun is never fired inside a casino is a much higher priority than preventing a robbery, and criminals know that. The deterrent is no longer the threat of an armed response, Del Marva said, but the knowledge that everything that happens inside a casino is videoed from dozens of angles, and that every skin cell that falls onto every surface will be analyzed for DNA evidence.
“They know that nobody is going to be there to deter them from the time they park their vehicle to the time they get the cage,” Del Marva said. “Whether they get caught afterward is a different story.”
And they usually do. For the 11 post-“Ocean’s 11” robberies we identified below, suspects were arrested in nine of the cases. And none involved vaults.
11 Post-‘Ocean’s 11’ Vegas Casino Heists
Post-“Ocean’s 11,” here are 11 Las Vegas casino robberies we know about. (We didn’t include Resorts World or Gold Coast, since they just happened. Las Vegas police have already arrested a suspect in the former crime.)
2022: El Cortez (unsolved)
On September 6, a man belly-flopped onto a craps table at the El Cortez casino and grabbed more than $19K of chips from the dealer. The thief, who appeared to be unarmed, exited the casino and is still at large.
2021: Rio, Red Rock, Aliante (solved)
On February 27, a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer was arrested in connection with $78,898 stolen during a robbery at the Rio. Caleb Mitchell Rogers was also charged with a Nov. 12, 2021 robbery at the Red Red Resort as well as a January 6 robbery at Aliante. Rogers was connected to the robberies due to his unique gait. Suffice it to say, he no longer works for the police department.
2019 and 2017: Bellagio (solved)
A man who robbed the Bellagio’s poker cage in 2017 and got away with it was shot dead when his second attempt proved far less successful. Michael Charles Cohen, 49, initially made off with $35K on March 15, 2019, but was shot dead by police, who opened fire after he refused to surrender. (The police were on hand investigating an unrelated case.)
2017: Bellagio (solved)
Four thieves wearing animal masks used a sledgehammer to knock out a jewelry store’s glass door and rob handfuls of rings, chains, and other valuables. Sebastian Gonzales was arrested for the crime.
2014: Bellagio (solved)
Michael Belton attempted to rob the Bellagio by swiping casino chips off tables. Police said Belton and another man wore wigs and sunglasses, sprayed a blackjack dealer with pepper spray, grabbed $115K worth of chips, and tried to run. Belton was convicted while his accomplice got away.
2010: Bellagio and Suncoast (solved)
Tony Carleo parked his Suzuki motorcycle near the Bellagio valet stand on Dec. 14, 2010, walked over to a craps table, and robbed $1.5 million in chips at gunpoint. The “Biker Bandit” is currently serving 9-27 years in a Nevada state prison for that robbery, and for robbing $18,945 in cash from a Suncoast cashier’s cage on December 9 of that same year
2005: Mandalay Bay (unsolved)
On March 11, 2005, two masked men held up a cashier’s cage at Mandalay Bay. According to witnesses, the men fired warning shots into the ceiling and forced the workers to the ground. The robbers, who stole what remains to this day an undisclosed amount of money, made off in a car parked outside.
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