Nickels & Crimes: 6 Cunning Ways to Trick a Slot Machine to Win

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They say cheats never prosper. The truth is: if they don’t get caught, they do.

Right here. Right now. Someone is working the system.

Online, at work, in the office, at college; it’s a solid bet that skims, scams, kickbacks and hustles are in play.

We just don’t know it… yet… and that’s (probably) because they’re very good and they haven’t got greedy.

Cheating is generally frowned upon. Society generally deems it unfair to gain an advantage by breaking the rules.

Copying exam papers, lying about qualifications, scamming innocent victims. It’s all morally dubious, at best.

However, there are some exceptions to the rule.

Few people will shed a tear, if a casino gets hustled. Every game in a casino is engineered to ensure the house wins. The odds are there in black and white. Are we being cheated?

So, why not shift the games in the player’s favor, with a little cunning, invention, and ingenuity.

At the end of the day, Captain Kirk beat the Kobayashi Maru simulation test by rewriting the code. He boldly went to the Dark Side (yes, nerds, we are aware this is a Star Wars reference) and they loved him for it.

We’re looking at the people that ‘played’ the slots; the nickels and the crimes. The naughty spins, that guaranteed a win, and the ingenious methods used to beat the house.

Without further ado, here’s how to trick a slot machine to win. We’ll be looking at slots cheats and tricks over the years gone by.

slot machine
Image: Pixabay

1. Magnets

First things first: quite a few of the cheats listed here no longer work.

Most of these were engineered to beat mechanical machines, meaning they won’t work on real money online slots or modern-day machines in land-based casinos.

In the 1960s and 1970s, you could use a magnet to keep the reels spinning, until a winning combination landed. Magnets could also be used to ‘lock’ a winning combination and trigger a repeat win.

Sadly, mechanical machines are novelties now.

Magnetic shielding was the first line of defence; followed by winning combinations being selected by a random number generator. The old school mechanical system retired.

2. Slugs

A ‘slug’ is slang for any counterfeit coin, or object, used in place of genuine coinage.

If you’re looking to find out how to cheat a slot machine to win, you should note that that coin-operated machines are very rare in casinos today.

In addition, the technology is highly efficient at spotting fakes and forgeries. This has made ‘slugging’ somewhat redundant.

But no tale of counterfeit casino tokens is complete without mention of Louis “The Coin” Colavecchio.

Louis "The Coin" Colavecchio
Image: American Numismatic Society

Self-described as the “World’s Greatest Counterfeiter”, Colavecchio made near-perfect replicas of slot machine tokens from hardened steel.

The replicas were so good, the Atlantic City casinos realized something was amiss only when management noticed a surplus of coins on the gaming floor.

In 1996, Colavecchio was caught with 800 pounds of fake tokens and sentenced to two years in federal prison.

Although banned from every casino in the country, on his release, Colavecchio wore wigs and disguises and continued to play.

In 1998, he received another seven-year sentence; this time for counterfeiting, cultivating marijuana, larceny, obtaining money under false pretences, and stealing $100,000 from his 92-year-old aunt.

Finally, in 2019, he was caught counterfeiting $100 bills. His 15-month sentence was cut short on compassionate grounds. Colavecchio died in 2020.

(Or did he? Maybe, they buried a counterfeit…)

3. Piano Wire

Piano wire
Image: Matt Billings/Wikipedia

Somewhere, a piano is a note short of a full chord.

It might be another old school way to cheat the slots, but an eight-man gang pocketed as many as 1,500 jackpots, worth as much as $10 million, in slot machine payouts in Reno, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City, before the New Jersey State Police caught them on camera.

The gang, led by John Vaccaro, would surround a slot, gently pry open the front, and insert piano wires. These would be used to manipulate the reels into a winning combination.

The gang was well organized, with defined roles: mechanics, recruiters, blockers, and collectors.

In the end, a tip off ended the gang’s winning run at Caesars Boardwalk Regency, in Atlantic City. The attempted robbery was captured on video.

Time for the piano player to go home.

4. Computer Chips

Arguably the greatest slot cheater of all time is Dennis Nikrasch aka Dennis McAndrew.

In a cheating career that lasted more than two decades, McAndrew swizzled $16 million rigging slot machines. That’s a lot of jackpots.

McAndrew was an extraordinarily talented locksmith, living in Chicago. He started off rigging mechanical slots. Got caught and served five years of a 15-year sentence.

In prison, Dennis planned his next caper. Mechanical slots had gone the way of the dinosaur. The new gambling kids in town were electrical slots.

McAndrew bought a pair of slot machines and dismantled them in his garage. He managed to decipher the information on the game’s computer chips.

He then sent an accomplice to purchase a chip from slot machine manufacturer IGT. He programmed the chip to pay the jackpot.

Next, working with accomplices, McAndrew would pick a machine, tucked away from security cameras. His crew would shield him from view and he would swap out the chip.

The final member of the team would casually wander up to the machine, spin it, and win the jackpot.

No trail. No evidence. Genius.

In the end, someone betrayed McAndrew and he ended up back in prison. He got a reduced sentence, in exchange for his secrets.

5. The Monkey’s Paw & Other Devices

Tommy Glenn Carmichael is another pretender to the throne of Greatest Slots Cheat of All Time.

Everything about Carmichael screams low budget Netflix mini-series. He’s a larger-than-life character, with 40 years of cheating on his resumé.

Carmichael was working a dead-end job, at the Ace TV Sales and Service Shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when his friend Ray Ming turned up, with a Bally slot machine and a ‘top-bottom joint’ in the trunk.

The ‘joint’ was a curved piece of steel, with a guitar wire. It would short a circuit in slot machines; forcing the hopper to open. Kerching!

monkey paw slot cheat
Image: George Joseph

For the next four decades, Carmichael would terrorize the slots of Las Vegas.

As the slots evolved, with new security techniques, so did Carmichael’s tools. He developed the Monkey’s Paw – another slot busting gadget.

He said: “Figure out how a machine counts money and then work your way into the machine. The casinos were so asleep. I lived a nice lifestyle. You’d stop and move to the next machine. You could leave a whole room empty.”

His final gadget was the light wand. He visited the IGT showroom and an engineer gave him all the information he needed.

The light wand basically ‘blinded’ the coin sensor and – once again – the slot spilled its high value guts all over the floor.

Carmichael (pictured below) was on a roll. He was driving a Jaguar JX6, had two houses, a pawn shop, and stayed on top of his taxes.

“Our adventure would have made Ocean’s Eleven seem boring,” said Carmichael’s 34-year-old girlfriend.

In the end, Carmichael’s luck ran out. He was caught cheating on camera and sent to prison.

tommy glenn carmichael
Image: Las Vegas Review Journal

Here, he developed a device to catch cheats – and ended up working for the casinos.

6. The Inside Job

When it comes to cheating cojones, they don’t swing bigger than those owned by computer programmer Ronald Dale Harris.

Harris worked at the Nevada Gaming Control Board in the early 1990s. His job: detecting software and devices designed to cheat slots.

No prizes for guessing what happened next.

In his job, Harris had access to highly confidential software code. He was one of a handful of people who knew how to reprogram a slot’s random number generator.

He replaced the microchips in the slots with his own. They were programmed to pay the jackpot, when coins were inserted in a particular sequence (3 coins, 2 coins, 5 coins, 2 coins, etc).

It was untraceable, non-physical, and subtle; it was – almost – the perfect crime.

Harris had to work with a colleague: his friend Reid McNeal.

Suspicions were raised when McNeal won a $100,000 keno jackpot in Atlantic City. Reid showed no emotion when he won. He looked like he was waiting for it.

It was a freak pay out. The casino staff were suspicious. Police raided the hotel room and discovered all the tools of the trade – and Ronald Harris.

Harris pleaded guilty to abusing his position and cheating at least 20 separate slots. He served two years of a seven-year sentence, released early for good behaviour.

He still lives in Las Vegas but is a permanent fixture on the Nevada Black List. He can never set foot in a Las Vegas casino again.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board now requires that staff check each other’s work. Ah well: better late than never…

Your Cheatin’ Heart

Today, it’s not exactly easy to cheat the slots at top online casinos and, in land-based venues, almost every slot operates using a TITO (Ticket In Ticket Out) system.

It’s all about barcodes, scanning, credit, and debt. Is it cheat-proof? Almost definitely NOT.

Someone, somewhere, is probably beating the house right now and finding new ways to trick a slot machine to win. Is it you?

Paul Cullen
Casino Industry Expert
Paul Cullen
Casino Industry Expert

Paul Cullen is an industry veteran, with a track record that stretches back to day one. He started his career as a copywriter and creative for the world’s very first online sportsbook: Intertops.com. There was no one else. Since then, he has seen the industry evolve and grow, working at BetonSports, BetWWTS, Absolute Poker, Ultimate Bet, InterCasino, PartyGaming, Mansion, Bodog, Casino Choice, Costa Bingo and Casumo. The evolution of Internet gaming, the arrival of the online casino, the poker revolution, and the bingo boom. He’s got the t-shirt.