Trying to cheat at a casino is a good way to get into a lot of trouble, but that hasn’t stopped intrepid gamblers from going the extra mile to secure an edge. Since slot machines were invented in the late 1890’s, they’ve been a prime target for cheaters looking to make a quick buck. Among the cheaters, however, one man’s efforts stand tall as the most ingenious method every used. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the story of Reid Errol McNeal – the world’s ‘luckiest’ gambler.
On January 14, 1995, McNeal went to the keno desk at Bally’s Park Place Casino Resort in Atlantic City and purchased 10 keno tickets with eight numbers picked on each card. He hit all eight numbers on one of those tickets, defying odds of roughly 230,000-to-1. The payout for the win was the highest in the history of Atlantic City at more than $100,000. What should have been a huge moment for McNeal was spoiled in the details, however. According to casino executives, he was unemotional about the win, had no identification and demanded to be paid in cash.
Since New Jersey law requires that wins of $35,000 or more be verified by state gaming division officials before payouts can be made, McNeal was forced to wait. When the officials arrived, flanked by two state troopers, they went directly to McNeal’s hotel room. There, they found a man who identified himself as Ronald Harris, an employee of the Nevada Gaming Control Board responsible for regulating the state’s gaming devices. After questioning McNeal, officials returned to the hotel room to find an assortment of computer equipment, computer chips, notes and books outlining changes made in Bally’s machines and scams to potentially beat the machines.
As it turned out, Harris had used his position with the Nevada Gaming Control Board to gain access to a highly confidential code that allowed him to access the programming of the keno game’s random number generator. Using this code, he duplicated the machine’s results and was able to determine the outcome of games ahead of time. Shortly after these events, Harris was arrested on charges of rigging slot machines in three northern Nevada casinos.
Authorities alleged that Harris accessed slot machines’ erasable programmable read-only memory in order to control the payback percentages on slots. According to reports, he erased the existing code and substituted his own coding that forced the machines to pay out a jackpot whenever a specific sequence on coins was deposited. In an effort to escape suspicion, Harris enlisted accomplices to claim the jackpots. In September 1997, however, his luck ran out. Harris pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Since then, special precautions have been implemented to prevent a repeat occurrence. New Jersey casinos now utilize electronic keno machines that have a different source code than those used in other states. The Nevada Gaming Control Board also implemented additional safeguards, such as hiring an independent firm to check employees’ work.
This case is yet another example of why cheating at the casino is never a good idea. Despite one of the most brilliant plans ever conceived, Harris still landed in the slammer when all was said and done.