Although pokies are almost entirely chance-based, eager players are constantly looking for ways to beat the system and overcome the house edge. While none of these so-called ‘systems’ can actually guarantee you a win, here are just some of the ways in which people have tried to cheat at pokies.
A surefire way to guarantee wins at pokies is to reprogram the random number generator powering them. Step up Ronald Dale Harris, who was hired by the Nevada Gaming Control Board in the early 1990s to analyse the software used in slot machines for bugs. Instead of doing his job, he re-programmed the random number generator to pay out a sum of his choosing when coins were inserted in a specific sequence. A friend of his also played his ‘adjusted’ machines, but got caught in January 1995 after winning $100,000 in Atlantic City.
Sometimes a game comes with an in-built glitch – and if you know what it is, you can exploit it to your advantage. The Game King was the best known pokie possessing a software glitch, where when players were prompted to double up, the glitch allowed them to up their stake to the highest amount – and then cash out everything.
Dennis Nikrasch pulled the ultimate switcheroo, cheating Las Vegas casinos of millions of dollars. He managed to switch pokies’ original microchips with one he had programmed earlier and which was designed to award an instant win. Naturally, he had enlisted a team of accomplices to help him cheat the system, which was foolproof – until he was turned in by a disgruntled member of his team. As they say, it’s ‘better to work with machines than people’.
Tommy Glenn Carmichael perfected a number of pokies cheat methods. He started with the ‘top-bottom joint’, which was a piece of coiled wire designed to mimic a coin dropping into a poker machine. Ultimately, Carmichael made his money selling these gadgets for $10,000 each, using only a few cents-worth of materials and a few minutes of his time.
Tommy Carmichael hit the figurative (if not actual) jackpot again when he was released from prison. By then, technology had changed and he needed to come up with something new: ‘the Monkey Paw’, which was made of guitar string and a coil of metal. The device was inserted into the coin chute, triggering the mini switch that released the machine’s coins.
The ‘Light Wand’ was another invention of Tommy Carmichael’s, and was an upgrade of the Monkey Paw once pokies grew more sophisticated and rendered the Monkey Paw obsolete. He developed a light wand which worked in a similar way: it was inserted up the coin chute to trigger the light sensor which released the coins from the machine. Naturally, he made a lot of money by selling this device to other wannabe cheaters. He was eventually caught at the end of 1996, thanks to advanced surveillance technology.
There have been plenty of attempts to make fake coins to beat pokies, but one of the most successful cheats using this method came from Louis Colavecchio. He produced many thousands of these coins, which went largely undetected. However, once casinos in the US started to discover large numbers of these coins, an investigation was called, and he was later arrested in 1998.
This device wraps around a $1 bill, mimicking the shape and size of a $100 bill, and fooling the machine into thinking it’s $100.
This trick wasn’t pioneered by anyone specific, but is an infamous, age-old method of cheating the pokies. It’s pretty outdated nowadays, thanks to technological advances. The system involved inserting a coin (attached to a string or wire) into the slot until the game begins and then pulling it out again.
The piano wire cheat was made famous in 1982. A group of men entered a casino, surrounded a poker machine and won $50,000, by opening the front of the pokie machine, inserting piano wires into the turning bits of the machine. This jammed the clock measuring the machine’s wheel rotations, allowing the group to manually manipulate the spins until they hit a win. Who said hard work was overrated?