Cheating the casinos out of millions of dollars is something that people have been doing since casinos were first developed, but the ways in which criminals manage to do this has changed drastically over the years.
Dennis Nikrasch managed to steal over $15 million from Las Vegas Casinos through using a magnet and locksmith tools during the 1980s.
As the machines got more advanced, so did his cheating methods. He knew how to accomplish many of these crimes alone, but he also knew how to lead a team of accomplices as well.
This flexibility is what gave Dennis the ability to get away with his crimes for so long. To learn more about the life of Dennis Nikrasch and the methods he used to scam the casinos, please feel free to continue reading.
When Dennis Nikrasch was born in 1941 his name was Dennis McAndrew, but rumor has it that he took his mother’s maiden name of Nikrasch after his parents got divorced. Little is known about his childhood, but many people speculate that he dropped out of school before he hit high school.
All we know for sure is that he ended up becoming a locksmith in Chicago during his teen years.
Having a passion for crime early on in life, Dennis would use his locksmith tools to rob luxury homes in the area.
He did this hundreds of times without getting caught, accumulating a lot of money and earning himself quite a reputation on the streets during the process.
Rumor has it that the Genesee Crime Family heard about his abilities and recruited him to help them accomplish a variety of crimes. In exchange, they offered him protection from anyone who might seek revenge on him.
While working for the Genesee Crime Family, Dennis broke into more homes and stole more cars than ever before. His lucky streak of never getting caught finally ran out in 1961 when he was caught in the middle of a high stakes burglary.
The police managed to link him to several different burglaries that he partook in, so it wasn’t surprising to hear he was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Dissecting the Slot Machines
After Dennis served his full term, he moved to Las Vegas with no money to his name. Eager to earn money quickly, he headed to the casinos but found very little success at the slots. He wondered if there was a way to manipulate the machines into releasing a jackpot automatically.
He still had a bunch of old locksmith tools that he believed could be used to fulfill his ideas, but he still didn’t know if this was even possible.
Dennis was such a talented locksmith that despite having all the odds against him, he was able to replicate a key that could be used to open up the machines simply by analyzing the machine’s key hole. He used this key and a couple of strong magnets to trick the machine into triggering a jackpot instantaneously.
Again, Dennis managed to do this for nearly eight years without ever being noticed. In the mid 1980s, one group of casino authorities became extremely suspicious of his behavior and paid extra attention to his actions. It didn’t take long for them to figure out what he had been doing and he was arrested soon after that.
This time, Dennis was forced to serve five years in prison. He didn’t return to Las Vegas until 1991, and he was very surprised to see how much the slot machines had changed in a little less than a decade.
Many of the machines he had come to love were being replaced with more advanced machines that couldn’t be easily manipulated.
The machines were controlled by computer chips and Dennis had very little technological background. He knew he wanted to fix the machines into paying him out a jackpot again, but he knew he was in over his head. Dennis got in touch with a member of the Genesee Crime Family, Eugene Bulgarino, who happened to be an expert when it came to the latest technology.
Bulgarino was extremely wealthy already and he had no criminal background, so he was easily able to purchase two slot machines for them to examine. They disassembled the slot machines, analyzing all of their parts and experimenting to see what could be done to control these devices.
Dennis spent many hours identifying where ever part of the machine was and what each of those parts do. During this process, he recognized that the microchip within the machine was the part that determined when a jackpot would be distributed.
It took him several months to figure out a way to create a similar microchip that was encrypted with the proper coding to guarantee him an instant win. The only problem was that he would manually have to swap this microchip with the one in the machine without causing any suspicions to arise.
Casino authorities would check the machines thoroughly after each jackpot to make sure no cheating had taken place, so Dennis also had to be very careful not to leave a crumb of evidence behind. This was clearly too much for one man to handle, so he started looking for recruits to join in his efforts.
Forming a Team of Casino Cheats
Dennis determined that he would need approximately ten accomplices in order to flawlessly follow through with this scheme. Bulgarino was happy to participate in the scam and he invited his brother to join in on the action as well.
He hired several people to act as his lookouts that would provide warnings to him if casino security was heading his way; these team members were often women.
Dennis also hired several people to stand in such a way as to prevent the cameras from being able to expose what he was doing to the machines; he called these men his blockers.
Dennis made sure that all members of his team entered the casino at different hours of the day, so that the casino wouldn’t know they were all together; members of the team were also forbidden to openly talk to one another while the plan was in action.
After many months of preparation, Dennis and his team were ready to test their abilities at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino on July 4th, 1997.
Dennis was the last person to arrive at the casino that evening, and his first task was to find an open slot machine in a prime location. Once he found the slot machine he was looking for, he manually shut it down so that he could replace the computer chip with his own.
Dennis left the machine and was immediately replaced by another team member who would play the machine and win the jackpot. Dennis made it a point to leave the casino before the jackpot was won, to avoid any connections being made between him and the winning jackpots.
Their team flawlessly was able to execute their plan that night, winning a total of $3.7 million dollars.
Even though they didn’t get caught or questioned at all, many team members were still not happy with some elements of the night. The main concern was that Dennis was greedy and claimed 50- 70% of the profits for himself, leaving the remainder of the money to be split among everyone else.
Some team members were so upset that they decided to leave the team, while others decided that the money they made was worth it. Most of the team continued to travel to various casinos in Las Vegas with Dennis, getting away with the same schemes time and time again.
They probably would have been unstoppable if Dennis didn’t continue to be so stingy with his portion of the money.
How It All Came Crashing Down
One member of the team begged Dennis for a larger percentage of winnings, but she was completely shot down. Angry and annoyed that woman turned Dennis over to the police; knowing Dennis’ track record, the FBI were happy to get involved.
They analyzed the security tapes of several different casinos, but found no footage of Dennis actually tampering with the machines. They checked into the machines their team had supposedly won jackpots on, but the machines showed no signs of misconduct. They also did a background check into the winners that were a part of the team, but they had no previous track records.
The FBI went as far as contacting the experts at International Game Technology to see if they could identify any manipulations of the machine.
A representative from the company flew over to Las Vegas to see what he could find, but he ensured the officers that there was no way to do what Dennis had supposedly done to the machine without triggering the machine’s highly advanced alarm system.
As a last resort, the police decided to tap into Dennis’ calls to see if he would reveal any information that may help lead to his arrest.
For several days, no valuable information was exchanged over the phone until one day when Dennis was contacted by his dear friend: Bulgarino.
He was smart enough not to leak any information over the phone, but the police did hear Dennis invite Bulgarino over to his home to talk later that night.
When Dennis left his home in the middle of the day, the police came into the house and set up wires so that they could tap into their conversation later that night.
The FBI’s persistence in this case paid off that night when Dennis and Bulgarino discussed every last detail of their past crimes to see if there were areas in which they needed to improve. They also revealed their future plans with the money that had made.
The Las Vegas Sun reported that,
“The crew hit six major Las Vegas casinos a total of 10 times between September 1996 and November 1997, winning cash jackpots or cars which they would then sell. Nikrasch was trying to hit a $17 million Megabucks slot jackpot and move to France when he was arrested in June…”
The FBI came into Dennis’ house in the middle of the night, arresting him and taking him into custody. After they completed a thorough search of the house, they found the two slot machines he had been studying along with a list of casinos the team was planning to hit in the future.
There were also various microchips and other tools Dennis had used to rig the machines hidden around the house as well.
Eugene Bulgarino, Joan Bulgarino, and Ronnie McElveen were all arrested for being prime members of Dennis’ team. The other seven members’ identities were never released, as Dennis claims that he never knew their actual names.
Cooperating with the Police
Dennis pleaded guilty to all the charges placed against him, and he was even willing to tell the FBI his cheating secrets in order to receive a lighter sentence. Due to his willingness to cooperate, his sentence was shortened to a mere eight years.
The Tuscaloosa News released an article shortly after his arrest,
“With slot machine cheat ripping off Nevada Casinos for an estimated $40 million a year, gambling regulators hope the master of the game (Dennis Nikrasch) can shed some light on how it’s done before he returns to prison.”
That’s exactly what he did.
Casinos took the techniques Dennis used into consideration in order to make their slot machines less susceptible to similar schemes. Many casinos also added more hidden cameras in order to capture every inch of a machine even when blockers were standing in the way.
Despite his cooperation, Dennis was still placed on Nevada’s Blackbook list, meaning that he would be prohibited from entering another casino for the rest of his life.
This list exclusively consists of criminals that casinos are most threatened by, which shows how capable they knew Dennis was of getting away with these crimes again. His story was featured on an episode of “Cheating Las Vegas,” in 2012 and it was one of their most viewed episodes of the season.
There is no record of Dennis ever being married, but there are rumors going around that he had several children. Dennis passed away of unknown causes in 2010 and little has been revealed regarding his funeral arrangements.