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$1.5M Robbery of Bellagio Casino Foiled Thanks to RFID Chips

Bellagio robbery

Anthony Carleo allegedly stole $1.5M in chips from the Bellagio, which the casino quickly made worthless via their embedded RFID tags.

If you’re thinking of robbing a Las Vegas casino, and you’re not George Clooney, I have a word of advice: give up now. As Anthony Carleo recently found out, even if you leave the casino in one piece, the chips you stole are going to be worthless long before you make your get away. The 29 year old suspect is accused of robbing the Bellagio on December 14th of 2010, stealing chips whose face value totaled around $1.5 million dollars. Their real value, however, was zero. Thanks to RFID tags embedded inside them, the chips with denominations of $100 to $25,000 could be immediately deactivated rendering them unredeemable for cash value. Watch CCTV footage from the December 14th robbery in the video clip below, followed by the recent press conference from the Las Vegas Police concerning Carleo’s arrest. Stealing worthless chips and then getting caught trying to sell them to undercover officers? Danny Ocean this guy is not.

According to comments made to Minyanville by CHIPCO International, the casino chips used by Bellagio are typical of the industry. Highly specialized markings already make them hard to counterfeit, but embedded RFID tags allow casinos to track their every movement. If a chip is stolen, its ID can be associated with the theft in casino databases, preventing it from being redeemed for cash. Each high tech chip only costs about $2.50 to make, and they ensure that very little theft can succeed.

Actually, they do much more than that. RFID chips are a form of security, but they are also an amazingly precise way of measuring activity in the casino. The Bellagio and its competitors can track how much each table is making or losing, even verifying that dealers are handling each transaction correctly. They can log how much you spend, where you spend it, and use that information to keep you in the game longer with well timed drinks and services catered to your activity. If you’re using high-rolling chips you can almost guarantee that a casino knows what you’re up to. Turns out Big Brother is alive and well, playing craps in Las Vegas.

And he remembered to bring his video surveillance equipment. This short clip from the Bellagio robbery garnered international attention upon its release last year. You can see the suspect fleeing the scene with his motor cycle helmet disguise and less foresight than Mr. Magoo.

Carleo was arrested as the Bellagio robber on January 28th of this year. The Las Vegas Police were sparing on the details of his capture, but according to the Las Vegas Sun, he was taken into custody after officers arranged a sting. Having discovered that his chips were essentially worthless, he was attempting to sell the $25,000 ones to hapless dupes before Bellagio completely discontinued the denomination (an action which occurred last month).

I know what you’re thinking: Carleo was a fool. If you want to succeed in robbing a casino you have to avoid the chips and go for the cash. O ye of little paranoia, the future could see that possibility foiled as well. Current forms of currency tracking are meager in comparison to casino chips, but there’s no reason to think that RFID tags couldn’t easily be included, especially in large denomination bills. And let’s not forget that we’re moving towards non-currency forms of payments anyways. Credit cards are taking a larger and larger share of transactions, and we’ve seen how biometric technology like iris scans could replace your wallet with your body when it comes to paying even minuscule bills. Whether it’s a dollar bill or plastic, currency is going digital, and with that transformation comes all the tracking feats you can dream up; from anti-theft benefits to government tracking concerns. The currency of tomorrow will resemble modern casino chips more and more…if we don’t discontinue it outright.

But let’s not get too upset by that. As I just said, we’ve already made the leap towards digital tracking via our increased use of plastic as payment. There are dangers involved with that, but also some great benefits. I’ve been robbed via my credit card number three times. I never paid for a cent of those thefts because I could dispute payments with my bank/credit card company. If we start to adopt biometrically enhanced forms of ID and payment then concerns of identity theft could be lessened as well. Digital money can be scary, but it can also be a great way to insulate consumers from theft.

As Carleo’s misadventure at the Bellagio goes to show, casinos aren’t the easy-targets some may think they are. The same technology that makes Las Vegas resemble Fort Knox could spread to all forms of cash. If RFID doesn’t curb robbery, then biometrics might. Crime is paying less and less everyday. Which is why Clooney should make his next Ocean’s movie very soon.

[image credits: Las Vegas Police]

[source: Las Vegas Sun, Minyanville]

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11 comments

  • Brimcc says:

    This is nonsense, they didn’t catch him by using RFID chips, they caught him with police work. He was an idiot, and told anyone that would listen that he had the chips. People came forward, a sting buy was set up, he was arrested after selling them to undercover LEOs. Read the police report, there is no mention of RFID chips.

    Police Report: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://media.lasvegassun.com/media/pdfs/blogs/documents/2011/02/03/carleo0203.pdf

    This is just marketing by a company that is trying to sell the technology to other casinos.

  • MichaelApproved says:

    I believe the writer has his information mixed up. Bellagio doesn’t have RFIDs in the lower denominational chips. It’s rumored to be in the $5,000 chips and above. Newer properties like the Wynn hotel put RFIDs in all their chips because they’re the ones who have the play tracking tables he wrote about.

    He wasn’t caught because of the RFIDs in the chips, he was caught because he was trying to sell the $25,000 chips. In fact, he was gambling with the smaller chips and lost over $100,000. If those had the RFIDs in them, they would have caught him sooner. Instead he should have kept all the smaller chips and thrown the larger ones into a river and forgotten about them. It would have still been a nice haul.

    • Keith Kleiner says:

      The writer doesn’t have anything mixed up. Most of the chips were large value denominated and hence nearly all of the stolen chips were worthless the moment the thief walked out the door.

      Also, the article is not claiming the thief was captured because of the RFID. The article is simply highlighting how the RFIDs in the chips foiled the thief by making the chips worthless almost immediately, and then goes on to highlight how RFIDs within chips are enabling casino operators to track user behavior in new and novel ways. The focus of the story is not that RFID was used to catch the bad guy, rather the focus is on how RFID tech within these chips has changed casino operation, from user tracking, to “turning off” stolen chips on demand.

      • MichaelApproved says:

        I’ve never seen a breakdown of the chips that were stolen. Bellagio hasn’t released that information. You’re just guessing at what the denominational breakdown was.

        I don’t beleive Bellagio uses table technology to track players. They still do it old school with a pit boss walking around from table to table marking your play activity. Newer casinos, like the Wynn, have that technology.

  • Anonymous says:

    The thing that the writer has mixed up is crime “paying less and less.” Theft of physical currency may be less profitable. But identity theft, and electronic fraud are massively profitable enterprises, and they’re growing rapidly, driven by sophisticated international cartels. Our entire economy is going online, where biometrics aren’t going to work (once the retina is scanned, it’s just more information). And while the banks will happily write off a stolen credit card or two, if your accounts get cleaned out by someone who effectively is “you,” the onus is still entirely on you to prove that you are “you.”

    The author is correct that our currency is becoming increasingly like casino chips. Hidden bank fees have guaranteed that your electronic currency will eventually end up in the house’s favor. Chase has already cut straight to the chase and added gambling to their ATMs (“double your deposit!”)

    Yeah, we can chuckle at this hapless thief. But when casinos and banks are one and the same, and you can be robbed of everything without being robbed of anything, you’re going to look back on motorcycle-helmeted thieves with a sense of deep, painful nostalgia.

  • John Doesephine says:

    This is total BS. If you read the police report, he had lost $98,000 and had cashed in over $200,000. That’s $300,000 of “worthless” chips that were used and cashed in.

  • Anonymous says:

    Sure there are certain benefits. But just as the casino invalidated chips by toggling a few bits in their database so to can Visa, Mastercard, a hapless employee, a human error, the government oh and maybe a villainous hacker group can invalidate you by flagging your specific biometrics. So when your’e on the shit list you are really on the shit list. No McDonalds for you!

    All joking aside, this may seem like a great idea for casino chips but it is a terrible, terrible idea for real world currency. There are just so many ways this can go wrong it isn’t even funny.

  • Truthspew says:

    And RFID can be defeated in cases too. A strong magnetic pulse will do the trick. So I am not at all concerned about RFID in money. And I disable all RFID in credit and debit cards.

  • Mike S. says:

    Bellagio chips did not have RFID chips and the robbery suspect gambled with a lot of the chips he stole prior to his arrest without Bellagio knowing anything.

  • Joey1058 says:

    Whether or not the chips were “chipped” doesn’t make for much of a debate. The guy got caught, no matter what, because he wasn’t thinking on many levels. The secondary point of the story is “hey, you can make purchases with casino chips”. Going on that point, RFID only makes it easier to track spending habits. Ever hear of the “Where’s George?” website? Some brilliant people simply encouraged others to rubber stamp wheresgeorge.com on every one dollar bill they had. People that got the stamped bills simply had to go to the site, enter the serial number on the bill, and their location. If you go there, they recently published the stats on the program. Ten years up the road, paper and coin currency will be a secondary means of making payments. Wave your phone at some device, and the transaction is completed. And it won’t make a bit of difference what the denomination is. US, Canadian, or Mexican, or even Linden (Second Life) “cash” will all be computed to it’s daily value, and charged against your purchase.

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