Bellagio Robbery: Too Bad Casino Chips Are Chipped

An armed man stole $1.5 million worth of casino chips from a craps table at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel yesterday, then made his escape on a motorcycle. Unfortunately for the robber, a good amount of that money is useless because casino chips contain RFID chips. FindLaw has more:

According to the (police) report, the Vegas robber held up the craps table at the Bellagio at about 3:50 a.m., then ran through the lobby, pointing his gun behind him before leaping on his bike and roaring off.

The biker bandit might have some difficulty cashing in on his loot. As the AP reports, each casino only accepts its own chips and the Bellagio will be on the lookout for anyone trying to cash in the high-priced chips. The chips stolen were marked at between $100 and $25,000. What the casino would not confirm is whether these chips, like some in town, are embedded with radio frequency devices.

As if the house didn’t already have enough of an advantage, the radio frequency chips may make it just that much tougher to beat it. According to Gaming Partners International (“the undisputed leader in RFID casino chips”) the RFID chips can follow movements from table to back office to pit boss to the cashier. The embedded chips allow the house to conduct a chip inventory, read open and closing floats, or gather important player data almost instantaneously.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has more on just how hard it might be to cash in those chips:

David Schwartz, director of gaming research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said it would be extremely difficult for anyone to swap those chips for money — especially the $25,000 chips, which are rarely given out and are closely monitored by casinos….Schwartz said every casino has different safeguards….Some casinos have gambling chips with radio-frequency identification technology. When scanned with a casino chip reader, it can tell the casino exactly where the chip came from, he said. It’s unclear whether Bellagio uses the technology, but it’s a useful tool in preventing fraud, he said.

(Police Lt. Clint) Nichols said the man took chips from $25,000 to $100 in value, which he stuffed in a backpack before jogging out the door. Nichols agreed that the chips will be difficult to cash in because of industry safeguards, which he said he could not disclose.

Nichols said $1.5 million was large for a casino robbery but not the largest he’s seen in the past three years. Casino robberies are infrequent but not rare, he said. In 2009, there were nine casino robberies in the Las Vegas police jurisdiction. Tuesday’s robbery makes 10 for 2010, he said.

The Bellagio doubtless recouped its losses through insurance. The robber will be lucky to cash in smaller denominations or launder the chips by, say, using them to pay strippers. And why did Bellagio security let someone wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet inside?

It makes a good story, in any case.