Keno Cheaters that Got Busted

By Alex Smith Nov 4, 2022

Keno is one of the most popular games played at land-based casinos, and while its popularity online hasn’t caught on as well, it still is a beloved game for many, especially those living in the USA.

Of course, Keno is nothing more than a game of chance – and it’s one of the worst games you can play as a player, as the house edge is so high. However, imagine you can access a system that allows you to predict the outcome of Keno in a way that lets you win games of dollars – you may assume it would be worth the risk, right?

Well, as with any type of gambling, some go in search of beating the system, and the game of keno has had its fair share of cheaters trying to beat it. On this page, we’re going to be looking into the curious story of a man who successfully cheated Keno for many years.

Constant Winning in Las Vegas Attracts the Nevada Gaming Control Board!

The story begins on 14 January 1995, when a player at Bally’s in Atlantic City purchased keno tickets totalling $100. He purchased these tickets for $10 per piece, and he selected eight numbers on each of the tickets. Of course, casinos know that Keno is not a game played by professional gamblers; it’s generally reserved for those who want an occasional gamble – much like playing the lottery.

As a result, no red flags appeared to the casino bosses upstairs – but this quickly changed in a few minutes, as one of those tickets had hit all eight numbers. If you are wondering, the odds of this happening are approximately 230,000 to 1 – with a jackpot of $100,000; these odds are already very unfavorable for the player.

While the man was suddenly the focal point of the casino security team, he was the most surprised; he underwent a vigorous interrogation before the casino’s security team would allow him to leave with his money – and while they were unable to find concrete evidence of cheating, some things just did not add up.

Their Keno Gameplay Wasn’t Adding Up

For example, one of the enormous alarm bells was that the man, McNeil, showed virtually no emotion when he managed to win the jackpot. In addition, he held no identification on his person and refused to take a cheque from the casino – demanding that his winnings be paid in cash. These were all causes for concern in themselves – but perhaps the biggest reason the casino’s security team was so surprised was that no one in history had ever spent so much money while playing Keno in Atlantic City.

The casino had so many suspicions they ended up calling state troopers; they were asked to verify McNeil’s identity, and when they reached his hotel room upstairs, it soon became apparent that things were going to get a lot more interesting. In his room, a second man named Ronald Harris immediately caught the eye of the investigators. They claimed he appeared strange and was evasive to questioning; they had immediate suspicions about who he was and what his motive was in this.

However, since no visible crime had been committed, nor did investigators have anything concrete to go on, they left once they had finished questioning Harris and McNeil. By the way, if you are wondering whether it’s common practice for casinos to carry out additional verification checks like this whenever a big win is claimed, it depends; with a game like Keno, where it is so unusual for players to win this much money, it looks as though the additional verification checks were warranted.

And once the state troopers started verifying the identity of those involved, it soon became apparent that something bigger was happening. Ronald Harris, for example, proved to be an employee of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which caught the interest of both casino managers and police. While they had their suspicions, they still had no concrete evidence that anything illegal or under the table had been going on – but they had their suspicions.

An Inside Job?

With the news that the Nevada Gaming Control Board employed Mr. Harris, casino bosses and police started to ponder how a low-level employee could accurately predict the outcome of what most people know to be a sucker’s bet, with odds of 230,000/1. As it turns out, the answer to this question lies in Mr. Harris’s day-to-day work.

He was a computer technician who ensured slot machine chips in Las Vegas were not interfered with, reprogrammed, or switched. A large part of his job required him to randomly select different slot machines and check their EPROM chips.

Once investigators looked at the man more closely, they uncovered that he had been reprogramming some of these slot machine chips. As a result, this allowed him to control when the slot machines would pay out – and it looks like he was sharing this technology with others to defraud casinos. For example, if a player dropped physical coins into a slot in a prescribed manner, the game would quickly deliver a jackpot – something that police later found to have been abused by many fraudsters.

According to police, Harris employed several confederates around the city to join him in taking advantage of these reprogrammed machines. Many of these confederates could win thousands of dollars in a single sitting. On his return from Atlantic City, Harris was arrested by police and fired from his job. As a result of his arrest, a lengthy investigation took place – and he did face criminal charges. 

However, police and casino security staff were still none the wiser about how he had managed to beat a Keno game thousands of miles away in New Jersey – a long way from his hometown of Las Vegas.

How Harris Cheated the Keno Game

The method used by fraudsters to defraud the casino playing Keno all came down to the cheating code. Harris was a competent computer engineer. He realized computer software had significant problems generating random numbers. As a result, they often relied on past algorithms and sequences to generate future outcomes.

Harris realized that this was a potential weak spot – and that he could take advantage of this by duplicating the code used to generate keno numbers. All he would then need to do would be to enter the previous results of a specific game and use the same hardware to make the predictions for that game. He realized that if he found a Keno game running on the same type of machine he had pooled the results from, the numbers that the cheated machine would generate would likely come close enough to the casino numbers to make a profit.

Harris stole equipment from his job, booked a flight to Atlantic City, and met up with his buddy McNeil. They tested the theory for a few days by buying tickets and attempting to match a few winning numbers. However, things quickly got out of hand, and they ended up winning the biggest jackpot in the history of Keno on the first ticket they purchased.

This took Harris by surprise; after all, he was only looking to test out the system and earn a few dollars to prove that he could accurately predict the numbers. As a result, he booked into his hotel under his name and even checked into the casino using his real identity.

Once gaming officials and state troopers started to get involved, Harris panicked and dashed for the airport. However, in his haste, he left behind all of his computer equipment – which was successfully used by authorities to determine exactly what was going on.

A lengthy investigation occurred, and Harris and all involved were criminally charged. What’s more, the loopholes that they had used to beat the game of keno successfully were quickly patched up by software providers and operators – and it was a valuable lesson for casinos. At the time, security was a hot topic in the land-based gaming world, but nobody thought it was possible to manipulate a Keno machine in the way they had.

The state of New Jersey’s Department of Law and Public Safety website still has a mugshot of McNeil, along with information about his crime. They state:

“Reid E. McNeal, along with co-conspirator Ronald D. Harris, was charged on January 15, 1995, with Attempted Theft by Deception, Conspiracy, and Computer Theft. He and his co-conspirator allegedly utilized proprietary computer software information to illegally obtain a Keno jackpot of $100,000 from Bally’s Park Place Casino/Hotel. Charges remained pending as of the filing of the exclusion petition. Co-conspirator Ronald D. Harris is an engineer specializing in detecting software and devices designed to cheat at slot machine play. The charges were still pending at the filing date of the exclusion petition.”

Can Slot Machines Be Cheated?

While it’s clear that the game of keno can be cheated and manipulated, many of our readers will be asking whether the same is true of slot machines. While it’s true that slot machines could, in the past, be manipulated and taken advantage of, today, most slots are electronic. This means no physical hardware is involved, and developers use state-of-the-art security software to ensure that it’s impossible to hack into the games.

However, a few older methods were used successfully to cheat slot machines, and we will be taking a look at some of these below.

Coin on a String

The Coin on a String cheat is one of the most primitive and simplistic forms of cheating in a slot game, although today, it’s not possible to use anymore; it was only possible when playing on mechanical slot machines. As the name implies, the Coin on a String cheat involved lowering a coin into the slot machine held on a string.

Once the slot machine had registered that a coin had been dropped in, the cheater could simply pull the string to remove the coin – allowing them to play the game for free, infinitely.

This trick ended up costing land-based casinos a lot of money, and it took a while for developers to find a suitable workaround to prevent it from happening in the future.

The Monkey Paw

The Monkey Paw was an incredible feat of technological creativity, and it was invented by a man called Tommy Glenn Carmichael. The Monkey Paw was composed of a guitar string attached to a metal wand. This wand could then be stuck into the air vent of a slot machine to trigger the microswitch found inside it. By doing so, the cheater could guarantee an instant payout.

One of the significant benefits of using the Monkey Paw over the Coin on a String trick was that you did not have to spend time physically spinning the game. Carmichael managed to walk away with tens of thousands of dollars using this before he was eventually caught and imprisoned. Interestingly, it took law enforcement 40 years to catch up with him and convict him of his crimes.

As a general rule of thumb, it is virtually impossible to cheat slot machines successfully. There have been cases where players have found vulnerabilities in the software behind a slot machine – but this is almost always the fault of the developers and the testing houses, and not experienced hackers compromising the security of the machine.

Of course, it should go without saying that you should be incredibly weary of anyone claiming they have managed to hack a slot machine. It’s simply not possible, and any slot game you play at reputable online casinos today undergoes extensive testing to ensure players do not have vulnerabilities that can be taken advantage of by players.

Slot machine technology is now so advanced that hacking slot machines takes insane work. Casino cheats like Ron Harris simply cannot cheat casino games – and in Las Vegas casinos, especially, police work very closely with casino security teams to quickly catch and apprehend anyone trying to rig slot machines. 

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