Dennis Nikrasch was a career criminal who wreaked havoc on Las Vegas casinos by tampering with their slot machines and robbing them of millions of dollars. He plied his trade for about 22 years during which time his operations went from manual to high-tech.
How He Did It
By the time Nikrasch began to hound Las Vegas he had already gained useful experience as an extremely skillful locksmith. He had worked for the Genovese crime family in Chicago and his activities had seen him jailed for burglary between 1961 and 1971.
Upon his release, he decided to try his luck in Vegas where he began to tinker with slot machines using keys and magnets. This venture proved to have very high returns because between 1976 and 1979 he made a whopping $10 million. Unfortunately for him he was busted and served a five year sentence (from 1986 to 1991).
They say once a thief, always a thief and this was certainly the case for Nikrasch who returned to his old ways the moment he was back on the streets. But an unpleasant surprise awaited him at the casinos: the machines were no longer mechanical instead they were run by chips that he knew absolutely nothing about.
Not one to give up easily, Dennis reached out to tech whiz and fellow Mafioso Eugene Bulgarino, who purchased two slot machines that they pored over for weeks and finally cracked. They discovered a way to overwrite the machines’ EPROM (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) chips which controlled how jackpots were paid.
Having overcome this hurdle, they were now faced with the challenge of how to remove the chips, rewrite them and replace them in the machines without being caught. For this Nikrasch’s locksmith skills came in handy. But luck was not on his side since casinos had installed security cameras that monitored the machines 24/7.
Dennis was forced to recruit a team of watchers that would make sure he didn’t get caught as he toyed with the chips. The scheme worked perfectly and he and his team fleeced six Vegas casinos of millions of dollars in just one year.
If Nikrasch had been able to work solo then he might have gotten away with his crimes. However working with a team meant that winnings had to be shared and the ring-leader took 50 to 70%. This of course brought some hostilities and someone on his crew sold him out to the FBI.
In 1998, agents bugged Nikrasch’s home and listened in as he and Bulgarino discussed how they were going to nick a $17 million jackpot from Megabucks. It was never to be as they were arrested and charged.
The jailbird was yet again incarcerated; this time he faced a list of charges that included racketeering and conspiracy. He pled guilty and received a seven and a half year sentence from which he was released in 2004. What he did with himself until the time of his unexplained death in 2010 remains unknown.