Slot machine frauds: hardware manipulation, and special tools

  • Fake coins or tokens

This kind of slot fraud is very simple. It includes fake coins or anything else slot machines register as a form of payment. If you are able to manufacture something that the machine “thinks” is a coin, you can use it to make money.

Of course, you must be able to manufacture the coins for less than their nominal value. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be very profitable.

There is one famous example of a man who managed to use this technique very successfully. Louis Colavecchio is an American casino counterfeiter also known as “The Coin”. He and his gang managed to fabricate considerable amounts of fake coins and casino tokens and use them to make money in the casinos of Atlantic City and Connecticut. He was caught.

  • Coins on a string (Yo-Yo)

If you ever played with a Yo-Yo, you know that it goes down and up when handled correctly. And that’s exactly what a coin on a string does. First, it’s inserted into the slot machine and allowed to go far enough for the machine to register it and start a game. Then it is pulled back out and used again and again.

This technique is very similar to fake coins, but it eliminates the need for large-scale fake coin production. With a coin on a string, pretty much everybody could try to defraud a casino. Of course, not everyone did, and not everyone who did was successful.


  • Shaved coins

The technology used to judge the coins’ validity kept getting better and better, which made tricks like fake coins obsolete, or at least much harder to pull off. Slot machines started using a light sensor to register payments and figure out whether the coins were fake or real.

A shaved coin was registered as a valid form of payment, but fell through the physical comparator that was used to measure the size of the entering coins. The coin was therefore returned to the player and ready to be used again.

If the slot machine required the coin to match the size requirements, another object was inserted into the machine with the shaved coin itself. This object matched the size of the coin perfectly and stayed in the machine, while the shaved coin “fooled” the optical sensor and fell out of it.

  • Coat hangers

The previously described ways of cheating slots were related to how money was inserted into the machine. The following are different: they affect how slots pay out in coins.

In the old slots, which only paid out coins directly each time a player won something, there was a mechanical coin counter used to count the coins coming out of the machine in order to pay out the amount won by the player.

In this cheat, a coat hanger (or something similar in shape and form) was pushed into the area next to the coin counter, which affected its accuracy. This meant the slot continued to pay out more than it was supposed to, making the game more profitable in the long run.


  • Top-bottom joint

A top-bottom joint was a tool that consisted of two parts… you guessed it – the top and the bottom, more specifically a metal rod bent to form a circle (the top) and a long guitar string or some other thin wire (the bottom).

The top-bottom joint is one of the most well-known tools used to defraud casinos. It was very popular in the 70s and 80s. It took the term “emptying out a slot machine” to an entirely new level.

The bottom part was inserted into the bottom of the machine, where it came into contact with the machine’s internal electrics, drawing a small charge from it. The top part was then inserted into the coin slot, which completed the circuit and forced the machine to pay out all the coins it had inside.

  • Monkey paw

Monkey paw was created by a legend of the art of cheating slot machines and casinos – Tommy Glenn Carmichael. But to get to the monkey paw, we first have to go back to the top-bottom joint. Carmichael owned a repair shop that wasn’t doing very well. So, when his friend Ray Ming introduced the top-bottom joint to him, he decided to try it out.

He had some success, but was later caught and sentenced to 5 years in prison, not only for this fraud, but also for previous charges. He concluded that the tool he had been using was already well known. He then realised that he had to find something new in order to succeed in the field of casino fraud.

That’s why he invented the monkey paw. He got himself a video poker machine and began experimenting. Carmichael managed to create a very simple yet functioning contraption. He attached a metal string to a bent metal rod, which he later inserted into a slot machine’s vent and moved it around until he found the switch for the machine’s coin hopper. He pulled it and got everything that was inside the machine.


  • Light wand

As slot machines became more technologically advanced and secure, they stopped using mechanical systems to count money. They started using optical sensors, which made the majority of the cheats mentioned before, obsolete. But Carmichael adapted to the change, and figured out a way to fool the new systems.

He made a small device that could “blind” the optical sensor, making it unable to detect how much money was inserted into the machine and how much was being paid out. Since the machine thought the correct amount hadn’t been paid out yet, it kept paying out more and more money, making the cheaters richer and richer.

  • Piano wire

The piano wire method of cheating slots was used to change the outcome of the game, which makes it a very unique form of cheating.

It dates back to 1982, when slot machine reels were still mechanically operated. The piano wire was inserted into the slot machine’s rotating insides. The wire was used to jam the clock used to measure the wheel rotation, which meant that players could manipulate the spin’s outcome.

The group of people who tried to pull this operation off managed to hit a $50,000 win. However, they were being filmed during the entire process, and were arrested later on. Their success was short-lived, but they really managed to change the outcome of the game using only a piano wire.


  • Chip replacement

Dennis Nikrasch used a different method in a different way. He bought a slot machine to “play” at home and discovered that the machine’s chip could be reprogrammed to manipulate the outcome of the game. The reprogrammed chips could then be installed into casino slot machines and used to win big money.

After this discovery he ordered a load of these chips, reprogrammed them, got his hands on the keys to the slot machines and replaced their chips. And this way he was able to carry out a successful operation that made him rich. He was, of course, later arrested in 2004 and died in 2010.

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