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When The Casinos Lose:
"Breaking Vegas" On The History Channel

By Paul Kammen
Aug 4, 2005

The History Channel's series,  "Breaking Vegas,"  is created out of some of the most fascinating stories of people who went on incredible runs raking in thousands  -- sometimes millions  --  of dollars from the casinos.

Most of us don't connect The History Channel with gambling programs,  but World War II documentaries.  I happened across the show one night while multitasking  -- doing some writing,  playing holdem on PokerStars,  and looking for a good program to watch.  I was hooked immediately.  Besides loving poker,  I love visiting Las Vegas and am a history buff as well.  So how could I pass up this show?  I ended up catching several more episodes,  and if you like gambling,  Vegas,  history,  or just a great story,  this show is for you.

How many people have  "the perfect system,"  or head to Vegas convinced lady luck is on their side?  A few do quite well,  and indeed a good poker player,  card counter, sports or thoroughbred handicapper can come back in the black.  Most,  though, come back after finding their system to beat the casino ended up beating up their bankroll.

But some people do find that  "perfect system"  or come up with ways to beat the casino.  Some of these are legal,  some not.  And a lot of them make great stories.

A Unique Twist.  Breaking Vegas is a unique show that is part documentary,  part reenactment.  I admit,  when I hear "reenactment,"  what comes to mind are low-budget productions and actors who have been nominated for a Razzy award.  But Breaking Vegas  is able to successfully pull it off.  The program combines recent and historical footage,  dramatizations,  factual background and interviews with those involved.  Some of the reenactment includes people who were actually involved in fleecing the casino.  In addition,  the viewer hears from those who have to prevent the casino being taken for a ride.  At the conclusion of each episode,  we get the lowdown as to where those who came up with the schemes are today.

Each episode covers the rise of the people involved in trying to beat the casino and what happened as a result of their efforts.  One of my favorite episodes,  "Professor Blackjack,"  covered the story of Ed Thorp.  Odds are you may not have heard of Thorp,  but you have heard of card counting.  Thorp was an MIT math professor, and came up with the system that uses math to beat the game of blackjack.  In the show, we see how he came up with the theory,  and how he was able to prove it works with the help of Manny Kimmel  --  a New Yorker with organized crime connections,  who offers to put up money for Thorp to test his system so they could both cash in. Thorp is hardly a hardcore gambler;  rather,  a guy who loves math and wants to prove his theory.  The viewer has a great time watching Thorp leaving pit bosses at a loss as to how he is making so much at the tables.  Interviews with the real Ed Thorp are included.

Whatís also great about the show is that it covers many different types of gambling, rather than just blackjack card counting or slot machine scams.  Even games I wasnít all that interested in were fascinating to watch when people come up with a system to win.

Episode Guide.  Breaking Vegas just ended its first season,  a run of 13 shows.  But fear not.  If you missed the show you can still catch it in reruns.  Hereís a quick rundown of the season episodes:

"Slot Scoundrel."  Profiling Tommy Glenn Carmichael,  who came up with a scam to use slot machines as his personal ATM.

"Beat the Wheel."  Childhood friends and physics geniuses Doyne Farmer and Norman Packard came up with a system to beat roulette.

"Professor Blackjack."  Profiling Ed Thorp and card-counting.

"The Gadget Gambler."  Feature about Keith Taft,  a family man who came up with numerous gadgets to cheat at blackjack.

"Card Count King."  A look at Tommy Hyland and his team of card counters.

"The Ultimate Cheat."  How Richard Marcus used past-posting to evade casino detection and bilk millions.

"Slot Buster."  Ron Harris,  computer whiz and ex-Nevada Gaming Control Board employee,  develops a way to cheat slot machines he was supposed to be verifying as legitimate.

"Blackjack Man."  Profile of Ken Uston,  Pacific Stock Exchange vice president,  who on weekends hit casinos with a card counting team.

"Vegas Vixen."  The story of Ida Summers,  who raked in thousands at blackjack by perfecting  "hand mucking"  and switching in  "coolers,"  pre-stacked decks designed to win.

"The Roulette Assault."  Looks at Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo,  who discovered the tendency of certain numbers to come up more often on a roulette wheel.  He crushed the casino in Madrid then went on to Vegas and European casinos.

"The Prince of Poker."  Featuring Harperís Magazine writer Jim McManus,  an amateur poker player who competed in the 2000 World Series of Poker.

"Dice Dominator."  The story of Dominic LoRiggio,  who mastered controlling the flight of dice in craps in 1997.

"Counterfeit King."  Profiling Louis Colavecchio,  who took on the difficult task of counterfeiting coins.

Previous episodes will continue to air on Tuesdays at 9 pm. Eastern and Pacific time this summer.  If youíd like to know which episodes are going to air,  follow this link to the History Channelís page on  Breaking Vegas.  You also will want to check www.tvguide.com from time to time and do a search for the show,  as it may be aired at different times besides on just Tuesday  (I caught a mini-marathon one Saturday afternoon).

At this time,  itís not known whether there will be a second installment of Breaking Vegas episodes.  According to Jenna Farkas,  publicist for The History Channel,  the decision on a second season wonít be made until later this year.  However,  Farkas said that the ratings have been solid.  "People seem very interested in it.  The people who watch the show really love the show,"  said Farkas.  As a fan of the show, I can say that Farkas is right.  If you havenít had a chance to catch the episodes,  check out some of the re-broadcasts this summer.


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Paul Kammen is an avid low-stakes poker player from the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He has played regularly at the Canterbury Card Club since it opened in 2000, playing primarily in low stakes Stud and Holdem games.  Since then,  he has played at various other casinos in Minnesota and Las Vegas,  and also plays regularly at the low-stakes tables on PokerStars.  He is the author of two books on poker, How To Beat Low-Limit 7-Card Stud Poker  (2003,  Cardoza Publishing) and How To Beat Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better  (also available at ebookmall.com)  and available soon in print.

 

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