To paraphrase Albert Einstein’s well known quote about roulette tables, “You cannot beat a slot machine unless you steal money from it.” That could easily have been the personal motto of Tommy Glenn Carmichael, one of the world’s most infamous slot cheats. As a technician, his cleverness was unmatched, but like so many who turn to crime as a get-rich-quick scheme, he was eventually caught and made to pay for his lawless behavior.
Off to a Slow Start
Carmichael was born in 1950, when American technology was under-going a renaissance in the wake of World War II inventiveness. He would grow up with an interest in mechanical and electrical devices, which led to his chosen profession as a television repairman. By 1980, he had his own shop in Tulsa called Ace TV Sales and Service.
But life was far from idyllic for the four-time married and three-time divorced Carmichael. Recreational drug use had led to his arrest and a couple of small-time convictions for possession. The repair business was a dead end. He longed for more adventure than a straight-laced prairie town could provide.
History has it that an old friend of Carmichael’s named Ray Ming was living in Las Vegas at the time, and he pulled up to the Tulsa shop one day with a big surprise—a Bally’s slot machine. Ming also brought along a “top-bottom joint,” which was the state-of-the-art slot cheating tool in those days. The two played around a bit and Carmichael discovered how easy it was to use the tool to relieve the slot of its coins.
That was all it took. Carmichael knew what he had to do. He shut down the shop, grabbed his wife and headed off for Nevada. No sooner had he arrived in Sin City then he jimmied a 5-cent machine at a casino near the Las Vegas Strip for $35 in nickels. In his mind, he saw visions of yachts and cars. But five years later, he got caught with his top-bottom joint while drinking coffee and playing a slot machine at a Denny’s Restaurant west of the Strip. The Tulsa-native was sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary.
From Amateur to Pro
Decades later, Carmichael would tell USA Today how prison time had changed him. “You think about what you did,” he said, “and the mistakes and how to correct them. You either get straight or get better.” The former repairman decided on the latter course of action. He began devising new slot cheating inventions of his own design that he could put to immediate use after his release.
One of Carmichael’s first successful gadgets was the “slider and monkey paw,” which he could use to hack into slot machine coin hoppers. He reportedly banked over $1,000 an hour using the tool. Then, when slot makers began switching from mechanical to electrical apparatus in the 1990s, the ex-con invented the “light wand” to trick a machine’s optical scanner into releasing cash. He became so successful that he could afford to buy two houses, a motor home and a Jaguar JX6. He also invested in a pawn shop.
And Carmichael’s scams were not limited to bilking Las Vegas slot machines, either. Soon he was “winning” at casinos in Atlantic City, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana and beyond. He began going on Caribbean cruises, where he could cheat shipboard casinos out of their money, too. He also started selling copies of his light wand to other slot cheats, who were happy to pay top dollar for proven technology. Without going near a machine, the device started bringing in $10,000 a day in sales.
In 1996, police apprehended Carmichael for the manufacture and possession of a cheating device, but the charges were subsequently dropped. Then in 1998, and again in 1999 as the FBI became involved, the inventor was arrested under the same allegations. This time, the charges stuck. In 2001, Carmichael was sentenced to time served—326 days—and three years’ probation. He lost his two homes, and the judge ordered him to stay out of casinos.
Turning a New Leaf?
Barred from going near slot machines, Carmichael moved back to Tulsa. That’s where he hit upon an even better way to use his formidable inventive skills and knowledge of how slot cheats operate. He would begin producing anti-cheating devices for the use of casino security. The poacher would become the game warden.
By 2003, Carmichael had designed and patented a device he called “The Protector.” He claimed that it could stop all known cheating devices—even those of his own invention. But the industry was wary of claims made by its old foe. The Nevada Gaming Commission debated whether to allow Carmichael access to casino personnel and decided it was too risky.
Carmichael told USA Today, “They cannot stand the thought of me righting a wrong and possibly making a little money off it.” He swore he had gone straight. He would never cheat a slot machine again, even though he said if he wanted to “I could beat them in a heartbeat.” And that explains why the “reformed” inventor was banned from Nevada casinos for life. The master was just too good for his own good.