Some people are seemingly destined to follow a certain path in life, latching onto their chosen skill or hobby from a young age and enjoying a life long obsession with it.
Richard Marcus is one of those people.
He can trace his love of gambling and everything to do with it back to long car journeys as a child, where he would bet his parents he could guess the colour of the next car they passed.
The concepts of betting, probability and chance were always going to fascinate him, but a key moment in his early life ignited another part of his imagination.
When trading baseball cards with some other children, he was scammed. The game he was playing involved each boy flipping a baseball card and the one with the highest scoring card won both. However, his opponents were cheating by peeking at his cards before he drew them, then making sure the card they placed had a higher score. He lost his whole collection.
Disappointed as he may have been, he was more interested in how they had managed to trick him, and this was the beginning of a life long obsession with cheating, tricking, and mis-direction.
Although he was a player of all casino games through his gambling career, it was with roulette that he had his biggest success and he even went on to write a book called American Roulette: How I Turned the Tables on the Casinos.
Heading to Vegas
Despite being born in New Jersey, home of Atlantic City, Marcus wanted to experience the one and only Las Vegas, so after a lucky win at Saratoga Race Track in New York, he took $20,000 in winnings to Nevada in 1976.
Confident that he was about to make his fortune, Marcus booked an $800 dollar per night suite at the Riviera Hotel and got straight down to it playing baccarat which was his game of choice at the time. He was 20 years old.
His dreams began to come true as he turned that $20,000 into $100,000 in the space of a few days, being treated like royalty by the casino and even having his suite paid for. However, in a dramatic twist of fate Marcus went back to the tables on his 21st birthday – and lost the lot.
His whole bank roll along with all of his winnings was gone – he even sold his car and lost the money he made from that too. The casino no longer wanted to know.
In no time at all Marcus had gone from high rolling superstar to homeless nobody miles from his home state. He had to sleep under a bridge using his duffle bag as a pillow.
He was furious, felt like he had been cheated by the casino, and vowed his revenge.
Learning on the Inside
Anyone else might have given up at this point, but Richard Marcus was hell bent on not just getting his money back, but taking as much from the casinos as he possible could.
He decided to get into the casino as an employee and learn how casinos work so that he could eventually exploit them. Bringing down the establishment from within.
After not only ‘liberating’ some clothes but also talking his way into dealer school, he got a job as a baccarat dealer at the Four Queens Casino, where he would meet a man who would change his life forever.
Joe Classon was a professional casino cheat who frequented the Four Queens, and he would deliberately target new dealers to see if he could take advantage of their inexperience. In Richard Marcus however, he found a talented dealer who was more than willing to break the rules.
They devised a plan to pre-stack the shoe then have Richard fake shuffle, so that Classon and his team would know which cards were coming next and be able to win big. Marcus would get 20% of the profits, which on their first outing amounted to around $21,000.
The two worked together for over a decade, along with two other associates named Jerry and Duke, and their exploits took them on a world tour of casinos. One of Marcus’ most successful tricks involved late betting on roulette.
Bets would be placed after no more bets had been called once the outcome became obvious, and even after the ball had settled. A combination of late betting and adding extra high value chips to winning bets made them thousands over the years and in casinos all over the world
They dealt with the odd occasion of being caught in the act by claiming ignorance, although one time in 1982 he was caught and almost prosecuted, which could have landed him in prison for 10 years, but he got out of it by the skin of his teeth.
In 1989, 12 years after meeting, Joe Classon decided it was time to retire, so he and Marcus amicably parted ways. Richard however was a younger man and not done with the casinos yet. He wanted to build his own team.
Life After Joe
After going it alone for a while, a chance meeting in a Las Vegas casino would be the seed of Richard Marcus’s second professional cheating team.
A high school friend named Andy ‘Balls’ Ambromowitz (‘balls’ for his famous nerve) bumped into him, and they got chatting and discovered a joint desire to rob the casino blind. They came up with a trick that involved hiding high value chips underneath low value ones but decided they would need a third man to pull it off, and Andy introduced Richard to sports betting tout he knew named Pat Mallery.
Mallery was trained by Marcus and became a gifted cheater, and the three of them worked together to take millions from the casinos, cheating throughout the 90s and also coming up with a rather interesting move that would even cover them if they were caught.
Named after Richard’s favourite stripper, the Savannah was basically an attempt to play blind drunk, and thus get away with just about anything on the basis of being too inebriated to be worth arguing with.
Their trick was to turn up to the table holding a cocktail glass to create the persona of someone who had been drinking, then cover a $5,000 chip with a $5 chip in such a way that from the dealer’s position they could only see the chip on top so it looked like a $10 bet. If the bet won, Richard would point out the $5,000 chip and collect, but if it lost, he would sweep the whole bet away.
If they were caught doing this they would apologise and attempt to replace the chips with two $5 chips (remember the dealer still didn’t know the $5,000 chip was underneath) and only lose $10. If thing ever looked like getting serious, not that they often did because a $10 bet wasn’t worth calling security over, they would play up the drunkenness until they were left alone.
Going into Retirement
Just like his old mentor Joe Classon, Richard eventually decided it was time to retire, and in the year 2000, with around $7 million to his name, he called it quits. His team mates Andy and Pat did the same a few years later.
Since standing down from the roulette tables Richard has written many books, the most famous of which is called American Roulette: How I Turned the Odds Upside Down. Another that sold well is about keeping yourself safe from Identity Theft.
On top of this he runs his own website and has even worked in cheating prevention, training casino staff and looking over security measures, as well as carrying out undercover floor investigations to spot weaknesses.
On the other side of things, he teaches card counting to wannabe blackjack masters!
You can find interviews and cheating demonstrations by Marcus online if you want to see the real deal.