This is a unique story in so many ways, because not only was it an example of cheating that worked, but despite the culprits being caught they got off scot free.
It all happened in 2004, when a team of 3 walked into the Ritz under Piccadilly and began to bet on roulette.
The trio managed to keep their identities a secret for many years after the event, but eventually became known as Nenad Marjanovic, a Serbian businessman, Livia Pilisi, a woman from Hungary, and their ‘leader’, Niko Tosa, of Croatia.
They had visited the casino a number of times before they started betting hard, but still managed to clear thousands of pounds on each visit.
The first night that they won serious money they walked away with £100,000 of the casino’s cash, but the next night they came back and really upped the ante.
By the end of the evening they were in profit to the tune of £1.2 million, which quite understandably got the casino’s attention.
They were given £300,000 in cash and a cheque was written for the rest, but the casino wasn’t going to leave it there.
Cheating with a Laser
After reviewing the security tapes (as all casinos do after big wins) it was discovered that the gang must have been cheating in some way using their mobile phones.
The police were informed, the remaining winnings were frozen, and the gang were arrested when they returned the next night, which is when the truth behind the scam began to unfold.
They had apparently been using laser technology to judge what is called the ‘decaying orbit’ of the ball; this basically means judging its speed in comparison to the speed of the wheel and therefore figuring out where the ball was likely to land.
It wasn’t accurate enough to predict the specific pocket, but was accurate enough to predict an area of the wheel. This is known as ‘sector targeting’, and the gang would use neighbour bets to give themselves a safety barrier.
The lasers were built into their mobile phones and then linked to a computer, which would calculate the data and tell them where to place their bets. They had to do all this before the wheel went round three times and the dealer called no more bets, so it all happened in a matter of seconds.
The gang were caught red handed, with lots of cash and tech paraphernalia in their hotel room as well as a list of casinos marked with symbols that no one ever managed to figure out. But things got even more bizarre from here.
No Illegal Activity
Many gambling laws in 2004 were very outdated, and there was certainly nothing pertaining to the more modern technology that was becoming available. This made the case a complex one.
Although the gang were arrested and questioned, they were never charged because it was decided that they hadn’t actually done anything illegal!
The law that most closely related to what they had done was written in 1875 and simply declared that no “unlawful devices” should be used, but since the gang were not actually tampering with the game or using anything illegal to beat it, they were in the clear.
Amazingly, the casino had to pay them the rest of their winnings, so the gang got away with over £400,000 each assuming they split it three ways.
Adding insult to injury, the Hungarian woman, Livia, was actually on a worldwide casino blacklist having been caught trying something similar in the Middle East, so if the Ritz had cottoned onto this when they let her in, it would never have happened.
The Ritz has never officially commented on the scam, no doubt they wanted the story buried as deeply and as quickly as possible, not that it matters now as the casino closed its doors for good during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
The three players are still around though.
In mid 2023, Niko Tosa, the group’s apparent leader, gave an interview with Bloomberg in which he expanded on that incredible time.
Tosa of course is a pseudonym, but nevertheless he denied any sort of cheating via technology, instead claiming that he achieved the huge wins using concentration and practice.
According to him, there was a slight bias in the wheel which he exploited by making last second bets on a series of numbers to move the edge in his favour, and having 3 of them at the table meant the bets could be made precious seconds later as there were three pairs of hands to place them.
This interview was the first and only time Tosa had ever spoken publicly, and he didn’t mention his colleagues, but he did admit to being a lifelong casino player with a roulette wheel at home he could practice on, and who regularly used fake names and disguises in order to fool the casinos and stay under the radar.
He even claims to have been physically assaulted by casino security staff during some of his casino tours, which have covered countries as varied as the UK, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, and even Kenya.
Being arrested in the UK must have been a breeze compared to that.
Tosa was in his 30s when he hit the Ritz, but even though he is now heading towards retirement age he is still planning visits to casinos far and wide to continue utilising his unique skills.
He won’t want a repeat of the Ritz though; players like Niko Tosa would rather remain anonymous.