Twice Lucky: Ohio Man Wins Back Money Stolen at Gunpoint

PHOTO: David Hayes in an interview with "20/20." Hayes sued Hollywood Casino Columbus after winning $38,000 and being given cash, which was stolen in an armed robbery after he got home.
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When it comes to luck at the card table, 29-year-old David Hayes has it, hands down.

By day, he's a jewelry maker in Columbus, Ohio, earning a modest salary. By night, he's Fortune's favored son.

Watch the full story on "20/20: Got Luck?" TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET.

His game: blackjack. His winning percentage: freakishly good. When he goes to casinos, he wins thousands.

"We're talking five, six figures generally when I play," Hayes said in an interview with "20/20" correspondent Deborah Roberts. "I walk out with ten or twenty [thousand]."

Even more frustrating for the casinos, he never cheats or counts cards, he said.

"It's just pure luck," he said.

"20/20" tested Hayes' luck during a recent trip to New York.

After half an hour playing a mock blackjack game, Roberts was bust and Hayes was up $5,000.

In another quick test of his luck, Hayes bought two scratch-off lotto tickets. He won $10 on a $5 ticket.

Last October, Hayes visited Hollywood Casino Columbus with Nick, his gambling buddy (who asked that his last name not be used).

After a five-hour run of luck, Hayes was riding high.

"People were all around me cheering, seeing me bet their whole month's salary in one thirty-second move," Hayes said. "I had stacks of thousand-dollar chips.... I didn't realize how much I had actually won until I cashed out."

He'd won $35,800. Then his luck turned.

Hayes said that when he went to the cashier's cage to claim his winnings, the cashier wouldn't give him a check, which is customary for large winnings.

"That's when I knew that something quite wasn't right," Hayes said. "I asked her three times about getting a check. ... I was forced to take cash."

The cashier put 358 hundred-dollar bills into a manila envelope, stapled it up the sides and wrote "EMPLOYEE FILE" on it, Hayes said.

Then something else struck him as odd.

"The management asked me, 'Do you feel comfortable taking this much money home?'" Hayes said. Security video exclusively obtained by "20/20" shows a security guard approach and speak to him. "I said, No, but -- I [didn't] have a choice. But my brother's home, and I'm sure he's got his gun, so I'm not really worried."

A security guard escorted Hayes to his car, and Hayes drove home nervously.

By 6 a.m., Hayes was home. His brother was not there.

"I took the money out, you know, just holding it, thinking, That's my year's salary right there."

As he dozed off, three men entered the house through an unlocked back door and headed up the stairs.

"The next thing I know, I see people," Hayes said. "All fully masked, [dressed] in black. Ski masks, gloves, everything. The only thing I could really see was around the eyes. One was a thinner white gentleman, one was kind of a well-built black gentleman, and he was the one with the gun."

"It took a good three to four seconds to realize this isn't a joke," he continued. "I immediately saw the revolver, he took his other hand and pushed me back into the bed, put the gun to my head. And that's when he started asking me about my brother, and that's when I realized this is real."

After ransacking the room, they took the brick of cash from the nightstand.

"I actually had to point it out to them, because they were getting pretty insistent on where the money was. I think they were actually looking for the envelope, 'cause they had probably seen me with the envelope."

"They ran out, or at least I thought they did," Hayes went on. "And then about maybe 15 to 20 seconds later ... I feel the gun pressed up against my head again. He goes, 'I'm still here.'"

"You've got the money," Hayes said he was thinking. "I thought you'd left. Why are you still here? ... I thought he was gonna pull the trigger."

Then the robbers left.

Hayes was terrified, and mystified: How did the thieves know he was flush with cash? And why would they ask him the question they asked him?

"That was the very first thing that they did when they came in the house," Hayes said. "They asked me about where my brother was, and where he keeps his gun, and if he's a light sleeper. ... And I'm thinking, in what world would you think he'd be armed? And that's when I remembered on the way to the cage, I told the security guy that my brother was armed and he was home, and I'm not worried."

The footage from casino security cameras shows many people gathering around the cashier's cage when Hayes was cashing in his chips -- and some strange happenings.

First, the computers seem to break down.

"She kept taking my license and jumping from computer to computer, jumping into the back room where I couldn't see her," Hayes said.

Then the cashier writes his name and address on a legal pad.

"She had a big sheet of paper, and she set my license down and just started copying all the information onto this big piece of paper in big black ink. And held it up for the whole world to see."

The footage also shows a man in a red hoodie talking on his cellphone and studying David Hayes closely.

It turns out he is 26-year-old Ronald Jones, a local man with a criminal record, known as Hot Rod. He was later fingered as one of the assailants. Records later showed he was calling a phone belonging to Wendell Watkins, a hardened criminal with a long record of robbery with firearms.

As Hayes approaches the cashier window, Jones is on another call, with 20-year-old Ryan Bundy.

"Somebody told me how much money [Hayes] had won at the casino that night," Bundy told "20/20." "I got a call to pick him up … Ronald Jones."

Jones and Bundy followed Hayes out of the parking lot, and they say they picked up Watkins on the way to Hayes' house.

And that's where the three men – wearing masks – made off with the cash.

Weeks later, following a tip from an informant, Bundy and Jones were arrested at their homes near the casino.

The day after the arrests, Hayes got a phone call from a police detective with a message that one of the defendants made some threats against Hayes.

In addition, Hayes said, his car tires were flattened, someone broke into his car and someone hit his brother's car with a hammer.

"Why is all this starting right after these gentlemen are arrested?" Hayes said. "Now I'm finding out that there's been death threats, or threats of some kind."

Also troubling was that the third assailant and alleged attacker, Wendell Watkins, was still on the loose -- and allegedly, he was the man with the gun.

In court, Ryan Bundy confirmed that his cut of the take was $3,500. He pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated burglary.

Both Jones and Bundy were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Bundy sent a heartfelt letter to David Hayes apologizing and saying there was an inside man in the casino who helped in the crime.

Convinced that the casino, at the very least, had not done enough to protect his privacy, Hayes sued in civil court.

"The casino is, at minimum, negligent, and probably reckless," said Joe Landusky, Hayes' lawyer (and blackjack buddy). "And I think it was because of their actions that this eventually took place."

The Hollywood Casino Columbus has denied wrongdoing in court papers but declined a request for an interview, citing their policy of not commenting on legal proceedings. Penn National Gaming, the casino's owner, did send the following statement:

"First of all, the safety and security of our customers is paramount in all of Penn National's facilities. While we cannot comment on the specifics of a pending legal matter, we have carefully investigated the claims and believe our staff acted appropriately, and we intend to defend our actions vigorously."

The ordeal turned him off gambling, Hayes said.

On Christmas Eve 2012, after vowing to never set foot inside a casino again, Hayes had a change of heart. He went back to the Hollywood Casino to see if Lady Luck was still his friend.

"I said, O.K., I'm going to go play, and I'm not going to let fear rule my life," Hayes said. "I'm not going to live in hiding."

At 4 a.m. he walked out with $130,000 -- this time in the form of a check.

Watch the full story on "20/20: Got Luck?" TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET.

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