Jan. 4, 2011 -- The house always wins, even if it is robbed at gunpoint.
A brazen thief who stole $1.5 million in casino chips from the Bellagio resort in Las Vegas in December and then sped off on a motorcycle is unlikely ever to be able to cash in the chips.
Many of the chips taken from the casino craps table at gunpoint were of a $25,000 denomination. Minutes later, the Bellagio discontinued those types of chips, replacing them throughout the casino with a differently-designed $25,000 chip.
"The new set was put out probably a half an hour after the robbery took place," said Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Resorts International, the Bellagio's parent company.
Anybody who tries to redeem the old chips is going to undergo very close scrutiny.
"This was a fairly brazen robbery and I don't think it was pretty fruitful," Jerry Markling, chief of the Nevada Gaming Control Board's enforcement division, told ABC News. "To take denominations above $100 is fairly stupid."
Any member of the public who might have a $25,000 chip lying around (lucky them) has until April 22 to redeem them. But that isn't too many chips. Besides the ones that were stolen, the Bellagio has, "at the absolutely most, probably a single-digit handful" of the legitimate chips circulating," Feldman said. "If that."
The unidentified thief, wearing a jumpsuit and a motorcycle, helmet took off on Dec. 14 with $1.5 million in chips, ranging from $100 to $25,000. While most of them were of the higher denomination, Feldman would not provide a specific breakdown of the chips. Whatever the number, fewer than 60 of them were of the top denomination.
A casino typically knows who has any of its high-value chips at any given moment. Usually, it is a group of high-rolling gamblers who are treated like royalty by the casino. Anybody who isn't a high roller who tries to cash in such a chip, Feldman said, would "raise every red flag we've got."
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"No matter what -- whatever there had been this incident or not -- anyone who walked in trying to cash a $25,000 chip, for that matter a $5,000 chip, would be questioned as to where they got it if we didn't know them," Feldman said. "At a $25,000 level, the chances are overwhelming that we are going to know exactly who it is."
Most gamblers -- whether high rollers or casual once-a-year players -- tend to cash out any winnings at the end of their day at a casino.
The changing out of a chip series is not unusual, but is not as frequent for the higher-value chips. Lower denominations get worn down and need to be swapped out and replaced. Casinos will also change the chips to prevent counterfeiting. For the very high-end denominations, casinos keep a spare set locked away, ready to go at any moment. This was one of those rare cases.
Casinos have thousands of security cameras, keep money and tables far away from the entrances and have their own small army of security guards. All of that is designed to deter crooks.
"It's fairly unusual although there have been armed robberies in the past," Markling said. When they do occur, the crooks tend to go for cash from the casino cage rather than plastic chips from tables.
Police are still looking for the thief. They probably won't find him at a casino anytime soon.