Despite long odds for success, string of casino robberies continues to plague Las Vegas

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Despite long odds for success, string of casino robberies continues to plague Las Vegas
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Recent casino robberies in Las Vegas

Willie Sutton, one of the more notorious bank robbers in United States history, gave a simple answer when asked why he chose banks to knock off over his 40-year career: “Because that’s where the money is.”

Now, almost a century since Sutton’s criminal heyday, the same logic can be applied when trying to understand the motive behind people robbing casino cages at Las Vegas resorts, said Michael Green, a history professor at UNLV.

“Even with the increase in the use of credit cards, there’s still a lot of cash,” Green said. “And for someone who thinks they’re smart enough to pull it off — or is desperate enough to pull it off — it makes sense.”

A string of casino robberies has occurred both on and off the Las Vegas Strip since November. Casino cages have been reportedly robbed at the Gold Coast, Green Valley Resort, Rampart Resort at Summerlin, Silverton and Caesars Palace. In several instances, suspects in those robberies are still at-large. Metro Police said Wednesday that detectives were working to identify a person they believe is responsible for several of the robberies.

And in one instance at Resorts World in November, suspect Zubaid Al Jarmi allegedly approached a window at the casino’s high-limit cage and handed an employee a brown plastic sack and a note with the words, “fill the bag or I will shoot you.”

Al Jarmi, who was on probation for a robbery at the Venetian in 2020, fled with thousands of dollars in a waiting taxi, and later returned to the Strip resort and watched as the investigation unfolded at the scene, according to a Metro Police report. He was arrested less than a week later.

One possible impetus for the apparent uptick in casino robberies could be the current state of the economy,which continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent issues, Green said.

People seem increasingly desperate, he said, and a rise in this type of crime could be an indicator of a greater economic crisis.

The Rampart robbery, for instance, occurred on Christmas Eve.

“Something seems to be going on here,” Green said. “And whatever is now in place doesn’t seem to be working as well as it used to.”

Resort companies don’t directly comment on security issues, including detailing their strategy for thwarting attempts or investigations in the aftermath. It’s mostly unknown how much money was taken in each of the robberies.

Casino security has evolved “incredibly” over the years, with 360-degree cameras that can zoom in on the individual hairs on someone’s head, facial-recognition technology and more, said Scott Morrow, a gaming lecturer in the UNLV College of Hospitality. Casino surveillance and security teams also share relevant information, and warn each other about possible criminals or card-counting teams, he said.

He added that artificial intelligence may also be on the horizon for Las Vegas casinos. In other words, “it’s not just old timers in the catwalk with binoculars,” Morrow said.

“A casino’s one of the most secure operations in business,” he said. “And a large majority of those assets are focused on the cage.”

In the past, casino robbers would dive through the cage windows, terrorize team members and fill their bags with money before leaving the way in which they came, Morrow said. As a direct response, casino operators modified the cage windows to be much smaller. Consequently, robbers now tend to approach the cage and demand cash from employees, Morrow said.

Casino and cage operators are trained to comply with robbers’ demands, in an effort to ensure their safety and the safety of patrons, Morrow said.

Though this policy may mean some robbers escape with their loot at first, they are still likely to be apprehended later on, Green said. He cited specifically the case of the self-proclaimed “Biker Bandit,” Anthony Carleo, who robbed both the Bellagio and Suncoast in 2010 and was eventually arrested by police for what Green called a failure “to keep (his) mouth shut” about his success.

The knowledge that almost everything is being captured on camera also makes people less likely to try to rob a casino, Green said, but success like Carleo’s — however short-lived — is proof that no system is perfect. And cameras in “every nook and cranny” still have blind spots, he said.

“So, it’s an imperfect process that they have perfected as much as they can,” said Green, who noted that Las Vegas casino heists are nothing new — though, in the city’s early days, they were pulled off not by armed robbers at high-limit cages but by members of the mob, who owned the resorts and skimmed millions off their own profits.

An increase in casino robberies, especially if they receive a lot of attention, could affect whether tourists choose to visit, Green said.

“It is important for Las Vegas, for people to think that, ‘If I am on the Strip, I am safe right now,’” he said.

Morrow said Las Vegas resorts and their partners, including law enforcement, could deter potential robbers by making them fully aware of the extent to which casinos are secured and surveilled. But resorts have long had the practice of not commenting on how their security looks and feels.

“I’m really hoping that it’s an unfortunate coincidence,” Morrow said, on the string of recent robberies. “ … And it’s really amazing to me that criminals would choose the casino environment because it, in my opinion, would be very difficult to get away with something like that.”

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