Lead Bottoms Were Placed in the Roulette Wheel Head Between the Chrome Frets
July 28, 2011 § 7 Comments
A roulette wheel is constructed with a hardened springy wood between the frets at the bottom of the wheel head. When the roulette ball stops spinning and drops from the wheel head race into the numbers, the hardened springy wood keeps the ball bouncing around from number to number before settling in the winning number. This springy wood and the spinning wheel head are what make roulette random.
A good friend of mine, a man with the initials R.M. and I found a way—there are others—to overcome the randomness of roulette—lead bottoms.
In an American roulette wheel there are 18 black numbers and 18 red. There are also two green numbers, 0 and 00, referred to aloud as “zero” and “double zero”.
For the purpose of this explanation only the black roulette numbers are of concern.
Back in the day, roulette wheels did not have a colorless Plexiglas shield encircling the roulette wheel head, as has been standard for many years. This shield, among other things, is to keep people from reaching into the wheel head and inserting things like lead bottoms into the numbers in-between the metal frets.
Lead is soft and absorbs the bounce of a roulette ball, which is in direct contrast to the springy wooden material between the frets.
We constructed molds the same shape as the area between the frets. We then melted lead and poured the molten lead into our molds to a depth of approximately one-eighth of an inch. We did this until we would have 18 pieces of lead the exact shape as the area between the roulette wheel frets. We then spray painted the lead bottoms black.
As you can see in the illustration, one lead bottom by itself will stand out as is apparent in the number 13. It was imperative to get all 18 bottoms in so all the blacks looked the same. Notice the wear between the frets in the other black numbers from the ball striking the area repeatedly. Manufacturing the bottoms was the easiest part. There was still a long way to go to “get the money.”
The next step was to find a casino, usually on a slow graveyard shift, that had a roulette wheel closed. The wheel cheques and chips would be covered and locked. However, the wheel head was exposed, vulnerable.
In readying ourselves to put in the lead bottoms, my cohort and I, would coat the underside of the lead bottoms with a heavy pressure-sensitive adhesive, a type of glue similar to that on post-it notes but much stronger.
We then taped aluminum foil to the underside cardboard of a legal tablet and stuck the bottoms to the aluminum foil. The pressure-sensitive adhesive had a dual purpose: to keep the lead bottoms stuck to the underside of the tablet, for easy access, and when inserted between the frets they would be in there solid in the event somebody got curious and touched one. It would not do for a dealer or boss to reach in and touch a bottom and be able to move it.
When we were ready to put in the bottoms, we would enter the casino behaving like a couple of sucker tourists. We would walk up to a roulette wheel that had been closed along with the whole pit of gaming tables. The bosses might glance over at us and one of us would be studiously writing on the top page of our legal tablet. To anybody glancing at us we appeared to be writing down the numbers. In the event somebody approached us we would have drawn a circle on the tablet and be writing down the numbers in the same position as they were in the wheel head. We were purposely behaving like we were developing a system, which any casino person knows that you can’t beat roulette with a system. A boss might look over at us occasionally and dismiss us as a couple of sucker tourists trying to figure out how to beat the wheel with a system.
While one of us were making our notations, the other would be watching all over the casino. If everything was clear, nobody watching us, the “watcher” would say “go ahead.” If I had the pad, I would reach to the aluminum foil, take a bottom and put it in a black number. He would keep saying, “go ahead, good, good . . . hold it.” When he said “hold it,” I would again begin making my notations until things were clear and he’d begin again saying, “go ahead . . . We kept this up until we had all 18 lead bottoms in. If everything went the way it was supposed to we would be done in a minute or two.
The next step was to have somebody come in to “win the money.”
The take-off man would bet the limit on black. The take-off person had to have some big brass cojones to stay there and keep betting. There was definitely some heat with the bottoms. The bosses would have a strong suspicion they were getting screwed because so many black numbers kept hitting. The last time we did this I was working in a casino as a 21 mechanic on the graveyard shift.
It was downtown Vegas on Fremont street. The owner of the casino that I worked for had bought the casino next door and was expanding. The new addition was a few days from opening. There was a roulette wheel sitting in there completely open and there was an opening in the wall one could walk through, that the construction people used as an exit and entrance to perform their remodeling work.
I was working in this casino and felt that if I were to enter the side under construction while on a break to put in the lead bottoms, another dealer on a break might wander in to look around too, and see me with the lead bottoms.
I phoned my partner, R.M., in the lead bottom gaff. It was three in the morning and he was in bed sleeping. He was there in 30 minutes. He came in with his wife. They walked into the construction area, stood at the wheel and put in the bottoms in less than a minute. I was sitting at the snack bar having a cup of coffee. I had chosen a seat that afforded me an angle, looking through the narrow entrance to the construction site, to watch them put in the bottoms. A week later the new addition opened.
All the table games and slots were rearranged and the roulette wheel with the lead bottoms was put in the main pit where I worked. The maintenance people had worked all night moving the equipment. Of course working on the inside and being a trusted employee who cheated players for the casino, I was considered one of the good guys.
I was told they were going to open the wheel at eight a.m. My shift ended at ten when the dayshift 21 mechanic came in.
The takeoff guy showed up when the wheel opened at eight. He was the only player. The limit was $200; he bet the limit. Once our take-off man got a few thousand ahead, the shift boss told the wheel dealer to not give the roulette ball a long spin. It made sense that the odds being in the house’s favor, the more spins the dealer got out the better the chance of winning back the money. It didn’t work out that way.
There was nothing they could do. They couldn’t put me in there to get the money because the only way a player can be cheated in roulette is to short pay them on a complicated payoff. Our man was betting eight $25 chips at a time so there was no chance of short paying him.
The walls were practically melting there was so much heat. The owner came in around eleven and came downstairs to watch for a while. He and I talked. We were friendly. He was the one who had hired me as a 21 mechanic in the first place. My demeanor was one of ignorance.
My shift had been over for an hour but I was still hanging around pretending to bleed for the casino. The real reason I was staying was I wanted to know exactly how much our take-off man was cashing out. There is no honor among thieves and it is common for a take-off person to cash out and claim they cashed out less than they really did. There is an old cynical saying, “We’re partners fifty-fifty—I count the money.”
He was going to get half for playing the money and riding a lot of heat. If he had been arrested he would definitely go to jail because of the hard evidence.
The owner told me he was going to have the wheel examined, something was wrong. I gave the prearranged signal to the take-off man to cash out and leave, now!
He cashed out $21,000. This was a lot of money in 1967.
While our guy was cashing out, the owner had the wheel head brought up to his office. On the way up the stairs the maintenance guys turned the wheel head sideways and one of the lead bottoms fell out. The take-off guy made it out the door and down the street in the nick of time.
The case of the lead bottoms made the newspapers; it was a big article, detailed. The word was out. The lead bottom gaff was over.
There were three other wheels in casinos in which we left the lead bottoms. The plan had been to take them out after a play, but it was easier to make more bottoms.
I wondered for years about those other three wheels, but didn’t want to go back, as I had been the take-off man on those games.