Like millions of tourists who visit this gaming mecca every year, John Soares never had much luck at the tables. But learning how to cheat the casinos quickly turned the odds in his favor.
Soares claims that he earned thousands of dollars during the 1960s as part of a crack cheating team that roamed the Las Vegas Strip, striking quickly in crowded casinos before leaving with wads of cash or pockets stuffed with chips.
He tells of his exploits in “Loaded Dice, The True Story of a Casino Cheat,” a book that manages to capture the flavor of a wide-open Las Vegas during a time when it was organized crime, not today’s corporations, that ran most resorts.
Writing the book, Soares said, brought back some of the excitement of the carefully planned forays his gang of seven used to make. It did not, however, rekindle any desire to return to the racket he left more than a decade ago.
“I never did like what I was doing,” said Soares, who sells medical supplies in Southern California. “But it was so easy to go in there and beat those casinos that I did it. The money was always available.”
“Loaded Dice” is basically the life story of Soares, who gave up his doughnut shop in Visalia, Calif., when a friend promised a lucrative job dealing cards in Las Vegas.
But instead of the promised job, Soares went to work for his friend as a “cleanup man,” helping the friend steal money from the casino where he worked as a dealer. The dealer would meet Soares in a hotel bathroom during breaks and pass him stolen chips and silver dollars between stalls.
“There are so many ways you can steal money if you work inside a casino,” Soares said. “In those days, everyone from the dealers to the shift bosses had ways they would take money from the casino.”
Soares’ career as a cleanup man ended one day when his friend’s “sock,” where he concealed his coins and chips, broke from the weight as the dealer was trying to get out of the casino pit to exchange the day’s proceeds.
The dealer never looked back as coins and chips went spilling across the pit. Sprinting out of the casino, he managed to make it safely outside and sped away before security guards could catch him.
Soares finally managed to get a job dealing but lost it and a couple of others and was soon out of money. In a “fit of stupidness” he accepted a friend’s offer to drive the getaway car in a loan company heist and was soon making his home at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City.
A fellow con and master card manipulator made Soares his special project in prison and, after a two-year term that included a stint working in the governor’s mansion, Soares was released.
Soares found a use for his new skill when a Strip hotel hired him as a “mechanic” who would come in and deal cards needed to break winning streaks.
“In the old days, all the casinos had mechanics to cheat the players,” he said. “It wasn’t the owners who hired the mechanics, it was the pit bosses and shift bosses who wanted the take to be as high as possible. If the take was higher, then they could take more money out of the casino themselves.”
All that experience would come in handy for Soares when he was invited by Glen Grayson, a legendary casino cheat, to join a crew Grayson was forming to cheat casinos on the craps tables and steal money from slot machines.
The crew’s technique was brazen, but moving quickly and subtly in crowded casinos they were never caught in more than six years.
Grayson’s death (he crashed his small plane while buzzing a northern Nevada bordello) broke up the ring, and Soares eventually settled into more respectable businesses. But he says there are others who still ply the trade.
“There are still a few groups out there working the casinos, but it’s harder now because the casinos are smarter,” he said. “It’s different now, though, because they now have laws against casino cheating. If they catch you, you end up in jail.”