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Tommy Glenn Carmichael is a legendary casino cheater who used slot machine hacking to defraud millions of dollars from hundreds of sites around the globe. Carmichael oversaw a gang that created its tools, such as the “light wand” and “monkey paw,” which he employed for two decades to rig slot machines. Carmichael and a companion, Joseph Mike Balsamo, were entered into the Nevada Black Book in 2003 after being found guilty of their crimes.
The Top and Bottom Joints
In 1980, Carmichael first became aware of slot machine fraud when a buddy demonstrated the “top and bottom joint,” a novel but successful method for tripping a slot machine’s payment mechanism. He tried it out right away and succeeded, which completely altered the path of his life for the next 20 years.
Casino staff alerted law enforcement after a weekend-long undefeated streak, and Carmichael was caught and sentenced to five years in jail for his escapades, in part because of his drug convictions and other misdemeanors. While both were incarcerated, Carmichael and Balsamo became close, and after their release from custody, the two resolved to continue their war on slot machines.
Prison to Millions Every Day
After being released from prison, Carmichael used his savings to buy a gambling machine. He then spent the following 18 months creating The Monkey Paw, a piece of steel guitar wire that made slot machines affected by it pay out more than $1,000 per hour. But as technology developed swiftly, Carmichael was forced to adapt. He purchased a brand-new slot machine and discovered a fresh way to hack it. This time, The Light Wand—a tiny, potent bulb that blinded the chute’s sensor and made it pay out—took him just a few days to construct. With Balsamo by his side, Carmichael cheated his way across Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and the Caribbean after selling the device to other would-be cheaters. As the gang grew, it made millions of dollars in daily “earnings.”
Detention and Arrest (Again)
After inserting the light wand into a slot machine chute in a Las Vegas casino, Carmichael was captured in 1996. Although these claims were disproved, he was now under surveillance, and thanks to improvements in CCTV, it wasn’t long until he was found. Due to his cooperation, his sentence for his numerous offenses was reduced to less than a year in prison in 2000. Despite his apparent efforts to change his ways, he was included in the Nevada Gaming Commission Black Book in February 2003. Balsamo was put in place four years prior.
Then-Nevada Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Carvalho claimed that Carmichael’s most well-known technology, intended to prevent slot machine cheating, “may be easily transformed into a cheating device.” examples include spots and leopards.