Who’s in Nevada’s Black Book? No. 4 – Tommy Carmichael


Tommy Glenn Carmichael is something of a legend among casino cheats, having successfully rinsed hundreds of establishments worldwide of millions of dollars by hacking slot machines. Carmichael was the head of a gang that created its own tools, such as the ‘monkey paw’ and the ‘light wand’, which enabled him to rig slot machines for nearly two decades. Carmichael was entered into the Nevada Black Book in 2003 along with an associate, Joseph Mike Balsamo, following convictions for their activities.


Top and Bottom

Carmichael was introduced to the concept of cheating slots in 1980 when a friend showed him a ‘top and bottom joint’ – a rare but effective tool for tripping the payout mechanism inside a slot. He tried it out immediately and won, which irrevocably set the direction of his life for the next twenty years. He was arrested after casino managers tipped off police following a weekend-long winning spree, and Carmichael was arrested and imprisoned for five years for his exploits, partly down to past drugs offences and other misdemeanours. While behind bars Carmichael formed a bond with Balsamo, and the two planned to renew their assault on slot machines at some point after their combined releases from prison.

From Prison to Millions Per Day

Following his release from prison, Carmichael saved up and bought a slot machine, then spent a year and a half designing The Monkey Paw, a tool made from steel guitar wire, that forced affected slots to pay out more than $1,000 per hour. Soon however technology moved on, forcing Carmichael to adapt. Once more he bought a new slot machine and worked out how to crack it. This time it took him just a few days to make The Light Wand, a tiny, powerful torch that blinded the sensor in the chute and caused it to pay out. The device was so successful that Carmichael sold it to other would-be cheats and, now with Balsamo in tow, he cheated his way through Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and the Caribbean. The gang grew, leading to daily ‘earnings’ in the millions of dollars.


Arrest and Prison (Again)

Carmichael’s undoing came in 1996 when he was accosted after inserting the light wand into a slot machine chute in a Las Vegas casino. These charges were dropped but he was now a watched man, and with the improvements in CCTV it wasn’t long before he was finally taken down. In 2000 he was jailed for under a year for his various crimes, reduced because of his cooperation, and despite his apparent attempts to turn his life around, he was added to the Nevada Gaming Commission Black Book in February 2003. Balsamo had already been added four years earlier.

Carmichael has tried to forge a new career making anti-cheating devices for slots, but according to then-Nevada Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Carvalho, his most popular device “can be readily converted to a cheating device.” Leopards and spots etc.

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