Pages Menu
TwitterFacebooklogin
Categories Menu

Stardust Memories: The Thief Who Got Away

Posted by on Mar 16, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Sports Betting | 3 comments

 

060104_stardust_hmed_9a.grid-6x2

 

“We all have a little larceny on our souls.”

— Anonymous

 

Sometime during the morning of September 22, 1992, a casino employee named Bill Brennan walked out of the Stardust in Las Vegas with $507,361 in cash and gaming chips.

He hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

That brazen yet seemingly effortless crime caper remains the casino industry’s most lucrative unsolved heist ever.  Now, close to a quarter-century later, Brennan not only has vanished.  He remains the only successful mastermind of an inside job in Las Vegas history who (apparently) got away with it.  Amazingly, he very likely committed the theft entirely on his own.  He’s either passed away since then, or odds are in his favor that he’s still out there somewhere, perhaps even reading this article right now.

If we all truly have “a little larceny in our souls,” Brennan isn’t so much an object of derision any longer;  Rather he’s become the object of our odd infatuation and even affection with the classic anti-hero.  He didn’t merely “break the bank” as Charles Wells is alleged to have done at the Casino at Monte Carlo way back in 1891.  Brennen didn’t just break the bank.  He didn’t even rob the bank.  He stole the bank.

Brennan, who was age 34 at the time, was employed at the Stardust Casino for about four years when the theft took place.  His co-workers later described him as a quiet person, someone who usually kept to himself (it’s always the one you’d least suspect).  “Gaming Today” writer Richard Saber, who was the former Stardust race and sportsbook manager recalled, “he was basically a total complete loner.”  [FOOTNOTE 1]  “They never found a trace of Bill Brennan anywhere.  Never a trace.”  [FOOTNOTE 2]

Even more remarkable — Brennan’s exit wasn’t captured anywhere on surveillance cameras, even though virtually every square inch of the casino floor space was watched and recorded 24-hours a day.  Police and security analysts weren’t able to figure out exactly where he departed the building, or ascertain where he went afterward.  All that’s known was, Brennan dutifully arrived at work on what was to be his final day, and then disappeared with more than half a million dollars secretly seized from the race and sportsbook’s vault.  There’s been no sighting of him since that morning.

Several theories abound as to what actually happened.  Some insiders at the Stardust at the time noted that Brennan had become friendly with someone described as “a big bettor,” who also disappeared from the Las Vegas sports gambling scene a short while following the daring theft.  Yet no one has identified the big-betting mystery man by name (at least not in information that’s been released publicly).  The theory Brennan fell under the spell of “a big bettor” who was dishonest and perhaps even encouraged a trusted employee to commit the crime doesn’t make much sense.  After all, why would Brennan need the assistance of an outsider, since he was taking on all the risk?  Given the heist included not just cash but casino chips, how could the bettor cash them out later, without being detected?  This theory seems circumstantial, and even far-fetched.  Nonetheless, the conspiracy theories continue to swirl.

Another theory goes that Brennan paid off one (or more) security personnel, so he could make his exit undetected.  No one has been able to prove this.  Evidence is non-existent.  Race and Sportsbook employees then, just as now, would have been required to enter and exit the building via one of the employee’s entrances (the Stardust had one access point, but then also had a large number of un-alarmed fire exits).  Casino workers typically are not permitted come and go to and from public areas.  Such employee policy infractions were (and still can be) a terminable offense.  Given that Brennan had worked inside the race and sportsbook for four years, his face would have been well-known to most security personnel, who patrol the exits at all times.  Certainly, his exit hoisting some kind of bag holding an exceedingly large sum of cash would have been noticed by security.  This seems to be another accusation lacking in merit.

Yet another outlandish theory is Brennan was set up by someone else on the outside and had a partner.  Allegedly, he stole the money, and then was killed soon thereafter by figures connected to organized crime.  Once again, this appears to be a wild concoction lacking any evidence.  Truth is, this crime was an embarrassment for both Stardust management and security.  Indeed, in the face of the proverbial thief David felling the casino giant Goliath, some have become desperate enough to grasp at conspiratorial straws which somehow diminish the precept that sometimes a lone man armed with little more than gutsy fearlessness can commit a daring act and get away with it.  The establishment is reluctant to hate to admit being outfoxed.  So instead, we invent illogical theories to reinforce an illusion that good always triumphs over evil and the bad guys end up in prison.

During the aftermath and investigation, Brennan’s apartment was visited by authorities and searched in a last-dash desperate grasp for clues.  Investigators discovered that he lived alone and had a pet cat.  This was hardly the plot of an intriguing CSI episode.  When police searched the abandoned apartment, Brennan and his cat were both long gone.  However, they did reportedly find several books and other materials related to the subject of changing one’s identity and moving overseas.  It remains uncertain as to how Brennan might have traveled to another country with a cat, without being detected or listed in a record somewhere, but I digress.

The Stardust is now but a fading memory.  It’s become a vacant lot filled with blowing garbage and dormant construction equipment layered in desert dust.  Days have become months, which turned into years.  The casino was demolished in 2007.  Nobody’s searching for Bill Brennan anymore.  In all likelihood, he could probably dance over the pavement where he committed his crime years ago, scream out “Here I am!  I did it!” and no one would take much notice.

That soft underbelly of the old Stardust was perfectly plump for someone like Bill Brennan to come along and slice open that bulging belly bloated with treasure.  A decade removed from the saucy Argent scandal that resulted in several murders and took down the crime-syndicate ownership and management, this becoming the basis of the movie “Casino,” the Stardust was still the sportsbook of choice for many wiseguys and high-stakes gamblers.  Still operating under out-of-date policies and procedures that dated back to Las Vegas’ archaic era of mob infiltration, when no one would even dream that a lowly rank and file employee would dare to walk out the door with half a million dollars without risking being buried somewhere in the desert, Brennan wasn’t just a thief.  He was a wake-up call jacked to the hilt with a lead foot straight to the groin of the casino establishment.

Long after the facts of the crime were reported, I’m still puzzled as to how a lone employee could exit a casino with so much money, and leave unnoticed.  What follows is my take on this mysterious caper.

Note that September 22, 1992 fell on a Tuesday.  This is an important day of the week.  It was not randomly chosen.  That meant, the theft took place immediately after the third week of the NFL season, which would have been a very busy time for any Las Vegas sportsbook.  The volume of wagers in cash would have been highest on this week perhaps than any other time other than the Super Bowl.  The previous night, the New York Giants played the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.  This also would have been a big game with a large betting handle.  In other words, the vault was stoked with cash.

stardust_sportsbook

A few years before the Internet and the popularity of offshore betting exploded, when the only serious rival was the Las Vegas Hilton, the Stardust would have taken in quite a bundle in wagers.  Since payouts would have been massive over the next 24-hours (again — recall the heist occurred on a Tuesday morning), the amount of funds stored within the race and sportsbook vault likely would have been at its high point.  Given his experience, Brennan was most certainly aware of this.  He would have been determined to maximize his gain given the immense personal risk.  After all, he wasn’t going to chance going to prison for years robbing a casino on a slow day with a small amount of cash in the cage.  So, Brennan chose one of the richest cash days of the year.

Additional evidence suggests that Brennan would have had to carry out a bag weighing 11 pounds, at the very least.  Given that $500,000 in one-hundred dollar bills weights about 22 pounds, the absolute minimum weight would have been about half that — which is 11 pounds.  However, typically race and sportbooks take in vast sums of currency in much smaller denominations — including banknotes of $5, $10, $20, and $50.  Brennan would have been forced to carry out a significantly heavier amount of total weight, probably between 30 to 50 pounds based on the breakdown of what’s in most casino cages (perhaps two thirds in $100s, the other third comprised of other denominations).  The red flag wouldn’t have been weight so much as volume.  Brennan would have had to hoist bundles of currency amounting to the size of a microwave oven, and then escape inconspicuously out one of the exits without being noticed.  This seems implausible without being recorded.

I’ve been in the back of the Stardust before, and remember the layout well (I interviewed the legendary sportsbook manager Joe Lupo a few times in his back office, before he left the business in 2002).  Behind the tellers, there was a huge tote board along with multiple television screens hanging overhead.  To the rear of the long counter were several cramped offices, consisting of desks, computers, and copy machines (race and sportsbooks print up a massive volume of odds sheets, and also distribute the Daily Racing Form for several racetracks, which is quite an undertaking).  Somewhere within all this noise and clutter, there was a vault tucked away somewhere (I never saw that part of the operation) and Brennan had full access to it.  He must have taken the loot from there, and then made his daring escape.

A final consideration is the casino chips which were included as part of the heist.  To date, Las Vegas Metro Police have not disclosed the amount of chips believed to be part of the spoils.  One presumes it would have been relatively easy for one of Brennan’s associates to launder the stolen casino chips through tables in the pit in exchange for cash (I know a little something about this — recall my $5,000 chip what was confiscated by the MGM Grand in 2006, which became a major news story).  At the time, RFID technology did not exist, so even the larger chips would have been untraceable.  It would have been much easier to launder chips through the cash later on, in multiple visits posing as a gambler.  Admittedly, this would have required Brennan to likely use an undetectable associate, who wouldn’t be noticed gambling at the tables, and then cashing out numerous times.  Then, there’s the possibility that he never tried to cash the chips, assessing the risk was too high.

dbcooper

Some robbers and thieves commit acts so remarkable they become mythological, even sympathetic to some degree.  One of the best illustrations of this was “D.B. Cooper,” who hijacked a 727 flying between Seattle and Portland in 1971, and then jumped out the jet’s back door loaded with a parachute and $200,000 in a ransom that was paid.  He has never been captured.  That great mystery remains unsolved.  This crime is every bit as intriguing, and frankly, far less known for reasons which are pretty obvious.  Casinos are eager to catch thieves and even make public examples out of them — that is, if and when they’re caught.  But when they’re not captured, casinos would prefer the successful escapades of criminals to receive as little publicity as possible.  Casinos don’t want their workers getting any wild ideas to pull another Bill Brennan.

As expected, casino race and sportsbooks learned some valuable lessons from the Stardust heist.  They implemented new controls and installed added layers of security which presumably would hinder any single employee from raiding a cashier cage and get out the door with so much money.  In fact, no race and sportsbook has been robbed since then, at least not as an inside job.

Nonetheless, Bill Brennan appears to have committed the perfect crime without ever using a weapon or threatening anyone.  A mild-mannered man whom no one would have suspected beat the system, beat Las Vegas, and then vanished.  He even, in all likelihood, managed to outlive the Stardust, which has since disappeared.

 

Writer’s Note:  The suspect’s full name is William John Brennan.  He has been identified in media reports as both “Bill Brennan” and “John Brennan.”

Footnote 1:   “TIME IS A THIEF”

Footnote 2:  UNSOLVED MYSTERIES

_____

Read More

Remembering Stanley Sludikoff (Gambling Publisher and Pioneer)

Posted by on Mar 14, 2016 in Blog, Essays, General Poker | 9 comments

 

Screenshot 2016-03-13 at 9.11.36 PM - Edited

 

Now is a time to remember and reflect upon someone truly remarkable.  He left an indelible imprint upon the gaming industry and gambling culture.  His name was Stanley Sludikoff.  He was a pioneer, a visionary, an educator, and a giant.

Today, there are thousands of gambling-related websites in many different languages.  There are online casinos and  sportsbooks operating in more than 100 countries.  There are countless books, guides, and other periodicals, including several hundred titles on poker alone.  There’s a treasure trove of gambling information out there, both narratives and on strategy.  It’s virtually impossible to remember an earlier era when none of this existed.

Read More

Should Trump Rallies Be Targeted by Protesters?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 4 comments

 

adps_0001_0004_0_img0849

 

Take a close look at the photograph above.

When and where do you think it was taken?

Most of you will probably answer — Nazi Germany, sometime during the 1930’s.

That time frame is correct.  The photo was taken in 1935.  However, the rally shown in this photo took place at Madison Square Garden, in New York City.  An organization known as the “German-American Bund” used to stage giant rallies there every year, along with an annual parade up and down East 86th Street in the middle of Manhattan.  Thousands of enthusiastic supporters showed up waving American flags while cheering the verbosity of tirades against immigrants, minorities, and liberalism.

Even with the threats posed by Nazi Germany apparent to many, and the prospect of another terrible war looming, American-Nazi rallies were for the most part peaceful.  Few, if any, protesters showed up.  No one was thrown out or arrested for causing a ruckus.  To be fair, no one comprehended the horrors yet to come.  How could they?  These assemblies appeared to be amiable gatherings packed with flag-waving patriots.

Read More

The Epidemic of Interruption

Posted by on Mar 12, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves | 8 comments

 

SMPTE_Color_Bars.svg

 

Have you noticed how often we interrupt each….

[No, people aren’t interrupting.  That’s not true.  It’s all in your imagination.  People have always been like this.  Besides, who wants to listen to someone else rambling on and on, when I have something far more important to say?]

On television, inside the workplace, while on leisure, within families, across all social media platforms — there’s a serious crisis in communication happening right now, and it’s….

[A serious crisis?  Puh-lease.  We don’t want substance.  We want entertainment.  We’re attracted to fireworks, not campfires.  Get real.  This is 2016.  Civility is old-fashioned.]

We’re plagued with an epidemic of interruption which threatens to….

[An epidemic! — what in the hell are you taking about?]

Well, if I can now be permitted to finish making my point — WITHOUT INTERRUPTION — I’ll explain.

Read More

Dictatorships and Double Standards: Bernie Sanders on Castro’s Cuba

Posted by on Mar 11, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 3 comments

 

Cuban President Fidel Castro stands at Havana's Jose Marti airport after sending doctors and medical personnel to Armenia to treat earthquake victims in this May 10, 1978 file photo. Castro, who has not been seen in public for 16 months, suggested on December 17, 2007, that he might give up his formal leadership posts, the first time he has spoken of his possible retirement since he fell ill. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/Files (CUBA)

 

In the last Democratic presidential debate, candidate Bernie Sanders was asked about his views on Communism in Latin America.  He’s made controversial statements in the past perceived by some to be sympathetic towards Left-leaning authoritarian regimes, particularly Fidel Castro’s Cuba and the former Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

The question directed at Sanders was pointed, but fair.  It was appropriate given the time and place.  The debate was held in Miami, home to a large number of Cuban-Americans, many of them the descendants of gangsters and thugs so-called “political refugees” who fled the island-nation soon after Fulgencio Batista’s corrupt and brutal dictatorship was toppled by Castro-led revolutionary forces on New Years Eve in 1958.

Read More

Who Will Stand Up for Animals?

Posted by on Mar 9, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 6 comments

 

Animal-Rights-1024x643

 

On the scale of issues most important to voters, animal rights probably ranks somewhere near the bottom.

Animals don’t vote.  So why would our furry friends be a topic of political discussion?  Why would any candidate have a stated position on animals?  Answer:  Because it’s the right thing to do.

For me, one of the benchmarks of a person’s character is how they view and treat animals.  This viewpoint is non-negotiable.  I believe our treatment of animals represents the ultimate manifestation of human empathy.  There’s nothing tangible to gain from being kind to an animal, so kindness is truly an act of sincere compassion.  In fact, one could argue in a very primordial sense that animals fuel humankind’s most selfish needs and desires.  It’s even counter-intuitive to have affection for most animals.  After all, from our earliest times, animals have been used for transportation, strength, security, entertainment, and of course, food.  Many are a nuisance.  Some are even dangerous.  Advancing their rights generally requires severing that traditional relationship between man and beast and demands an adjustment of how we view other creatures.

Read More

Remembering Sir George Martin (1926-2016)

Posted by on Mar 8, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews | 0 comments

 

martin conducting beatles2

 

I’m fascinated by the creative process.  Watching unfiltered talent in the raw and witnessing art evolve can be far more intriguing than sampling the perfectly-polished end product.  Sometimes, it’s just as interesting to watch the baker at work than to taste the cake.

Sir George Martin baked up and frosted as many rock n’ roll masterpieces as anyone else during the 1960’s, and that’s quite a statement given what a creative period that was in popular music.  As the longtime producer for The Beatles, Martin consistently infused the group with new sounds and unprecedented methods of instrumentation which had never been used before by pop musicians.  Some of the techniques would have been unthinkable were it not for The Beatles’ own curiosities matched with Martin as the perfect tutor of influence.  The lanky and straight-laced Martin looked more like a barrister than the megaphone for the counterculture.  Martin consistently pushed the Fab Four to new creative heights, obliterating old precedent with each new album release, which sometimes mystified the groups fans and risked proven commercial formulas.

Read More

Dear Mexico: Please Accept Our Apology

Posted by on Mar 8, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Politics, What's Left | 18 comments

 

USMexBorder_183004973

 

Given our treatment of them, Mexicans should despise Americans.

Think about it.  Put aside your gun for a moment, set down that can of Coors, and press the mute button on Duck Dynasty for the next five minutes.  I promise, no one’s going to run away with your precious prides and joys.  Now, let’s talk about something really important — our neighbors.

We treat Mexicans like shit.  We treat them like shit over here.  We treat them like shit over there.  We treat them like shit when we trample all over Tijuana on weekends and then vomit in the streets.  We treat them like shit when we bargain with the shopkeeper relying on that giant cruise ship you’ve stepped from for a couple of hours, hoping he sells enough knick-knacks to feed his family this week.  We treat the poor working-class peasants like shit.  Even a former Mexican president gets treated like shit.

Read More

How Do You Pronounce “Nevada?”

Posted by on Mar 7, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Travel | 3 comments

 

NV_StateIcon

 

Natives of Nevada, all five of them, appear to be consumed by an obsession.

The contend there’s just one legitimate pronunciation of our state’s name, which they insist is NE-VAD-EH.  That’s “VAD,” which rhymes with “bad.”  First, think of NE-BAD-EH.  Then, say NE-VAD-EH.

Nativists wince when we, the mass hordes of transplanted apostates, insist on calling this new domain NE-VOD-DUH.  Never mind that our “outsider” version seems far more correct and consistent, at least phonetically speaking.

Read More

Driving Me Mad: Auto Racing is Not a Sport

Posted by on Mar 6, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Rants and Raves | 12 comments

 

Auto-Racing

 

There’s an auto race happening in Las Vegas this weekend.

I hear that it’s a pretty big deal.  Something like 100,000 race car enthusiasts have rolled into town and pretty much transformed the city into Talladega West.  Full Confession:  I had to Google search the mecca of auto racing and someplace called “Talladega” came up instantly, which sure as shit doesn’t sound like it has many good French continental restaurants.

My casual and admittedly unscientific observation on Friday and Saturday night along The Strip revealed a disproportionately high percentage of mutton chops within this so-called auto racing demographic, including the women.  There was a desperate shortage of electric razors.  Confederate flags also seemed to be a popular fashion accessory.  The only perk which might have boosted race attendance higher would have been an impromptu appearance by Donald Trump railing against the Mexicans and Muslims, who are responsible for tearing down America and ruining the economy.  But last I saw, Trump busy attacking short people while bragging about his manhood.

I just don’t get it.  How can anyone claim auto racing is a “sport.”  Auto racing is a sport in the same manner a grown man talking to a sock puppet gets classified as “entertainment.”  I mean, one presumes this has to be classified somehow, so auto racing and Terry Fader somehow get grouped among legitimate family attractions.

Listen up redneck folk and liberal elitists, alike.  Wanna’ know what auto racing is?  It’s driving a fucking car.  It’s sitting in a seat and moving your hands a couple of inches back and forth.  There’s the added mechanical complication of pressing once’s foot onto a pedal.  That’s basically it.  Big deal.  I can do that.  You can do that.  A 16-year-old can do that.  A 95-year-old can do that.  Hell, animals have even been trained to drive a car.

If driving a car is a sport, then I’m Tom Brady (without the stigma of a cheating scandal, of course).  Let me put it in more simple terms:  Any activity that can be performed with an iPhone in one hand and a cold beer in the other, isn’t a sport.  Got it?

Let me tell you what is exciting about driving a car.  Last week, I blew out a front tire and then drove five miles to the auto place that sold me the tire, until so many sparks had flown that the rubber had burned clean off the rim.  Good thing the tire was still under warranty.  Otherwise, I might have had the tire repaired across the street from where it deflated.  A month earlier, a radiator exploded on me out in the middle of the desert.  I drove the car until smoke was pouring out the back end and the engine was pinging louder than a WW-2 submarine.  Now, that’s what I call excitement.  That’s a sport.  The prospect of a car leaving me stranded out in the middle of nowhere past midnight — that’s what I call action.

Before I went bonkers with the neck beard, which was more a manifestation of laziness as opposed to any conscious plan or personal decision, I frequently shaved while driving.  Last time I checked, there’s no actual law against this.  Later, I converted to an electric razor with the battery charger plugged into the ash tray because the shaving cream and blade got to be way too much of a mess.  So, what kind of “sport” allows you to participate in it while shaving?

Even in poker, you can’t do that.  You can’t shave at the poker table.  No wonder every young guy in poker wears a beard nowadays.

Let take this a step further.  Not that I’ve ever done what I’m about to suggest — but I’ve even heard that some people have engaged in sex while driving a car.  Really, it’s true.  Use your imagination.  I suppose the driver sits passively while the passenger does all “the work.”  Now, you’re going to have a really tough time convincing me there’s a sport you can engage in while receiving oral sex.  Then again, perhaps I’m naive.  Maybe I need to engage in more research (as the driver, of course).

Indeed, auto racing requires the same skill set performed by 200 million drivers here in America every day, unless you happen to live in New York City where the only drivers own taxis and they all have weird-sounding names from Pakistan that no one can pronounce.  Think of it this way:  A typical soccer mom barreling down I-70 in the passing lane with a minivan full of screaming kids is exerting the same mental and physical dexterity as the winner of this year’s Indianapolis 500, or the race happening this weekend in Las Vegas.  Only difference is, mom doesn’t have to pass a drug test, which is probably a good thing since that would probably be a close call given our national opioid epidemic.

Question is — why would anyone watch car racing?  A bigger question:  Why would anyone pay to watch car racing?  Finally, a bigger question, still:  Why would anyone travel to Las Vegas to pay money to witness the same view they’d see on any major expressway?  What’s interesting about a bunch of cars swirling around a track going in circles?  Horses running around the track in a circle?  Okay, I totally get that, especially if you’ve got money on the race and it’s the Kentucky Derby.  But who watches a scene that resembles every rush hour in every big city in America?  What next, a sport called “Traffic Jam on the Inner Beltway?”

If an auto race lasted a couple of minutes, I might be able to appreciate it.  But some of these car races last for hours, even days.  That’s right, days!  And these sickos just stare at the track as though something exciting’s about to happen.  Unless there’s a car crash and some part of a fiery fuselage flies into the crowd, the rest of the day seems pretty much like working at a gas station along the exit ramp.  Get a job at Chevron of that pops your jollies.

Auto racing sucks.  It’s not a sport.  It’s driving a car.

 

Read More
css.php