POSTED: 7:56 a.m. HST, Dec 15, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 11:34 a.m. HST, Dec 15, 2010
LAS VEGAS — Some compare a helmeted motorcyclist's $1.5 million casino chip armed robbery at the posh Bellagio resort with a Hollywood movie script. Others see it more like a liquor store smash-and grab.
Either way, the man who made off in a matter of minutes with chips in attention-getting denominations from $100 to $25,000 might be staring now at colorful but worthless loot.
"If you can't cash them, they're not worth anything," David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Wednesday. "This has definitely gotten a lot of attention."
Schwartz, a former casino security and surveillance officer, said the 3:50 a.m. Tuesday robbery reminded him of a 1993 armored car heist outside the Circus Circus casino that authorities say netted Heather Tallchief and her ex-convict former boyfriend, Roberto Solis, nearly $2.95 million.
Solis and the money have never been found. Tallchief turned herself in in late 2005 and was released from federal prison in June after serving five years. Her lawyer, Robert Axelrod of Meriden, Conn., said Wednesday she's now living somewhere outside Nevada under five years of federal supervision.
Schwartz also recalled the remade movie version of "Oceans 11" featuring the opulent Italian-themed Bellagio and its wall of fountains along the Las Vegas Strip, but said the low-tech nature of Tuesday's heist would be very hard to prevent. He noted that no one was hurt.
"To me, the main point is that guests and employees were protected. Even if it had been $1.5 million in cash, that's not worth a human life."
But chips aren't cash, and Schwartz said they could be hard to redeem in an era of anti-terrorism currency exchange laws.
"If you even transact one $25,000 chip, you're over a $10,000 federal currency reporting limit, and you have to provide identification," he said. "And if you try to structure a transaction to avoid reporting, that'll alert the feds anyway."