Michael LaPointe’s monthly column, Dice Roll, focuses on the art of the gamble, one famous gambler at a time.
Tommy saw the solution in a dream. “I’m seeing myself from behind,” he recalled, “and I have [the tool] in my hand.” All through 1990, he’d been searching for a way to cheat the latest slot machines. He needed a new tool, something to replace the clumsy old instrument that had landed him in the penitentiary. Night and day in his Vegas apartment, he toiled on a Fortune One video poker machine. But no matter what he tried, some riddle in the guts of the unit would thwart him.
Then, in the recess of sleep, the solution appeared in all its brilliant simplicity: a flexible piece of metal, wedged at the top, and some piano wire. “I woke up,” he told the History Channel, “actually got out of bed, and went and built it.” Tommy had found his answer: The Monkey Paw.
When a friend dropped by Ace TV Sales and Service in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1980, Tommy Glenn Carmichael was just an unremarkable repairman who moonlighted as a pool hustler. He had minor drug convictions and some juvenile mischief on his criminal record, but nothing about the thirty-year-old suggested that he’d one day stand among the most inventive cheats in gambling history.
Carmichael’s friend had brought along some toys to tinker with: a Bally’s slot machine and a cheating device called the top-bottom joint. Of how his multi-million-dollar criminal enterprise got started that day, Carmichael simply said, “We got to playing around.”
Triggering a payout with a top-bottom joint was a crude operation. A piece of guitar string comprised the “bottom” part of the tool. It went into the left corner of the machine, up against the circuitboard, and sent low-wattage electricity coursing through the unit. The “top” part was a piece of metal curved like the number nine. When inserted into the coin slot, it completed a circuit powerful enough to hot-wire the hopper, where the coins are kept.