It was a casino caper that even Danny Ocean would have been proud to pull off.
In the wee hours of Nov. 9, 2003, a masked, armed man slipped in an employee entrance of Horizon Casino at City Front and made off into the cool, crisp pre-dawn blackness with about $60,000.
“That’s was the first and only robbery of a casino that we’ve had,” said Vicksburg Deputy Police Chief Bobby Stewart, who headed the department’s narcotics division in 2003.
In the more than 10 years since the daring Mississippi casino heist involving arson, two bomb hoaxes and a threatening man with a pistol, no one has been charged, and the police have not named any suspect, Stewart said.
The theft – walk in, demand cash, walk out – is much simpler than ones concocted by Ocean – the fictional con man and casino heist mastermind portrayed in Ocean’s 11 by Frank Sinatra in 1960 and in the classic film’s 2001 reboot and sequels by George Clooney.
The cool calculation and cunning that went into Vicksburg’s unsolved casino caper rivals that of Sinatra and Clooney’s on-screen antics.
The robber obviously had cased the joint.
He entered Horizon, which later became Grand Station and folded in 2012, through an employee entrance near the second deck cash cage by holding a revolver to the head of a slot attendant who stepped outside on a break.
He told employees to cooperate because there were two bombs in the building, and police carried out a shoe box wrapped in duct tape that was hidden in a loading dock near where the robber fled into the darkness.
A similar tactic was used in Tunica the same year when a woman wearing a wig set a gift-wrapped package on the counter of casino and told the cashier to hand over money or she would detonate the bomb hidden inside.
That package was nothing more than an empty honey bun box, police discovered after she fled with about $60,000.
The Horizon robbers took it a step further though.
About an hour before the robbery, the robber or an accomplice called in a bomb threat to Rainbow Casino – now Lady Luck – four miles south. At the time, the two casinos were the farthest apart in Vicksburg.
At the same time the 5-foot 9-inch masked man wearing a Dallas Cowboys jacket was robbing the cash cage at Horizon, firefighters were battling an arson blaze at the former Jett Elementary School.
“We feel they were done as a diversion. It was all the same time,” Stewart said of the connection between the robbery, bomb threat and fire.
The Mississippi Gaming Commission assists in casino robbery investigations. But casinos are treated as any other business so jurisdiction falls to the local police or sheriff’s department, said Allen Godfrey, the commission’s executive director.
Casino robberies – despite how many movies there are about them – are few and far between especially in Mississippi, he said.
“They are very rare. That’s not to say people don’t commit crimes at casinos or cheat at gaming,” Godfrey said. “I would imagine the deterrent is there is so much surveillance.”
The Gaming Commission does not keep statistics on the numbers of casino robberies, but 2003 was a particularly bad year for the house’s profits in Mississippi.
In a little more than a year spanning from late 2002 through 2003, the 11 casinos that were along the Mississippi River were hit with 25 robberies and attempted robberies, more than any other gambling spot in the country.
Casino officials estimated the losses at $1.4 million.
The bulk of the robberies were reported in Tunica County, and arrests were made in all but the Vicksburg case.
“The state put an extra Highway Patrol substation in Tunica because of the robberies,” Godfrey said. “That cut down on it a lot. There’s not but one or two places to come out from there.”
Las Vegas, which had 150 casinos during the same time span, had 14 robberies. Atlantic City, with 12 casinos, had three.
No heists were reported that year on the Mississippi Gulf Coast or in Louisiana.
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