File under Crazy Casino Capers
A New Zealand event company planning a casino-related event in Christchurch in early December got a rude awakening: thieves managed to steal a trailer full of gaming equipment from the company, including a vintage roulette wheel from the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.
On December 1, thieves reportedly stole the company’s swag trailer, broke into it, ransacked it, and made off with a boatload of casino items, including card dispensers, casino chips, and an antique roulette wheel. The vintage gambling wheel was said to be from the 1950s and acquired by the Las Vegas Functions company at auction.
Taking the Roulette Wheel for a Spin
Las Vegas Functions has operated in New Zealand for more than 40 years, providing casino-style catering and gaming events for local businesses and private parties. In 1983 company founder Ian Hastings visited Vegas and found the iconic roulette table at the Hotel Riviera. When the Riviera closed, Hastings managed to acquire the Golden Nugget roulette wheel from the Riviera to add to his growing arsenal of casino gaming equipment.
But just before Las Vegas Functions was planning to strut their prized spinner out for an event in Auckland, thieves decided to take the prized roulette wheel out for a spin – then the brainiacs tried to sell it online.
The Family Business
Ian Hastings is a former police officer from Auckland who opened Las Vegas Functions in the 1970s to raise money for local basketball teams. His casino gambling nights turned out to be a huge success and the company expanded.
In 2017, Debbie Williams took over Las Vegas Functions and continued to roll out the prized roulette wheel at special events. The business kept spinning and winning in the NZ event market, booking up to 5 events per day in busier years. However, the pandemic gutted the event industry, and the company was lucky to arrange 8 events in a month. Hastings spoke out on the tragic turn of events.
“I’m more gutted for Deb, who took over the business and has been faced with the Covid nightmare,” Hastings said. “It hasn’t been easy for her for the last couple of years, and this doesn’t help.”
A Change in Luck
Williams filed a police report on the theft, but it is unclear whether there was any surveillance footage of the lot or any other clues about the caper. In addition, Christchurch Police informed Williams that they could not be of much help in chasing down the thieves, citing the pandemic and lack of resources as the reasons for having their hands tied.
Determined to keep the gaming business spinning, Williams went online to find a replacement roulette wheel for future events. While she was searching for a stand-in for the missing vintage wheel, she went online to see if she could score a deal.
The Golden Nugget roulette wheel is valued at over $10,000, so finding a replacement wasn’t going to be easy—or cheap. Then one lucky day, Williams found an ad on the Trade Me auction website for a roulette wheel which looked painfully familiar.
There it was in all its glory: the stolen antique roulette wheel, up for sale on the auction website. Williams instantly recognized the wheel and contacted the police again. The police cited lack of resources as their excuse, but Williams was determined to get her roulette wheel back, so she hatched a scheme of her own.
Disappointed by the police response, Williams hired a private investigator to assist her with her own casino robber sting. They decided to pose as potential buyers for the stolen roulette wheel, make bids, and then snare the criminals.
On Saturday, December 18, Williams placed the winning bid on the roulette wheel and arranged to meet the sellers. She then notified the police again to assist in the arrest, which could not be carried out by private citizens. After Williams and her P.I. pal did all the heavy lifting, Detective Sergeant Don Fisher of the Auckland Police came in to make the arrest.
Right on time, the thieves arrived to make the deal at William’s place. The police stepped in and lowered the boom on the criminals. A 38-year-old male was charged with burglary and a 41-year-old female was charged with receiving stolen goods.
Williams recovered most of her stolen property because of her ingenious sting. She got her precious spinning heirloom back, plus five playing card decks, a blackjack shoe, and more.
“Feelings, well, I have gone through them all over the last seven days, with relief being the biggest one,” Williams said, “followed by elation and awe that we actually managed to make it happen. It felt like something out of a movie – very surreal.”
Word of advice: don’t steal anything iconic or unique. And if you do, for the love of Christchurch, don’t try to sell it online!
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I enjoy writing about gambling, movies, tv shows, and funny stories. I am very interested in sports.