LAS VEGAS — Waving a gun, a motorcycle helmet-wearing bandit ordered wide-eyed gamblers and dealers back from a Bellagio craps table, and quickly stashed at least $1.5 million in casino chips into a bag.
As he fled, casino security had a choice: Let the armed robber escape, or get into a dangerous shootout.
In the end, the bandit casually jogged out of the posh resort on Tuesday — every step captured by surveillance cameras and broadcast later around the world. He disappeared into the neon light of the Las Vegas Strip.
"He had a gun. You just don't want that guy to fire that gun," said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a former casino security guard.
"Which is a worse headline? '$1.5 Million Stolen from Casino'? or 'Patrons Killed in Casino Firefight'?"
A day after the brazen heist, police were trying to locate the mysterious bandit while they kept watch for anyone trying to cash big-denomination chips, from $100 to $25,000, like the ones stolen.
Experts and police say, for all the risk, the robber may be staring at colorful but worthless chips.
Police Lt. Clinton Nichols said the chips aren't cash, with no monetary value unless they're taken back to the Bellagio. Chips are unique to casino properties and are generally not interchangeable.
Nichols said police detectives were tracking pranksters posting Internet offers to sell casino chips for pennies on the dollar.
"They may think it's funny," Nichols said, "but we have to check every one of them out."