A gang of ten World War II Airborne veterans led by Danny Ocean rob five different Las Vegas casinos (Sands, Desert Inn, Flamingo, Riviera, and Sahara) on a single night.
The gang plans the elaborate New Year's Eve heist with the precision of a military operation. Josh takes a job driving a garbage truck while others work to scope out the various casinos. Demolition charges are planted on an electrical transmission tower and the backup electrical systems are covertly rewired in each casino.
At exactly midnight, while everyone in every Vegas casino is singing "Auld Lang Syne" the tower is blown up, Vegas goes dark. The backup electrical systems open the cashier cages instead of powering the emergency lights. The inside men sneak into the cashier cages and collect the money. They dump the bags of loot into hotel garbage bins, go back inside and mingle with the crowds. As soon as the lights come back on, the thieves stroll out of the casinos. A garbage truck driven by Josh picks up the bags and passes through the police blockade. It appears to have gone off without a hitch.
Anthony "Tony" Bergdorf, however, has a heart attack in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip and dies. Reformed gangster Duke Santos offers to recover the casino bosses' money for a price. He learns of Danny Ocean and his connection to his fiancée's son, Jimmy Foster, both of whom he knows to be in Vegas at the moment. Santos pieces together the puzzle by the time Bergdorf's body arrives at the mortician.
Santos confronts the thieves, demanding half of their take. In desperation, they hide the money in Bergdorf's coffin, setting aside $10,000 for the widow. The group plans to take back the rest of the money, and make no payoff to Santos, after the coffin is shipped to San Francisco. Alas, this plan backfires when the funeral home talks the widow into having the funeral in Las Vegas. The home cremeates the body, along with the hidden money. In the final scene of the film, the crooks walk down the Strip, defeated and empty-handed. Their plan failed.