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Man Arrested For Exploiting Error In Slot Machines 611

Posted by timothy
from the where's-nicky-santoro-when-you-need-him? dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A man awaiting trial in Pennsylvania was arrested by Federal agents on Jan. 4, and accused of exploiting a software 'glitch' within slot machines in order to win payouts. The exploit may have allowed the man to obtain more than a million dollars from casinos in Pennsylvania and Nevada, and officials say they are investigating to see if he used the method elsewhere. The accused stated that 'I'm being arrested federally for winning on a slot machine. Let everybody see the surveillance tapes. I pressed buttons on the machine on the casino. That's all I did.' Apparently, slot machine software errors are fairly common. The lesson here seems to be that casinos can deny you a slot machine win any time they wish by claiming software errors, and if you find an error that you can exploit, you may find yourself facing Federal charges for doing so."
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Man Arrested For Exploiting Error In Slot Machines

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  • What's next? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ErikPeterson (912282) <.dexters. .at. .erikgpeterson.com.> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:02PM (#34784278)
    Getting sued for picking the winning loto numbers?
  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daengbo (523424) <daengbo@@@gmail...com> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:06PM (#34784318) Homepage Journal

    The house always wins. Duh!

  • So, to be clear... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amRadioHed (463061) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:06PM (#34784330)

    casinos exploiting human failings to make millions and millions of dollars is legal. People exploiting casino failings to make millions and millions of dollars is illegal.

  • Re:What's next? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jfengel (409917) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:07PM (#34784346) Homepage Journal

    If you had some inside knowledge of how the lotto numbers were picked, yes.

    They're charging him with fraud. It remains to be shown how he got knowledge of the glitch, and if he merely exploited a pattern he was able to observe, that charge may well not stick. But if he hacked the machines to gain information he wasn't supposed to have, it sounds like fraud to me, whether it was the lotto machine or a slot machine.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:09PM (#34784376) Journal
    People get their winnings denied for counting cards. I don't really understand how that's allowed - not only is it impossible to prove, it also seems like it means that the rules prohibit playing to the best of your ability.
  • by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:12PM (#34784420) Homepage Journal

    Aren't casinos exploiting humans? Isn't this worse?

    -Peter

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:12PM (#34784424) Journal

    How do you define 'exploit'? People playing slot machines often try to see patterns. If a particular sequence lets them win once, they may try it again. If it lets them win every time they play it, then they'll keep using it. How are they supposed to know that the sequence lets them win because of a software error, rather than because of a particular intended behaviour? Or, for that matter, that it always lets the player win, rather than just happening to let them win when they try it because of a coincidence in the state of the machine?

    As he said, he just pressed the buttons on the front of the machine. If someone puts up a game machine that pay you money if you hit the buttons in a certain sequence, is it illegal to press the buttons in that sequence? Or is it only illegal to press them in that sequence after a certain number of times?

  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NevarMore (248971) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:16PM (#34784480) Homepage Journal

    Why aren't you telling the gaming commission about this?

  • Audit the Casinos (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tsnorquist (1058924) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:17PM (#34784492)

    So can gamblers audit the casinos to ensure all the times they lost were not due to a "glitch"?

  • by Surt (22457) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:18PM (#34784504) Homepage Journal

    The casinos are helping evolve our race against addictability. In the long run it will be impossible for a Casino to operate profitably, and that will be a good thing for humanity.

  • by BondGamer (724662) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:18PM (#34784506) Journal
    If you brought in billions in revenue to the state, you too could have special laws enacted for your benefit.
  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StikyPad (445176) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:21PM (#34784532) Homepage

    I'd say the most glaring issue is that this article appears right above one about hackers manipulating the stock market. Since we all seem to be gambling, any bets on which "hacker" will see jail time?

  • Re:What's next? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:23PM (#34784558) Journal

    Oh yeah - I don't have any sympathy for the Casinos they've always been stealing for as long as they've been around.

    But two wrongs don't make a right, stealing from a Casino does not make you a good guy (Despite how much you may like Ocean's 11).

    And making these guys sound like victims is more whats bothering me. They clearly played it like Con-men what with getting Casino technicians to alter the machines.

  • Re:What's next? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <.bassbeast1968. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:33PM (#34784680) Journal

    While I agree with part of what you are saying, on the other hand we should be careful not to reward shitty design by making it criminal to exploit it. I mean look at DMCA where ANY encryption, even something as lame and completely bogus as ROT13 could possibly get you busted for "circumventing" it. Or that guy being sued for accessing the hockey game even though they put it on a server with NO authentication methods that would let anyone that knew or found the IP address to help themselves.

    And finally let us not forget this is casinos we are talking about, places where the odds are so badly stacked against the player that if anyone that didn't have the blessing of the state tried to set up a similar gaming operation they would be busted for fraud, and rightly so. The last thing we need is to give them an excuse to not to have to pay out what little they do pay without having to go through a bunch of legal hoops. After all as another poster pointed out that actually worked on slot machine code all the code is shitty so one could argue that ANY significant payout could be attributed to "software glitch" and with piss poor badly managed code that would be a legitimate argument.

    The odds are already so badly stacked on most of them games you'd have better odds at 3 Card Monty, so I'm just worried about setting a precedent that gives them even BETTER than the already overwhelming advantage they already have. Hell I'd already argue most of those games are legalized robbery, do we really need to let them slide for not bothering to have decent code written as well?

  • Re:double standard (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Threni (635302) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:33PM (#34784688)

    YOU'RE going to be paying for his trial and incarceration, because he made use of software errors to profit from a company which profits from other people's gambling. Why? Isn't this the free market at work? If it's a problem, then fix the machines. Or...don't fix them - I don't give a shit how much money you lose from using shitty software. Good luck to him; he may have broken the law, but he's done nothing wrong.

  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CitizenCain (1209428) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:34PM (#34784702)
    And what would he say? It's not like the abysmal state of security on electronic gambling machines is new news, and evidently, no one cares enough to do anything about it. (And why would they when you can just have the feds arrest anyone who profits from flawed code and sieze their assets anyway?) Being stupid isn't a crime, and horrible practices for writing code aren't against gaming commission rules. No, being smart is against the rules and profiting off of crappy code (as a "gambler"/player) is a crime. Three cheers for the land of the free and our awesome justice system. :/
  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:40PM (#34784754) Journal

    He could argue that he liked that level of brightness and volume, something that is not uncommon among high rollers according to TFA.

  • by jjohnson (62583) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:41PM (#34784778) Homepage

    In order to expose the glitch, a special "double-up" feature had to be internally activated. The men persuaded casino technicians to alter "soft" options on the machines, such as volume and screen brightness controls. Such perks aren't unusual for high-rollers

    This wasn't about hitting buttons, they were using social engineering to enable a flaw that became exploitable. This is no different than screwing someone at a cash register by confusing them on the amount of change they're supposed to give you, an age-old grift.

  • only in Nevada (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:50PM (#34784870)

    And as far as I know, their winnings are not denied for counting cards.

    Instead, the casino just bans you. In Nevada a casino can ban you for any (or no) reason. So if they think you are counting they just tell you your business isn't welcome here anymore. You get to cash out what you have but you must leave and not come back.

    However, gambling to your best ability is not illegal, however using an assistive device is. You can be prosecuted and your money taken for using a computer to help you count cards.

    In Atlantic City, it is not legal to ban you for arbitrary reasons, so the casinos take other anti-counting measures, most notably continuous shuffling machines. With these, literally any card not on the table at the moment could come up next (instead of those also in the used pile), so the odds what could come as the next card never change enough to take advantage of through counting.

    I do not know the legality of assistive devices in Atlantic City, I suspect they are illegal there too.

  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebraining (1313345) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @06:55PM (#34784902) Homepage

    George Carlin later apologized, but I think it's one of the cases where "truth hurts".

    People who go to Las Vegas, you've got to question their fucking intellect to start with. Traveling hundreds and thousands of miles to essentially give your money to a large corporation is kind of fucking moronic. That's what I'm always getting here is these kind of fucking people with very limited intellects.

  • Re:double standard (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 06, 2011 @07:13PM (#34785164)

    He's done nothing wrong? Hmm, what is your street address? You DO realize that your security has a flaw, right? Lock bumping makes it trivially easy for me to break in to your house and take your stuff. Not to mention, I bet you have your windows made of glass. Obviously, you won't mind if I use your security errors to profit from you, right? You do? Isn't this the free market at work? If it's a problem, buy a better lock. If you don't buy a better lock, I'm justified in taking your stuff.

    And if he made his living from the insecurity of other people's homes I'd say you had a valid analogy. Or if he made a game of chance out of the security of his home, rigged the game to be in his favor, and then made bets ($$$) about whether you'd win that game, you would have had a valid analogy. Since he doesn't, your analogy is shite. It's just more emotional crap that invokes the name of justice and pretends to be a good argument.

    Don't get me wrong now. I am sure the casinos are grateful that people like you will use invalid argumentation to defend their good name without compensation. I bet they wish more people like you would do that for free, it would save them money on PR and marketing. They of course share your desire to live in a world where no corporation should ever have to bear responsibility for the consequences of its choice to use shoddy, low-quality products such as the slot-machine software in question.

    Really, what's wrong with you? You remind me of what I have read about Soviet-style brainwashing.

  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @07:16PM (#34785188) Homepage Journal

    "Grasshopper always wrong in argument with chicken."

    --Book of Chao

  • Re:double standard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by selven (1556643) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @07:19PM (#34785228)

    Even if you have an unlocked door, it's still illegal to break into a person's house. This is completely different - the man paid for the right to interact with the machines, and he interacted with the machines. He did not take a hammer and break the machine, he played the game according to the rules that the machine enforced. The fact that the casino screwed up and made the rules have a loophole in them changes nothing.

  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chaboud (231590) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @07:23PM (#34785284) Homepage Journal

    He used the interface of the machine as intentionally designed, configured willingly by casino staff. No trick coins, no bump keys, no insertion of a backdoor (that's still up in the air) into the code.

    These machines are intentionally set up to pay out anywhere from 85-93% of what they take in, just raking in cash by being there. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

    Sorry, but it's just not the same thing as a locked door. The intent of a locked door is clear, to signal ownership and provide moderate (not really) protection. The intent of a slot machine is also clear, to engage in a pseudo-random game of chance, biased typically toward the owner of the machine. He engaged in that game and won. If you knew that a roulette table hit a particular number commonly enough to make the odds worth it, you'd play that table. It's up to the casinos and manufacturers to make sure that the games that they've rigged in their favor actually remain so.

  • by kaiser423 (828989) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @08:01PM (#34785790)
    This does add another layer, but I'm still not too sure.

    I mean, so he got some technicians to enable a feature that is disabled because most gamblers do not like it.

    Then he won enough and had someone else cash it out because he knew that it would raise eyebrows. That just seems like an intelligent move.

    The casino's got to audit the code, so did the gaming commission. Maybe they should have better audits rather than rubber stamps? Because it sounds like some guy did a better audit than them and used it to gain an edge usually reserved for the house.

    Now if he planted the bug, or paid someone to or whatever, then there's crime here. But otherwise, I'm not seeing it.....

    Groups track roulette tables religiously in order to find ones that have an players edge if certain numbers are played, and that is legal. Casino's swap the tables overnight retire popular ones, conceal, etc. In this case, the casino's jsut need to audit the code a bit better.
  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bhcompy (1877290) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @08:04PM (#34785840)
    Kind of like counting cards for single deck blackjack. It's illegal to be too smart.
  • Re:double standard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Solandri (704621) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @08:11PM (#34785920)

    The whole gambling industry (including lotteries) is nothing more than a system of wealth redistribution. The rich love casinos (if they own the place) because it makes money for them and the government loves casinos because it means more tax revenue. Everyone else loses.

    It's only a loss if you ignore the entertainment value. My friends who go to Las Vegas do so mostly because it lets them get a weekend's entertainment fairly cheaply (if you're into the sorts of things Vegas offers).

    If you ignoring the entertainment value and looking strictly at what material goods or enhanced capability you've acquired for your money spent, then amusement parks, movie theaters, cable TV, computer games, plays, vacation travel, hiking trips, beach trips, etc. are all "losses". You could claim that the people running all those industries have simply created a system of wealth redistribution.

    Yes, it's extraordinarily bad for a subset of people who have a gambling problem. But the same is true for nearly any activity.

  • Re:double standard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sancho (17056) * on Thursday January 06, 2011 @08:11PM (#34785922) Homepage

    You missed:

    2) For some reason, this particular company didn't have a single machine in the USA for several years.

    Apparently they don't do business in Nevada, and they don't care.

  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @08:26PM (#34786084)
    This is a straw-man argument. It isn't against the law to distract somebody from the fact that they're losing their shorts... as long as they're losing their shorts legally. The only real question here is whether exploiting this error was illegal or not.

    Let me give you a real-world example: teams of people in the past have used statistical methods to determine that certain roulette wheels had minute flaws that caused them to pay out slightly more on some bets than others. Then they alternated the players to distract from the fact that they were making good winnings. They were exploiting a flaw in the system... but they were doing so legally. So when some of them got noticed, they could not be prosecuted for "conspiracy", because they weren't doing anything illegal.

    In the same way, the only question here is whether exploiting this flaw in the system is illegal. If not, then there was no "con" or "conspiracy". And I argue that there is no basis for calling it illegal. A flaw is a flaw, and it's the responsibility of the makers.
  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shadowfaxcrx (1736978) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @08:35PM (#34786150)

    Damn right. Or at least, if it IS illegal to distract someone from the fact that they're losing their shorts, I expect a lot of casino orders to either get rid of the flashy lights and the whirring and beeping sounds and the complimentary cocktails and the dancing girls, or do jailtime. There's a reason every casino has all that crap in it - to keep you from realizing that all you're doing is pouring money into a vending machine that doesn't actually vend anything.

  • by LrdDimwit (1133419) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @08:57PM (#34786338)
    As you say, the only question is whether exploiting this flaw is illegal. And I think it has to be illegal. This is very similar to the classic bar code alteration scam (wherein the crook goes to a store, swaps an expensive item's barcode for one that costs a lot less, then pays "normally" and hopes the cashier doesn't notice). The fraud, in this case, isn't exploiting the software error by itself, but rather, a combination of exploiting the error and claiming it's a legitimate win in order to induce the casino to give the man money he's not entitled to. He cheated at slots, by deliberately forging and then misrepresenting (as legit) the results of his play. This is ultimately no different than altering a lottery ticket or playing poker with a few aces up your sleeve.

    That is the key fact that makes this a crime. If someone happened to be playing the machine, then unknowingly triggered this error, they might forfeit the (erroneous) winnings - which would suck - but they wouldn't be on the hook criminally. But this man allegedly knew the details of the bug, then deliberately set out to trigger it as much as possible.
  • by qeveren (318805) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @10:09PM (#34786916)

    No, he used the interface provided by the device as designed. That the device is faulty is the casino's problem, not his. How did he forge anything at all?

  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv.vadiv@neverb o x . com> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @10:50PM (#34787206) Homepage

    Going to Vegas is a great vacation. Everything there is rigged to be fun and distracting, you'll never be bored, there are great shows.

    As long as you don't gamble. If you don't gamble, half the stuff you do is be subsided by idiots who are gambling.

    That $50 dollar hotel rooms? Cheaper than roadside motels in the middle of nowhere? They're expecting you to spend $50 bucks a day in the casino.

    That $50 show you want to see? Really costs $80 dollars, but on average people spend $30 dollars waiting for the show to start in the casino.

    Hell, that's why so many conferences are there...the space is cheap, because they expect to make a huge amount of money fleecing the idiotic convention-goers.

    Seriously, Vegas is a great place to go and vacation on the backs of gamblers.

  • Re:double standard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KDR_11k (778916) on Friday January 07, 2011 @07:21AM (#34789562)

    Sure. As long as they don't deny the player the winnings he already got.

  • Re:double standard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 07, 2011 @09:04AM (#34790260)

    There was a case of someone winning a jackpot a while back and the casino claiming the jackpot was a "software error" after the fact.

    Like everyone else, I read about such things with outrage until I actually RTFA. The jackpot she hit was about 100x higher than the maximum the machine was ever supposed to give, so it WAS an error, and obviously so.

    Perhaps the owners of said casino should not buy into new technology in a mad dash to control the odds and make more money. Life isn't fair.

    The casino is well within it's rights to stop purchasing the faulty equipment-- they are perhaps, though not definitely, within their rights to sue the makers of the machine as it did not perform as advertised and caused severe damages. They are not within their rights to sue or criminally charge consumers.

    Think of this happening in another industry. I buy a snack machine, it is defective and gives out two snacks per purchase. Do I arrest the individual who paid for one snack and accidentally got two? How about I buy a defective cash register that gives back too much change, do I arrest my customers for stealing money, or do I go after the manufacturer who made a faulty product? A gas station incorrectly updates the cost of premium gas at 1.00 off (actually happened at one my old jobs), do we arrest people for "stealing" gas, or do we reprimand the employee for setting the price wrong?

    Life isn't fair, and as a business owner, sometimes you get bad product, bad service, bad employees. For better or worse, unless in extreme circumstances, I don't see how you can take this out on the consumer. In the case at hand, they didn't even do anything explicitly wrong-- they asked for features, features that are offered by the casino to high rollers, to be enabled. They didn't "hack" into the machine, they didn't slip anyone money to enable "illegal modes" they simply asked to turn on modes freely offered by the casino's through their technicians.

    Compounding the problem, of course, is that the gambling industry is notoriously lucrative, and routinely ejects people for no other reason than "winning too much". In the previous example of the gas station, no less than three customers within a few minutes told me of the problem and I was able to correct it. They realized that a mistake had been made, and, though legally in the right, decided to do the "right thing" and let me know a mistake had been made. Casino's treat customers, as demonstrated by this case, like criminals-- despite the fact that they themselves actively try to make the odds worse and worse to make more and more money in an already extremely profitable business. Few people feel ethically inclined to take their side when they find a way to actually "beat the system".

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