Man May be Sent to Prison for Exploiting Firmware Bug in Poker Machine
May 2, 2013 11:48 AM
Casino tends player was "hacking" by pressing a clever combination of buttons
In 2009, Las Vegas local John Kane scored the dream of many gamblers, winning five large jackpots on slot machines in an hour worth around $8,200 USD a piece at the
Silverton Casino Lodge
. Now he's in danger of going to federal prison -- all for pressing buttons on a slot machine in a fashion he figured out would exploit a flaw in the machine's logic.
The case against Mr. Kane and co-defendant Andre Nestor (who helped Mr. Kane figure out the exploit) is being heard in
U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada
Federal Judge Miranda Du
. Prosecutors, backed by Silverton Casino and the slot machine manufacturer International Game Technology (
), are looking to not only deny the man his jackpot, but also charge him and his friend for violating the ambiguously worded Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (
18 USC § 1030
Sentences for various for-profit "hacking" violations carry sentences of up to five years under the act, as
Goatse Sec. hacker Andrew "weev" Auernheimer
painfully found out.
Andrew Leavitt, a veteran LV lawyer representing Mr. Kane, calls the accusation ridiculous, saying his client was playing by the rules of the machine and was not responsible for the manufacturer's programming errors. He tells
in an interview, "I’m not exaggerating or embellishing. … In one year he played 12 million dollars worth of video poker. It’s an addiction. He accidentally hit a button too soon, and presto. It was a fluke. There was no research… Just playing."
He admits that his client, along with Mr. Nestor (who played primarily in Penn. casinos) then exploited the bug at the Fremont, the Golden Nugget, the Orleans, the Texas Station, Harrah’s, the Rio, the Wynn, and the Silverton, but contends he did not "hack" and did nothing wrong.
The pair used their trick on the Game King multi-game machine. [Image Source: IGT]
Even Las Vegas' Gaming Control Board chief inspector Jim Barbaree calls the exploit an "extreme rarity", saying most "cheaters" use mechanical tricks or other physical attacks like shocking the machine to try to earn illicit playouts. By contrast Mr. Kane was playing the game, but had found an error of the game within its rules.
Mr. Nestor commented on the charges previously, "I’m being arrested federally for winning on a slot machine. It’s just like if someone taught you how to count cards, which we all know is not illegal. You know. Someone told me that there are machines that had programming that gave a player an advantage over the house. And that’s all there is to it.… Who would not win as much money as they could on a machine that says, ‘Jackpot’? That’s the whole idea!"
Andre Nestor faces years in prison for winning a slot machine. [Image Source: Wired]
The key to the case is an ambiguous phrase "exceeds authorized access". That catch all phrase is used by companies to try to send whoever they dislike to prison by accusing the target of using their machine/software in a way they didn't approve of. In some cases such "violations" have resulted in prison time, in others the suspects have been found innocent.
The CFAA is under reform, after RSS-coauthor and internet activist Aaron Schwartz
questionable CFAA charges
thought to be partially to blame.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren
Sen. Ron Wyden
(D-Oreg.) have sponsored a bill called "
", however it has yet to pass and be signed into law.
U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada via Wired [PDF]
"Spreading the rumors, it's very easy because the people who write about Apple want that story, and you can claim its credible because you spoke to someone at Apple." -- Investment guru Jim Cramer
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