Man May be Sent to Prison for Exploiting Firmware Bug in Poker Machine
May 2, 2013 11:48 AM
comment(s) - last by
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]
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
RE: This was clearly cheating...
5/6/2013 10:25:03 AM
Wrong, very wrong way to think about this. First off let's see what he's been charged with. He's been charged with hacking a slot machine and NOT cheating at the casino. Cheating at a casino is a felony in Nevada. What does this tell you? It means that the casinos realize that this fellow isn't cheating but they aren't happy with him so they're trying to hurt him as much as they can. Check out "Cheating(casino)" at wikipedia and you'll find that Advantage play is legal. So counting cards is a legal thing to do. Most casinos have developed advanced techniques to prevent this. Even then, at the end of the day if you do somehow manage to win all the time and there's no apparent way that you're doing this then getting a lifetime ban from the casino is probably the worst that will happen to you.
Second an ATM is NOT a slot machine. It's designed to give you exactly the money out of your account or allow you to deposit some cash for simplicity's sake. If an ATM machine was more a gaming machine then it would randomly give you different amounts of cash. Let's say you have $5 in your account and it randomly gives you $2 or $10. Would it be cheating if you figured out how to get the machine to always give you $10?
Finally, this is a game of chance. If you setup a game where you play against a friend and you've rigged it so that you mostly win. Is it cheating if your friend finds a flaw in your system and ends up beating you instead? No that blame lies entirely in you. You setup the game and lost, fair and square. A casino should be able to properly setup their slot machines. If they can't then it's entirely their own fault.
Frankly the smart thing to do would've been to lifetime ban him from the casinos. Let him keep his money and to fix the machines.
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