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News Link • Hacking, Cyber Security

Use a Software Bug to Win Video Poker? That’s a Federal Hacking Case

• Kevin Poulsen via

On Monday, July 6, 2009, two engineers from Nevada’s Gaming Control Board showed up at the Silverton Casino Lodge. The off-the-strip South Las Vegas casino is best known for its mermaid aquarium, but the GCB geek squad wasn’t there to see swimmers in bikini tops and zip-on fish tails. They’d come to examine machine 50102, a Game King video poker unit on the casino floor that had been waiting for them, taped off like a crime scene, all weekend.

Manufactured by International Game Technology – a gambling leviathan that boasts $2 billion in revenue a year — the Game King is the ubiquitous workhorse of casino gambling, built to draw and keep gamblers who enjoy the fast pace and anonymity of machine play. Players can select from three cash levels and nearly three dozen different game variations, like Deuces Wild, Jacks or Better, Double Double Bonus and One-Eyes Jacks.

A Vegas local named John Kane had been the final player at machine 50102, and he’d opted for Triple Play Triple Double Bonus Poker, winning three hands at once at the maximum $10 denomination. His last game was still on the screen: three aces, four aces, three aces again. At payout odds of 820-to-1 he’d scored an $8,200 bonanza.

But the casino had been suspicious, and Kane didn’t collect the last win. For one thing, Kane, now 54, had enjoyed a lot of big payouts that day: in about an hour he’d scored five jackpots large enough to require a hand pay and IRS paperwork. The GCB engineers yanked the machine’s logic tray and EEPROM and took them back to the lab.

There they discovered the secret behind Kane’s lucky streak: he was exploiting a previously-unknown firmware bug present in the Game King and nine other IGT machines – one that had been hidden for seven years.

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