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How a custom App and algorithm decoder swindled some slots


10 Mar 2017

Despite what some people choose to believe, the results of slot machines are almost completely random. The computers within them are programmed in such a fashion by IT whizzes and developers through code.

But that doesn’t stop individuals or teams of players looking for ways to gain an edge.

One legitimate strategy is to monitor a selection of slots for a period of time and attempt to work out which one is “due a payout”, having swallowed the money of many players without having given much back in winnings.

Such a philosophy is far from guaranteed to work, although if said machine is known to have a high return to player rate, there is a strong possibility that payouts are on the cusp of materialising.

Other strategies are not so law abiding.

Looking back through the annals, there are numerous examples of ploys attempted by slot scammers to steal profits.

Among the more high profile are the uses of coins attached to string which can be hauled back out upon tricking a slot that money has been inserted, playing with fake coins, using metal tools to jam reels or replacing the computer chip to have a greater grasp on future spins.

Now Wired.com has brought to light the Lumiere Place scam, where a team of Russian specialists used a custom App and to-the-second timing to make significant sums out of slot machines.

The suspicion

It was discovered slot machines at the Lumiere Place Casino in St Louis had paid out far more money than they were supposed to over two days in June 2014.

Because of the programmed nature of all machines, casinos can work out roughly how much should be paid out on a given day based on the amount of money inserted for gameplay.

Yet despite no substantial jackpots being won, the numbers didn’t add up. Because computer code doesn’t just go wrong in such a manner, the only logical explanation was that some foul play had taken place.

The suspect

Upon mulling over surveillance videos, one man caught the eye. However, he didn’t fit the mould of an expected cheat in terms of his actions. There were no obvious moves to tamper with any machines.

Instead, he turned up once to play a short session, with the only slightly contentious issue being the position of a phone in his hand close to the screen.

He would then disappear for a while before returning to the same machine and winning multiple times his outlay. Having claimed his winnings, the man would then move on to a similar machine and complete the same cycle again.

The unorthodoxy

Where some unusual behaviour was noticed was in the way the man pushed the spin button during his returning stint to the machine.

There was no rhythm to his movements. Instead it was as if he was participating in some sort of game resembling musical chairs.

His finger was hovering just above the play button for a fairly long period as if he was waiting to make a sudden move once some music had stopped. Then he would jab at the button at a very precise moment.

The wider issue

The findings of the surveillance footage were soon shared with other casinos across the state of Missouri, where it was quickly discovered that they were all being targeted in the same way. A man would hold a phone near screens and then return a short time later to win a high volume in profit.

One of these players adopting this rehearsed routine was eventually identified as a Russian national by his car hire records.

This was noteworthy as Russia had been a bit of a hotbed for slot scams for a while, especially those which involved correctly predicting the supposed random behaviour of machines.

The scam

In the Lumiere Place scam, insight and interviews from across Europe, Macau and the US led to the consensus belief that the team had figured out a way to identify the secret arithmetic within the machines and make the most of upcoming number patterns.

The phone lingering above the screen was recording spins and then passing the recordings to more tech savvy individuals in Russia. Once a machine’s pattern was identified, timing markers were then returned to the phone via a custom App.

Game players then had a very short window to push the spin button to uncover a winner.

The future

A team of four players visiting Missouri again at a later date were caught and charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. Three received two years in federal prison after accepting plea bargains and were to be deported upon their release.

The other is still to be sentenced as he was not a Russian national, instead being a Florida resident granted religious asylum to the US previously.

Another team has since been caught abroad, with advancements to the strategy involving the possible use of Skype to transfer videos and prevent players needing to leave a machine. Another is the use of internal pockets to house a phone so players can be hands free at a slot.

Security personnel clearly need to continue to be on the lookout for hands hovering above spin buttons for uncommon periods of time.