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Should it be a crime to exploit a poker machine's bug?
A Las Vegas man raked in thousands after he noticed a computer glitch
 
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Everyone daydreams of striking it rich in a casino game, where just like The Hunger Games, the odds are never truly in your favor. That didn't deter a Las Vegas local named John Kane, who Wired reports used a previously unknown software glitch in a Game King video poker machine to score huge payouts.

The exploit is a bit complex (details about the bug can be found in the court document here), but the gist of it was that Kane was able to score a maximum pay-out jackpot while placing minimum bets. According to Wired, he'd play Triple Double Bonus Poker at the $1.00 level until he won a high payout, in this case $820. Then he'd switch to another game on the same machine, such as straight Draw Poker, and play until the computer offered a rare "double-up" bonus:

Through whatever twist of code caused the bug, the appearance of the double-up invitation was critical. Machines that didn't have the option enabled were immune.

At that point Kane would put more cash, or a voucher, into the machine, then exit the Draw Poker game and switch the denomination to the game maximum — $10 in the Silverton [Casino Lodge] game.

Now when Kane returned to Triple Double Bonus Poker, he'd find his previous $820 win was still showing. He could press the cash-out button from this screen, and the machine would re-award the jackpot. Better yet, it would re-calculate the win at the new denomination level, giving him a hand-payout of $8,200. [Wired]

Kane, a self-professed gambling addict, says he discovered the bug purely by accident. He shared the trick with a small crew of gamblers, who all went on to beat the house at a number of casinos, including Texas Station, Harrah's, the Rio, the Wynn, and the Golden Nugget.

Now, it's up to a U.S. District Court to decide whether taking advantage of a computer bug on a public machine constitutes illegal hacking under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA. The Verge notes that the CFAA is frequently tapped by the federal government to target "a broad scope of computer-related incidents," whether it relates explicitly to hacking or not.

According to the The Huffington Post, "The CFAA is loosely interpreted by prosecutors and criminalizes a sweeping range of online behavior, much of it entirely benign and committed by people who would be stunned to learn they are committing felonies that could land them in prison for decades — such as violating terms of service that very few people actually read."

The last time the CFAA was tapped, for example, was during the prosecution of the late Aaron Swartz.

But even if the CFAA charges are thrown out, Kane and his conspirators will still have to contend with wire fraud charges. The trial is set for Aug. 20. (Via Daring Fireball)

 
Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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