Wired has a great story about a couple of local gamblers who happened upon a programming bug in IGT’s ubiquitous “Game King” video poker machine. The bug allowed the gamblers to essentially replay winning hands, but at much higher stakes. The gamblers, predictably, took the casinos for undisclosed amounts of money, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to the story,”[t]he Wynn, where Kane kept four nines on one Game King for days, was the biggest loser at $225,240.”
Of course, the attorney for one of the gamblers insists that no cheating was involved.
“All these guys did is simply push a sequence of buttons that they were legally entitled to push,” says [Andrew] Leavitt, Kane’s attorney.
While that argument may be compelling as to the federal computer hacking charges in this case, I’m not sure how convincing it would be as to state law.
It is unlawful for any person, whether the person is an owner or employee of or a player in an establishment, to cheat at any gambling game.
“Cheat” means to alter the elements of chance, method of selection or criteria which determine:
(a) The result of a game;
(b) The amount or frequency of payment in a game;
(c) The value of a wagering instrument; or
(d) The value of a wagering credit.
Based upon the information in the Wired article, there is little question that the gamblers “altered the elements of chance” as to the “result,” “amount of payment,” and the value of the wager. One of the gamblers essentially admits to as much in the article itself:
“You had complete control over how much you could win,” Nestor says. “If you wanted to go to a casino and win $500,000 in one day, you could win $500,000 in one day.” [emphasis added]
“Complete control” over payouts is the essence of “altering the elements of chance.” Put in simpler terms, if you’re beating the house over a long period of time, you’re almost certainly altering the elements of chance, and thus, cheating.
Ace Rothstein said it best:
Ace Rothstein: You didn’t see the scam? You didn’t see what was going on?
Don Ward: Well, there’s no way to determine that…
Ace Rothstein: Yes there is! An infallible way, they won!
That said, even though card counting in Blackjack arguably “alters the elements of chance,” (at least relative to the size of the bet), the Nevada Supreme Court has held that card counting is not cheating and thus not illegal:
In contrast, consider the gaming patrons who are specially gifted and can increase the odds in their favor by “card counting.” Or perhaps the patron who notices and takes advantage of a dealer’s habit of play that will occasionally provide an unintended view of the dealer’s cards. Unquestionably, neither category of patron would be subject to prosecution under the statute, although casino management may take 222*222 measures to deny them the right to play. In both cases, the players simply exploit what their skills and the play of the games will afford them. And yet, they are altering the usual criteria, i.e., the characteristic complex or standard of play that determines the frequency of payment.
So, yes, as it turns out, Alan was exactly right about the legality of card counting:
I am sure that if charged with violating Nevada’s statutes against cheating while gambling, the gamblers from the Wired story would argue their ability to find and exploit the programming bug was a matter of skill akin to a card counter. That said, while finding the programming but may be a matter of skill, simply memorizing the sequence of buttons to push probably isn’t. This would mean that a person who was simply told about the bug would have a harder time arguing skill than the person who actually found it.
The two were eventually arrested, though the charges were later dropped.
One of the gamblers was busted at the Silverton:
But it all began to unravel the night Kane found himself waiting for a payout at the Silverton. The casino’s head of security stood just outside the slot area. Kane paced and huffed, spun the swivel chair back and forth like a metronome, and complained to passing slot attendants. Finally, three men strode up to him. The head of security directed Kane to an alcove, handcuffed him, and escorted him away from the video poker machines.
It is not widely known, but Nevada casinos enjoy something similar to a “shopkeepers privilege” in that the casinos can arrest and detain suspected cheaters.
Any licensee or any of the officers, employees or agents of the licensee who has probable cause for believing that there has been a violation of this chapter in the licensee’s establishment by any person may take that person into custody and detain that person in the establishment in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time.
Not surprisingly, this statute has resulted in substantial litigation and a number of opinions from the Nevada Supreme Court. If the casino detains someone wrongfully, they could be sued for false imprisonment, among other claims.
When the old Sahara closed down in 2011, they let the public roam free through the entire property in order to sell off the furniture and equipment throughout the building. A buddy and I enjoyed exploring the property, including the count room. Near the count room was essentially a jail cell. It was a large cage, made up of a chain link fence on all sides, with a bench. I presume this is where the house detained cheaters.