Voting Rights Forum Participant
Post Number: 1
Best of Black Box?
|Posted on Monday, June 6, 2005 - 8:35 pm: |
First off, I wish to thank the folks at Black Box Voting for all of the incredible work that you are doing.
space from Daily Kos wrote:
>My God, there is a REASON that ATM machines and slot machines
>don't make "mistakes" like this.
Well, actually, that's not exactly true -- or, at least, wasn't true in the 1990's -- about slot machines.
A episode of The History Channel's "Breaking Vegas" series a few months ago detailed the story of Nevada Gaming Control Board whiz kid Ron Harris, who went from verifying the code in slot machines to reprogramming them on casino floors right under the casino employees' noses.
Casinos have to submit their code to the NGCB, which confirms the payouts and then archives the code. NGCB agents then show up in casinos, pick random slot machines, plug what is essentially an EPROM comparator into a diagnostic port inside the machine, and verify that the slot machine vendor (or casino) hasn't reprogrammed it to pay out less than often than in the submitted code. The NGCB apparently regularly finds slot machines that were tampered with, although it's nearly impossible to prove the slot machine vendor is guilty of a crime.
Ron Harris not only was one of those agents, he also wrote a lot of the NGCB's EPROM comparator code and regularly analyzed tampered code to understand its effect on payoffs.
The issue is, the NGCB's EPROM comparator wasn't just a reader. And the EPROMs in most of the slot machines were really EEPROMs (or maybe flash memory by now)...
I think you can guess where this is going... Harris took slot machine code submitted to the NGCB, modified it to pay off a jackpot when a certain pattern of multiple coins was deposited in the machine over a series of pulls, and changed the EPROM comparator so that it would write the new code to a machine while ostensibly comparing it to version registered with the NGCB. Then he had friends go around to the slots he'd reprogrammed (NGCB agents not only would be recognized, they're forbidden to gamble in casinos), bet that particular odd sequence of coins, and collect the jackpots.
Harris and his main confederate got caught after he successfully characterized the pseudo-random number generator that was used in a particular manufacturer's keno system and crunched the previous keno game's winning numbers on a laptop in an Atlantic City hotel room to successfully predict the winning numbers for the next game. His confederate won something like a million dollars on a single keno card; since the payoff was so unusual and the confederate was so nervous, the casino checked whom the room was registered to... Because of a flight mixup, Harris had arrived first and checked in under his own name, and despite the fact the he was far away from Vegas, "Ron Harris" was recognized as the name of a NGCB agent by someone at the New Jersey casino.
So, at one point anyway, slot machines DID make this kind of mistake...
(For more info about the Breaking Vegas series, go to http://www.historychannel.com/global/listings/series_showcase.jsp?EGrpType=Serie s&Id=10629541. The episode, which included interviews with both Ron Harris and his main confederate, is listed in the Episode Archives as "Slot Buster". So far, this is the best episode of the series that I've seen.)