Can Las Vegas Fall Victim to a Hacker Attack?

Published on July 24th, 2006 7:04 pm EST

Have you walked through a Las Vegas casino lately? You are probably noticing more and more that the old slot machines are being replaced with completely electronic counterparts, with LCD monitors mounted above the machines, displaying a very large cumulative jackpot. In some casinos, you may even notice that some of the 21 games are being replaced with machines as well, with computerized "dealers" dealing out the cards.

These machines, which took a while to catch on, mainly because people don't "trust" electronic machines, are becoming more and more popular. Why? These machines can be connected to one huge network of machines, and offer eye-catching jackpots. Imagine if you will 10,000 slot machines connected to one another offering a single shared jackpot, instead of one machine offering a smaller jackpot. You can imagine that these networked slot machines offer gamblers a much more attractive jackpot.

But when I recently walked through a Vegas casino, my thoughts weren't on the cumulative jackpots being flashed on the screens. My thoughts were "how secure are these machines? Can they be exploited?" Every computer network, no matter how secure, can be exploited. I decided to do more research into just how secure and how technologically advanced Las Vegas really is.

I should have known going in, that considering how much money is made in Las Vegas, that they would invest heavily in protecting those profits. What I found was that their slot machine networks, for starters, are constantly scanned and re-scanned by sophisticated computers to ensure that there are no "irregularities"; meaning, any wild fluctuations in betting patterns or any irregular winning patterns. Anytime a big jackpot is won, I found out that IGT, which oversees the entire system, sends out a representative who will not only pay the winner, but they will also open up the machine and search for any irregularities before awarding the prize.

I also found out that casinos use advanced face recognition technology in order to identify and help remove potential cheats. Vegas has invested heavily in this technology, and is able to identify a cheat much easier than an airport could identify a terrorist, just due to the sheer dollars they have spent on their face recognition systems.

Plus, there are cameras everywhere in Vegas that constantly feed data to the sophisicated face recognition software. In addition, human employees are constantly watching the tables as well, looking for tell-tale signs of suspicious activity, such as people methodically walking down the aisles of slot machines, or suspicious activity at the blackjack tables. It is becoming harder and harder to cheat the casinos, as they spend so much money developing measures to thwart cheating.

Based on the research that I did, I can honestly bet that it would be easier to hack into a Pentagon computer than hack into the network of slot machines in Las Vegas. Any would-be hackers out there; try somewhere else.