This case is believed to be connected with individuals in Russia and begins some eight years ago back in 2009. It is alleged that a team of four working in tandem could net upwards of $250,000 in a single week and all through playing slot machines in various Casinos all over the world.
The trick was reportedly first noticed back in June in 2014 at the Lumiere Place Casino in St. Louis. Bosses discovered that more had been paid out than should have been possible and this was despite the fact no-one had won any jackpots. Cue an inquiry, which found that one individual – eventually identified through car rental records as Murat Bliev, a Russian native – had been discreetly holding an electronic device, an iPhone, close to the game’s screen.
Initially he’d wouldn’t be so fortunate, before then leaving and returning a short time later to the same machine, where he would win over $1000 having invested less than $60, and sometimes as little as $20. Over two days he had amassed winnings totally around $20,000. When the results of the inquiry were communicated to the Missouri Gaming Commission and shared, other casinos discovered they had also been affected and all with the same slot machine, the Aristocrat Mark VI.
When Russia shut all its casinos back in 2009, at least 300,000 people were made unemployed, casinos claimed at the time.
While official figures from the Kremlin said that figure was exaggerated and no-more than 15,000, it did leave a lot of infrastructure – and a lot of slot machines – gathering dust. Some made their way to those who were eager to learn their secrets. Slot machines may have evolved and become more complex over the years, but they are still far from non-hackable.
Indeed the pseudo random number generators, as the name ‘pseudo’ itself suggests, isn’t that random at all and through some clever reverse engineering they were able to de-code the secret algorithms. It meant that when Bliev recorded two-dozen spins on the slot machines with his i-Phone, that information was then sent back to St. Petersburg where it was analysed and cracked. Timing markers would then be sent back to Bliev’s i-Phone and it would vibrate 0.25secs before he should hit the spin button – a very clever trick!
When Bliev returned to the United States on 3rd December 2014, he linked up with three others’ – Ivan Gudalov, Igor Larenov, and Yevgeniy Nazarov – playing in at least 10 casinos in Missouri, California, and Illinois. Bliev, however, was recognized a week or so later by security at the Hollywood Casino in St. Louis with the FBI later announcing it had indicted all four.
Despite what happened, however, the ‘trick’ is still used and in June 2016, Czech national Radoslav Skubnik was detained in Singapore for the same reason and apparently working for the same Russian organization. Winnings recovered amounted to around $120,000, although this time he didn’t have to hold the iPhone to the slot machine, instead it was concealed in his shirt pocket. The trick had evolved and the goal posts had been moved. My question is how will they move on next? I think it will be interesting to see – and it will be fascinating to see how the casinos respond.