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Revealed: The pokies scam that has netted millions

Wed, Feb 8, 11:10am by Staff Writer

Casino and gaming machine operators admit they are powerless to stop a Russian gang which has orchestrated a long-term global scam to cheat on pokies.

The vigilance of security staff is the only major weapon against the St Petersburg-based gang, which has been operating a sophisticated global scam based on working out the random number generators of machines, including those manufactured by Australian company Aristrocrat Leisure.

In a detailed report, Wired has reported that at least three Russian nationals have been jailed in the United States after a nationwide scam was uncovered in 2014 by security staff at multiple casinos who detected higher than usual payouts from several machines.

Security footage revealed that machines users were videoing the spins of a machine, before stepping away and then returning to the machine to play. The other suspicious activity saw the user hold their finger over the spin button for long periods of time before playing.

When one user walked away from two days’ of playing in a casino in St Louis in June 2014 with $21,000, it was clear something was afoot.

When that casino shared its intelligence with the Missouri Gaming Commission, it was discovered that several casinos had similar stories to tell and that it appeared that the machines were paying out well above their usual return rate.

Examination of footage from other casinos revealed that while those playing the machines differed from casino to casino, their methodology was the same.

It was when one of the operators was arrested at California casino in July of 2014 and investigators confiscated his phone, that the nature of the scam began to become apparent

As it turned out, the operators were sending video of the games back to Russia and were then awaiting instruction, via text message, on when to play the games.

But given the sophistication of the pseudorandom number generators in the machines, the investigators could not determine exactly how the operators knew when to play. To do so, would require them to have knowledge of the number pattern.

The other thing the investigators noticed was that the machines used, tended to be slightly older models, including Aristocrat’s Mark VI model.

The answer, according to Wired, came back to Russia’s decision to ban slot machine gambling in 2009. That led to a lot of machines being sold onto the black market, many of which were apparently snapped up by the St Petersburg-based crime syndicate.

They had apparently spent significant time and effort examining the pseudorandom generators on the machines in order to figure out possible patterns. This work led them to be able to better predict the payout behaviour of machines.

And so the scam was born, with the proviso that analysts in St Petersburg needed to see video of each machine in live play in order to help predict what would happen in the future. That’s why the operator in St Louis had filmed and then stepped away as he had to send the file back to headquarters.

The method wasn’t foolproof, but it gave them enough off an edge to win thousands of dollars a day.

The key to its ongoing success was not getting too greedy and switching casinos every few days.

But when the same Russian who had pulled $21,000 in two days in St Louis turned up in the same town six months later, authorities pounced.

They arrested Murat Bliev, Ivan Gudalov, Igor Larenov, and Yevgeniy Nazarov, three of whom were subsequently sentenced to a minimum of two years’ jail.

But while that cell was ended, the scam continues in casinos across Europe, the USA and South America.

The only way of stopping it in its tracks would be to replace all the older style slot machines with brand new ones which have much more sophisticated number generation technology.

However, the cost of that is currently greater than the cost of the risks associated with continuing to operate the older models.

So the burden for preventing further scams falls back to casino security staff to detect and investigate possible scams, as the gangs attempt to stay under the radar.


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