VLTs not unbeatable

A computer whiz who made off with $250,000 from video lottery terminals in Nova Scotia suspects someone has already figured out how to beat the latest generation of the gambling machines.

A computer whiz who made off with $250,000 fromvideo lottery terminalsin Nova Scotia suspects someone has already figured out how to beat the latest generation of the gambling machines.

"I don't think there is any security that is capable of stopping anyone," said Jean-Guy, a math whiz and sometimes gambler who asked that his surname not be used.

Jean-Guy's VLT story, told for the first time to CBC News, began in the late 1990s when he used a flaw in the game software to predict when jackpots were coming.

"I wanted to see if I could really make some money off of it," he said.

"I've got this program that can predict the random number, and we've got a slot machine in a bar. Problem is if I'm sitting there with a laptop in my lap, they're really going to look at me."

So he sent in a friend wired with a hidden camera and radio earpiece.

Jean-Guy could sit outside in his truck, see the symbols on the VLT screen in the bar, enter them into his computer and then whisper into his friend's earpiece when the next jackpot was coming.

"It took 20 seconds to figure it out," he said.

Cracks technology

Officials noticed a rash of jackpots in VLTs across Nova Scotia and tried switching the chips inside the machines to change how the jackpots were generated.

Jean-Guy quickly figured that out too.

"It's the age-old computer analogy— if somebody can make it, somebody can break it," he said.

But by 1998, Jean-Guy's streak was coming to an end. A suspicious bartender at a hotel bar in Sydney called police after a couple of gamblers kept winning jackpots.

That call eventually led police to Jean-Guy, who by this time had won more than $250,000.

RCMP weren't sure what to charge him with because, technically, he hadn't broken the law.

"There was some difficulty in even understanding the technical processes that the individual designed or created to challenge the integrity of the VLTs," said Dennis Kerr, executive director of Nova Scotia's Alcohol and Gaming Authority.

VLTs long gone

In exchange for a guilty plea to a charge of illegal use of a computer, Jean-Guy served no jail time. Instead, he used his talents to help fix the problem across Nova Scotia.

Kerr says the machines Jean-Guy beat have long been out of circulation.

"The machines in play today are very much more technically advanced," he said.

Though Jean-Guy no longer gambles, he expects another computer whiz has likely figured out the next generation of gambling software and is quietly winning jackpots.