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Ax Me Anything

Hacking skill games with an ax has become a popular pastime among thieves and scoundrels

Ax Me Anything

Gaming regulators in my home state, Pennsylvania, have had their share of problems with illegal, unregulated, untaxed “skill games.” These are slot-like machines that are placed in gas stations, convenience stores, pizza shops, even laundromats, that take in money and pay out in cash. Their manufacturers claim they employ skill, so they are not subject to gaming regulations.

Of course, the “skill” involved is deciding whether to wager again on a game once you’ve gotten a peek at an outcome. It’s not exactly fixing a carburetor, or even shooting at video asteroids.

Besides, on a lot of these machines, you can turn off the “skill” element. Then, the only skill you need to play is the ability to move your opposable thumbs. Heck, you don’t even need thumbs. Just bash the button.

Yes, just like a slot machine.

The state’s licensed, regulated, tax-paying casino owners naturally want these machines wiped out; they are unfair competition. State officials want them wiped out because they don’t get a penny from the revenues—and there’s no oversight of the games. There have been complaints of rising crime where these machines are.

Like last month at a 7-Eleven in Philadelphia. Authorities say bandits have been stealing money out of skill games at convenience stores, and at this particular 7-Eleven, a guy was caught on camera bludgeoning a skill machine with an ax. (In italics, even.)

According to a local news report, it was around 4 a.m. when this guy took out his hatchet and started doing a Lizzie Borden on the skill game. The store owner and employees just stood there with their mouths open.

“It’s like right out of a Friday the 13th horror movie,” the owner told a local news reporter. “All you’re doing is getting ready and going to work one day, and all of a sudden, you’re faced with people with an ax in their hand.”

Things like that never happen in normal, regulated casinos (outside the greater New York area, anyway). Heck, half the time, I don’t even remember to take my ax when I go out for a night in the casino.

Yes, it’s a much more visceral way of hacking a slot machine program than writing a bunch of code.

And come on, you knew there was going to be a hacking joke in here somewhere.

It wasn’t even the first time this happened in Pennsylvania. Thieves hacked open a Sunoco mini-mart’s machines last February. Sunoco stores have been popular targets of these scoundrels. One team of thieves hit machines at two different Sunocos in as many hours one night last year.

According to one news report, the company that makes the games “responded by making the machines in metal.”

What were they made of before, oatmeal?

Anyway, the newly fortified metal machines seem to be better against the ax. One guy tried and tried at a Gas-And-Go store but couldn’t break one with his hatchet, after which he unsuccessfully tried to load the entire machine into his getaway car.

That’s one more argument on the side of shutting these machines down for good. I’ve been going to real casinos for 40 years, and I’ve never seen anyone have at a slot machine with an ax. Fists? Yes. Entire flailing bodies? Sure thing. But no lethal weapons. And, I’m guessing here, but I really don’t think casino security guards would stand around while a guy tried to carry a slot machine out the door to his waiting car.

But there are no security guards at the 7-Eleven, or the Gas-And-Go, for that matter. Just pimply teenagers earning minimum wage on the night shift. No one there’s going after a guy flailing an ax around.

These skill games are in little places. That’s why in Georgia, a guy whipped out a sledgehammer and cracked open a machine, grabbing around $7,000, after which he calmly walked next door to McDonald’s, where his parked car was waiting. (He might have even stopped for a Big Mac.)

It’s why one woman in Texas was able to pull out a can of lighter fluid and set a machine on fire after a losing session.

That really happened, by the way. It really angered another woman in the place who had been waiting to play the now-crispy machine. So that being Texas, the second woman followed the fire-starter to the parking lot, took out a gun, and shot her. (The woman recovered, but the skill machine didn’t.)

My suggestion here? If you want to play a slot machine, go to a casino. That’s what I’m going to do right now. Let’s see. Lighter fluid? Check. Ax? Check. Sledgehammer?

Damn, I misplaced my sledgehammer. Maybe they’ll have one in the gift shop.

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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