TribalNet: Wireless slot technology slow to catch on, but not more vulnerable to cyberattacks, says panelists

September 20, 2023 10:01 AM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
September 20, 2023 10:01 AM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

Wireless slots have been slow to catch on with the casino-gaming industry and the cyberattack on MGM Resorts won’t help its implementation. However, executives at two tribal casinos where they’re installed insist that they have no additional fears about hackers, saying that computer criminals can target systems with much greater vulnerabilities.

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The cyberattack on MGM properties in the U.S. that’s ongoing after more than a week has put many slots out of commission and forced payouts to be made by hand. It also remains a major point of discussion at the TribalNet technology conference this week in San Diego.

The impetus behind wireless slots is that most casinos would love to get rid of the miles of cabling infrastructure that fills the floors, walls, conduits and wiring racks all across their property.

Wireless provides a potential solution, but most properties remain wary of dependability issues or lack of bandwidth when it comes to the technology. With last week’s hack of MGM, and Caesars reportedly paying ransomware to hackers to avoid a similar fate, cyberattacks on wireless slots were top of mind in Tuesday’s panel discussion.

The panel featured Chris DeCamp, director of technical services at Win-River Resort & Casino in northern California, who pioneered wireless slots for tribal casinos more than a decade ago. The other panelist, Richard Rader, is chief technology officer with the Umpqua Indian Development Corp. and Seven Feathers Casino and Resort in Oregon that went live with wireless in 2015. Both said they are aware of only those two tribal casinos doing wireless but expect more to adopt them in the future with the technology that’s emerging.

“One of the great things about a wireless gaming floor is if my slots want to make a round bank, square bank, rectangle bank, or heptagon bank, there’s no plug-in wiring,” Rader said. “If we have power in that area, it’s a quick flip. That’s one of the biggest powers of wireless technology.”

Rader said wireless slots are kept separate from the ones that their guests use and shouldn’t be integrated. He said he hoped the pandemic would usher in their use, as it did other technologies, but that has yet to happen. Like DeCamp, Rader said he’s never had a wireless slot bank go down, and no one should be afraid that it will.

“Since the pandemic, the rate of adoption for new technology is exponential,” Rader said. “Prior to that in gaming, people thought that due to all the rules, they weren’t going to change. All of a sudden, your regulators are working from home, and everybody wants to try something new because they can’t be left behind. Most of your regulators today would say go wireless, but five to 10 years ago, they said it’s too risky and too much hacking going on. I’ve got news for you. They’re not hacking wireless infrastructure. They’re hacking through social engineering, through people and other vulnerabilities, and not through technology.”

In the past, DeCamp agreed that regulatory agencies tended to be “a little gun shy” of attaching wireless, which has an “unfortunate reputation” of being less secure than wired. But none of the games are wireless; instead, the system is bridging the network into the bank.

“You have to show them real-life applications that, for the most part, you’re not going to run into a wired network that’s more secure than a properly configured wireless network,” DeCamp said. “You can hack into anything if you try hard enough, but I’d argue that as long as you’re following best practices and using modern technology, your wireless network is as secure as your wired. If they’re that serious about going after your gaming data, they’ll employ social networking or something else. You can sit in the parking lot of our casino in a van with military-grade equipment and it would maybe take you months to get into the wireless system. There’s a lot of easier ways to do it, and that’s the weak link between the chair and the keyboard (people).”

Rader urged executives not to go out and spend $20 million for a wireless system but instead do a small test implementation for $50,000 to $100,000, starting with a single bank for 90 days, multiple banks for 90 days, and then a single area for 90 days. It costs about $1,500 a bank today.

“Now that I’ve proven the operation in my facility and that we have the core competency and expertise to execute on it, I’m going back to propose strategies to roll this thing out,” Rader said. “Our implementation was a three- or four-year process from start to finish from my first bank until I had 150 banks wireless.”

Rader said before any decision is made, there needs to be a spectrum analysis because ceilings have transmitters and receivers hidden in them from old pager systems, plus old wireless systems and rogue access points from a vendor or someone else, and that could cause interference.