World Game Protection Conference: Cheating and crime in gaming industry back in a big way

March 2, 2024 5:09 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
March 2, 2024 5:09 PM

According to the experts at the 2024 World Game Protection Conference, cheating and crime in the gaming industry “are back” in a big way.

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Upwards of 750 people attended the three-day show at the Tropicana Las Vegas and WGP founder and CEO Willy Allison said that it not only set an attendance record, but also brought out more high-level executives than ever. He attributed both to what happened in 2023: cyberattacks and social engineering playing a role in scams.

Allison knew this year’s conference would be popular, based on the feedback he gets from his weekly newsletter, The Monitor Room, detailing casino crime, and the podcast he hosts with surveillance expert Darrin Hoke on the threats to the gaming industry.

“It tells me a lot went on in crime last year,” Hoke said of the record attendance after appearing at his 13th WGP conference. “Casino-industry crime is back and not only are we having an increase, but it’s more frequent, because with record profits come a record number of attempts. The criminals are being even more innovative and we have to be better prepared and be more resilient with our infrastructure.”

MGM Resorts International suffered a cyberattack last fall that shut down computer systems nationwide and last week it was reported that the Casino del Sol in Tucson was similarly attacked. In 2023, at least five casinos across the country were victims of a scam in which thieves posing as casino owners convinced cage employees to turn over hundreds of thousands of dollars. Gangs also targeted casino and player chip stacks.

CDC Gaming Reports columnist and slot consultant Buddy Frank, who moderated several panels at the conference, said one of the most interesting topics for him was open-source intelligence (OSINT), or information that hackers can get off websites and social media, along with other records they can use to hack accounts.

“Likewise, I got to moderate a panel where three casino victims of ransomware talked openly about what happened, what they learned, and the new procedures put in place to help them do better in the future,” Frank said.

Among them, Kari Stout-Smith, general manager and COO for Cache Creek Casino Resort in Brooks, Calif., talked about a cyberattack that closed her casino for three weeks in 2020.

Allison said they received feedback from attendees who thought WGP was simply a surveillance show, but afterward realized it covers a lot of different threats that are vital for the industry to be aware of.

“A higher management level attended this year, because we covered the contemporary threats that are on the executives’ minds,” Allison said. “When people see what’s going on, when they see the threats for themselves, the executives need to send people to a show that covers them. We’re happy about that because they’re the people who can do something — assess the threats and make some changes.”

While WGP maintained all the old game-protection, scam, and cheating sessions, it expanded into other operational-risk areas.

“We had a glimpse into the sports betting world. That’s something we never covered before, but it’s all digital betting that brick-and-mortar casinos are getting into,” Allison said. “Surveillance people and management have to be up on all of this stuff, which they’re asked to investigate. In the old days, the requests came from table games or slots, but now they’re coming in from all across the property.”

Ross Anderson, a senior vice president and head of partnerships at U.S. Integrity, which monitors sports-betting irregularities, said that unreported college sports injuries are as vulnerable to gambling scandals as insider trading of stocks and futures. Thus, going the route of pro sports in detailed reporting of injuries will alleviate the threat.

Some 60 percent of the WGP attendees were tribal-related, while the 40 percent represented commercial casinos, including about 10 percent who came from 18 different countries, Allison said.

“It was perfect timing this week, with the Casino del Sol in Tucson getting hacked and their slots and cage going down,” said Allison. “Operations guys are getting concerned. Before, hackers attacked emails with hotel reservations, but now they’re getting into gaming systems. The question is can they bring down surveillance. If surveillance goes down, they have to shut down the whole casino. As these things happen, people are starting to pay attention.

“The feedback from the conference has been great. “Attendees now know to be more digitally literate. They have more information. They can come up with strategies and better resources to fight what’s going on.”