Zynga Poker Hacker Sentenced to Two Years in Prison



Ashley Mitchell, the man who stole 400 billion chips after hacking Zynga‘s poker application, has been sentenced to two years in prison by a British court.

In 2009, Mitchell hacked into Zynga’s Texas Hold’em Poker application on Facebook and made off with 400 billion virtual poker chips. In an effort to deflect attention, he created several Facebook accounts, sending sums of ill-gotten chips to each one. He then sold many of those chips on eBay to Zynga poker players for a total of £53,000, or $85,870 at the time. Read more.

At the rates at which Mitchell was selling chips, prosecutor Gareth Evans estimated that, had Mitchell been able to move his entire inventory, he would have made £184,000, or close to $300,000.

Zynga Poker players purchase chips directly from the company for use at the virtual tables every day. Zynga placed the value of the stolen chips at a staggering $12 million had they been sold directly to players by the company.

In early February, Mitchell pled guilty to four charges of converting criminal property and one count of violating the Computer Misuse Act. His attorney attempted to mitigate Mitchell’s punishment by informing the court that his client was suffering from a gambling addiction at the time the crimes were committed, spending as much as £1,000 per day on gambling sites.

He also said that Mitchell was making a six-figure income from the Gambino Poker Facebook application despite the fact that, like Zynga Poker, it is a play money game. With that income, Mitchell offered to repay the £184,000 he made.

During sentencing, Judge Philip Wassail chided Mitchell for exploiting Zynga’s security holes, saying, “People rely on computer systems. Anyone who has managed to get into these systems for their own ends should expect a stiff sentence.”

As such, Judge Wassail sentenced Mitchell to two years in jail. He also tacked on an extra 30 weeks for running afoul of a 40-week suspended sentence imposed on him for hacking into computers at his local council in 2008 and changing his personal details.

Zynga, based in San Francisco, has developed some of the most popular games on Facebook, including Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Texas Hold’em Poker. With 38 million users, Zynga’s poker application is larger than PokerStars.

While it is not involved in the “real money” poker business, Zynga is fresh off hosting PokerCon at the Palms in Las Vegas over the weekend. For $125, players were entered into a $100,000 prize pool tournament, got to attend a “meet and greet” with pros such as Doyle Brunson and Antonio Esfandiari, attend training sessions instructed by Annie Duke, and were treated to meals and entertainment.

The tournament was capped at 500 players, 250 in each of two heats. A total of $72,850 was doled out to the ten players at the final table, while the rest of the prize pool went to the fourth through 27th place finishers in each heat (the top three from each heat automatically qualified for the final table). Phoenix, Arizona software consultant Aaron Alanen won the event. While first place was supposed to take home $26,000, word is that the top six finishers chopped and then played for an extra $5,000 and the title.

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