The speed, the challenge, the thrill—John D. Lastusky ’05 loves to hop on his dirt bike and hit the trails outside Las Vegas to unwind from his job as a computer engineer.
But this clean-cut 30-year old USC Viterbi School of Engineering alum is no ordinary tech geek looking for an outlet.
Agent Lastusky carries a badge. And though he works out of a nondescript office near McCarran International Airport, some of his work generates the same adrenaline-soaked buzz he feels when he chews through dusty off-road trails.
He’s an engineer in the Nevada State Gaming Control Board’s technology division, a law enforcement team that uses computer forensics to track down evidence on seized electronics like computers and gaming machines. They sniff out bugs in digital poker and other slot machines to keep scammers and cheats at bay and to make sure machines pay out as advertised.
In the Headlines
In a case that made national news in 2009, Lastusky helped take down John Kane and Andre Nestor, two gamblers who cleaned out hundreds of thousands of dollars from Vegas casinos. When Kane was arrested after a particularly profitable—and suspicious—video poker session, Lastusky meticulously uncovered how the pair exploited a software bug in the popular Game King machines to spur big payouts. His work led to the gamblers’ prosecution and a massive industry-wide replacement program to patch the faulty programming.
“Cases like that don’t happen often, so it was exciting,” Lastusky says. “It was definitely satisfying figuring out the details and being able to articulate what exactly was taking place, which was critical to prosecuting the case.”
That Lastusky ended up in Las Vegas, working out of a slot-machine filled lab and regularly roaming the floors of casinos, is a fluke.
He was into electronics growing up in Long Beach, California, but wasn’t what he calls a “programmer kid.” He used the family computer but it wasn’t until he was a junior at Loyola High School in Los Angeles that he even knew computer engineering was a college major. So off he went to USC.
Road to Vegas
After graduating in 2005, Lastusky worked as a programmer for a small defense contractor that was absorbed into Lockheed Martin, where he worked from 2006 to 2008. Las Vegas was barely on his radar before Lastusky relocated there with his then-girlfriend (now wife), who thought Vegas would be a promising place to pursue her planned career in theater production.
Lastusky stumbled across the engineering job at the Gaming Control Board while reading a Wikipedia entry on gambling. He’s never been much of a gambler himself, which is a good thing: His job forbids him from wagering in Nevada.
Not that he’s got much time for it. His hands are full sifting through the guts of seized electronic devices to gather evidence for new probes, including ones attacking illegal gambling, regulatory violations and the growing problem of employees stealing intellectual property.
“I think of myself as an investigator more than an engineer,” Lastusky says. “And my job is always changing. I enjoy the human element of what I do. People are unpredictable.”
Just like a day at the slot machines.