How 2 video-poker players hit casinos for $500,000-plus
By Mark Gruetze
Published: Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Federal prosecutors have dropped the last charges against two video-poker players accused of pirating more than a half-million dollars from casinos in Washington County and Las Vegas.
Andre Nestor, 42, formerly of Swissvale, and John Kane of Las Vegas had been accused of wire fraud and computer fraud for using a series of maneuvers to collect payouts on select video-poker machines in 2009. The wire-fraud counts were dismissed Nov. 25 in Nevada; the computer-fraud counts were dismissed in July.
The case, which officials on both sides called the first of its kind, attracted attention because of the amount of money involved and because the two apparently were able to fool a machine developed by one of the world's foremost slot makers. Some people said the case tested the bounds of what is considered cheating, saying the two defendants merely took advantage of a programming weakness.
Kane and Nestor apparently found a way to fool the machine into making inflated payoffs for hands they previously won.
The dismissal of charges is “disappointing,” says Sean Sullivan, president and general manager of the Meadows Casino in Washington County, where Nestor was accused of taking almost $480,000 in May and June 2009. “My opinion is that there was wrongdoing.”
Nestor and Kane couldn't be reached for comment. Assistant Federal Public Defender Shari Kaufman, who represented Nestor, noted that they were not accused of cheating a casino.
Details of what the two did have not been reported. However, a defense motion in U.S. District Court in Nevada spells out how they allegedly took advantage of a “glitch” in the machines. An investigator in Pennsylvania told Player's Advantage the description is accurate.
Here's how it worked:
The two would seek a specific model of IGT machine that offered several types of video poker. They'd ask a slot attendant to enable the “double up” feature, which gives a player an option of trying to double the payout after a winning hand.
Although the double-up feature was activated, they wouldn't use it as intended. They would play video poker until winning a hand, then switch to a different poker game on the machine. They would play the second game until winning another hand.
Then, the motion says, they would put more money or a cash voucher into the machine, exit the game they were playing and raise the value of their bets — for example, going from $1 to $20.
They would return to the first game. The motion says the machine “re-evaluated” the winning hand at the higher denomination, and the pair would cash out.
Video-poker players usually bet five credits per hand and get paid according to the strength of their final hand. A flush, a better-than-average holding but far from a jackpot, might pay 25 credits, or $25 for someone playing five $1 credits. If Nestor and Kane fooled the machine into thinking they had bet five $20 credits per hand, the payout would rocket to $500 for a $5 bet.
Sullivan says the Meadows was “made whole” and recovered all of the almost $480,000 he said Nestor got from the casino's machines. More than 600 local charges against Nestor were dropped in 2011.
Michael Cruz, director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Lab, says IGT has updated its video-poker line since the Nestor-Kane episode. IGT did not respond to requests for comment.
No one interviewed by Player's Advantage could say how Nestor and Kane learned the button-pushing sequence.
Cruz says his lab, which verifies that each slot machine used in Pennsylvania functions as it should, says it's impossible for inspectors to anticipate everything that might happen in a casino.
“Just like with any computer system, some flaws or bugs are not evident until they're out in the public,” he says. “Think of your Windows operating system. How many times do you get updates on that?”
Despite the dismissal of charges, Nestor is unlikely to play video poker in Pennsylvania again. In January 2010, state regulators barred him from Pennsylvania casinos because of the charges.
Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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