In the summer of 2009, John Kane appeared in the Silverton Casino in Las Vegas. He sat down in a video poker game known as Game King, and six minutes later he won a jackpot worth $4,300. So what, huh? That is luck! Well, this is not quite so. He'd played on once the win was verified. He scooped another $2,800 win 11 minutes later, and shortly thereafter, another $4,150. Obviously, Charles Williams - the Surveillance Manager of the casino was watching in the ceiling through a mirror.
Kane used none of the mechanisms known to cheat the machines. He simply pressed the buttons to hold and discard cards as he was entitled to do, and he won. There was certainly nothing untoward about this, not that Williams could see. And yet, to be lucky, he 'd won far too often. The King of the Game lit up again at midnight and Kane won his seventh jackpot. For $10,400, this time. There was definitely something wrong here. Kane had claimed his last jackpot with four deuces and a four of the clubs, the same hand he used to play. True, it could have been done again, but the odds about that would have been baffling. Kane notched another win a short while later, this time for $8,200. Williams contacted the casino’s head of security and demanded that he made certain that Kane did not leave the casino...
The key to the glitch was that you could retroactively switch denomination levels in just the right circumstances. That meant you could play for hours at 1 cent per credit, losing change of pocket, until you finally got a good hand - like four aces or a royal flush. You could then move a credit to 50 cents and trick the system into re-allocating your payout at the latest, higher denomination.
It wasn't easy to perform that trick consistently - it involved a complicated misdirection that left the inner variables of the Game King in a state of confusion. But after rooted to their seats for seven hours, Kane and Nestor were boiling it down to a step-by-step recipe that would work every time.
For nearly seven years, the "Double Up bug" lurking in Game King video poker machines software survived undetected, in part because the reproduce steps were so complex. Until they could trigger it at will, John Kane and Andre Nestor experimented.
- Locate a video poker machine from Game King that is configured to play multi-denomination.
- Flag a slot attendant down and ask them to allow Double Up option.
- Insert money or a voucher and pick the machine's lowest denomination level - for example, $1 per credit on a $1, $2, $5, $10 machine.
- Select your favorite variant of the game - Triple Double Bonus Poker is fun - and start playing.
- Continue to play at level $1 until you win a big hand. It's a fine $800 Royal flush.
- Hit the More Games button on the touchscreen with your royal flush showing but not yet cashed out, and select a different variation of the game. Play until you have scored a win.
- Load more money into the system, or a voucher.
- Tap the button More Games again, and move to the maximum denomination - $10 per credit in this case. Then back to your original royal flush of $800.
- Press the Button for Cash Out. "What a jackpot! $8,000" will appear on the screen, and the light will illuminate at the top of the machine. Congratulations, Mr President.
- Wait for the slot attendant to turn up with a W-2 G ("some gambling wins") IRS form. Once you have signed it, they will spit a jackpot ticket on the machine.
John Kane had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars playing the King of the Game and he would have had no luck. He 'd discovered the bug at another casino at the opposite end of town three months earlier. The game he 'd played there was a low-limit game that couldn't offer more than $1,000 and yet he 'd gained more. Honestly, the attendant declared it, but thought he was joking, the attendant had paid him anyway. Then Kane decided to tell a friend about his story. What Kane had discovered was a flaw in the game, the worst nightmare for any casino.
Since he had neglected to play his favorite numbers on the lottery, Andre Nestor had been sour at the gambling industry and missed scooping a massive jackpot. But when John Kane called him and told him what he had discovered, he must have lit his eyes. Together, they repeatedly played the Game King machines, trying desperately to find out how to trigger the bug. If the bug was found it could simply be disabled. The bug allowed the player to adjust the coin value after the hand was played, which meant they could play endless hands at 1c per credit, but when a good hand came up they could adjust the coin value to its maximum limit, without setting the machine off. The outcome was a substantially larger pay-out that normal.
Once the secret had been discovered, the pair set out to use their new theory on all the Game King machines they might find in the area. The one that worked at Fremont. They couldn't play there forever though – somebody would get their game wise, and it'd all be over. They branched out to the Hilton, the Cannery, and the Stratosphere, Terrible's, Hard Rock, Tropicana, Luxor, and other resorts in casinos. The button sequence did not work in those other casinos though. They didn't understand it just seemed to work on the Fremont Casino's Game King.
By using the double-up feature, Kane would go on pocketing $100,000 from the Fremont, while trying to work out where it had gone wrong. The Fremont would be noticing. Each machine is wired to a server, providing owners with money going into the machine and money going out. The four machines they normally played brought in $14,500 a month to the casino, now they cost $75,000 a month to the casino.
The casino confronted Kane who believed something but had no proof that he was cheating. They decided to turn off the much-used duplicate feature, as they believed Kane was making his money here. Really it wasn't. Kane noticed, though, that the button sequence did not work when the double-up feature was deactivated. It did, when it was activated.
Nestor experimented on it a little and found that the casino would happily turn on the double-up feature if they acted as high-rollers. It was only deactivated in many casinos, because with players it was an unpopular choice. Sharply dressed, they entered Harrah's where they asked for it to be switched on and the casino staff were willingly obliged to do so. It worked and they left on what should have been a $500 hand, with $10,000. They did casino after casino together, and apart. One played the machine and won, waiting while the other had a crack, so they wouldn't give away the game.
Gambling winnings tax
They were taxed as each of the wins required IRS receipts. Owing to all its winnings, Nestor had to pay a higher tax amount. He had a deal with Kane to pay him half of his winnings, and vice versa, but he grew reluctant to do so suddenly. Kane eventually accepted 30% of Nestor's winnings but both men went their separate ways.
Nestor traveled to Vegas and then went to Pennsylvania, pocketing in cash more than $152,250. Kane took Vegas by storm, claiming prizes amounting to over $500,000. Nestor was wary, it was not Kane. That night, Kane was arrested on suspicion of robbery in the Silverton Casino, and the computers were sealed off. He 'd warned Nestor the next morning not to continue playing.
Nestor ignored him, and planned his Pennsylvania trip. He kept playing for another few months, taking home $480,000. The casinos of Pennsylvania soon became wise towards his game, and he disappeared before they could speak to him. But on 6 October 2009, Andre Nestor was detained at his home by state and local police.
Both Nestor and Kane have been charged with Computer Fraud and Abuse Act conspiracy and violations. However, the case was still slim, for jailing someone in their own game to beat the casino is a law that has been proven to be tough to enact. Many have tried, and unsuccessfully, to get sentences. Knowing their case was sinking, the prosecutors made a deal whereby if they squealed on the other, one person would get five years of probation and no jail time. Both refused to answer, so the prosecution lost, and the men were free. Since 2009, neither has talked to another. Kane has started piano teaching and may still probably have his winnings. Nestor does not and is being chased by the IRS for back-taxes. However, he only plays small amounts in casinos in nearby states. If there's one powerful lesson to be learned from the Game King machines from John Kane and Andre Nestor, it's not "don't cheat," it's “to stop when you're in front!”