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Jackpot: Reservist helps casino patron receive missed payout!

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner

He didn’t know it at the time, but Jan.8 was Robert Taylor’s lucky day.

The young man from Arizona was in Las Vegas with his family for the weekend to celebrate his brother’s recent graduation from the University of Arizona when he decided to drop into the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino to try his luck on a slot machine or two.

After about 10 minutes of playing, Taylor’s machine briefly indicated that he might have won a progressive jackpot, but then stated that an error had occurred. The machine prompted him to call for an attendant. Progressive slot machines are networked to other machines and offer bigger payouts than standalone slots. This particular machine was linked to several slots in Nevada and other states and was connected to a remote server.

Taylor summoned an attendant who called for a slot technician to examine the machine. After about an hour, the technician was unable to identify the problem and Taylor’s family arrived to take him to a dinner reservation at a different hotel. Treasure Island gave Taylor a little money for his troubles and sent him on his way … without getting his name or any contact information.

In the days that followed, Treasure Island contacted the slot machine manufacturer who determined that Taylor’s machine had indeed hit on a progressive jackpot in the amount of $229,368.52, but a problem with the server blocked the payout.

The casino tried unsuccessfully for several days to determine the identity of the winning player before turning the case over to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the state organization charged with the strict regulation of the gaming industry and the protection of the gaming public.

The board’s technology division and forensics lab immediately started working with the casino and the slot manufacturer to try and find the lucky patron. Agent Dan Nuqui, an investigator from the board’s Enforcement Division was also brought in on the case.

An Air Force Reservist, Maj. Nuqui is an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to the 355th Security Forces Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

“We’re the law enforcement branch of the board, so we work a lot of criminal cases where people are trying to cheat the casinos, pass counterfeit money and things like that, so I was excited to see a case like this come across my desk,” Nuqui said.

He didn’t have much to go on.

“The Taylors had not used any credit cards at Treasure Island, so basically all we had was some surveillance video from inside the casino and an outside distant pixelated shot of them going to a neighboring property,” the agent said.

It turns out that the grainy long‑range nighttime video of what looked like a small Ford sport utility vehicle would be the clue Nuqui needed to break the case.

“I talked to some friends of mine at the Nevada Transportation Authority and we determined that the vehicle was in the ride share lane at the Mirage and it was probably an Uber or Lyft vehicle,” he said.

Working with the Nevada Transportation Authority, Nuqui contacted Lyft and the ride share company determined that the vehicle was not one of theirs. He then contacted Uber. After several days, Uber came back with information that the vehicle was probably one of theirs.

“Unfortunately, Uber would not give me the rider’s name without a warrant or subpoena,” Nuqui said. “We were quickly approaching 30 days since the jackpot was hit and getting the money in the winner’s hands is much harder after that 30‑day window, so I begged Uber to reach out the rider and ask him to get in touch with me. I gave them my e-mail, cell phone, everything and hoped that the person would call.”

After not hearing anything for a few days, Nuqui reached out to Uber again and asked them to again pass his contact information along to the rider.

This time his phone rang.

“Robert’s father called me and said he thought the whole thing was a scam,” the agent said. “I gave him all of my credentials and I finally convinced the dad to tell his son to give me a call. A couple of hours later, Robert called me and I got to tell him about his good luck. He gave me a statement and we checked everything out to make sure we had the right person. His story checked out perfectly and we were 100% sure we had the rightful winner.

“He came to Las Vegas to collect the money and I got the opportunity to meet him. He was extremely grateful and just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe you guys found me.’”

Nuqui said he ran into a lot of roadblocks during his investigation, but he never once thought about throwing in the towel.

“That would have been the easy thing to do – to say ‘I tried, but I just can’t track this guy down,’ but it all goes back to the core values we’re taught in the military,” he said. “It comes down to doing the right thing, even when nobody is looking. I kept putting myself in this person’s shoes and I knew I had to keep searching until I found him.”

As a Reservist, Nuqui is the IMA to the commander of the 355th SFS. Among other duties, he trains new Reservists in how to respond to active shooter scenarios. As one of the first to respond to the mass shooting at the Mandalay Bay Hotel on Oct. 1, 2017, when a lone gunman killed 59 people and wounded hundreds more from a 32nd floor window, he brings a wealth of personal experience to his trainings.

“I learned a great deal from that tragedy – from communication failures to the importance of keeping your cool under pressure,” he said. “I try to pass on what I’ve learned to our young defenders.”

Nuqui said his Reserve job and his civilian job as a police investigator for the state of Nevada complement each other extremely well.

“Everything I’ve learned as a Reservist definitely helps me do my civilian job better, and vice versa,” he said. “That’s one of the greatest things about being a Reserve Citizen Airman.”