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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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The Hazards of Playing the Slots

21 July 1999

As much fun as recreational gambling can be, we must never forget the basic principle that casinos are in business to make their money by winning our money. When we're lucky enough to beat 'em fair and square at their own game, there's no question they'll pay up, just as we're expected to pay up when we lose.

But whenever a question or discrepancy arises, don't expect the casinos to be charitable. Sure, casinos make money and lots of it. But the cold fact that the business of gambling is just that…a business…will surface almost every time there's a problem.

An example of what can happen took place at Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino, located just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. A woman playing the slots apparently hit a jackpot worth $330,000, but the casino said the machine was defective and voided her prize. The casino is on an Indian reservation, which is sovereign territory. The Arizona Gaming Department oversees tribal casino operations under compacts negotiated with the state but is powerless to intervene in such a case.

Gary Husk, the head of the Arizona Gaming Department, cautioned "player beware" and then gave this ominous warning: "Patrons who go to an Indian casino in Arizona need to be cognizant of the fact that their rights are left at the boundary when they enter the reservation".

The incident had a happy ending, thanks to the intervention of Philip G. Satre, chairman and CEO of Harrah's Entertainment, who, after reviewing all the facts, deemed it appropriate for Harrah's to satisfy the expectations it created for the customer.

"This issue and all the facts surrounding it reached my desk in full late Monday, January 12. After reviewing details of what happened to Herminia Rodriguez last October, I have decided that Harrah's Entertainment should pay her $330,192," Satre stated. "Even though there was a machine malfunction and the proper procedures were followed, the fact is, Harrah's employees celebrated a jackpot with Ms. Rodriguez. We created an emotional expectation through those celebrations, and satisfying these expectations with the payment she thought she won is the appropriate thing to do."

A real-life slot machine nightmare happened to my father-in-law on a gaming cruise at the Empress Casino Joliet. He had just won a hand-paid jackpot and was asked by the slot attendant to "spin off" his winning combination. To his amazement he lined up the same jackpot symbols again! It was unbelievable, but incredibly enough quite possible.

My father-in-law's joy turned to dejection when the attendant suspected something was not right. The attendant determined that the machine was not in fact reset properly and informed my father-in-law he was not entitled to the second jackpot.

This columnist brought the matter to the attention of the folks at the Empress, who said the ultimate decision would be up to the Illinois Gaming Board.

The point of contention as we saw it was even though every slot machine displays a sign with the disclaimer "machine malfunction voids all plays", (under regulations in every jurisdiction in the United States, a malfunctioning machine is proper cause for disqualifying any jackpot) what happens when human error is involved? I got my answer from Marianne Floriano, public information officer for the Illinois Gaming Board. Here is her response:

"A review of the incident indicates that Empress was correct in not paying out for a second jackpot. After the initial jackpot was hit, the slot attendant mistakenly reset the electronic gaming device ("EGD") to the machine's test mode rather than the game mode. The test mode tells the EGD to review the machine's preceding reel positions. Rather than being the result of random number generation, the test mode's reel display reflects a historical review of the EGD's game mode, beginning with the most recent game played. Thus, when the patron played-off the initial jackpot, the EGD displayed the machine's most recent game-mode reel position (the jackpot).

As there can be no "game" when the EGD is in the test mode, Empress is not authorized to pay out from gaming receipts when a test-mode jackpot is displayed. The prohibition applies whether the situation is caused by human error or by a machine malfunction. However, the prohibition against paying out from gaming receipts does not preclude other arrangements between Empress and the patron."

With the ball back in the Empress Casino Joliet's court, I received a follow-up call from senior public relations official Mary Phalen, who informed me the casino decided against paying out the second jackpot to my father-in-law. As consolation for his trying experience, he was offered a certificate good for dinner for four at the casino's Club Alexandria restaurant.

The Empress Joliet Casino's stand on this matter is an example of just how seriously casinos in general protect their own interests and revenues. Keep this in mind on your next gaming venture, along with these tips for smart slot play:

  • Never, ever, continue to play a machine if you suspect there is something mechanically or electronically wrong with it, such as refusing to accept your coins, making wrong digital displays, or indicating improper reel movement.
     
  • If you suspect something is wrong with the machine, move on, or better yet, summon a slot attendant. You want to avoid at all costs the disappointment of having a jackpot voided because of "machine malfunction".
John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp