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The $42,949,642.76 slot machine problem


21 Nov 2016

Whether it be which luxury items they will buy, how they will treat the family or the relief of having no mortgage to pay, most people will have at least semi-frequent thoughts about one day being a millionaire.

It is the reason that many people play games like the National Lottery or slot machines with huge jackpots. It is the belief that the dream of becoming a millionaire could be fulfilled.

In 2015, it was revealed that the National Lottery had created the best part of 4,000 millionaires in the UK in its two decades of existence.

Slot machine millionaires do not hit the headlines as frequently, unless it is for issues surrounding the lack of payment of their supposed winnings.

Such a scenario recently developed in New York, when penny slots player Katrina Bookman spent the night thinking she was $42,949,642.76 richer, only to return to the casino the following day to be told that this wasn’t the case.

What happened?

Bookman was playing at the Queens’ Resorts World Casino when the machine she was using displayed the message ‘Printing Cash Ticket. $42,949,642.76’. Such was her joy and the fact she wanted proof of the occurrence, she even took a selfie with the message on the machine.

However, after being sent home for the evening while the casino investigated the development, she was told upon returning that the payout was bogus because of a machine malfunction. All Bookman was entitled to was her $2.25 balance on the machine, while the casino invited her to a free steak dinner as a token of good will.

The fallout

Representatives from the New York State Gaming Commission were brought in to inform Bookman of the news, with almost every slot machine housing a disclaimer which states something along the lines of “Malfunction Voids All Pays and Plays”.

Given that the jackpot for the actual machine being played was far less substantial at $6,500, it was considered that the machine had clearly had a technical glitch to offer someone such a substantial amount. In fact, the knowledge that the highest jackpot ever paid was less than $40m and this being in a multi-property, progressive jackpot game, shows why this New York payout was unrealistic.

The machine in question was immediately removed from the casino floor for repairs.

Yet Bookman is planning to sue the casino, with her lawyer Alan Ripka already commenting on the situation.

He said: “You can’t have it both ways. They’re saying that the machine was broken. Doesn’t that mean a place can claim a machine is broken every time somebody wins?”

It has also been suggested that everybody to have played the same machine prior to Bookman in a set timeframe should have been given any losses back as the machine was faulty, while another concern is whether a machine that may have the opposite issue in the sense that it doesn’t pay jackpots as often as it should would be checked and repaired in the same way.

The cynics would argue that the casino would leave such a machine in play to boost profits further.

The malfunction

This is far from the first example of an apparent malfunction preventing a jackpot from being paid and these glitches occur in numerous ways. Scouring the internet for stories on slot malfunctions brings up a considerable number of cases.

Some malfunctions may prevent more coins being put into a machine, some stop existing credits from being used, some sections of the machine may unexpectedly flash, some may cause the reels to spin slower or there could be error message displays or the demand to call an attendant.

Something as basic as a coin jam, power outage or computer chip failure, or more elaborate issues surrounding improper tampering or bumping could cause a slot machine to fail to run as intended and upset the randomness in which the symbols are aligned.

Realistic expectations

Most people assessing the evidence of Brooker’s case are likely to conclude that this was a malfunction and it is an unreasonable expectation to feel entitled to the full jackpot the screen displayed.

The issue lies in the compensation package and how a player is treated when making a legitimate mistake in a casino.

Some casino chips may be fairly similar in colour and there are bound to be examples of a player accidentally betting more than they meant to by genuinely pushing the wrong chip forward into a betting circle.

If this chip ends up a loser would a player realistically be allowed to replace this chip with the one they thought they were playing at that moment? It is likely that casino staff would determine that a player was simply chancing their arm as a way of minimising their losses.

Yet, it is an identical perception that the industry is gaining from players, believing that casinos will plead unavoidable errors to avoid big payouts.

Meanwhile, there is no doubting that a compensation package greater than a free meal should have been sent in Bookman’s direction.

Logically, she should have been offered the machine’s jackpot. The funny thing is that the casino is liable to have to spend more than this if hauled through a legal case!

Industry impact

The one thing that the gaming industry must strive to do is ensure that the public has confidence in the games they wish to play. It must be fair and honest.

Instead, there is the assumption in some camps that the sole aim of the casinos is to rip people off. Such weak compensation deals and ingratitude to players in examples such as this only heighten these assumptions. It does little to convince that the casino industry is transparent and clean.

A failure to improve the confidence in the industry will only result in fewer players willing to take part in games in the short-to-longer term.