It would be a bad bet to assume a slot machine player has much of a chance to collect on a big win at a tribal casino when management declares that the machine malfunctioned.
Tommy Wilson, who claims to have hit a $542,000 jackpot on a slot machine at San Felipe Pueblo’s Black Mesa Casino on Feb. 25, sure isn’t holding his breath.
He says the casino refused the payout, explaining there was a “glitch” in the machine, and told Wilson to leave his name, phone number and email address and they’d get back to him.
He’s not holding his breath on that one either.
Who regulates gaming sites?
Repeated attempts by the Journal to contact anyone at Black Mesa Casino who could comment on either Wilson’s claim or what happens when the casino claims a slot machine malfunctions went unanswered.
And there is no independent state agency tribal casinos must answer to.
Non-tribal gaming sites in New Mexico, such as racinos, or racetrack casinos, have to answer to the New Mexico Gaming Control Board, as well as conduct their own internal investigation when a machine malfunctions.
Tribal casinos, however, operate on sovereign land and have no obligation to report problems with machines or winnings disputes to the state, said Gaming Control Board chairman Patrick Garrett.
Gaming compacts between the tribes and the state, he said, essentially govern “the terms of revenue and how they’re distributed back to the state.”
However, Garrett said, non-tribal casinos regulated by the state have a central monitoring system that electronically keeps tabs on individual slot machines. “So if there was any type of jackpot error, it would flag here at the agency and we would initiate an immediate investigation” to confirm or disprove the error.
Many casinos post disclaimers on slot machines indicating that there will be no payouts in the case of a malfunction or error.
So how often do slot machine glitches, malfunctions or errors occur?
“I can’t tell you that it happens often, but what I can tell you is I’ve been the chairman of Gaming Control Board for just over a year and we’ve had two that were glitched at a couple of nonprofits, and those were due to software issues,” Garrett said.
Here’s what others are saying
“Granted, these are much smaller jackpots, not half a million dollars. So we’re talking a few hundred, maybe a thousand dollars, and those are usually resolved. We want to keep happy customers.”
Paul and Concepcion Candelaria said they were playing slots no more than three yards away from Wilson and witnessed his win.
“Lights on the machine started flashing and the wheel landed on ‘grand’ — $500,000 and something — and then the wheel spun a second time and landed on grand again,” she said. “So we were pretty excited and people were gathered around him (Wilson) congratulating him. Then management came out and opened up the machine and they were pressing buttons and said there was a malfunction.”
Casino staff worked on the machine for a short time and then put it back in service, they said.
Wilson, who had watched the whole episode unravel and his winnings evaporate, then continued to play the machine for a while before leaving, Concepcion said.
“I didn’t think there was a glitch, I think they just didn’t want to pay him,” she said. “It was too convenient.”
Formerly regular players at Black Mesa Casino, Candelaria said, “We’re done with them.”
The story about Wilson’s casino adventure generated about 700 comments on the Journal’s Facebook page. Many said that they don’t trust casinos, and many others said that they hear similar stories of malfunction non-payment occurring more often.
Among the comments:
- “I’ve heard this before, someone hits a big jackpot and it’s always the same excuse. Their machine malfunctioned!”
- “I used to work at a local casino and I can say for sure this happens a lot.”
- “I got burned at The Downs casino on free play”
- “Happened to my dad.”
- “Happened to my friend.”
- “Casinos didn’t get rich by giving money, they got rich by taking money.”
- “Do the machines malfunction when you win $2?”