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Ask the Slot Expert: Cashing Out Money Left on a Slot Machine

21 January 2015

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

A couple of months ago I was at a casino playing a slot machine in a row with five other players. The people on my left came and went and I was not really paying that much attention. Both machines were vacant for over five minutes.

As I was leaving I saw that one of the machines had money that had been abandoned on the machine. Wrong, I know, but I had lost all of my money so I cashed out the ticket. I then proceeded to the exit.

Over one month later at the casino I was approached by a man calling himself a police officer. This person told me that I had taken something that did not belong to me and that it was seen on the surveillance camera. He said that he wanted me to sign some paperwork admitting my guilt and they would set up a payment plan (I was on my way out of the casino at this time and was indeed broke). I had strong reservations about signing paperwork and refused. The gentleman then told me that the case would be sent to the local prosecuting attorney, who would ultimately be the one to make the decision to prosecute. I then left the casino.

Two weeks later I received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as a casino employee. This woman told me that she was aware of the police officer talking to me and that I had that evening to re-pay the ticket value (less than $100). She also said that if I did not do so there would be a warrant created for my arrest the next day. Unfortunately, I did not have the money (I am currently not working).

I know that I was wrong but these are the circumstances. My questions to you are:

  1. Can someone be prosecuted for taking abandoned property?
  2. With an amount less than $100, would a prosecuting attorney sign a warrant?

I am very sorry that I did this and I will never do such a thing again, but I am unemployed and have no way I can even get a loan to re-pay this.

I understand that you must get a boatload of emails, however, I hope that you will find yourself responding and help this old lady.

In most jurisdictions, money left on a slot machine is supposed to be turned over to the casino and no one else is allowed to claim it. That said, a decade or so ago I would have had no qualms about playing with or cashing out small amounts of money left on a machine, citing the case of Finders Keepers v. Losers Weepers as precedent.

Many years ago, playing video poker at Treasure Island in Las Vegas, the bill acceptor on my machine was finicky and I had to wait for a slot attendant to bring dollar tokens to me -- I said it was many years ago. The man playing on my left was not having a good day and he left in disgust after saying a few choice words to the machine. I noticed he had left about $10 on the machine. I watched him leave the area and I cashed out the credits he left behind. I had much better luck with his money than he did. I was up about $100 by the time the slot attendant came back with the tokens I no longer needed.

I've never been tempted with finding anything more than "toll money" left on a machine, so I can't say that I've been a saint and did not take a large amount of money left on a machine. But I like to think that there was an amount beyond which I would alert the casino.

Now, I said that I would give the abandoned money a loving home a decade or so ago. What's changed since then? Tickets replaced tokens. The anonymity of coins and tokens was replaced with the accountability of tickets. The casino can now check the ticket system to see when the machine printed the ticket, when the ticket was cashed and review the surveillance footage to see who cashed the ticket. And the casino is within its rights to try to recover the money.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'll give you my opinions about your questions. First, I believe you can be prosecuted for taking abandoned property. It's not yours and you have to make an effort to find the rightful owner. We've all seen pieces on the news about a good samaritan who finds a wallet filled with cash or some valuable item and turns it over to the police. It all depends on jurisdiction, but in some cases the finder will get to keep what was found if no one comes forward to claim it.

Second, I'm sure that an amount of $100 is considered petty theft everywhere and you don't have to worry about being arrested. I think the most you could be charged with is a misdemeanor. And it would cost the casino more than $100 to appear in court.

When I first started writing about slot machines, I'd get letters from players describing their good luck in finding money left on a slot machine. Today players are writing about problems even when they didn't realize money was left on a machine. And the casino's reaction seems to vary by location, with casinos in the long-time gambling areas of Nevada, Atlantic City and Tunica being more forgiving than those in newer gambling areas.

The bottom line is that when you see money left on a machine you want to play, the best thing to do is to alert a slot attendant.


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at slotexpert@comcast.net. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

 

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John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots