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21 January 2015
By John Robison, Slot Expert™
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.
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