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Ask the Slot Expert: Back on the slot malfunction/denied jackpot merry-go-round

4 March 2020

Here we go again.

A casino refuses to pay a player a jackpot because of a slot machine malfunction and every story about the incident says you never know if a casino will really pay you when you win.

The current incident occurred at the Newcastle Casino in Oklahoma. The casino is owned and operated by the Chickasaw Nation.

Maribel Sanchez arrived at the casino at about 7am on Friday, February 21. She sat down at a Liberty 7s slot machine, a Class II, three-reel, single payline game, and bet $1.25.

Those are the only things the news reports agree on. What happened next is a bit murky.

At the end of her first spin or after several spin (take your pick), the machine displayed a message that she had won $8,469,498.95 and then the machine shut down and the screen went black. Or it didn't shut down immediately and Ms. Sanchez had time to take a picture of a screen. Or maybe the machine rebooted and she took a picture of what was displayed when it came back up. Just try to figure out what happened from the news reports.

In any case, the photo accompanying the reports does not show a "Congratulations! Call Attendant! Hand-Pay Required!" message but a diagnostic screen.

The screen shows that she bet $1.25 on the play and that she won over $8 million. The screen also shows the symbols that were displayed when the reels stopped. The top line had three Liberty Bells. The middle had a flag bookended by two white sevens. The bottom had three bonus symbols. Three bonus symbols might be worth $8 million, but this is a single payline game (according to the reports) and so the symbols on the bottom don't count.

None of the reports I found included the paytable for the machine, but the only quarter machines I've seen that pay multi-million dollar jackpots have been wide-area-progressives, like Wheel of Fortune.

Clearly, something went wrong on this machine. Yet reports paint the casino as refusing to pay a legitimately won jackpot.

  • Woman claims the won nearly $8.5 million at casino; casino won't pay
  • Slot player denied $8.5m prize
  • What would you do if you won $8.5 million?! A woman claims the did at the #Newcastlecasino today but they're not giving her the cash.
  • No Joy in Newcastle as Casino Withholds $8.5 Million Jackpot Claiming Machine Malfunction
  • Oklahoma womain claims she won almost 8.5 million from a casino, they're refusing to pay
  • If precedent repeats, Sanchez has some work ahead of her to get her $8.46 million prize, because courts have historically sided with casinos when it comes to machine errors, malfunctions, and software snafus.
  • You think you hit the jackpot of a lifetime, but the casino says she didn't win.
  • Oklahoma Gambler Claims Casino Is Refusing to Pay $8.5m Slots Game Win
  • Oklahoma player refused winnings by casino
  • “Malfunctioning” Slots Deny Woman $8.5 Million Jackpot
  • The photo shows it all. Malfunction an easy cop-out.

The photo really does show it all, but what it doesn't show might be more important than what it does show. It doesn't show a call attendant message. I've had machines reboot while I was playing them. In every case, the machine has resumed exactly where it left off when it rebooted, whether it was in the middle of a video poker hand or just about to start a bonus event. If this were a real jackpot, the machine should have displayed a call attendant message.

Slot and video poker players enter into an unwritten contract with a casino. We put our money into a machine and we expect to have a chance at winning whatever is displayed on the paytable. It doesn't have to be a good chance, but it has to be possible. Slot regulations prohibit a machine from displaying an impossible winning combination in its paytable. Furthermore, the paytable also has to show all of the winning combinations.

The casino, as you would expect, has said only that it is working through the patron dispute process with Ms. Sanchez and her attorney, Bill Zuhdi. It would have been interesting, however, for the casino to say what the maximum payout on the machine is.

I have a few questions for Ms. Sanchez, Mr. Zuhdi, Sadonna Price (vegasslotsonline.com), Todd Shriber (casino.org), Erika Stanish (KOKH), Stryker (1063thebuzz.com), and Ben Hamill (gamingpost.ca):

  • According to the paytable displayed on the machine, what combination pays over $8 million?
  • What symbols landed on the payline?
  • If the symbols that landed on the payline did not pay over $8 million according to the paytable, how can you claim that this is a legitimate jackpot?

And one final question for everyone: Do you know of an instance in which a player made a bet on a machine, the machine displayed a winning combination, the player was not involved in a scheme to cheat the machine, and the casino did not pay the player?


If you search for slot malfunction, the results include a number of incidents that aren't what you expect. A recent article on usgamblingsites.com, for example, is entitled "US Slot Machines Malfunction Big Time." The incident I described above is included, as are a communcations issue at Jena Choctaw Pines casino and a ticketing system failure at Encore Boston Harbor.

I was at the Palms in Las Vegas when their ticket system failed a few years ago. The slot attendants were running around like mad because every time a player hit the Cash Out button, a hand pay was required. It was pandemonium. I left.

Other the past few days, there have been system problems at Binion's and Four Queens in downtown Las Vegas and even Las Vegas media is calling it a slots malfunction, despite the fact that check-in and other systems were also affected. Some other system that the slots depend on malfunctioned, not the slots themselves.

Are these really slot machine malfunctions?

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
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