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Ask the Slot Expert: Finding a Benjamin in a bill acceptor26 October 2016
Answer: Interesting how we do a moral calculation with found money. Below a certain amount we follow the legal precedent set by Finders Keepers v Losers Weepers and keep the money. More than that certain amount and we'll try to find the rightful owner.
There are two different sets of rules to follow for money found in a casino, one set for tickets and another for cash. The difference is because tickets have serial numbers and can be tracked; cash is a bearer instrument.
You're right that some players will leave behind tickets worth less than 25 or so cents. I suppose that they figure that it's not worth the effort to find a ticket redemption machine for an amount of money that they wouldn't bend down to pick up if they saw it on the floor.
I have to admit that on a few occasions I've found a low-value ticket left on a machine I was going to play and I've put the ticket back in the machine. I don't touch tickets on machines I'm not going to play, but I also have to admit that once I picked up a ticket worth 21 cents that went very nicely with my ticket for a few dollars and 79 cents.
Here in Las Vegas my friends and I don't think twice about playing low-value tickets that players have abandoned. As long as you're not a modern-day silver miner, walking through the casino looking for money or tickets left on machines and not playing, the casinos don't seem to care. Besides, it saves the employees from having to do the paperwork to cancel the ticket.
I've posted emails from players who have been hassled for playing found tickets in other jurisdictions. Therefore, my general advice for dealing with a found ticket is to leave it alone or turn it in.
Cash is different because it's difficult or impossible to prove who the rightful owner is. Let me try to flesh out what you called the "decision point for greed or integrity of character."
If you find cash in a casino, you should expend the same amount of effort to find the owner as you would want someone else to do if you had lost the money. Misplace $20 or less and you'll probably just write it off, figuring that it's long gone. You'd try to find a $100 bill if you lost it, though, so you would want someone to make an effort to return it and you should too.
I've never found serious money on a machine. The most was $15 that a disgruntled video poker player left on a machine at Treasure Island. He must have come close to some good-paying hands because he was frequently swearing at his machine. He eventually got up and went away in a huff, leaving the credits on the machine. After I watched him leave the area, I cashed out the credits and used them in my machine. I did much better with them than he did.
I can't figure out how someone could leave a $100 bill in a bill acceptor. Maybe if the person was loading up the machine with credits and didn't realize that the last bill wasn't accepted. That's not likely to happen to me because even if I'm trying to get rid of $20s, I usually put them in as needed and not all at once. If I don't see the acceptor reject the bill, I'll notice the problem when I have no credits.
Let me answer your questions in two parts. First, you could have played the money, with or without adding your own money or free play to it. Second, would you have gotten into trouble with the casino? Only if the player who left behind the money came back to try to find it. And if someone came to you while you were playing that machine and said that he had left $100 behind, you would have said, "Yes, you did" and given him his money back.
The casino personnel to whom you gave the money definitely should have thanked you for your honesty. They should have asked you in which machine you found the money, but I can see how they might not think that piece of information would be useful. Many people play many machines in a typical visit and the absent-minded player may only know that he lost the money in an area of the high limit room and not the particular machine. Still, they should have asked for the machine because it would prove that the claimant was the rightful owner of the bill.
Answer: You'll have to find out how the machines determine outcomes. Unfortunately, the term video lottery machine doesn't tell us the methodology. You'll also have to be more specific with the time period in question.
If the machine is a Vegas-style slot machine with its own Random Number Generator, it's possible for the machine to pay out more than it takes in in the short run. If that weren't possible, we'd never be able to show a profit. Looking at a longer time frame, it's not unusual for a machine to be losing money for the casino for a while after it is first put in service. As the machine gets more play, the chances that it has paid more than it has taken in decrease. After a certain number of plays, it is practically guaranteed to be profitable.
If you look at the casino floor as a whole, it should be profitable each day. Although some high-denomination machines may have unprofitable days because they get so little play, the lower denominations should always be profitable.
If the machines get their outcomes from a central server that uses finite outcomes, similar to a pool of scratch-off tickets, an individual machine or the whole floor may have paid out more than it has taken in at a particular point in time, but once the pool of outcomes has been exhausted, the payback on the machines will be the payback of the pool.
As they say, the devil is in the details and you'll need to get more information about how outcomes are determined on the machines.
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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