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Ask the Slot Expert: Prosecuting a slot player who cashed out credits he didn't notice were on the machine25 January 2017
Answer: My first thought after reading your story is how differently casinos in various jurisdictions deal with money left on a slot machine. I've played tickets and money I found in a coin tray or on a credit meter in Las Vegas and Atlantic City without ever having a problem. I even know of players who said that a slot floorperson alerted them to a machine that had some credits on it. The amounts were always small, less than $20 and usually so small that you'd be embarrassed leaving it as a tip at Dunkin' Donuts.
And that brings me to my second thought. You never mentioned the amount in question. I assume it was fairly small, but all you said that the ticket was worth more than what you thought you had won. You could have won a buck and cashed out a buck and change. Or you could have won $100 and cashed out $200 or more.
Many states view playing a found ticket or found credits as stealing someone else's property. But I agree with Mark Pilarski, who wrote in an old column called Finders Keepers that there has to be a gray area. Players who left 17 cents behind on a 25-cent minimum bet machines probably knew exactly what they were doing.
I found the most extreme and ridiculous example of a casino persecuting a player who took some found money.
About 15 years ago in Detroit, 72-year-old Stella Romanski and two friends went to the MotorCity Casino in Detroit to try their luck on the machines and have lunch at the buffet. Stella was not having much luck, so she took a walk around the casino. She found some money in a machine's tray. There was no chair at that machine, so she took the money and went to another machine.
Long story short, she was taken to a casino interview room, where a guard explained to her the policy on abandoned tokens -- a policy that is not posted anywhere. Casino employees forcibly recovered the amount Stella had taken from the coin tray, photographed her and banned her from the casino for six months.
How much did Stella take? A nickel.
Stella sued. The jury awarded her $875,000 in punitive damages against the casino, which was reduced to $600,000 on appeal. One judge referred to the casino's policy as "inane". It's important to note, though, that Stella didn't prevail because the casino's policy didn't make sense. She prevailed because of how the private security guard acted and how she was treated.
The MotorCity Casino seems to have an obsession with persecuting players who take abandoned tokens. I found other lawsuits involving the considerable figures of $2 and -- it shouldn't come as any surprise given what it did for a nickel -- also 25 cents.
Getting back to Indiana, I found a post on Justia about found money. Someone who found some money left on a slot machine was charged with conversion. The writer wondered what could be done to her in court. A criminal law lawyer replied that conversion was a misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $5000 fine.
There are too many stories of casinos hassling players over dimes and quarters. I'd like to see states acknowledge these facts in their regulations:
As a result, regulations should give the casino some guidance on when to pursue a player. For example, a casino should only go after a player if the player has a pattern of looking for abandoned money or the amount is over $10. Technically, this is excusing a petty theft, but then some petty thefts are pettier than others.
Clearly, whether $5 or $500, you should return the money. It doesn't belong to you. At some point, though, I think someone should stand up to the casino and say, "You want to prosecute me for 18 cents? Do it!"
Maybe then the casino will realize that it's not economically worthwhile to pursue penny-ante found money cases and maybe the county will tell the casino that it will not allocate its resources to prosecute someone who took an amount that wouldn't even supersize an order of fries at McDonalds.
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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