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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Best-Case Money Management Scenario - Part 2

1 May 2003

Now let's dream about hitting the life-changing jackpots, the kind with the big cardboard checks and your picture on the winners' wall.

First, let's do a little due diligence before we begin playing. If the machine is a progressive that is part of a network (either in-house or wide-area), check that its progressive meter shows roughly the same amount as other machines on the link and that its meter is increasing. If the meter is wacky, the machine may have lost contact with the network and the machine will be considered to be malfunctioning--and, as you know, a malfunction voids all pays and plays.

While playing, if anything funny happens with the machine, let slot personnel know and you should probably switch machines. Every once in a while, you read stories of people who think they've hit jackpots on machines only to be told that the machine malfunctioned and the jackpot is invalid. Every voided jackpot situation with which I'm familiar has involved a legitimate machine malfunction. I'll admit thought that my sources for information (the casinos and the slot manufacturers) are biased and would not publicize an instance of a casino trying to void a legitimate jackpot should such a situation have occurred. Nevertheless, check that the machine you want to play is functioning properly as far as you can tell to minimize the chances you'll be hit with a malfunction.

Now, let's say three Megabucks symbols land on the payline. If you have a real jackpot, the machine will lock up and the machine will play some annoying music. More importantly, the meter on your machine will stop and the meters on the other machines will fall back to the reset value.

If these things do not happen, you probably have a malfunction. You didn't hit the big one. But I think that you can argue that the machine reveals the results by stopping the reels on particular symbols, not by revealing the symbols that were chosen by the program. Your only indication of the result is the combination on the reels--even if the reels did not stop on the right symbols. If you have a camera, take a picture of the reels. Have someone take a picture of you with the machine. Call over slot personnel. Insist that the machine be locked down and the casino control commission called in to test the machine and verify the jackpot. You'll also have to find a lawyer who'll take your case on a contingency basis, because the regulators will probably declare that you did not hit the jackpot, in spite of the symbols displayed on the reels.

Fortunately, this type of malfunction is incredibly rare. We'll talk more about handling machine malfunctions in the future.

For now, all the right things have happened and it looks like your ship has come in. Here are some things to be aware of:

The jackpot will have to be verified. Different casinos have different procedures. They'll usually check the chip in the machine to see that it hasn't been tampered with. That involves removing the chip from the machine and putting it in a test jig. The check may be that the sum of the data on the chip matches the sum of the data on the chip approved by the regulators (this is called a checksum). The check may be more involved, like checking that the chip is identical to a reference chip kept in a secure environment.

If you've won on a wide-area progressive, you'll have to wait for IGT's or Bally's Jackpot Response Team to verify your jackpot. That could take anywhere from an hour or so to almost a day. It depends on where you are and where the Jackpot Response Team is. For example, Las Vegas Jackpot Response Team may also handle jackpots in Laughlin, about two hours away.

Here's an excerpt from an article that describes what happened when a lady hit the $5 Wheel of Fortune at New York-New York in Las Vegas last year:

Other than [the couple playing the slot machine], the first to know about the $4 million payday were the on-duty monitors at the Reno, Nevada, headquarters of International Game Technology.... As soon as the jackpot hit, IGT's monitors showed which machine, in which casino, at which moment, had won, and how much the payout would be.

On the floor, New York-New York employees--who had just received a phone call from IGT--rushed to cordon off the winning machine. Congratulations were low-key: All jackpots need to be confirmed. "We try to keep the players cool," says IGT public relations representative Connie Fox (she's responsible for getting the big jackpot winners on the front page of the local paper). Drinks were offered to the nominal millionaires. Meanwhile, one of IGT's local "jackpot response representatives" arrived at the hotel with a winner's kit that contained an oversize bank draft (for show) and a regular check (for real), along with legal documents and tax forms. With her was the key player in the drama, a technician who opened up the machine and began a 30-minute run of diagnostics. Finally the prize was verified....

After your jackpot is verified, you have some decisions to make. First, and most important, you don't have to go public with your win. You may not want to tell your neighbors and your long-lost relatives that you're now living on Easy Street. Give some thought now as to whether or not you would want the publicity. It's too late once your picture with the big cardboard check has appeared in the local paper.

An option you may be given is whether to take the jackpot in a lump sum or in installments. You generally do better overall by taking the lump sum and investing it on your own, but everyone's situation is different and you should find a good financial advisor to advise you. Here are a few things to consider: First, when you take the lump sum, you get less than the amount of the jackpot. That's because the progressive sponsor purchases a financial instrument that generates the installment payments. The lump sum payment you get is what that financial instrument costs.

Second, if you difficulty investing money and leaving it alone, the installment route may be better for you. The installment payments will be like having a second job.

Finally, remember that you have to pay taxes. The $4 million jackpot that the couple won playing Wheel of Fortune is probably more like $2 million after taxes. Still a good chunk of change, but they would have to lower their sights if they had their eyes on a $3 million mansion.

I mentioned finding a good financial advisor before. I recently read an article about Lottery millionaires who were no better off than they were before they won the money after the installment payments ended. Make sure that this does not happen to you by hiring a good advisor to help you deal with the money.

Here's one idea about how you can invest your jackpot money. It's from a story Frank told me about a lady who hit one of these big money jackpots. I think the story is in his Break the One-Armed Bandits. She took a portion of her jackpot and invested it in an interest-bearing account. She uses the interest she earns to fund her gambling bankroll.

It's true that you'll probably never have to deal with a multi-million dollar jackpot, but give a little thought now about the decisions you'll have to make so you'll already know what you want to do when they give you the big cardboard check.

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