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Surreptitious Jackpot Shrouded in Mystery

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark:
I subscribe to the local paper and look forward to your column each week. I have learned a lot and was hoping to learn a little more, maybe.

A friend and I went on an all-night junket to the Reno Hilton about 15 years ago and what happened to my friend has stuck in our craw for all this time. Not being young anymore (40's then!), we were not accustomed to staying up all night, tired, and yes, we accepted their generous offer of free drinks, over and over again! My friend dropped three five-dollar coins into a slot machine. While I was laughing at him for even trying, he bet "max bet" and pulled the arm. Much to our surprise, up comes Cherry, Cherry, Cherry, and bells and whistles start going off with $50,000 flashing on the top. After about a minute, I was wondering how he was going to collect. No one showed up, and the machine wasn't going to pay out $50,000 in coins. Then a man in a suit came out of the darkness, yes, darkness and pulled out his keys, opened some door on the machine, stuck his hand in there, "clicked" something and the bells stopped. The $50,000 stopped flashing and he shut the door, announcing "malfunction" and disappeared back into the darkness from whence he came. Surreal, seriously! The only thing missing was fog. I told my friend to wait and went after the guy for an explanation, but he had literally disappeared in that short moment. To make things worse, our tour guide was calling "last call" for the bus to the airport! We chose going home.

We did learn a lesson that has kept us solvent since then. Now, when we get offered a free drink, we say, "Yes, coffee, please. Thank you".

Was there anything we could have done differently? Most importantly, are these "slot malfunctions" common? I have never encountered a malfunction before, although I don't play slots very often and certainly have never won a jackpot.
Signed, Nick L.

Yes, Nick, slot machines do act up and malfunction. Always have, and always will.

When you play a slot machine, you will notice that the payout table not only spells out the coin return for the assorted symbol combinations, but you will commonly see this clause on the machine, stating, "Malfunction voids all pays and plays." Reason being, Nick, is that today’s slot machines are nothing more than computers, and computer errors do happen.

That is why following any decent-sized jackpot, a slot manager will open up the machine to make sure it hasn't been tampered with and that the slot's computer program is working properly. It is the machine’s electronic record that pays those enormous slot jackpots, not necessarily what you see displayed on the screen or the visuals and the sounds of winning - flashing dollar signs and ringing bells.

It is the job of the slot manager, even one coming in from the mist with a face that resembles the knave of a playing card, to check for an internal error and not just automatically hand over 50 big ones.

Maybe some additional dialog is missing between the two of you from 15 years ago. But, I’m going to side with your mystery man on this one for one very specific reason. I am hung up on your slot jackpot description: “Cherry, Cherry, Cherry.” I know of no slot machine where three cherries as symbols make for an unrivaled jackpot. It is usually something like three treasure chests, the casino’s logo, or some pictogram that is unusual. Three cherries are typically a small jackpot, one absolutely on the lower end.

Now if it were a legitimate jackpot, like all three top-line symbols lining up perfectly, no way would I have gotten on that plane. Nevada has a Gaming Commission that would at least investigate your claim, and they are on call 24/7. I would have chained myself to the machine and waited until the troops arrived. However, Nick, with your Cherry, Cherry, Cherry result, you didn’t strike it rich, so flying home was the correct call.

Finally, I leave all readers with this often-overlooked gambling advice that Nick now claims he follows: “Sip for pleasure, don’t gulp for effect.”

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Nobody ever committed suicide who had a good two-year-old in the barn.” – Racetrack Saying