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Best of John Grochowski

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A Mystical Malfunction

13 November 2007

On nearly every slot machine in nearly every casino, you'll see this phrase, or something similar: "Malfunction voids play."

Few of us ever run into a malfunction that makes a difference. I've been doing this for a couple of decades, and have never had a payoff voided by a malfunction.

At the Sandia Casino in Albuquerque, N.M., Gary Hoffman has encountered the dreaded malfunction in a big way, and he's going to court to try to collect the nearly $1.6 million he didn't win.

In August, 2006, Hoffman was playing a Mystical Mermaid video slot machine with a top jackpot of 50,000 nickels --- $2,500. That was the most Hoffman or any other player could have expected, but this Mystical Mermaid machine had a breakdown. Across the reels, numbers flashed showing a jackpot of $1,597,244.10.

Hoffman had his picture taken with the machine, and the Albuquerque Journal quoted him as saying casino employees told him, "Sit down. We don't want you to have a heart attack. Have some water."

Then 20 to 30 minutes later, he was taken to a security office and told he didn't win all that money, that it was a malfunction. The casino offered to pay him the machine's top available jackpot, but he's declined to settle for $2,500. Instead, he's filed suit in a state district court, seeking the full $1.6 million.

The first battle will be over tribal sovereignty. Whether the state courts even have jurisdiction over gambling matters at Sandia, a Native American casino operated by the Pueblo of Sandia tribe, is in dispute.

What if Hoffman is allowed to go ahead with the lawsuit? I'm no legal expert, and that goes double in New Mexico, where I've spent a grand total of three days of my life. But in most states, such a suit would have no chance. Other gamblers have tried and failed to collect in cases of malfunction.

In many states, casinos are either prohibited by law or regulation from paying jackpots in cases of malfunction or required to pay taxes on any lost revenue if they do pay the player. In cases of really large jackpots, casinos may be required not only to see what's on the screen or reels, but to check the computer record of what the random number generator says should have been the result of that spin.

The real game isn't being played on the screen or reels, it's being played on the RNG. What you see is just a representation of the game being played inside. If the display and the RNG don't match, there is no jackpot.

I sympathize with Hoffman, over the tremendous letdown after the initial excitement of seeing that $1.6 million flash across the screen. But given that when he put his money in, it was with the understanding that the top award was 50,000 nickels … well, there doesn't seem to be a lot of room for dispute here. This clearly was a malfunction. And malfunction voids play.

** ** **

It's full speed ahead on the new hotel tower at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Ind., scheduled to open late in 2008. I couldn't break away for the media tour of the construction site with Chicago architect Lucien Lagrange, but did arrange a private preview a day later with assistant general manager Gary Sawina and community relations coordinator "D" Alexander Scott.

Construction workers are hard at work, pouring a floor every four days, Sawina explained. When finished the hotel tower will be 22 stories, with 242 rooms and 60 suites. Further construction will follow the curve of the hotel to incorporate a new casino pavilion entrance and porte cochere, a spa and fitness center, restaurant and nightclub, entertainment center and 15,000 square-foot convention center.

The hotel itself will have a striking look, blending in with its Lake Michigan surroundings. Outer walls will be in vision glass in different shades of blue and blue-green, giving guests a floor-to-ceiling view. "A third of our rooms will have a fabulous view of Lake Michigan," Sawina said. "Anything above the fifth floor will have a great view."

We visited a mockup of a standard room. They're comfortably roomy and upscale, with some useful modern gadgetry. Guest has checked out? The hotel can cut the lights and air conditioning right from the front desk. You're in for the night, and have forgotten to turn on the "do not disturb" light? You can do that from bedside.

"There are only 19 rooms on a typical floor, and because the design is curved, you can't see from one end of the hall to the other," Sawina said. "That gives it a more intimate feel."

The existing Blue Chip hotel, with 168 rooms and 16 suites will stay in place, so when the new tower is completed, the resort will have 486 rooms and suites, most in LaPorte County.

"We're very excited about the tower, and Lucien Lagrange's design," Sawina said. "We feel we can stand up to any competitor."

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski