Question: Can you please comment on an incident that happened in Florida this last week?
Someone was playing video poker at $50 per hand, and asked a friend to push the button for luck and won $100,000. The jackpot was paid to the person pushing the button per casino rules.
This doesn’t sound right to me. The person playing was playing with his money, and the person being asked to push the button had no stake in the game.
Answer: This is one of those instances in which we can't necessarily do what is right, but we can be consistent.
Some aspects of the incident are in dispute. Here is what we know happened.
Jan Flato and Marina Navarro were playing in the high limit room at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Fort Lauderdale on January 31, 2017. They knew each other from playing at the casino.
Flato's players card was in a Double Top Dollar slot machine, which takes $50 per spin. Navarro pressed the spin button and the reels landed on a $100,000 jackpot.
Flato claimed that the money in the machine was his and he asked his friend Navarro to push the spin button for luck. Because it was his money at risk and he only asked her to press the button for luck, Flato claimed that the jackpot was his.
Navarro claimed that she was playing with her money and that she made a good-faith offer to share the winnings.
The casino reviewed the surveillance footage and verified that Navarro had pressed the button. It told Flato that they pay whoever makes the wager. The casino gave Navarro a $50,000 check and $50,000 in cash.
There are three things the casino can use to determine who to pay: the players card, who pressed the button and whose money was at risk.
We can eliminate the players card right away. It's only for marketing purposes and isn't legally binding.
Now, I agree with you that the person whose money is at risk is the person who should be paid the winnings. But according to Frank Legato of Global Gaming Business, paying the person who makes the wager is a universal casino policy.
Consider the alternative. You — or the eye — may see me put $100 into a slot machine, but how do you know that the money was mine? I could have been given the money to play for someone else. On a few occasions, friends have given me money to bet for them on one of my casino visits. So just having footage of a person putting money into a machine doesn't really answer the question of whose money is at risk. (I couldn't find anything about whether the casino attempted to determine who put the money in the machine.)
Footage of someone pressing the spin button, on the other hand, is unequivocal. There's no question about who pressed the button, so that's who the casino pays. If players are involved in some sort of partnership, then it's up to them to work out splitting the winnings.
A casino could end up in endless arguments and litigation if it tried to determine whose money was at risk. By paying the person who made the wager, it can handle each case consistently. It can meet its obligation of paying the winning wager. And it can leave the arguing and litigation to others.
Speaking of litigation, Flato said that he no lawyers would take his case.
A few things don't make sense to me. If it was Navarro's money, why was Flato's players card in the machine? It's not unheard of for someone to play on another player's card to help that person get more points. And Navarro does claim that she was playing on his card to give him more points.
Let's assume that it was Navarro's money in the machine. When she hit the jackpot, why would she offer to give a portion of the winnings to Flato?
I didn't see how much she offered him in any of the articles I read. Maybe she thought that $100,000 is a lot of money and she could give Flato a grand or two. But a portion to me is more like 25% or 50% — which would indicate to me that the money in the machine was Flato's.
The lesson here is that if you want to ensure that you get paid your jackpot, you should place the bet or press the button or pull the handle.
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