Massive jackpots often make headlines with readers soaking up news of a life-changing slot machine score. Less common are the infamous stories of slot machine errors leaving potential winners angry, frustrated, or ready to call a lawyer.
This was the case of a New Mexico man at the San Felipe Pueblo Tribe’s Black Mesa Casino on Feb. 25. Tommy Wilson, 74, believed he’d hit a massive jackpot of $542,000, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the Black Mesa features 600 games including a few progressive slots. Wilson, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, believed his slot dreams had come true, but apparently that wasn’t the case.
“It was a windfall for Wilson, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the unemployed craftsman who specializes in making dental prosthetics and who had undergone recent triple bypass heart surgery,” the newspaper reported. “He never got a chance to count his money. A person from the casino’s management informed him that a ‘glitch’ in the machine had nullified his winnings.”
The veteran of the U.S. Air Force has been making his way to Denver with some friends for a job interview. Like many slot fans on a road trip, the group wheeled into the Black Mesa for a quick break and some slot gaming.
About five minutes into spinning some reels, the machine registered the massive jackpot for Wilson. Casino personnel quickly informed him that the machine malfunctioned and refused to pay the jackpot, the Journal noted.
“The gaming machine … indicated he had won the large payout,” the newspaper reported. “Bells sounded and then the machine shut down and went silent even as a half dozen other casino gamblers gathered around him to extend congratulations on the win.”
With no winnings, Wilson filed a complaint with the New Mexico Gaming Control Board. But because tribal casinos operate on sovereign land, a remedy seems unlikely. Tribal casinos have no obligation to report machine errors or jackpot disputes to the state.
When a Slot Jackpot Isn’t a Jackpot
This certainly isn’t the first of these kinds of scenarios. Courts have generally ruled in casinos’ favor when a legitimate machine or software error can be determined.
In 2016, Katrina Bookman believed she’d hit it big at Resorts World Casino in New York for $43 million. What would have been the largest slot jackpot in history turned out to be one big letdown. Casino employees informed Bookman the jackpot was a “machine malfunction.” Instead the property apparently offered her a steak dinner and the $2.25 that the machine should have registered.
The single mother of four chose a different route, suing the casino and slot manufacturer, arguing that the game should have been “maintained properly.” Resorts argued the malfunction was legitimate, which was confirmed by the gaming commission.
No update has come down since the suit was announced, indicating the case was probably dismissed or settled. Based on past rulings, however, casinos tend to win these cases.
In 2001, 90-year-old Pauline McKee believed she’d won a $42 million jackpot at the Isle Casino in Iowa, producing a similar result. The gaming commission discovered a hardware error and the jackpot was nullified as was her attempt at a court ruling in her favor.
“By playing the machine, the court ruling stated, McKee entered a binding contract governed by the rules and pay table, which could be displayed on the machine by pressing a button,” the Gilbert bankruptcy law firm noted at the time. “There are no rules mentioning any bonus, so the court concluded that McKee was only entitled to the $1.85 winning.”
A Missed Jackpot With a Happy Ending
An even rarer slot jackpot scenario came in Las Vegas in January 2022. Arizona’s Robert Taylor popped in to Treasure Island to play some slots and then quickly left. However, the Nevada Gaming Control Board later announced that a machine error caused what should have been a six-figure payout not to register on the machine.
“I can’t remember a time when we’ve done this before and I just can’t imagine somebody walking away from a machine,” the Control Board’s enforcement division chief James Taylor told FOX Business. “And it wasn’t his fault. The machine truly did have a communication error.”
The control board’s enforcement division got to work trying to locate the winner. Agents reviewed hours of security footage, spoke with witnesses, and reviewed rideshare data attempting to find Taylor. That eventually paid off and the gambler was awarded $229,369. Enforcement chief James Taylor hadn’t seen a similar case in three decades with the board.
He told FOX Business: “It was quite shocking to him to get a call a few weeks later and say, ‘By the way, you actually did win that money.'”