October 2007
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The picture below is Gary Hoffman taking his own photograph in front of a slot machine jackpot.  It’s not a bad photo for an arms-length camera phone shot, but you think he’d look a little happier.  Maybe he was saving up a nice cheesy grin for the inevitable picture on Winner’s Wall.  Or perhaps he already knew what was going to happen…

The machine’s screen shows that he just hit a whopping $1.6 million jackpot on a Mystical Mermaid nickel slot machine.

Quite how this reel combination triggered a jackpot, I’m not exactly sure.  Any major payout on a video slot machine is going to need five adjacent identical symbols.  Even with some of the wacky winning ways on a 20-line machine (this game shows the mess of win lines about as clearly as you could hope for) I can’t see anywhere that a row of five could be possible, even if it used wild symbols.

Usually a seven-figure jackpot would require something very specific like five wilds right along the middle pay line, and that’s definitely not the case here.

How the jackpot was hit isn’t the big issue here anyway.  This machine has a maximum payout of 50,000 coins, equal to $2500 in nickels, and it wasn’t (and in fact cannot be) linked to a progressive jackpot meter.  Clearly something broke.

The legend printed on all slot machines is "Malfunction voids all pays and plays".  The media coverage of this story insists on referring to this as "small print".  I guess it’s fairly small, but it’s not exactly tucked away out of sight.  It’s right above the hole where you feed your money, right next to the button you press to spin the reels, and there’s a huge lighted yellow arrow pointing to it.  In the picture above, just follow the arrow verically down from his nose and this disclaimer would be in the box right underneath the tip.

If you play slots you’ll have seen it many times, but in this case, it’s common sense anyway.  There’s no way that a machine trying to pay out a random jackpot way in excess of it’s maximum when the reels are aligned to no winning combination is anything but a malfunction and you’re not going to get paid.

With no obligation to do so, the casino offered to pay Hoffman the $2500 maximum, but he declined and instead filed a lawsuit for the $1.6m.

It’s the casino’s defense that’s caused the story to make national news.  The incident happened at the Sandia Resort and Casino in New Mexico, which is located on a Native American reservation.  The tribe is exerting their identity as an independent nation (the very reason that gambling can take place on their land at all) in order to have the case dismissed.  They insist that any legal action involving an incident on their territory may only take place through their own court system and not a state court.

Even though Hoffman’s case is a pointless waste of time with no chance of winning, it might not even get to be heard.  Nobody seems to be quite sure how exactly you would go about suing an Indian Casino – even if you actually had a genuine grievance – if they can simply claim sovereign immunity at the first sign of trouble.  "What happens here happens only if we say so" is not such an attractive proposition.

However, any distrust that is generated through the publicity of this claim will almost certainly be shortlived as it is displaced by the human urge to gamble.

Even Hoffman himself, pissed off and $1.6m out of pocket, has been giving Sandia plenty of action since the incident in August 2006.  The casino has revealed that he has visited more than 70 times in the first six months of 2007 – nearly three times a week!

1 comment to Malfunction

  • advocate

    I also believe that on Indian Reservations,or Indian owned lands,they do have Sovereignty.
    However I’m sure that there are exceptions when it comes to a currency.
    Since the Casino Reservations are excepting the worth of the U.S.D it seems to allow State Jurisdiction,under the Commerce clause.
    I’ve never played at a Reservation Casino so I couldn’t comment whether or not there is an exchange done between the U.S.D for Tokens.
    If the games are Token based that would probably fall exclusively under Trade,
    So again most would find it quite difficult to win such a claim.
    I think the biggest question is,are there reasonable safeguards to protect players from a malfunction(hardware maintenance,and testing etc.)and did the player put more into the machine than the max payout of 2500 coins.
    Now as far as the machine showing a payout higher than what is advertised,or that the machine is supposed to offer,sounds more of an issue with the manufacturer of the machine,rather than that of the Casino,so if I were a Juror currently I would side with the Casino.

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