Casino’s mistake could cost players

A faulty slot machine called Easy Money cost Caesars Indiana nearly half a million dollars a year ago, giving big payoffs to gamblers when it showed 10 times the credit for each dollar they inserted.

But some of the winners may face an unwanted cost — in criminal court.

Harrison County Prosecutor Dennis Byrd will decide in the next few weeks whether to file charges against any of the 30 or so patrons — some of whom walked off with thousands of dollars — and press for restitution.

A Caesars spokeswoman said some of the players returned the money after being contacted by the casino, but she did not know how many did so or how much they returned.

Prosecutors have asked the Indiana State Police for casino videotapes and other evidence from the slot machine that malfunctioned last July, said John Colin, Harrison’s chief deputy prosecutor.

Colin said the investigation, encouraged by state gambling regulators, is still pending partly because it has taken longer than expected to obtain casino records. Since the incident, law enforcement at the casino has switched from state police to Indiana gaming agents under a change in state law.

„This is a bit of an unusual case because you’ve got to go back and piece together who did what,“ Colin said.

The problem came to light in August when the casino reported to Byrd’s office and state police that it had lost USD 487,000 over the July 21 weekend to patrons who used a slot machine installed with new software that wasn’t designed for U.S. currency.

Caesars found out when a Louisville couple noticed that the slot machine had registered USD 200 when they slid in USD 20. They alerted Caesars employees, but by then more than two-dozen gamblers had played the device.

Kathryn Ford, who reported the problem while visiting the riverboat with her husband David, said in an interview that one young woman leaned across her while she was seated at the machine, put in a USD 100 bill and took off with a USD 1,000 cash voucher.

„People were getting caught up in the excitement of the moment,“ Ford said.

Ford said in an interview that she was surprised that a criminal investigation was under way, and that she thinks that it’s unfair to go after patrons. When a slot machine jams and gamblers lose money, they don’t get it back, she said.

„It doesn’t work in the reverse,“ Ford said. „They need to forget it and move on.“

According to the casino’s report to authorities, 24 patrons swiped player rewards cards, something that regular patrons use to accumulate points for complimentary meals and other casino perks, and several others used cash to play the machine before the Fords notified casino officials about the problem.

Investigators can identify the rewards-card users but have to rely on video surveillance and witnesses to identify other players. Caesars executives have said they would pursue legal means to recoup the losses.

Asked about the possibility of civil suits, Caesars spokeswoman Judy Hess said the casino is cooperating with the prosecutor’s office and for now will let the criminal investigation take its course.

The software problem with the Easy Money machine was a rare but not unique situation, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission. The Majestic Star Casino in Gary lost more than USD 300,000 during six days in February because of an identical glitch, said Ernie Yelton, the commission’s executive director.

In the Caesars case, the commission fined the casino USD 15,000 for failing to follow procedures to properly test the machine. The commission’s internal investigation ruled out any wrongdoing by casino employees.

Yelton said Caesars notified the state agency about the criminal investigation, but he thought the matter had been resolved months ago.

„We saw a little bit of the evidence originally,“ Yelton said. „We were the ones frankly that encouraged (the investigation) to continue, … not that we had any proof of any criminal activity. We wanted to make sure there is none.“

Colin said the investigation has raised some questions about why Caesars shouldn’t just absorb the loss after failing to check its own equipment. But he and Byrd believed that the matter wasn’t „cut and dried“ and that they should consider if „criminal intent“ was involved when people played a machine they knew was faulty.

A decision on whether to bring charges could come within a couple of weeks, Colin said.

Under Indiana law, authorities have up to two years to file misdemeanor charges and five years to file felony charges.

Ford, who said she hasn’t been contacted by investigators, said she and her husband received USD 200 and a free weekend trip offer to another casino after reporting the faulty slot machine. They spent the money, she said, but haven’t taken the trip yet.

„We don’t know how long it’ll be good for,“ Ford said.