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Deal Me In: Finder's keepers? Not in the Commonwealth

25 July 2014

By Mark Pilarski
Dear Mark: Regarding your finder’s keepers column, relating to how casinos deal with and handle misappropriated credit vouchers left on the slot machines, I bet I can top that. A casino here in Pennsylvania seemingly has made a fervent pastime of catching miscreants employing the "finder’s keepers" theory of credit conniving. And, if caught, which happens uncannily too frequently at this location, one is arrested and charged with a felony, besides being 86'd from the premises! Now you talk about good, ethical customer relations that turn patrons off. These actions are key in their many, recent laments as to why casino revenue, at this location, is alarmingly off. Perhaps they need to be told of the long-held compact between patrons and owners as to how to win trust and friendship of the “paying" customer, as you have already commented on in a previous column. John Q.

That old phrase, John, “finder’s keepers” seems not apply in Pennsylvania, with many players learning the hard way after cashing a winning voucher found lying on the casino floor.

Both the Gaming Control Board and the State Police have a “tough love” policy that is more than a wrist slap for someone finding and keeping money, playing credits someone left on a slot machine, or cashing in a voucher someone left behind. All are illegal.

Technically, John, keeping anything someone lost without making some effort to return it is illegal anywhere in Pennsylvania. Under PA criminal law, if you unlawfully take or otherwise deprive another of moveable property including theft by property lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake, you can be charged. (I wonder if it’s illegal to use the time left on a parking meter.)

It is relatively easy to get caught because, within the walls of a casino, the whole joint is monitored by cameras, making these venues not a smart place for those with sticky fingers. With more than 2,000 cameras providing a view of every square inch, surveillance will catch you picking up a discarded voucher, even if it’s only worth a nickel.

On the other hand, we are talking about a voucher than could be worth mere pennies. There needs to be some gray area here. There is a huge difference between someone who purposively circles the casino looking for orphan credits and “Hey, Marge, look what I found.”

Across state lines in New Jersey, they also do not have a “finder’s keepers” law, although police in that state say the most a person will traditionally get is a phone call to return the money.

Yours Truly, always managed by the spirit of the law, and not the letter of it. Go with a wrist slap on the first offense, recoup the money when possible, and with the habitual offender, step up the severity of punishment, including, yes, filing charges and the permanent heave-ho.

It is also a bit different where I live. Under Michigan law, the first person that finds abandoned property has superior title to everyone else, except the actual owner.

Case in point: Years ago a jury awarded Stella Romanski five cents for the nickel token the casino took from her, $9 for her bus trip and lunch, $270 for compensatory damages for being detained, and $850,000 in punitive damages. The 6th Circuit upheld the verdict, although they reduced the punitive damages to $600,000.

Now for those who think the above is a bit over-the-top, try stiffing a casino in Connecticut. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods for years placed liens on the homes of patrons with gambling debts. The liens accrued 12 percent interest a year and would cloud the title to said properties, which would affect a homeowner’s ability to sell or refinance.

The bottom line, John, get to know the state law along with the temperament of casino management where one plays. If you choose to patronize a casino in Pennsylvania, use your own money and not someone else's. Otherwise, your visit might lead to room, food and beverage as a ward of the state. For breakfast, expect runny scrambled eggs, cold hash browns, and NOT a Denny’s Grand Slam. “Gentlemen, it’s CHOW TIME!”

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “By the way, I don't cheat at cards. I don't have to. There's no one easier to beat than a card sharp if you know his twists - and in most games, there's usually one.” – Bret Maverick

(RIP James Gardner, the classiest of all gamblers)

Deal Me In: Winning will come at a steep price

18 July 2014
Dear Mark: I love your column in the Biloxi Sun Herald. It is the number one reason I get the paper. Keep up the great work. Anyway, I was curious, when you hit a mega-jackpot, are you paid the full amount all at once, or does it come in yearly installments. Not that I think I am one day going to hit a super-sized jackpot, but I do like to plan ahead. ... (read more)

Deal Me In: Where'd ya go?

11 July 2014
Dear Mark: With apologies to General Douglas MacArthur, the question still remains, what happens to old slot machines that have outlived their usefulness? I have noticed that some of my favorite machines mysteriously disappear, one casino at a time, until they are just a fleeting memory of spinning reels and flashing lights. ... (read more)

Deal Me In: No loopholes at this location

4 July 2014
Dear Mark: I read your column religiously and always find it very informative. You recently wrote a column regarding taxes and stated, "Even a Super Bowl bet won from Uncle Louie is taxable." Does the same apply to winning at an Indian Reservation casino? I have read that Indian land operates as a sovereign nation, so wouldn’t I be excluded from paying taxes? Ron R. ... (read more)

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Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.