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Deal Me In: The Good Samaritan

18 September 2009

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: About a month ago, I was playing the 5¢ slots and lost about $20. When I took my player's card out, I noticed the machine next to me (no one was playing while I was there) had a ticket sticking out. I took the ticket, without looking at the amount, and asked a man and women standing in line at the cashier's cage if they were on that machine. They said "no" and I told them about the ticket. He asked how much it was for and only then did I looked at the winnings. It was $644 and some odd cents. He exclaimed, "that's your money, it can't be tracked to the owner." I knew it wasn't my money and went back to check the player card slot, which was empty. While walking to the restaurant, I encountered a gentleman wearing a suit and badge from the casino. I proceeded to tell him the story. Without a word, he grabbed the ticket from my hand and said "that is not your money." I knew full well it wasn't mine, but asked how and if the casino could check on the rightful owner. It was explained that they could track the owner if he/she used a player's card. It was also explained to me that if they didn't, the money was still not mine, and that it belonged to the casino. The security person also said if it was under $500, the rules were different. That's the part I am not sure of. I am an honest person, and knew the money was not mine, but if the owner could not be found, (didn't use a player card) I don't think the casino should get the money back. So, Mark, is the money the casinos? Could I have put the ticket in a machine, with no player card, and gambled with the money? What would have happened if I had worked the money down to under $500 without a card?

P.S. The woman who left the ticket behind did use a player card and we did find her. She was elderly, had been winning all day (she said) and didn't miss the $664 she left in the machine. Joan C.

At the outset, Joan, let me tell you what casinos don't want. Somebody making a full-time occupation cruising the casino scavenging for the millions abandoned each year by gamblers who forget their stored credits, coins in the tray, lost chips on the ground, or in your case, a winning ticket protruding from a machine. You might not have been foraging for free money, but for those who purposively circle the casino looking for orphan anything, it's illegal.

I can't speak directly to rules governing a Canadian casino, or their $500 rule, which, Joan, I have never heard of, but the seven joints where I worked, and most other casinos for that matter, take the position that abandoned currency or credits, of any amount, belongs to them.

So what happens if you find a winning slip that was left behind? Do you leave it alone, play it, or do you alert an attendant? Yes, you could have easily reinserted the slip in another machine, even cashed it out and probably would have gotten away with it, but giving it to an attendant, who could have easily tracked down the rightful owner if they were using a player's card, was the virtuous thing to do. I suspect though, that a good number of players would have probably taken the money and run.

A few tips for other slot-playing patrons, not you of course, is that if you plan circumnavigating the casino looking for an easy score, you might want to also be aware that the second you set foot in a casino that you are on film, and any inappropriate behavior becomes obvious in short order. Always use your Player's Club Card, if but for the reason above. And finally, before you walk away from any slot machine, don't forget to press the cash-out button, and for gosh sakes, take your winning ticket.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Players are held in the trap by the idea that a jackpot may be just a pull away." --Alan Krigman, Winning Ways

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.