In casinos, suspicion runs both ways

May 31, 2011 3:06 AM

As a result of being in the casino industry for many years and currently running a casino, I don’t always see things from a gambler’s point of view. Luckily, my friends still do.

Take for instance the situation that occurred a couple of weeks ago when a good friend and his wife came to visit from Nebraska. He had been playing penny slots in a busy section of a major Strip resort when all of a sudden bells and lights started going off on the machine next to him where another tourist had been playing.

The player beside him was actually dumbfounded for a bit, not knowing why the machine started carrying on so suddenly. My friend is a more experienced gambler, so all it took was a quick glance to see the guy had just hit the top progressive award for a little over six thousand dollars!

At first the tourist didn’t believe him, but it didn’t take too much convincing before the guy started whooping and cheering and going nuts, which is a completely appropriate response in such a situation. Soon the slot host came by to fill out the paperwork and pay the lucky winner, and off he went.

My pal didn’t have any issue with any of this, at least not until the next morning when he and his wife walked by the machine the lucky player had hit it big on. They noticed it had been placed out of service. His wife naturally assumed the casino was tightening the machine or perhaps setting it so it wouldn’t hit another progressive for a while, and so my friend asked me if this was, in fact, the case.

Since I work in the business and know why casinos do this, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but from their point of view I can easily see how suspicious it must have looked. Some guy hits for over six grand and the casino shuts the game down the same night with no explanation. That almost screams RIGGED!

The truth is, the casino placed the machine out of service so a slot mechanic could come in the next day and check it out. It wasn’t shut down to tighten it or to rig it to stop hitting, which would be illegal anyway. They just had to make sure no foul play was involved.

You see, as much as players distrust casinos, casinos distrust players even more. This is because ever since casinos have existed, so have swindlers and cheats. The number of cheaters who have been caught ripping off casinos is staggering, and it doesn’t even include those who have gotten away with it.

So the casino has the machine checked out, just in case. After all, they have hundreds if not thousands of similar machines, so nobody will care if one machine shuts down for the night. Let a qualified technician go over it in the morning and make sure there’s no funny business before turning it back on again. No harm, no foul, right?

I used to think this way too, but I won’t anymore. There is harm in doing this, and things certainly can run afoul. Even if just one or two people notice that a big jackpot causes a machine to be turned off and assume the worst, it can be a big deal. People talk, and this is particularly true of gamblers. If word gets out your casino tightens machines after they hit big you can be ruined, even if there’s no truth to it at all.

And there’s not any truth to that accusation. It is completely illegal to rig a machine in such a way as to prevent the top award from being able to hit, and no casino would risk their gaming license to do so. Tightening is perfectly legal, but as I’ve explained in previous articles, it’s a long and involved process requiring paperwork, several slot employees and regulatory approval. It is hardly something that can be done in a day or two with no warning.

Unfortunately for casinos, not every player reads my articles. Most remain unaware of the legalities and formalities of casino operations. Worse yet, if left to their own devices to make assumptions about why a casino would do something, the overwhelming tendency for most gamblers is to assume the worst. It’s no wonder my friends assumed the casino had placed the machine out of service until it could be tightened or rigged.

Please keep this story in mind next time you see a casino take an action that seems suspicious. If in doubt, ask an employee. Most will be happy to tell you the truth behind why they do the things they do.

And if you don’t get a satisfactory answer, please feel free to drop me a line through the GT website. The whole reason I write is to shed light on an often misunderstood industry; and I can always use some more fodder for my column.

(Editor’s Note: Brad Fredella is general manager of Stetson’s Saloon and Casino in Henderson, Nev.)