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Have Casinos Ever Refused To Pay a Jackpot?

Winning big is the dream but there are some for whom the dream was dashed all too quickly

Picture by Carl Raw

Key takeaways

  • Check the jackpot maximum for each machine that you play
  • Errors and malfunctions can happen although they are incredibly rare
  • Do your research before you gamble both at a land-based casino and online

Casinos want you to win, right? On a micro level that may be true, but it sounds like an oxymoron because why would a casino, whose purpose is to make money from gambling, want to then give you all of that money back? The odds are always stacked against you throughout and even when they do cough up, the casinos are still retaining a large percentage.

A big winner generates excitement, that’s the only true reason that they accept the occasional winners. Pictures get taken and stories get written, leading to another round of gamblers wanting to visit a casino, clasping to the dream of their own ‘big pay day’.

However, there are times when they either can’t or don’t pay. Sometimes there are perfectly good reasons why casinos refuse to pay out on slot machine wins, but there have been a thankfully small number of cases in which people thought they earned big only to find out they didn’t.

Katrina Bookman and Resort World Casino

In August 2016, Katrina Bookman was enjoying the slots in Resorts World Casino, Queens, NY. The Sphinx slot machine spun and offered up a jackpot of $42,949,672.76 at which point Ms.Bookman took out her phone to document the moment by taking a selfie. However, the casino management denied the claim of winning the jackpot.

Image taken from Facebook by Katrina Bookman

The higher authorities at Resorts World Casino (later confirmed by the New York State Gaming Commission) informed Bookman that the multimillion-dollar jackpot resulted from the slot machine malfunction. They offered her $2.25, which she allegedly won on that spin, along with an additional steak dinner. The offer, unsurprisingly, was turned down by Ms.Bookman and she contacted an attorney.

When attorney Alan Ripka asked for a detailed explanation about the nature of the malfunction and how the machine malfunctioned, Resort Works refused to further comment on the topic and did not explain. Ripka deemed that the ordeal had caused Ms.Bookman a financial setback and mental anguish due to parent company IGT and Resort World’s negligence.

No news of settlement can be found among Resorts World Casino and NYSGC records and so Ms.Bookman’s claim was denied. The result of this case confirms the legal precedents that were already established in similar slot machine malfunction jackpot cases.

According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, slot machines malfunction for a variety of reasons, including tampering, coin jams, switch failures, computer chip failures and power outages. Jackpot payments are denied because the malfunctions prevent the machine from completing the random selection process of symbols, the board states.

Veronica Castillo’s Unlucky Eagle

Veronica Castillo from Portland, Oregon thought she had struck it lucky after hitting an $8 million jackpot playing alongside her mother on the slots at Lucky Eagle Casino in Rochester, Washington.

The machine declared her to be a winner but all she ended up getting was $80 after staff at the casino said that the winning payout was in fact an error. 

Images taken from Facebook by Veronica Castillo

Casino CEO John Setterstrom, who has been with the casino since it opened in 1995 said such an occurrence has never happened before and he will be looking for answers as to how such a mistake was able to occur.

Rocket Gaming Systems, the machine manufacturer, conducted a forensic investigation to determine the cause of the display malfunction that occurred on the machine Ms. Castillo was playing. 

‘Rocket has not yet been able to determine how the error occurred although it is absolutely clear that the gaming machine played by Ms. Castillo experienced a display malfunction: This machine offers a maximum jackpot of $20,000 if a maximum bet is placed on all lines. The maximum jackpot that Ms. Castillo could have won based on the number of lines and credits she was betting is $6,000’

‘We deeply regret that Ms. Castillo temporarily experienced an incorrect credit display while the machine began its process of metering down after the display malfunction, and have offered her a weekend stay in one of our suites as our guest, as well as dining at the property and free play included,’ said Joseph Dupuis from the Casino.

The casinos are obligated to maintain and service the slot machines, which doesn’t help the situation. They had a bad machine on the floor and yet, the casino benefited. Unfortunately, that is just the way the chips fall, sometimes.

Reasons why you might be denied winnings

There are some very legitimate reasons why a casino, either online or land-based, might not pay you your winnings. So before you start playing, know the rules, and be ready to pocket your cash.

Lack of Identification

Land-based casinos require that you show your ID before they payout. There are good reasons for this; for example, the casino needs to know that you haven’t been playing with stolen credit cards. Also, they have procedures to prevent money laundering. If you don’t present a valid ID, you won’t get paid.

The Gambling Intercept Payment System

Another reason why a casino might not payout is if you are in the Gambling Intercept Payment System. This database contains the names, addresses, and other details of people who have monetary judgments against them. This includes child support.

Before paying out, the cashier at the casino must run your name through the Gambling Intercept Payment System. If you legally owe money, the state automatically seizes your winnings directly from the casino.

Online Issues

The reasons why an online casino won’t pay you are slightly different from land-based casinos. Also, the reasons are almost always legitimate. Once again, before you start playing, know the rules.

Check the T’s & C’s

This is the number one reason a casino fails to pay out a perceived win. For example, the rules around bonus money and free spins can be confusing. Unfortunately, the rules around bonuses and free spins are often slanted toward the house.

You can’t cash out winnings from free spins or bonus money without first satisfying the terms and conditions. Even if the rules don’t seem fair. Be sure to understand the bonus terms before you begin playing. Only when the terms have been satisfied can you cash out your winnings.

How many accounts?

Online casinos limit players to just one account; they do this to prevent fraud. By opening more than one account, shady characters can game the system. For example, a person with more than one account can take several seats at a poker table, and rig the game. Also, multiple-player accounts are one way a criminal can use an online casino to launder money.

If an online casino finds that you’ve opened more than one account, they’ll seize your funds, and close all of your accounts. You’ll also be banned for life.

Using someone else’s card

Even if someone wants to give you gambling money, they can not do so directly, using their credit or debit card. Rather, they should transfer money to your bank account. Or, they can buy you a gift card, such as a prepaid VISA or MasterCard.

The reason for this is fairly obvious; casinos want to prevent thieves from using stolen credit cards. Once again, by using someone else’s credit card, you risk having your funds seized and your account banned.

These are just a few of the main examples as to why both land-based and online casinos might refuse to pay out winnings. These, as well as others, are generally considered common sense however, the world does appear to be in short supply and so be sure to do your research before you begin chasing your own fortune.


It almost goes without saying that casinos are not paragons of virtue; they make billions of dollars every year by exploiting people’s inherent weaknesses. However, they are generally fair to their players and often generous givers to their communities. Image is everything and casinos want and need to project a good image.

In places where there are several casinos, such as Las Vegas or Atlantic City, they want to do right by their patrons, to keep them coming back. Customer loyalty is very important and they do not want to lose them to the competition.

However, casinos are businesses that make money, and lots of it. They have employees to pay and property to maintain; while they make millions, they also have millions in expenses. Like any business, a casino can’t stay in operation if it pays out millions of dollars in winnings caused by malfunctions.

Casinos know the law and they follow it. That includes applying the law to players who try to game their system. They will not pay out millions of dollars when they don’t have to.

Fortunately, game malfunctions occur very rarely. The level of testing and control that goes into gaming software is quite impressive. It nearly ensures malfunctions won’t happen.

James Fallows

James Fallows

A qualified sports journalist, James is more than familiar with all aspects of the gambling world. At The Curious Gambler, James is keen to delve deeper into what makes this billion-dollar industry tick and offer up some well-learned advice along the way.