Winners & Losers: Casino Disasters That Gamblers Loved (at Least for a Minute)

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None of us like to make stupid mistakes, especially where large sums of money are concerned. But rarely do those missteps cost us millions of dollars.

Casinos, on the other hand, play a high stakes game in which gigantic sums routinely go through the house (and, most likely, to the house) on a nightly basis.

So, when things go wrong, they really go wrong.

Such was the case at Star Casino in Sydney, Australia. It was revealed this past week that, in July 2023, some $3 million was handed out to gamblers there thanks to a costly glitch in the casino’s software.

The Star - Sydney
Image: TripAdvisor

One of the Star’s Ticket-In-Cash-Out machines – ATM-style devices used to facilitate payoffs off from slot machines that, unlike real money online slots, provide winners with redeemable tickets rather than cash – spewed out extra dough by allowing people to continually cash in their tickets.

So, let’s say you had a voucher for $500, you could collect your cash and recollect the ticket as the malfunctioning machine rolled it back out.

Then, you could put the ticket back in for another $500 – and another and another, indefinitely, or until you lost the courage to take advantage of a gambling den.

But there was an interesting wrinkle.

If you happened to be the kind of person who gambled enough to benefit from such a misfire, you might not have it in you to hold onto the ill-gotten proceeds.

Such was the case for a compulsive gambler who did her best to avoid blowing money on the slot machines. But when a friend’s boyfriend told her about the cash-spew, she could not resist free money.

Over a 10-day-long period, this person extracted $57,265. She did not take the money and buy herself a new car.

Hearing the siren song of the slot machine, she began dumping the proceeds in and lost all but $5,000 back to the casino.

Her troubles kicked into high gear when casino management finally recognized the software failure and managed to identify the 43 people who benefited from it.

Executives at the Star – some of whom have been under investigation for alleged infractions – snitched out their own customers to the police and demanded the casino’s money back.

But isn’t the 57K Queen a special case? After all, in the end, she inadvertently returned her windfall to the casino via gambling.

Shouldn’t the casino be embarrassed, feel pleased that its slot machines do what they are supposed to do, call it a wash and let her walk?

Maybe not.

The casino wants its money back, from everyone, and the compulsive gambler is no exception.

Now, she is lawyered up with a barrister who talks about the Star “laying out a honey pot for money launderers.”

If it’s any consolation, she is not alone in going from winner to loser in no time at all.

Whether you like to play at real money online casinos or splash the cash at land-based joints, there’s always a risk of a sneaky ‘glitch’ that might just get in the way of you walking home a winner.

Such was the case, in 2016, when Katrina Bookman was playing a slot machine at Resorts World in New York City and the machine flashed that she had won nearly $43 million.

katrina bookman
Image: Katrina Bookman

The casino wrote it off as a software mistake. Bookman was denied her life-changing money.

She too found legal representation (as a plaintiff rather than a defendant) took Resorts World to court, and the decision – imagine me slow-rolling this one – landed in favor of the casino.

That’s the short version. You can read the full Katrina Bookman story if you’d like to know more details.

It was a similar situation for Maribel Sanchez and Pauline McKee, who were both denied their would-be multi-million-dollar winnings due to computer mistakes on slot machines.

Grudgingly, I see where the casinos are coming from, but I ultimately find myself siding with Bookman’s attorney on this one.

To no avail, he told the court, “The machine takes your money when you lose. It ought to pay you when you win.”

Cheers to the sentiment, but good luck convincing a casino that things should be fair.

Michael Kaplan
Gambling Author and Journalist
Michael Kaplan
Gambling Author and Journalist

Michael Kaplan is a journalist based in New York City joined Techopedia in November 2023. He is the author of five books ("The Advantage Players" comes out in 2024) and has worked for publications that include Wired, GQ and the New York Post. He has written extensively on technology, gambling and business — with a particular interest in spots where all three intersect. His article on Kelly "Baccarat Machine" Sun and Phil Ivey is in development as a feature film.