Jerry Davich: Casino pulls plug on woman’s $28M ‘jackpot’
JERRY DAVICH February 6, 2014 11:12PM
Updated: March 8, 2014 6:14AM
Jennifer Carmin thought she was an instant millionaire, and then some, on a recent Saturday night at Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City.
On Jan. 11, the 39-year-old Hobart woman inserted her player’s loyalty card into the China Shores slot machine. She pressed the “Slot Dollars” icon on the one-armed bandit to display her account information on the screen.
This dollar figure popped up: $28,850,925. Yes, just about $28.9 million.
“I was like, wow, what is this?!” exclaimed Carmin, a frequent flier at Blue Chip.
Within seconds, other excited players circled around her, also staring into her slot machine, followed by casino workers and then shift supervisors. They didn’t know exactly what to say to her. This was a first for such a thing.
“I thought I had just won a casino promotion jackpot, but nobody there knew what was going on,” said Carmin, who was soon escorted to a conference room to talk with Blue Chip officials. “I was nervous, hyperventilating and couldn’t believe my luck.”
Carmin said the casino officials bickered with each other, not knowing how to deal with such a ridiculously high figure on the slot machine display screen. Was it a technical glitch? A computer malfunction? An unexplainable jackpot?
“They instead offered me two free steak dinners and I was like, no thank you,” she told me.
She returned home with her boyfriend in the middle of the night and tried to absorb what just happened. And what could happen in her life.
“I could give up my advertising company and do so many other things I’ve always wanted to do,” she said excitedly.
She contacted an attorney and, after word got out about her supposed good fortune, other attorneys started contacting her. She also received requests from strangers for financial help.
“I was getting calls, texts and emails from people I didn’t know,” she said.
She also was contacted by multiple media outlets asking about her “jackpot” story, and she appeared on Thursday night’s ABC-TV news.
“I’ve been a nervous wreck for the last few weeks,” she said.
Understandably so after seeing that dizzying dollar amount on her slot machine. But is she a $28.9 million jackpot winner? Uh, no, according to Blue Chip.
For starters, the only bells, whistles or jackpot alerts that went off that night were in Carmin’s head, not on her slot machine.
“I’ll tell you what really happened,” said David Strow, director of corporate communications for Boyd Gaming Corp. in Las Vegas.
“There was no wager made and there was nothing that would indicate that a jackpot had just been won,” he told me Thursday.
A brief background on video slot machines: When the game is in its normal play mode, its reels and symbols fill the game’s monitor, along with the meters that display wagering and payout activity.
“The player’s club account balance is not displayed, since that is not related to machine payouts and jackpots,” according to a Power Point presentation created by Blue Chip to illustrate what happened.
When the “Slot Dollars” icon is pushed, the display screen changes format. Slot Dollars represent promotional slot credits provided by the casino to a player’s club member’s account as a marketing or promotional offer.
“The CURRENT BALANCE of $28,850,925.83 display is not related to a machine payout or jackpot,” the Power Point stated. “This balance displays promotional slot credits that can be downloaded and wagered, but not redeemed for cash.”
“The promotional credits are provided by the casino to a patron’s account as a marketing or promotional offer, and is not in any way related to proceeds from a wager or any payout by the machine based on a winning combination.”
When Carmin inserted her player’s card and PIN, her Slot Dollars amount displayed the whopping $28,850,925 figure. She didn’t “win” that amount, Strow said. It was a “one-time software glitch.”
No one, he noted, would “reasonably believe” they had just won such a jackpot in that situation. “If it was a $28 million jackpot, you would think the machine would go bonkers — Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! — with all sorts of displays.” This didn’t happen.
It was simply a low-key informational display with, in this case, an erroneous dollar amount balance. Also, it’s the same informational display that Carmin has seen several times before while playing slot machines there, he noted.
“It’s an extremely regrettable situation,” Strow said.
After Carmin “won,” a casino slot technician removed her loyalty card and reinserted it into the machine, displaying her actual current balance: Zero dollars, Strow said.
“We certainly regret any confusion this has caused,” Strow said.
Blue Chip officials investigated the China Shores machine and determined there was a one-time glitch with the software used to offer Slot Dollars to customers. And that software vendor is now working to correct it.
Carmin has since received a letter from the Indiana Gaming Commission informing her of an ongoing investigation.
Ernest Yelton, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, confirmed that his agency is investigating this incident and will render a conclusion in a week or two. In such situations, the IGC doesn’t represent the patron, it regulates the casino.
“If we find that any laws, rules or controls have been violated, we have a very broad range of penalties against the casino,” Yelton said. “If the patron finds this unsatisfactory, she can contact the casino directly or consult an attorney for her legal rights.”
Carmin told me, “Blue Chip made the mistake. I would like to see some kind of settlement.”
Strow said he will discuss this issue with Carmin, but it is company policy to not share it with media.
My take on all this? When it comes to casinos, the house always wins — even when the house deals itself a technical glitch.
For more on this issue, tune in to my Casual Fridays radio show today at noon, on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org. Call in with your questions or comments at 769-9577 and win a small jackpot of two movie tickets to the Portage 16 Theater.