Will Casino Have to Pay Up After Denying Woman $43 Million in Winnings?
If Louise Chavez's experience at a Central City, Colo. casino was memorialized on a tee shirt, it might read something like this: "I won $42.9-million at Fortune Valley Casino and all I got was a lousy breakfast."
While celebrating her birthday at the casino, Chavez hit pay dirt on a penny slot machine. The machine's payout window confirmed that she had won an eight-figure sum and, naturally, she was ecstatic. But then casino officials told her that the winnings were in error. Five hours later, they insisted that the machine would need to be inspected before a correct payout could be determined. In return for her patience and disappointment, the casino offered to comp her a night at a hotel, refund the $23 that she put into the machine and provide a free breakfast. She took the breakfast.
Will Chavez End Up a Multi-Millionaire?
Considering the Colorado Gaming Department's assertion that this particular type of slot machine is designed to pay off no more than $250,000, does Chavez have a shot at collecting anything close to $42.9-million – an amount which, she had been told, is more than the entire casino is worth?
"Her likelihood is slim," says Las Vegas attorney David Chesnoff, a go-to guy for clients who range from the town's biggest poker pros to celebrities like Britney Spears and Sug Knight. "If it's a factual mistake, the gaming authority will back the casino. If Colorado is anything like Nevada, whatever gaming says is what it will be unless she can show any kind of fraud."
Asked if he would handle this case, Chesnoff offers up an unequivocal "No!"
Maybe Chavez would have better luck with lawyer Bob Nersesian. Also based in Vegas, he's known as an aggressive player's advocate and once succeeded in getting a faulty slot machine payout resolved in the gambler's favor. "I got a $100,000 jackpot for a guy who played a machine that was programmed never to pay out more than nine grand," he says. "It was a similar kind of mistake; a mechanism inside the machine had been misprogrammed." But, says Nersesian, that case happened during a different time. "Today, I don't think I would win that case," he says.
In all likelihood, whether it's right or wrong, Chavez will receive whatever the proper payout should be based on what came up on the wheels, not the sum of money that flashed on the screen, says Nersesian. She and her attorney may have a bone to pick with the slot-machine manufacturer, with which the casino probably has an indemnity agreement, he says.
Even Nersesian, who wrested a large settlement from a casino and the Las Vegas police department after a blackjack player was wrongfully imprisoned for cheating, can see the excesses of this situation given that the $42.9 million is more than the casino is worth. "Bottom line, they are not going to shut down the casino for this. And, in all reality, that is what they'll be doing if they give her the $42.9 million," he says.