It was like a scene right out of a movie. An elderly woman sits down at a slot machine, not expecting much, but ends up winning a huge jackpot, bells, whistles and all. She leaps up out of disbelief, cheers, and walks out a rich women able to provide more for herself and her family.
That is how it is supposed to go, right? That is what everyone was expecting when 90 year-old Pauline McKee was given a $41 million bonus on the popular slot machine “Miss Kitty.” However, the elderly woman left the casino empty handed and on April 24th, 2015 a judge declared that the casino did not owe her the winnings due to a computer glitch in the slot machine.
On Friday April 24th, 2015, elderly McKee learned that the $41 million awarded to her from a penny slot machine was, in fact, not hers. The Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of the Isle Casino and Hotel in Waterloo, claiming that the $41 million bonus was a computer glitch, not covered in the contract of play, and therefore did not have to be paid out. “I was hoping to help my children out financially,” McKee told the Chicago Tribune. “But it wasn’t meant to be.” The 90 year old stood stoically as the decision was read; informing her that she would only receive $1.85 from the bet that was supposed to give her millions.
The “Miss Kitty” penny slot machine allows bonus’s to be given to players and in the case of Pauline McKee, a computer glitch ended up saying that she had been awarded a little over $41 million as a bonus, after being awarded a 185 credit. When the machine lit up saying, “the wheels have rolled your way” and listed the winnings amount, McKee calmly called over an attendant to help her. The casino employee took pictures of the screen, reset the game, and then called a manger. Laws in the state govern that slot machines cannot award more than $10,000 at a time to players. The manger was called to examine that machine and McKee and her guests were given a free nights stay in a swanky hotel room while the machine was examined.
The next day the president of the casino called McKee and her daughter to inform them that the situation was highly “unusual” and that they needed to take a closer look at the machine. He also allowed McKee to have a continued free stay at the hotel while the issue was resolved. The casino then informed the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission and the machine was taken off the casino floor to be studied. McKee was forced to eventually leave without her money.
The casino claimed that the machine was faulty and that a computer glitch had allowed it to give out the bonus that exceeded the norm. The president and general manger informed McKee that the unusual circumstances were listed in the contract of play stating that, “malfunctions void all pays and plays.” With that, the Isle Casino and Hotel refused to pay out the $41 million to the elderly woman and her daughter.
However, the story did not stop there. McKee, believing she was entitled to at least some of the money brought a lawsuit against the casino. Previous to her visit, the developers of the game had publicly announced to casinos that the “Miss Kitty” game would sometimes give out large and absurd bonuses. Casinos with the machine on their floors were advised to turn off the feature that allowed bonuses to be given. Armed with this fact, 90 year old Pauline McKee brought a lawsuit against the Isle Casino and Hotel that was eventually taken to the Iowa Supreme Court.
McKee is an elderly widow with 13 grandchildren who lives off of social security. Her plan for the $41 million was simple, to help her children and grandchildren. The winnings would have been enough to have her and her family live comfortably for the rest of their lives free of financial worries. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the $41 million was simply an award that the casino did not have to honor, because of the state’s $10,000 cap on slot machine winnings. “I had my doubts from the beginning” McKee said after the lawsuit was dismissed, “That’s a lot of money from a penny machine.” The casino was told to award the grandmother her $1.85 winnings and the casino also offered her a free night’s stay in one of their hotel rooms; not a thrilling conclusion to this frustrating case.
McKee has not been the first case of this kind, and she will undoubtedly not be the last. Computer glitches happen all the time and often they can have bizarre consequences for the casino and player. Almost always, the courts rule in favor of the casino. For example, a similar case in Mississippi was dismissed when the courts ruled in favor of the casino claiming that an $8,000 slot machine cap meant they were not responsible to pay out the $1 million the screen had read. In Pauline McKee’s case, the ruling was a relief for the Isle Casino and Hotel in Waterloo. The $41 million was more than half of what the casino had earned its previous fiscal year, and losing the lawsuit would have forced it into bankruptcy. Although an unfortunate end for Ms. McKee, the casino lives to play another day.