The Isle Hotel Casino in Waterloo, Iowa is popular destination for travelers and gambling enthusiasts alike. In 2011, it was the choice of the McKee family, who were visiting from Illinois. For a brief moment, the decision couldn’t have possibly seemed better when 87 year old grandmother, Pauline McKee, thought she had won a $41 million slots jackpot.
For the McKee’s, it started out as a vacation day like any other. Pauline, who rarely played the slots, made her way to the casino floor where she eventually took a seat at the casino’s Miss Kitty slot machine. It wasn’t long before the penny slot’s screen was overtaken by an awe-inspiring message, declaring “The reels have rolled your way! Bonus Award — $41,797,550.16.”
The 87 year old woman couldn’t have possibly been more excited. She was thoroughly convinced—and who wouldn’t be—that she had just won a staggering $41 million slots jackpot. However, as with all casino jackpots, the win had to be confirmed by the staff. That’s where everything went downhill for Ms. McKee.
Within moments, Pauline was informed that the machine malfunctioned. She had not won a life-changing slots jackpot, but rather a negligible sum of just $1.85. Amidst her adamant protests to the contrary, staff members were quick to point out that the Miss Kitty slot machine clearly states its maximum prize payout of $10,000; well below the $41 million the screen claimed she had won.
Subsequently, Pauline McKee hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit against the Isle Hotel Casino in 2012. Her case was based on the claim that the casino had an “implied contract” to payout any winnings displayed to customers. Had she won the case, the Isle Hotel Casino would have been forced to pay approximately half of its annual gross revenue to cover the slots jackpot, but the courts didn’t see it her way.
Presiding over the case, Justice Edward Mansfield dismissed Ms. McKee’s claim against the Iowa casino before it could ever go to trial. “Any message appearing on the screen indicating the patron would receive a $41 million bonus was a gratuitous promise and the casino’s failure to pay it could not be challenged as a breach of contract,” the judge ruled.
Helping to support the decision was evidence presented by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. The state’s regulators examined the machine’s software and hardware and determined that the depiction of a slots jackpot was nothing more than a glitch. Furthermore, the device displayed a message that clearly stated, “Malfunction voids all pays and plays.” By that assessment alone, the casino could not be held responsible for paying an erroneous slots jackpot.
“Casinos are required to post rules and follow those rules,” said Stacey Cormican, lead attorney for the casino. “If either the patrons or casinos could change the rules in the middle of the game, it would be absolutely chaos.”
On an interesting side note, the manufacturer of the slot machine in question, Aristocrat Leisure, had made it clear to all their customers that this particular product was prone to displaying specious “legacy bonus” messages. Casinos were strongly advised to disable the legacy bonus feature in order to avoid a possible malfunction, but the Isle Hotel Casino in Waterloo chose to disregard the recommendation.