When gambling goes haywire, you're unlikely to catch a break

When people gamble, things sometimes go wrong.

Roulette balls glance off the wheel onto the table. Slot machines jam. Online betting apps freeze. Dice go flying off the felt. And sometimes, the cards aren't shuffled correctly, or at all. Bettors have even lost payouts when the jockey fell off a winning horse before the finish line.

The recent decision by online gambling company FanDuel to pay an $82,000 prize its computers wrongly promised a bettor on a football game was the exception to the time-honored rule in the gambling industry: When things go wrong, it almost always voids the bet.

Kip Levin, FanDuel's chief operating officer, said that in sports betting, there are more than 200 ways to place a bet on a typical game, most of which are calculated at lightning speed.

"You're very reliant on technology," he said. "It's like when a slot machine malfunctions. Things happen."

They happened when Anthony Prince of Newark, New Jersey, placed a bet in the waning moments of a Sept. 16 football game between the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders. During an 18-second malfunction, FanDuel's computers gave a dozen bettors exorbitantly inflated odds on the Broncos kicking a game-winning field goal. Instead of a few dollars, Prince was handed a bet slip promising him $82,000 on a $110 bet.

Denver made the kick and won the game, and Prince went to the window at Fan Duel's New Jersey sports book to collect — only to be told that the system had made an obvious error, and that FanDuel was not obligated to honor the promised payout.

Industry officials and regulators say they do not keep statistics on how often bets are voided due to errors.

But they do have a term for some of the bigger screw-ups: "palps," short for palpable errors. While the standard for determining what is a palpable error is somewhat subjective and almost always determined by the bookmaker, it was clearly in play here: a small bet on a high-probability field goal should not be rewarded with $82,000.

But FanDuel relented after a few days and agreed to pay Prince — and 11 others who also got mistakenly inflated odds on the game — the full amounts that were erroneously promised.

Others were not as fortunate. A woman is suing Resorts World casino in New York City after a nearly $43 million slot machine jackpot was determined to be a malfunction, and was voided in 2016. (They offered her a free steak dinner.)

A video poker player in Canada was twice erroneously told he had won $1 million in 2009, but the top prize on the machine at Ottawa's Rideau Carleton Raceway was only $40,000. He got $4,000 and $1,000 instead.

John Bitante of Neptune, New Jersey, was playing online live dealer roulette with the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City recently.

"I was playing the same numbers every spin, $5 per number," he said. "I got an error that said something to the effect of 'unable to continue' and it wiped my bets off the screen. Of course the girl spins the ball and hits one of my numbers, costing me $180."

Linda Schwoerer Tria of Butler, New Jersey, was betting on a Mohegan Sun app this year when it froze. She complained, only to be told — correctly — that a malfunction voids the bet.

"I felt like I was ripped off," she said. "Finally got the bonus wheels on Wheel of Fortune and it froze. I had my heart set on a big win and ... nothing."

The Golden Nugget had its own high-profile malfunction in 2012 when cards it bought from a manufacturer that were supposed to be pre-shuffled had not been, allowing 14 mini-baccarat players to win $1.5 million when they realized the cards were coming out of the chute in a predictable pattern.

The casino won at trial, but to prevent an appeal, it settled with them for pennies on the dollar, said Steve Scheinthal, executive vice president and general counsel of the casino's parent company, Houston-based Landry's Inc.

"Everyone who comes into a casino wants to take nothing and turn it into a million dollars," he said. "When it happens, and they're told it was a malfunction, and they're not really millionaires, I feel for the customers, but at the end of the day, it's a business. It's supposed to be fair not only for the customer, but for the gaming operator, as well."


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