How this woman won an $8.5 million casino jackpot, but only for minutes
With one pull of the lever, Veronica Castillo’s problems all disappeared. A weekend getaway gambling at Washington’s Lucky Eagle Casino turned into a life-changing event. A pit stop at the slot machines turned into a jackpot! Veronica’s worries were over — she was a millionaire … a MULTImillionaire.
But it wasn’t that simple. Before the reality of hitting the jackpot could even sink in, celebration turned to sorrow. The casino refused to pay! This is how Veronica Castillo’s big break left her empty-handed.
1. What started as a mother-daughter day
Things don’t always go as planned with get-rich-quick schemes. Veronica Castillo of Beaverton, Oregon, learned that the hard way when she took her mother to a casino one weekend in late October 2015. The mother-daughter duo had no idea that their simple fun day out would snowball into the makings of national headlines by the day’s end. It all started when Castillo and her mother entered the Lucky Eagle Casino in Rochester, Washington, and chose their games.
Castillo was only there to have a good time and spend some quality time with her mother. However, like any casino hopeful, somewhere in the back of her mind she likely hoped that something incredible might happen. Little did she know that it would, as a rapid string of shocking developments would see her become a multimillionaire, but only for mere minutes.
2. The game that’d change everything
Veronica Castillo, who was 42 at the time and a loan officer by profession, was no stranger to numbers and figures. She was familiar with the concepts of investment and risk as she scanned the premises and weighed her options. At one point during their outing, Veronica and her mother settled upon the slot machines.
First-time players and experts alike basically have the same probability of winning big payouts on the easy-to-operate, computerized slot machines. Whether she knew that or simply wanted to play a relatively easy game, Castillo made the fated decision. Despite the slim odds, Castillo sat down with a strategy in mind that she thought could help her win.
3. Spinning the wheels of fortune
The two women sat side by side as they played a video game called Jurassic Riches. Veronica decided she would try her luck at a tactic of staying at the same machine for a dedicated amount of time, instead of hopping around from machine to machine. Casino-goers have been known to spend hours playing with such strategies.
Nickel by nickel, Veronica Castillo inserted her money in the machine and pulled the lever in an attempt to align a row of Jurassic Park-themed icons that would result in cash back. Time after time the digital wheels would spin as her balance started climbing. Castillo kept going until she had spent $100 worth of nickels. Then, suddenly, she was shocked to see what the screen said she’d won!
4. A once-in-a-lifetime win
Castillo couldn’t believe her eyes as the rows on the machine lined up in winning order. Her heart was undoubtedly pounding as the machine started flashing gold with dollar signs and tallied up her exorbitant win sum. Having spent $100 dollars on the game, it appeared that she would walk away with an unbelievable return, the rates of which seldom occur.
Castillo had hit a jackpot upward of $8.5 million! “I was excited; I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I was in shock.” Castillo took out her camera to take a picture of the extraordinary moment. However, her elation was short-lived. After a matter of just a few short minutes, casino staff would make their way over to Castillo’s winning machine with some shocking information.
5. A short-lived celebration
The Oregon woman was already envisioning what she would do with all of her millions. The lucrative cash flow would certainly change her life forever. However, when the anomalous amount appeared on the machine’s screen, the casino’s managers were immediately alerted. But they weren’t there to offer her congratulations.
In a matter of about five minutes, according to Veronica Castillo, she went from one shock of her life to the next, when the casino personnel informed her that, in fact, she wouldn’t be taking home the multimillion-dollar jackpot. Their words instantly deflated her spirits as they further elaborated on the reasoning.
6. Crushing turn of events
Castillo couldn’t believe her ears as the casino personnel told her that the machine had malfunctioned and made an error. She became increasingly devastated as they explained that, in fact, due to the technical glitch, there actually was no jackpot. Undoubtedly confused and in disbelief, her dreams of abundant financial security for years to come were now in question.
Could what they were saying be true? Was there a way to convince them otherwise? “I started to ask, ‘Where’s my prize?’” she later recalled of the shocking moment. She didn’t think she had done anything wrong. But her disappointment wouldn’t end there.
7. Not the expected outcome
“They took my money but didn’t want to pay my winnings,” she claimed of the money she had already paid to play the game. While most casino patrons are aware that it’s hard to beat the system, Castillo found herself in a most unique situation.
Castillo tried to process what was happening, but right then and there, the casino workers didn’t stop with just telling her she wouldn’t get paid the jackpot. Whether she was previously aware or not, there actually was a stipulation regarding such casino games that would make anyone in Castillo’s position feel as if the bottom had just dropped out.
8. Adding insult to injury?
While many seasoned slot machine players are aware, not all novices know that all slot machines in the U.S. have an advisory disclaimer sticker on them that stipulates that a machine malfunction voids all “pays and plays.” Such stickers are put in place to reserve casinos’ right to deny payment.
As the Lucky Eagle casino staff informed Castillo that she wouldn’t receive the $8.5 million payout, they promptly shut off the machine and removed it from the casino floor. As the game was shuttled away, Veronica Castillo was incensed at what the casino would give her in place of the massive cash prize.
9. $80 instead of $8.5 million
Instead of pocketing the $8.5 million that Castillo thought she had won, the casino ended up printing out a cash-in ticket for many times less than the winnings from the Jurassic Riches game. However, her heart sank when she saw that the casino was issuing her only $80.35. Castillo didn’t think it added up that she turned out to be a millionaire for just five minutes.
Despite the disclaimer sticker, how could the casino prove that a computer mistake had indeed caused the machine Castillo was playing on to announce a false jackpot winning? As it turned out, Castillo wasn’t the only one with questions about her denied dealings.
10. Outside investigators dig in
As news of what had transpired at the casino made headlines, local news station KOIN 6 picked up the story. The station’s correspondent Lisa Balick talked to both Veronica Castillo and casino management in an attempt to find out just how the casino could actually determine that a technical malfunction had led to the supposedly false jackpot display.
In her quest to investigate further into the situation, the news reporter tracked down the casino’s CEO, John Setterstrom. What Setterstrom would tell her, though, not only provided more background context but would make the case all the more curious.
11. Never-before-seen phenomenon
Setterstrom had been with the casino since it first opened its doors in 1995. Before that, he worked as a card dealer in Las Vegas and as a casino floor manager. Even so, in all his years of experience in the field and his decades working at the casino, he explained that such an occurrence had never happened.
Apparently, the anomaly hadn’t only taken Veronica Castillo aback. Setterstrom said a full investigation was set to be launched into why the machine had made such a mistake, and the manufacturer of the game was set to be probed. He added that the casino was intent on keeping Castillo as a customer. Setterstrom, however, wasn’t the only one from the casino who chimed in on the incident.
12. The mystery continues
According to the Daily Mail, the casino released a “complicated and convoluted” press statement about what had happened in Veronica Castillo’s case. The casino’s statement confirmed that Rocket Gaming Systems, which made Jurassic Riches, was launching an investigation to prove that the game had malfunctioned and that the casino hadn’t made anything up to get out of paying Veronica her winnings.
“Rocket has not yet been able to determine how the error occurred although it is absolutely clear that the gaming machine played by Ms. Castillo experienced a display malfunction,” read a statement by Joseph Dupuis, a spokesman for the casino. But there was another aspect of the statement that raised more questions about the $8.5 million jackpot that Castillo thought she’d won.
13. The jackpot that never was
Despite all that had transpired, the casino proclaimed that, in fact, it shouldn’t be possible for the Jurassic Riches slot machine to even offer a jackpot for the amount presented to Veronica Castillo. The statement explained that the machine is only supposed to be capable of issuing a maximum jackpot of $20,000!
According to the casino, with the amount of money and bets Veronica had placed, she couldn’t have actually won more than $6,000. In light of the situation, the casino offered Castillo its regrets that she had “temporarily experienced an incorrect credit display while the machine began its process of metering down after the display malfunction.” In return for her crushed hopes, the casino did present her with an additional offer.
14. Presented another offer
While the casino argued that the win Castillo claimed wasn’t “legally or practically” possible on that machine, the Lucky Eagle Casino offered her compensation in the form of a free weekend stay at a suite in their hotel, as well as free dining and play. Still, it wasn’t exactly the $8.5 million she initially believed she had won.
Whether Castillo would accept the offer or not, she wasn’t satisfied with the way things had been handled, and she wasn’t going to be let down. In addition to issuing comments to the media and writing posts on social media about the incident, Castillo had bigger plans to try to fight for the justice she believed was due to her.
15. Game not over
To say that casino-goer Veronica Castillo was upset over the whole matter was an understatement. Having hit the jackpot — or so she thought — only to be refused payment, wasn’t a matter she was going to take lying down. “To me, it’s cheating, may even be fraudulent,” she charged.
Accusing a casino of cheating is certainly no laughing matter. However, Castillo had a plan to back her words with actions. Perhaps her experience working as a loan manager spurred her desire and wherewithal to take measures to fix what she deemed an unfair outcome. “I’m going to fight,” she asserted. “This is not over.”
16. Putting up a fight
Soon after the whole episode occurred, Veronica Castillo announced that she was considering legal action and searching for a lawyer. “If it needs to go to trial, then we’ll go to trial,” she told local news outlet The Oregonian. For Castillo, her fight wasn’t just about seeking cash for herself.
“My first thought was, ‘How many people has this happened to?’ They think they won, then go away empty-handed,” Castillo told KOIN 6 News. She took to Facebook to add that, at the very least, she wanted to create awareness about how casinos work, especially when, according to her, “players get the big winnings.” But the story didn’t end there.
17. Not the first ‘odd’ occurrence
While the casino sent the machine for a recall, a representative from the Washington State Gambling Commission chimed in on the case with some potentially surprising statements. Susan Newer, a spokeswoman from the agency, told The Oregonian that unlike other machines at the casino, the Jurassic Riches game that Castillo had played was not regulated by her agency.
Whether or not her statements were connected to the behavior that Veronica Castillo had experienced, the agency spokeswoman added that one of their agents assigned to the casino had previously reported that the game had acted “odd” before “spinning backwards.” In addition to the investigations into the specifics of Castillo’s story, her case brings up questions about how often such incidents occur. And the answer may surprise you.
18. The odds of encountering a malfunction
The gambling industry is regulated as a whole in the U.S. However, Washington state, where the Lucky Eagle Casino is located, is among a handful of states in the U.S. that houses a “casino lab” — where regular inspections are carried out on gaming machines.
“Nationwide, it’s extremely rare to see a major machine malfunction, so consumers should feel confident that when they are sitting down at a gaming machine, it’s going to function properly,” Washington State Gambling Commission employee Heather Songer told Inside Edition. That being said, while Veronica Castillo’s case is certainly an outlier, it also isn’t an isolated incident.
19. The biggest jackpot in US history?
In recent years, there have been a handful of casino patrons who’ve had similar experiences to that of Castillo. One specific incident that garnered national attention was that of slots player Katrina Bookman in 2016. Bookman believed her life was forever changed when it appeared that she had won the largest slot machine jackpot in U.S. history.
Bookman was beside herself when she hit what she thought was a whopping $42 million jackpot on the Sphinx Slot Machine at Resorts World Casino in Queens, New York. “I thought I was a millionaire. I thought it was my lucky day,” she told Inside Edition. However, like Veronica Castillo, her high spirits would be fleeting.
20. Chaos in the casino
“I can’t even describe the feeling. It’s like my whole body just got numb,” she told CNN affiliate WABC. Amid her unbelievable excitement, Katrina Bookman snapped a selfie with the screen, thinking her life had completely changed in an instant. She was already imagining what she’d do with her winnings as she prepared to collect the enormous sum.
After growing up in the foster system, she had raised four children all by herself. She imagined buying a barber shop for her son and donating a large portion of the lucky win back to her community. However, chaos would immediately ensue in the casino once she reported her mega win.
21. Crushed dreams
Bookman’s partner filmed the scene as other customers, casino staff, and security flocked to her station. Without much time to take in what was happening, she was ushered off the casino floor and instructed to come back the following day when the casino would have a decision regarding her jackpot.
The mother of four returned to the casino in Queens the next day, excitedly asking what exactly she had won. Her spirits were effectively crushed when a casino worker told her that due to a malfunction, she hadn’t actually won anything. Ultimately, the casino only offered her a complimentary steak dinner and $2.25. Like Veronica Castillo, Katrina Bookman wanted to fight. Would the path set a precedent or repeat other dealings of such matters?
22. Not a winner, no steak dinner
The New York State Gaming Commission later confirmed the machine malfunction, pointing out the kind of disclaimer sticker noted in the case of Veronica Castillo. Nonetheless, Bookman turned down the casino’s steak dinner offer and instead hired a lawyer. At first, her lawyer fought to get her the $6,500 maximum payout on the slot machine.
“You can’t claim a machine is broken because you want it to be broken,” her attorney, Alan Ripka, said. “Does that mean it wasn’t inspected? Does it mean it wasn’t maintained?” Without seeing any effort toward reparations, Bookman’s lawyer ultimately set out to sue the casino for $43 million in damages. CNNMoney reported that Bookman’s suit was similar to yet another case involving a 90-year-old woman years earlier.
23. The nonagenarian who received none
Media outlets around the world ran headlines when the 90-year-old grandmother of 13, Pauline McKee, thought she had won more than $41 million on a penny slot machine with a maximum payout of $10,000 in Iowa. Like Veronica Castillo and Katrina Bookman, she was ultimately offered a small compensation — $1.85, to be exact. “I had doubts from the start because that’s a lot of money for a penny machine,” she told the Chicago Tribune.
Still, she explained: “I was hoping to help my children out financially, but it wasn’t meant to be.” Even though the machine’s makers had previously warned of “component degradation,” the casino argued that the malfunction voided the impossible payout amount. McKee took her case to court, but her suit was ultimately rejected. Although the casinos insist such malfunctions are extremely rare, the cases seen here raise important questions about casino operations that any prospective patron should be aware of.
24. Know the house rules
Awareness of how each game works and the caveats of the house rules is vital for casino visitors. Regarding the likes of the slot machines played by the people previously mentioned, it’s important to keep in mind that the slots are designed to give the casino an edge in the long-term, but that doesn’t detract from the incredible results they can yield in the short-term.
While the odds of slot machines are hard to know, the probability of winning is never 100%. Still, slot machines are among the most popular attractions at casinos. Why? Because anyone can win at any time. All it takes is a coin and a click, and a massive jackpot could be yours. But slot machines are anything but simple. In fact, these computerized innovations make use of some very advanced technology.
25. The truth behind the scenes
What isn’t always obvious to the naked eye is that a highly complex software program called a random number generator randomizes all outcomes to ensure that every spin generates a result that is independent of the previous spin in every way. But what does this mean on a day-to-day level?
That means that the payout amounts are always going to be less than the odds of winning on a slot machine. As a pillar of profit-making, slot machines rake in between 65% to 80% of income for casinos in many U.S. states. When looking at the issue of malfunctioning slot machines, the matter is actually a fairly recent phenomenon.
26. Technology for better or for worse
In fact, it’s the same advanced technology that the slots run on that leads to the majority of malfunctions in the machines. Malfunctions occur for a variety of reasons, including improper tampering, coin jams, empty hoppers, switch failures, computer chip failures, power outages, and accidental contact (aka bumping).
Prior to the 1960s, the old-fashioned slot machines, or “one-armed bandits,” as they were known, would use randomly spinning drums, which were pretty much immune to malfunction. The maximum payout on those was no more than 100 times the bet. That meant that even if one did malfunction, it probably would likely go unnoticed, as slots offered a fairly small return (unlike what happened to Castillo, Bookman, and McKee). In light of this information, some players may wonder how they can rely on these machines at all.
27. What to keep in mind
Like any machine, those found in casinos are not completely fault-free. Legitimate malfunctions do occur. However, the chances that a casino will refuse to pay out a slot jackpot are reportedly relatively uncommon. If someone does find themselves in such a situation, here are some suggestions to keep in mind about what actions to take.
Casino gambling laws in the U.S. are notably complex and vary from state to state. According to one expert on Nevada law, David Sala, the correct action to take if you’re denied payment by a casino after a win is to stop playing immediately, then contact the Nevada Gaming Commission. From there, agents and technicians can make analyses from the game’s saved history. In light of disagreements, there are usually a series of appeal processes available. However, whether you hit a legitimate jackpot or not, someone will always be watching.
28. The watchful eye over winners
It’s common knowledge that most games found in casinos are tilted in favor of the house. However, tight measures are taken to ensure that neither the casino nor its patrons are engaging in shady business. In fact, casinos have plenty of surveillance cameras and security officers, though you probably couldn’t tell just by looking.
Security is constantly on the lookout for cheaters, especially when it comes to big winners. Security is bound to carry out a review of anyone who hits a jackpot or gets on a major hot streak, whether it’s on the slots or card tables. But what do financial experts have to say about casinos in terms of financial management?
29. The financial risk involved
According to Reuters, the commercial gaming industry raked in more than $40 billion in 2017. It’s a given to say that casino gambling can carry financial risk, not to mention be highly addictive. With that in mind, financial expert Jonathan Rogers, a co-managing partner of Forum Financial Management LP, advises people to think about investing like a casino rather than a gambler.
If that doesn’t convince you, then perhaps an experiment conducted by Warren Buffett will. The “Oracle of Omaha” once placed a slot machine in his house and provided his children with any allowance they wanted, all paid in dimes. He then revealed to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders the incredible outcome of the “good lesson” he wanted to teach his children.
30. The Warren Buffett experiment
Arguably the world’s greatest investor, Buffett explained that he had all of the dimes he’d given to his children back by nightfall. While his shareholders may have rocked with laughter at the time, the method Buffett enacted with his children can serve as a valuable lesson.
In terms of “get-rich-quick” schemes — which can be applied to both casinos and capital markets alike — Buffett has said: “Successful investing takes time, discipline and patience. No matter how great the talent or effort, some things just take time: You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”