We all have lost money in a machine or at the tables in a casino – that is a usual event! But when we have some stolen from us through a purposeful criminal action in a casino, or we have lost some because of a forgetful action on our own part, then that is not so usual. However, by the chatter after I shared Brad’s and my recent experience with this latter event, it seems that it happens more often than one would think. It has generated a lot of discussion, both in the comments here and in private e-mails to me. The subject also spawned a long thread on the vpFREE Internet forum.
Just what is the law on lost-and-found money in a casino?
It seems that there is no definitive answer, despite input from people who have actually had these experiences, the opinions of lawyers, and reported actions of casino executives. Like so many issues connected with casinos, it seems the standard answer is “it depends.”
First, it depends on the state where you “lose” the money. Some states have laws that give specific details about these sorts of incidents. In fact, one time I saw a sign in a casino – but I forget what state this was in – that explained something about found money not belonging to people who had not put money at risk in the first place. Our incident is an example of this. The person who cashed out our $1510 ticket had not put any money in the machine in the first place. (A side comment here: A casino visitor whose main purpose is to look for credits left on machines – and there are more “pros” with this “job” than you might think – would never just cash out a ticket like the person who took ours. They would always sit down at the machine and put in some money – they have tickets of small amounts readily stashed in their pockets. Then they would usually play at least one hand, often just one coin at the lowest denomination, before cashing out. This muddies the water a bit if the casino is trying to track things and gives the person a little more time to go to a kiosk and cash out and make his escape. This tactic also gives them a “defense”: “I didn’t notice there were already credits on the machine when I started playing!”)
Now, speaking specifically of the laws of Nevada. No two cases are exactly the same, so as usual the devil is in the details. One lawyer commented, “It is not always reliable to research legal issues on the Internet. You might find a statute that a court has interpreted differently or miss other statutes that control over the one you found.” Another lawyer, who specializes in gaming litigation, said that he believes that as long as the machine with credits has been abandoned, the other party can cash out the machine without violating Nevada law. However, he cautioned that the other party cashing out must not have a reasonable belief that the player will return.
This opinion addresses the difference between “finders-keepers” and definitive criminal action. We had experience with the latter some years ago at a Strip casino. I was standing at my machine talking with a friend, with my back to the cash-out button which was on the aisle side of the machine. A very smooth crook came along and pushed the button, grabbed the ticket, and walked away, all so quickly and quietly that I didn’t see or hear a thing. In fact, I didn’t notice anything wrong until a couple of minute later when I sat down and started to play and then realized that I didn’t have any credits. That incident didn’t turn out as well as this last one of ours. They traced the ticket, but it was cashed at a kiosk within a couple of minutes and the perp was long gone. The casino never offered to check video tapes, so it was losers-weepers for us.
Nevada casinos generally seem to think and act as if the law is cut and dried about incidents like ours, but some lawyers feel that people charged with a felony could perhaps persuade a court that what they did was not a crime. However, the expense of such a fight might make someone decide that it was better to just pay back the money rather than risk being charged. On some issues, like losing money or chips on the casino floor or accidentally leaving credits on a machine when the casino doesn’t choose to pursue criminal charges, you might have a civil legal matter. However, again, there is expense in this and casinos may not always want to help you, i.e., by providing video tapes that might show you who took your moey.
So many “depends”!! The state? The exact details? The casino policies? Interpretations of laws? All I know for sure is that I don’t want to ever get mixed up in these “depends” again – so I am going to be more careful in the future!
In my next entry, I will answer some of your questions about this incident so if you are still puzzling over anything, put it in the comments and I’ll try to address it.