Because Some of Them Are Ridiculous!
It was just earlier this year that I penned an article about a couple who had intentionally stolen a $1,000 slot ticket at the Beau Rivage and cashed it in.
The story that prompted the article was not itself particularly interesting, with exception to the amount, of course. The idea was that the story would lead into a greater discussion about the taking of credits/cash/tickets that are left behind in a casino.
I would later go on to discuss how, in the State of Pennsylvania, there is no, “Finders Keepers,” law and the taking of any amount of cash/credits/chips is illegal if not won by the person taking them. As I mentioned, many players in the state are aware of the law, and for that reason, you will often see people sit at a machine, cash out the (literal) pennies of abandoned credits that were left behind, and then put the ticket up on the machine.
It’s difficult to say with any great deal of certainty how stringently this law is actually enforced in PA, but thanks to an investigation by Fox 31 Denver.
We know that Colorado’s own version of the law is enforced pretty strenuously.
In short, the report discovered that, in the past five years, over nine hundred individuals have been arrested in the State of Colorado for a little known law, that reads something like this.
It is a section of the Criminal Code that deals with fraudulent acts that can take place inside of a casino. The most relevant portion of the code for these purposes falls under, “c.”:
(c) To claim, collect, or take, or attempt to claim, collect, or take, money or anything of value in or from a limited gaming activity with intent to defraud and without having made a wager contingent thereon, or to claim, collect, or take an amount greater than the amount won;
In other words, without any sort of minimum amount in place, the law makes it illegal to take any money or anything of value that was not either won or that belonged to the player to begin with.
Many people might see that law and think, “Oh, good, this makes it so that, ‘Buffalo Hunters,’ (also known as, ‘Sweepers,’ or, ‘Scavengers') can get prosecuted, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This law has been used against a wide variety of individuals and, according to other Colorado State laws, the casino is essentially forced to aid law enforcement in the enforcement of same. In other words, even if they wanted not to, it is quite possible that the casino has no choice but to report these acts as they become known.
Of course, this particular code could affect people other than those who happen upon a small amount of money, slot tickets or loose chips:
(e) To place or increase a bet after acquiring knowledge of the outcome of the game or other event which is the subject of the bet, including past-posting and pressing bets;
But, wait, doesn’t that just involve past-posting?
I would actually say: Not necessarily.
You will note that it says a person cannot place or increase a bet after acquiring knowledge of the outcome of the game, and while that law clearly describes past-posting, it could also describe hole-carding, in many cases.
For example, Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em is a game that is played against the dealer in which the side with the superior hand wins. After the initial bets are placed, each player will receive two, “Hole Cards,” and from there, there are as many as three opportunities to place an additional wager. The player may bet 3x or 4x before the flop, 2x after the flop or 1x after the River cards come out. A player with a weak hand that is unworthy of a large bet, upon knowing the dealer’s hole cards, could theoretically place a wager after the Flop, and particularly after the River, knowing the dealer cannot win.
If that’s too much of a stretch, then perhaps Let It Ride would be another could example of a game that could be hole-carded that enables the player to place a bet (that he would not otherwise make) after the result is known. For example, imagine a player is dealt 6-8-9, rainbow, that’s going to be a hand in which the player should take his bet back. This player, however, got a peek at the fifth card and knows that it is a five.
In the game of Let It Ride, this would effectively be the same thing as playing 5-6-8-9 (no flush chance) prior to the final decision point. In that case, the player would want to take his bet back as drawing to an inside straight with two high cards is not strong enough to justify leaving the bet out there.
The difference here is that the player is actually going to get the fourth card and know what the fifth card is after that. In this case, if the fourth card is a seven, and the player knows that the five is coming, he would leave his bet out.
It’s an imperfect example, because Let It Ride is such that an open-ended straight draw with zero cards is a perfectly equal decision between leaving the bet out and pulling it back. With that, it might be difficult for the casino to prove intent on what is otherwise a perfectly reasonable play. Let’s talk about an unreasonable play:
Mississippi Stud is a game in which a player is dealt two initial cards, and then the remaining three cards are flipped, one at a time, resulting in three additional decision points after the, “Base Bet,” has been made. The first is prior to the flipping of the first card, then prior to the flipping of the second and, you guessed it, prior to the third.
The way the game works, whatever a player’s base bet may be, the player must at least match that in order to continue, otherwise fold. If the player has a hand with a positive expected value, then the player would want to make a 3x Raise prior to the next card being flipped. Sub-Optimal play could consist of a 1x or 2x bet.
When the player is dealt the first two cards, he/she may fold immediately if the cards are complete garbage. A perfect example of this is an offsuit 6-2, which even players not well-versed in poker should immediately recognize as a lousy hand. The game is basically a five-card stud variant, (as is Let It Ride) in which a pair of 6’s-10’s is a Push and anything better than that results in a profitable hand.
With that, it becomes clear that the best play when a player already has a pair of 6’s, or better, is to do the 3x Raise all the way. The worst-case scenario is that the hand will not improve leading the player to ultimately push. Again, folding 6-2 is always correct, but what if a player new ahead of time that one of the three community cards was ABSOLUTELY going to be a six?
That means that the player is essentially starting out with knowledge that he would not have until the second decision point, and possibly not until the third decision point or at all. If the six that pairs the player up would be the final community card, for example, then the player should have no actual way (short of hole-carding or the more blatantly illegal card marking---and why mark a six?---) of knowing he has a playable hand.
Of course, if you are a hole-carder who is not placing a high priority on cover play, then perhaps you would go ahead and say something like, “I don’t know why, but I feel good about this,” and lay out that 3x bet all the way across. Certainly such a player would want to give the appearance of reckless abandon.
Without a doubt, this sort of behavior is violative of the code cited above. Not because the code specifically outlaws hole-carding, by name, but because there is a bet being made after the final outcome of the game (or a worst case scenario---a push) is known. Technically, a player could still hole card under the law, but would really only be able to use it without a theoretical risk of legal repercussions when the information not known to other players is such that it changes the probability, but does not guarantee a known result.
To reduce the amount wagered or to cancel a bet after acquiring knowledge of the outcome of the game or other event which is the subject of the bet, including pinching bets;
This is another one that could pertain to Let It Ride. A player may be in a position such that he is dealt Js-Qs-Ks, nice little three-to-a-royal, but much to his chagrin, he catches the hole card and it is a useless deuce. If the deuce is of the same suit, then the player is technically playing with knowledge he would not otherwise have until the final decision point, but it’s good enough to leave the bet out. Imagine that the next card out is a Ten of Diamonds, under normal circumstances, you’re still looking at an open-ended straight draw, all-high, making leaving the bet out an easy decision. However, the player knows the next card is a deuce and will take the bet back instead.
That is another example of how hole carding could technically run afoul of this law, even though the act of hole-carding itself is not expressly illegal.
Back to the Tickets
Let’s return to the main subject matter of this article, which is the handling of slot tickets, abandoned credits or chips/cash found on the floor or elsewhere.
Pennsylvania’s laws are really quite similar to Colorado’s, but the one thing that might be said in favor of Pennsylvania is that signage pertaining to same is posted at or near the entrance of most casinos that I have visited, if not all of them. I’m not certain that it was posted at all of them, because there are a handful of casinos in the state that I have visited five, or fewer, times and would not remember something like that.
According to the news report, which focused on a man arrested for playing off $2 in abandoned slot credits and got pinched upon returning to the casino, they looked for any signage pertinent to this somewhat obscure and counterintuitive law, and could not find any. I actually find that quite a bit surprising because the subject matter of the law, specifically, is gambling venues and the law only applies to gambling venues.
The law does refer to, “An Intent to Defraud,” so technically, anyone prosecuting under this section should have to prove intent. Unfortunately, there are a number of issues that may come into play:
1.) Ignorance of the law is no defense.
We understand, pretty inherently, that ignorance of the law is no defense. That makes perfect sense from a common sense standpoint because, if it were, then one could argue against an armed robbery or murder charge by saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to do that.”
In this case, I believe ignorance of the law should be a viable defense because the casino is doing nothing to ensure that its patrons are knowledgeable of a law that only applies while in a casino. In other words, it’s a highly specific law and I seriously doubt that everyone researches Gaming Code and any other applicable state or local laws prior to entering a casino. I think most people are just trying to have fun.
Can you imagine that? An otherwise perfectly law-abiding citizen ending up with a criminal record for an act as unintentional (theoretically) as accidentally adding her ticket to a machine with a few cents or dollars on it?
2.) You Will Essentially Have to Prove Your Intent
How the Hell can intent be negatively proven? It would seem that when we legally speak as to the notion of, “Intent,” that intent is a very conclusive positive term that should require first deliberation and then action. In other words, it should actually prove fairly difficult to conclusively prove what a person’s intent was, so how, short of merely claiming to the contrary, can a person prove what his or her intent wasn’t?
The short answer is: You really can’t. They can’t prove what was going through your mind at the time of taking an action anymore than you can prove what you were thinking. How can you prove that you were simply not paying attention? You can’t. The best you can do is assert that you were not paying attention and then the judge can either believe or not believe you. Oh, about that:
3.) It’s a Freakin’ Municipal or County Court:
Four Words: Good. Luck. With. That.
Here are the two things that can happen when you appear in a Municipal Court:
Innocent: The Municipality, County and State get no money because there is no fine.
Guilty: You are fined and those entities get to steal some of your money.
It’s really that simple. Most people don’t think of lawyering up for a Petty Misdemeanor type of case simply because the attorney’s hourly is often going to result in paying the attorney more than the amount of the fine would be to begin with. In other words, even if he gets you off, you’re still going to be out some bucks. In most jurisdictions, an individual would not qualify for a public defender for this type of low-level charge, so any notion of that is out.
In other words, you can either plead guilty and pay your fine, or you can plead innocent, get railroaded, and pay your fine. No defense is good enough, because a successful defense would result in the jurisdictions not getting any money from you.
My story involving casinos and Municipal Courts is a pretty straightforward one:
I was removed and banned from a casino a few years back for reasons that, while legitimate, were probably such that the punishment was a little in excess of the crime. I felt that maybe a one year ban and stern warning would have been more appropriate, but despite my protests and a year of phone calls (mostly unreturned) I would be permanently banned from the casino.
At one point, I wanted to determine by whose authority I was banned from the casino. Essentially, I was not challenging the validity of the ban, but rather wanted to know who was doing the banning. In the state in question, an individual (in addition to self-exclusion, which was not the case) may be banned by order of the casino or order of the State Police.
I was able to determine, in very short order, that I was not banned by the State Police. Unofficially, they would obviously have to enforce whatever the casino would want done with me (if found on the property), but officially, the State Police did not have a problem with me being there absent the casino complaining about it.
The owners of the property would later sell the entire property to another casino company who contracted a third company still to manage the property for them. The original owners, who were the owners at the time of my banning, no longer had any fiduciary or any other form of interest in the property.
Several months after the completion of the sale, perhaps over a year later, I would be found and returned to the back room for violating the trespass order that the casino had against me. Despite my protests that I would leave peacefully and had actually been told (upon calling) that the former ban no longer applied, as well as saying that I would not return to the property again, I was issued a citation and ordered to appear in court.
My defense to the Magistrate consisted of about four different points, but easily the strongest was, “The company that banned me no longer owns the property or has any interest in it whatsoever. The new company, as well as the operator, has sent me no notification that my ban would still be enforced.”
My second best point was that both the owner of the property and the operator of the property own/operate other casino properties, and I am welcome at all of those. Ergo, there was no inherent reason to believe that should change.
Anyway, the Magistrate had no interest in my argument that a business entity does not have the capacity to ban me from a place that it doesn’t own. The prosecution (State Police) did not actually have to present a case, or speak at all, because the Magistrate did all of the arguing with me for them. The Magistrate’s best point, as far as I could tell, was that even though ownership of the property changed hands, the casino itself is called the same thing it was at the time of my banning.
Obviously, that argument is complete nonsense. If I were to somehow get banned from a Burger King, for example, but someone new bought it and decided to continue to operate it as a Burger King, would I still be banned? How would the ban carry over? How could it be assumed that the new owner would not want my patronage?
More importantly, can the company that formerly owned the casino in question ban me from every casino in the United States if they so choose? It seems that they can ban me from casinos they don’t own as it is, so what would the difference be?
The point of the matter is that there is really no point in doing anything except pleading Guilty when dealing with a Magistrate. Magistrate Courts, quite simply, do not find it incumbent upon themselves to protect and uphold the law, they exist for the collection of fines by any means necessary. If you intend to fight a charge before the Magistrate, my advice is to be prepared to take it to the County Court on appeal, and perhaps as far as a District or State Supreme Court.
You’re not going to win before a Magistrate. Full stop. Findings of innocence are simply not profitable.
Of the many charges that have come over the five year period studied, some of them have been for legitimate cheating, such as past-posting at Roulette. Others have been similar to the main lead-in that the news discussed, such that any reasonable person would presume an individual to be innocent of any notion of, “Intent.”
Why Does This Benefit the Casinos?
The fact of the matter is that the State of Colorado essentially requires the casino to aide them in the enforcement of the law, as written, so that’s what the casino has to do.
It doesn’t take an Economics Professor to understand why enforcement of this obscure law is a huge economic negative for the casino, even a low-level degree holder from a no-name school understand that:
1.) The Casino Loses Money Overall
The first thing that anyone can see is that the casino will often lose money on this, overall.
In the State of Colorado particularly, anyone found guilty under this statute will be banned from all of the casinos in Colorado for one year, and many of those patrons will not see fit to ever come back after paying the fines and doing the community service.
It’s beyond arguable that the tickets left in the slot machines shouldn’t even be considered as belonging to the casino to begin with. If you think about it, the casino ends up playing, “Finders Keepers,” just as much as any patron who happens to find a ticket and cashes it out or, “Spins it off.”
Besides that, many of these tickets are, “Abandoned,” in the truest sense of the word. An individual playing no longer has enough money on the machine to make a Max Bet (or whatever bet amount) and decides it is not worth the time or effort to cash the ticket. There have been several occasions, in fact, in which I have been playing and a person has ran a ticket down to almost nothing, cashed it, and asked, “Want this?” With a chuckle, I’ll typically respond, “Sure, why not? Maybe your money is more lucky than mine.”
Either way, let’s pretend, for a second, that a person truly is stealing money from the casino by doing this. Okay, so the offense can be as little as $2, but the person has been playing and will in the future play slot machines that hold 8%, or more. If we go with 8%, then as soon as the player makes $25 in total bets, the casino has already gotten its $2 back in the form of expected loss.
We can certainly assume that a slot player will make more than $25 in total bets over the course of a year. In fact, the player will almost assuredly make more than that in total bets throughout the course of one visit to the casino. The player might also pay for food, beverages, gift shop or any number of other things with cash on direct.
To assume that the casino doesn’t know that enforcing this law is ultimately bad for it would be to assume that there is literally not a single person working for the entire establishment with more than a fourth grade education. The law puts decent and honest players out and turns them off from playing there.
2.) The State Makes Money, or Municipality
We’ve went over this, so let’s keep it short:
Innocent: No money.
There are other ways that this law does not benefit the casinos at all and there are a few ways in which the law is somewhat neutral from the casino’s standpoint. Let’s continue:
3.) Buffalo Hunters
It has been suggested that this law gives the casino a means of recourse against deliberate Buffalo Hunters, where, “Buffalo Hunter,” may be defined as:
Buffalo Hunter: An individual who scours the casino floor for no purpose other than to look for abandoned slot credits and/or tickets which he then collects for the purpose of either cashing or attempting to win something big after collecting enough to make a sizable wager.
The first thing that should be noted is that not all, “Buffalo Hunters,” are unprofitable for the casino. I have noticed multiple individuals in my travels who seem to play legitimately, but became Buffalo Hunters upon losing all of their money and hoping to gather up enough to make a comeback. In other words, they did not enter the casino with the express intent of Buffalo Hunting, and worthy of mention is the fact that the casino has already won money from those people.
The best course of action for the casino to take when it comes to individuals who lose money and then become Buffalo Hunters is simply to take them aside and warn them that they will be banned from the property if they engage in that sort of behavior again.
The only Scavengers the casino should really be concerned about ridding themselves of immediately are those who enter the casino with the sole purpose of sweeping the floor for abandoned credits and/or tickets. These people are not only a nuisance, but often, the more aggressive ones might even act as a disturbance to other players. The worst offenders often engage in tactics such as trying to create an uncomfortable atmosphere (such as blowing smoke in someone’s face or standing unnecessarily closely to them) in order to encourage them to get up and leave the machine.
The problem is that the law is not necessary to deal with these sorts of people, as the casino already has an adequate means of redress. The casino can, very simply, target the Buffalo Hunters and issue them a trespass notice thereby permanently banning them from the property. If the person is then found on the property at a later time or date, the casino can pursue remedy (charges) against the person under the applicable Defiant (or Criminal) Trespass laws which almost all, if not all, jurisdictions have on the books.
Granted, being banned from all casinos in a state in one swoop is a more expedient means of redress, and you don’t have to worry about the person entering other casinos, but simple sharing of information amongst casinos could prompt all of the other casinos within the state to send individual trespass notices to the offender anyway.
For those reasons, I would suggest that the law is Neutral in terms of dealing with Buffalo Hunters. The reason why is because the act of prosecuting EVERYONE for, perhaps inadvertently, taking abandoned credits is unnecessary if the target is deliberate Scavengers.
4.) The Casinos Are Blamed
The fact of the matter is that even the investigation by Fox Denver seemed (in tone) to implicate the casinos for unfair prosecutions at an equal level that it implicated the actual legal jurisdictions. I am not one to hold the casinos entirely blameless, but in fairness and their defense, the casinos do not write the law.
The stories of people paying patently unfair fines get spread not only by news outlets, but also by word-of-mouth, and many people are going to arrive at the semi-accurate (but not really) conclusion that this is something the casinos want to enforce. The truth is, the casinos may effectively have no choice but to enforce it.
Really, it is the state that should be blamed (as well as Municipalities) for such a liberal interpretation of the law when it comes to charging people and finding them guilty. At any point that a citation is issued, the matter becomes a legal matter and is henceforward out of the hands of the casino. Even if a person were to appear and defend, it is up to the court to behave reasonably by not finding a person guilty for what could have legitimately been an accident...or is otherwise a very minor offense.
In short, the casinos look bad (or greedy) when really it is the State or Municipality that is the most greedy, by collecting all of those unfair fines.
In fact, the player could simply offer to give the money back, as the subject of the story offered to give the $2 to the casino, but that doesn’t matter.
5.) The, ‘Victim,’ Rarely Benefits
Generally speaking, the victim of a crime would be the one to report it and determine whether or not he/she wishes to press charges. We often see this when it comes to crimes far more serious (one example is domestic violence) that result in a far greater injury than the loss of a few cents or dollars.
In reality, the victim is probably rarely sought out and does not view himself/herself to be a victim to begin with. The person may have realized that he/she had insufficient money to place another bet and, as such, decided NOT to cash out the ticket. Is it really worth cashing out a ticket and going to a redemption machine for forty-seven cents?
In other words, you have a crime and a conviction...but no real victim.
First of all, I would suggest that this law, as written, is entirely unfair and would suggest a boycott of all casinos in the State of Colorado until this law is changed. It may seem unfair to the casinos, but remember, as casino revenues are taxed by the state, the state benefits financially from the players, as well.
In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that the Gaming Commission for a given state is effectively acting as a partner with all of the casinos within its jurisdiction. Both the state and the casinos benefit from losing players.
Arguably, this law doesn’t benefit the State or Municipality because a player might eventually have an expected loss such that the state’s theoretical portion of that expected loss also exceeds the amount of the fine.
Anyway, here is what I suggest for negative expectation players:
1.) Boycott Casinos in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Any Other State with a Similar Statute
It is possible that an otherwise honest and innocent person can find himself/herself in violation of these laws for a totally non-deliberate act. Until the laws require a strict proving of intent for individuals to be successfully prosecuted, casinos in these states should be avoided. This law almost certainly harms more people who violate it unintentionally (particularly in Colorado) than it does people who are behaving deliberately.
Alternatively, if the casinos were to place a required posting on EVERY SINGLE MACHINE, TABLE AND OTHER GAMING DEVICE informing players of the law, then I would argue that is also acceptable.
The law not only runs afoul of common sense, but it runs in contradiction to other laws outside of the casino. Typically, if the amount in question is small enough, found money is just found money and there would be no legal action taken against a person who found a small bill, picked it up, and pocketed it.
In fact, could you imagine if a law similar to the casino law applied everywhere? The floors of retailers and the streets would almost constantly be littered with coins, because nobody would be able to pick up fallen money. You would have to employ someone (as the state) whose job it was to just walk the streets and sidewalks, look for dropped money, and turn it into the state. It would be complete nonsense.
2.) NEVER Cash Out Tickets or Play on Abandoned Credits Unless You KNOW You Are Permitted to Do So
Many states with casinos do not have laws as ridiculous as those of Colorado and Pennsylvania, and the typical, “Found money,” laws of a state would apply even in the confines of casinos. As mentioned before, a casino (as a private business) already has a form of redress that can be used to target deliberate Buffalo Hunters.
The best policy is never to pick anything up from the floor for any reason or to play on abandoned credits (or cash the ticket) unless you specifically know that you are allowed to do so. As players in Colorado have found out, a thorough researching of the laws would show that they may not do that.
If you find a machine with abandoned credits that you wish to play, you must either inform a slot attendant as to same, or cash out the ticket and place it on top of the machine. Once again, this is unless you know you are allowed to take it.
3.) (For AP’s) Be Careful
I have discussed how hole carding could be an issue. However, it also occurs to me that, “Vulturing,” slot machines could theoretically present an issue under the law. Let’s refresh ourselves on the verbiage of the law really quick:
e) To place or increase a bet after acquiring knowledge of the outcome of the game or other event which is the subject of the bet, including past-posting and pressing bets;
How would that apply to vulturing?
The law makes it illegal to place a bet after acquiring knowledge of the outcome of a game. There are many slot machines that have a mechanism by which Wilds can be stacked for multiple spins, and those machines are highly vulturable.
In the event that there were Wilds on two of the first three reels for the following spin (or spins) then the player knows that it is literally impossible to have a losing spin. Every possible symbol that would result in a Line Pay would pay on the machine due to there being Wilds on two of three first three reels. Similarly, if all three of the reels were Wild, even better.
It would seem like a stretch to go after someone under this mechanism of the law, but I wouldn’t put it past a casino employee or the state to do so. You never know who you are dealing with. Does it technically mean that it is theoretically possible that nobody could play a machine in that state? Yes and no. A person could theoretically not understand the stacked Wilds mechanism well enough to know that the result of the next spin is a guaranteed profit...so they could play it as it would not be a deliberate act.
As ridiculous as it seems that a player would want to actively study the law prior to entering a casino, for players not following the guidelines I have laid out above, it seems to be the case. The vast majority of players enter casinos for the purpose of a good time, not to unknowingly engage in acts which really shouldn’t constitute criminal acts to begin with, yet may find themselves running afoul of the law without the proper education.