‘Reel Tilt’ Leads to Heartbreak—Casino Gambler Denied Million-Dollar Jackpot

A New Jersey gambler may be gearing up for legal action after being told by Bally’s Atlantic City that what she thought was a million-dollar slot jackpot resulted from a mechanical error known as reel tilt. Bally’s Casino and the gaming supplier, International Game Technology (IGT), are disputing the alleged win over the technical glitch.

According to a 6ABC Action News report, Roney Beal of Shamong Township, New Jersey, visited Bally’s in February to play the slots.

After dumping hundreds into a Wheel of Fortune-branded game, Beal said the machine “went off,” indicating she’d won a jackpot of more than $1.2 million. Beals also claimed to have hit a multiplier, which would have doubled the prize.

As the crowd around her celebrated, Beal pressed the service button on the slot, summoning security. The message on the machine then changed from “You’re a winner” to “Tilted,” she recalled.

Beal said attendants told her the machine had a malfunction known as a “reel tilt,” which voids the win.

When the man came over to talk to me, he said, ‘Lady, get it in your head, you won nothing.’

Despite that assertion, Beal appears poised to challenge the loss in court. Her attorney, Mike Dicroce, told 6ABC what happened was wrong.

You invite somebody to your business. They pay the money, they win, you’re supposed to pay. That didn’t happen.

It’s the second case this year in the US in which an error has led a gambler to believe they’ve won a huge prize, only to have it snatched away. John Cheeks of Washington D.C. announced in February that he was suing Powerball because incorrect draw numbers matching his own had temporarily appeared on its website. As a result of the glitch, he believed that he had won the jackpot, which was $340 million at the time.

What is ‘Reel Tilt’ and Why Does it Void Slots Jackpots?

Slot machine manufacturers make it explicit that there is no prize in the case of a malfunction. All machines come with a label to that effect, usually phrased as:

Malfunction voids all pays and plays.

Reel tilt is a particular malfunction that occurs only with RNG-driven electromechanical slots. These devices use old-fashioned mechanical reels to display the game’s outcome but generate that result electronically. They use digital random number generators (RNGs) like a modern video slot machine.

The Wheel of Fortune device Beal was playing falls into this category.

The results generated by the machine’s RNG are known as the virtual reels. Another part of the machine sends a signal to the physical reels, telling them when to stop so that they show the same result as the virtual reels.

Reel tilt occurs when the physical reels don’t match the virtual reels. The “tilt” part of that expression is a holdover from a time when mechanical slots had tilt switches to detect tampering similar to those found on a pinball machine. In many cases, it was the same companies making both types of devices.

Reel tilt can happen for various reasons, such as worn-out or dirty mechanical parts. Because the RNG is responsible for ensuring a fair game, the virtual reels trump the physical reels in the case that they don’t match.

Unfortunately, that can lead to heartbreak when reel tilt causes the physical reels to show a jackpot, which the virtual reels say shouldn’t have occurred.

Casino Officials, Regulators Asked to Preserve Evidence

Notably, Beal recalled that after the contested win, a Bally’s attendant came over and opened the machine, fiddling inside. She said he offered her $350 at some point, seemingly instead of the jackpot.

Dicroce has asked Bally’s, IGT, and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to preserve the machine and casino floor videos for an independent forensic review.

He also accused the casino of possible tampering.

They fooled with the machine before anybody else had the opportunity to take a look at this.

As 6ABC points out, this isn’t the first time a player has challenged reel tilt over jackpot loss. Almost 25 years ago, Jacques Bezou fought IGT and Harrah’s New Orleans over the same malfunction.

Ultimately, in that case, Bezou eventually won his $1.3 million jackpot, but only after years in legal limbo.

Early Precedent Might Not be Enough

Beal hopes the law works in her favor, but more recent precedent could make it an uphill battle.

In 2012, grandmother Pauline McKee seemingly won nearly $42 million on a Miss Kitty slot at Iowa’s Isle Casino Hotel. However, like the others, she learned her win resulted from a malfunction. In defiance, Mckee decided to sue the casino, but the Iowa Supreme Court dismissed her case in 2015.

Similarly, in 2016, Katrina Bookman thought she’d won over $42 million playing at Resorts World New York. After detecting an error, the casino instead offered Bookman $2.25 and a steak dinner. Bookman sued the casino operator and game supplier the following year.

Court documents indicate the Queens County Supreme Court dismissed two of three counts in Bookman’s complaint in 2018. However, what happened after remains unclear.

For her part, Beal told 6ABC that if there’s no remedy, her casino visits are likely over.

Why would I ever go to a casino again in my life? Any casino? Why, if there is no hope?

The explanation of reel tilt in this article was provided by Bonus news editor Alex Weldon.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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