In August last year, the world was abruptly turned upside-down for Katrina Bookman, a woman from Queens, New York, when she won nearly US$43 million dollars – or so she thought. After hitting the jackpot and taking an appropriately ecstatic “selfie” next to the game she was playing, Katrina was quickly ushered off the floor at New York’s Resorts World Casino.
She was then asked to return the following day to be told the “exact amount” that she had won. Unfortunately, when Katrina returned the next day she was summarily informed that, in the blunt words of the casino official, “you didn’t win nothing”. The reason they gave for this is that the machine she was playing on turned out to have malfunctioned.
Her consolation prize? US$2.25 and a complimentary steak dinner.
The Machine at Fault
Katrina was playing The Sphinx slot machine when the massive US$42 949 672.76 jackpot flashed onto her screen. And on the screen is where the fault lay because the Sphinx machine only has a max jackpot of US$6 500 – the amount had displayed in error.
That this is, in fact, what happened has subsequently been verified by the New York State Gaming Commission. The Gaming Commission has also confirmed that the machine bore a disclaimer indicating that any malfunction would void all pays and plays. State law dictates that this makes the casino’s decision to refuse to pay out the US$43 million completely legal; in fact, both the Commission and Resorts World Casino claim that this decision is a legal imperative.
Katrina, however, is not going to leave it at that.
Bookman Lawyers Up
Raised in the foster-care system and having brought up four children as a single parent, Katrina is no stranger to disappointment. But it seems that this loss is simply too devastating for her to accept.
“I can’t describe how I felt. It was like my whole body just went numb,” says Katrina, recalling the moment when that massive figure displayed on the screen.
So she has decided to take the matter to court and has enlisted high-profile NYC lawyer, Alan Ripka to help her plead her case.
“The machine takes the money when you lose. It ought to pay it when you win,” says Ripka, who has already spent months attempting to settle the matter with Resorts World out of court: “They win and the house doesn’t want to pay out. To me that’s unfair,” he adds.
Ripka has thus filed a lawsuit claiming the full amount on Katrina’s behalf. According to both him and his client, she should, at the very least, be awarded the machine’s top jackpot of US$6 500.
With the law apparently on the casino’s side, it will be a tough case for Katrina to win but, if she does, it will be a landmark victory and the largest slot machine jackpot in United States history. According to the New York State Gaming Commission, it wouldn’t even be legal for the casino to pay out since the law stipulates that all payouts must come from functioning machines.
In order to back her case, she intends to point to the emotional trauma she experienced as a result of the ordeal and also to another similar case. In 2011, an 87-year-old Iowa woman was refused a $42 million payout by the Supreme Court – also due to an allegedly faulty slot machine.
“I feel like they did me real dirty,” says a tearful Katrina.
Meanwhile, the offending machine has subsequently been repaired and returned to the Resorts World Casino floor, where it now stands innocuously, giving no indication of its role in this dramatic and historic turn of events.