A fifteen million dollar class action has been filed in Michigan against a well known chain of casinos. The suit claims that the chain in question obtained wagers through misrepresentation and fraud to gamers, in breach of several state and federal statutes.
Some slot machines in these casinos have a bonus wheel feature. That means that you can win a certain feature on the machine where you press a button and an actual physical “wheel of fortune” spins round on the top of the machine, just like its namesake in the famous game show.
The wheel spins quickly at first, then slower, until finally the wheel comes to rest and the pointer is left in one of the segments of the wheel, which indicates a particular prize, ranging from something small to the highest jackpot that can possibly be won in the casino.
However there are two differences between the game show wheel and the casino bonus spin wheel. Firstly, the game show wheel is spun by hand, by the contestant, whereas in the casino the bonus wheel is spun by the gamer pressing a button.
Secondly, and most crucially, the game show wheel is not weighted and so a spin of the wheel made with at least a minimal degree of physical strength gave the player a truly random equal chance of ending with the pointer in any one of the segments.
However, as the spin of the casino’s bonus wheels is controlled by computer, and as computers are incapable of generating truly random numbers, a player “spinning” the bonus wheel had the result predetermined by the computer which would weigh the results heavily towards the prizes at the lower end of the cash spectrum.
The plaintiff’s case contends as follows: because the casino slot machines with the bonus wheels were marketed using the same names and catchphrases as the game show, and because the odds of winning on a spin were at no point provided to the gamer, the gamer was induced to spend money as wagers on an essentially false premise.
At first sight it would seem that the suit has a good chance of success. After all, the odds of most casino games are displayed, and woe betide a casino that uses underhand means to change those advertised odds. If you keep your eyes peeled in a casino you will see that the odds for the slot machines are usually also displayed, and this was indeed the case in the casinos named as respondents in the class action.
However the true odds for the bonus wheel were never displayed, and impartial legal observers generally agree that the plaintiffs seem to have sincerely believed that every prize on the bonus wheel had an equal chance of coming up (in actual fact, they were weighted towards the lower end).
However, the respondents are bullish on their chances of fending off the suit, and their pockets are certainly deep enough to fight this all the way. A spokesperson for the casino chain points out that in all the states with legalized gaming right across the U.S.A. there is an authority that must certify every game in the casino as fair to the gamer.
The slot machines in question received this certification when they were initially rolled out to the public and they have been re-certified as fair in all subsequent reviews. It seems like this will be the mainstay of their legal defense.
There is real uncertainty within the gaming industry regarding how this case will be decided if it goes all the way. The damages could be high because since casinos started giving tax receipts to players showing details of winnings, players will be able to prove their winnings from the bonus wheel.
A court adjudicating damages could therefore take these numbers and factor in true random odds (about one in twenty) instead of the real odds applied to the jackpot (this was never random but the chance was effectively thousands to one). Whatever the outcome, we can certainly expect that after this case is settled, casinos will be taking care to include the bonus wheel odds in the small print.