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December 22, 2014

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Slot player continues legal battle over disputed jackpot

Joe Pepitone believes he won $463,895 at Arizona Charlie's hotel-casino. Officials for slot maker International Game Technology say it was a mechanical error that voided the machine's jackpot.

Three years of legal disputes later, the Las Vegas butcher is still fighting for his jackpot and he's taking his battle to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Pepitone says four symbols lined up on the slot machine's pay line in October 1997 after he inserted three nickels into it and pulled the lever.

When the computerized slot machine went haywire, none of the westside casino's cameras were focused on that bank of machines so Pepitone has no evidence of a legitimate jackpot.

"What is the use of the cameras, if they only show one side?" Pepitone asked. "They catch thieves ... but where is it for me? I have a win of a half-million dollars, and they don't have it on tape?"

The case has prompted state Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, to write a bill for the upcoming session of the state Legislature designed to prevent casinos from dodging payments in such incidents.

"If you're going to have a state based on gambling, casinos have to pay out even when there is a malfunction," Neal said. "(Casinos) are encouraging you to put your money in those machines. So all jackpots should be paid out."

The malfunction was caused by an extra coin being jammed into the machine's slot, blocking the computer reader from working properly, according to documents filed with the Gaming Control Board.

When that happens, the spinning reels reverse, and the rotation continues until the machine is manually reset, the document states.

"The machine did what it was supposed to do when there is a malfunction," said Ross Hodge, IGT associate general counsel.

The control board ruled against Pepitone's claim a little more than a month after the incident. An appeal to a hearing officer and a District Court judge failed to reverse the verdict.

Pepitone's lawyer, Nikolas Mastrangelo, is preparing briefs to submit next month to the state Supreme Court. Lawyers for IGT and Arizona Charlie's will then have 30 days to respond.

"The main theme of our argument is, what's going to be the position of the state when a player ... lines up a jackpot and is told he can't collect because of a malfunction," Mastrangelo said. "What they're saying is, let the buyer beware, or let the player beware."

Keith Copher, chief enforcement officer for the Gaming Control Board, said regulators often rule in favor of casinos in such cases because such events are out of the control of casinos.

"It's unfortunate, and it's bad public relations for Nevada," Copher said. "But malfunctions happen. That's why we have worked with manufacturers to make sure (malfunctions) don't register as winning combinations."

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