They say that a penny saved is a penny earned. And that couldn’t have been truer for Pauline McKee, an Iowa grandmother who turned a penny into a $41 million jackpot at an Iowa casino in 2011.

It happened at Isle Hotel Casino in Waterloo at the penny slots. McKee lined up some symbols, the sirens blared, and the payout said she was $41 million richer. She hit the jackpot, or so it seemed.

After she tried to collect her winnings, she was told that the machine had a top payout of $10,000 and that it had malfunctioned. Rather than paying out that $41 million, she was told that the casino would need to investigate the win.

And they did. They sent off the hardware and software to be analyzed by an independent laboratory. They eventually determined that the machine had malfunctioned, a conclusion supported by the fact that Aristocrat Technologies Inc (the manufacturer of the game) warned various casinos that the hardware might inadvertently display legacy bonus awards (that would be bonuses that hadn’t actually been paid out).

With the ruling, McKee opted to sue the casino, arguing that the casino had an implied contract with players to pay out whatever appeared on the screen. The casino argued that any malfunction voids play and that this very warning was posted directly on the slot machine. This is not the first time someone wins a big jackpot on a slot machine and the casino tries to avoid payment, remember the German man who by 2008 had already waited 2 years for his money?

This past week, the state Supreme Court ruled in the casino’s favor, ruling that they aren’t required to pay out the $41 million. After all, the slots had a $10,000 top payout as mentioned on the machine, so any win above that obviously meant that something was awry.

Personally, I’m kind of torn on this one. I do think that casinos should have the right to defend themselves against claims for a multi-million dollar payout, especially when such a payout goes way above what the machine is capable of. For example, hitting a $5 million jackpot on a machine that has a top award of $8 million is a no-brainer. But hitting the same on a machine with a top payout of $8,000? Obviously something is wrong.

But at the same time, if a casino is going to house slot machines, they should make sure they work properly. And if they’re willing to put slots on the casino floor that could malfunction, they should be forced to pay the top possible payout in the event of a software or hardware glitch. In this case, that would have meant a $10,000 prize. Unfortunately, the court ruled that McKee had only one $1.85.

It’s hard to go from $41 million to less than $2. Hopefully she was paid out that $1.85. After all, that’s at least 185 spins at the penny slots. And who knows? Maybe McKee could hit the jackpot once again — this time for real.


Simon is an overactive gambler and the Staff Writer here at Silver Oak. He loves casino bonuses, online slots, and using the em dash too often. Currently, he rests his typing hands in Vancouver, Canada.