Casino pays disputed jackpot

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PHILADELPHIA – What the casino giveth, the wife taketh away.

After days of unwelcome national media attention, PhiladelphiaPark Casino has paid the disputed $102,000 that a Feasterville, Pa., slots player said he had coming to him.

But Stephen Wilkinson, 56, a retired carpenter, said the jackpot was in his hand for “about two minutes.” His wife of 25 years, Nancy, grabbed the check for safekeeping.

“We haven’t decided what we’re going to do with it,” he said.

Wilkinson, a regular but small-time bettor, said that his son Sean, 23, had asked for help in paying off his 2002 Dodge Ram truck but that the family would take its time in deciding what to do with the windfall.

After taxes – taken out in advance by the casino, as required by law – the check was for about $76,500, he said.

Last Monday, Wilkinson was wagering two quarters at a time on a Wheel of Fortune machine when the video monitor flashed a message that he had won the $102,000.

But employees at the Bensalem, Pa., racetrack casino told him it was a mistake – a malfunction, they said, of the in-house computer system the casino uses for cash prizes and promotions. The slot machine itself was not faulty.

After apologizing, the casino offered Wilkinson two complimentary tickets for the buffet, which he dismissed as a not-funny joke.

The slots casino has been open for barely more than a month, and less than two weeks ago it got competition from another slots operation, this one in Delaware County, Pa. Two other casinos are expected to open in Philadelphia in 2008.

Wilkinson filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Casino Control Board and said he would hold out for the $102,000. Gaming-industry experts nationally said it would have been hard under casino regulations in most states for Wilkinson to force PhiladelphiaPark to pay for a mistake.

A story about the incident in The Philadelphia Inquirer was picked up by news services and was published and broadcast nationally.

Wilkinson even got a call from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Friday night, Wilkinson said, a casino executive called him at home and said that after an investigation Philadelphia Park had decided to pay him the full amount as a goodwill gesture.

A meeting was set for about 5 p.m. Saturday. Wilkinson said he was asked to keep the news quiet until the casino had a chance to announce it, which it did in a brief news release Saturday night.

Wilkinson said the casino asked only that any comments he made afterward were “positive.”

At the casino Wilkinson, his wife, and six friends went to the buffet and met Dave Jonas, the president and chief executive officer. Wilkinson said Jonas offered a complimentary buffet meal to each of them. He also upgraded Wilkinson’s casino player-card to premium status.

“He really handled himself very well,” Wilkinson said. “He was a class act.”

Wilkinson said he was told that it had taken a few days for the casino to sort out the mistake, which it ultimately blamed on human error. A worker in an office remote from the casino floor was testing the video promotion system and randomly picked the $102,000 figure to enter into the system as part of a trial run, casino officials said.

The win message mistakenly was sent to the slot machine at which Wilkinson had his player card plugged in.

On Saturday, the casino told Wilkinson it had investigated whether he and the office employee were somehow “in cahoots” to defraud the casino. It determined they were not.

Andrew Becker, a casino spokesman, said Sunday the casino had not determined whether the employee would be disciplined.

“It is the goal that this will never happen again,” Becker said. But since it was a human mistake, he said, the answer may be in employee training rather than in “structural or system changes.”

Wilkinson, a friendly, gruff-voiced guy with a big head of hair, said he planned to go back to PhiladelphiaPark to play the slots some more.

“You bet I will,” he said.



(Staff writer Dwight Ott contributed to this report.)



(c) 2007, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Visit Philadelphia Online, the Inquirer’s World Wide Web site, at http://www.philly.com/

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-01-29-07 1625EST

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