Wednesday, Sept. 1, 1999 | 11:34 a.m.
As the trial began over Heather Devon's claim that the old Frontier hotel-casino deprived her of a $97,000 jackpot, the facts in her mind were clear and simple.
Eight years ago, after she had played a progressive dollar slot machine for an entire night without sleep or food, she took a break for breakfast with the understanding that the machine would be closed to play by anyone else.
But Frontier casino workers unlocked the slot machine before she returned and another person hit the jackpot she had anticipated for hours was ready to pay off.
Her lawsuit claims the jackpot rightfully was hers and Unbelieveable Inc., the owner of the Frontier in 1991, owes her the jackpot amount plus compensation for the years she has spent in the legal battle for what is due her.
Not according to Unbelieveable attorney Stan Johnson.
Even if Devon had returned to play the slot machine as planned, he said there would be no guarantee the jackpot would have been hers.
Johnson said such payoffs are computer-randomized, microsecond chance events.
There is no memory system in the machine that will tell it if it has just payed off or when it is "due" to hit the progressive jackpot, he explained.
Each time the handle was pulled, the odds of hitting the big payoff were always 262,144 to 1, Johnson said.
During opening statements in the jury trial, he told the jury a slot machine expert will testify that every time the machine is activated, it pulls three numbers at random from a constantly changing computerized numbers generator. Those numbers tell the reels where to stop.
For Devon to have won the jackpot, even if she had been playing, she would have had to pull the handle at the exact instant the winner did, the attorney said.
Johnson conceded that Frontier employees had unlocked the slot machine but said it was only after Devon failed to return to resume play for more than an hour and a half.
He explained to the jury in District Judge Mark Gibbons' courtroom that Frontier policy was to reserve a machine for no more than an hour.
Johnson added that Devon didn't return to the machine until a player, Ken Brush, hit the progressive jackpot after inserting about $50.
Until that time, he said, Devon had been playing another slot machine in another part of the casino.
Devon's attorney, Cal Potter, alleged that casino change person Clara LaCombe had taken $20 to unlock the machine prematurely. LaCombe, who was given a $1,000 tip after Brush won, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit but Brush was not.
Johnson conceded she received the tip, but denied there was the payment to open the machine.
Potter noted that in a similar case involving another casino, that casino was forced by gaming officials to pay the amount of the jackpot to a person who had been promised the machine would be locked down during a break.
Devon's lawsuit against the casino that was sold nearly two years ago alleges breach of contract, breach of trust and fraud.