Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016 | 2 a.m.
In the late morning of Nov. 3 at the Paris Las Vegas, the lights went out to stop play at the casino’s 100 table games and more than 2,200 slot machines. A construction worker had accidentally cut power and backup power failed.
Later in the day when the fire alarm batteries started to fail, 3,000 people were evacuated. For guests there, management at Caesars Entertainment — the owner of Paris — covered hotel fees and offered free rooms at other Caesars properties.
But what about the gamblers? What happens to the money in slot machines or at table games when the power goes out or when there’s an emergency at a casino?
The Paris Las Vegas and other major gaming companies are capable of tracking who’s winning and who’s losing at any given moment. When it comes to power outages, like the one at the Paris earlier this month or the one at Bellagio in April 2004, slot technology and casino procedures have gamblers covered. For table games players, most would take their chips with them when evacuating.
“Basically, as happened recently at the Paris, when there is a power loss, the gaming devices are designed to recover their state of play and the players’ credits,” said Karl Bennison, chief of the enforcement division at Nevada’s Gaming Control Board.
That’s what happened at the Paris Las Vegas.
“Those machines, their memory can recall play information up to the point where power is lost,“ said A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Gaming Control Board. “In this case, when the power was eventually brought up, it began the whole process of contacting the patrons and resolving issues. It went smoothly, and I commend the licensee on the way they handled it. Here at the board, we didn’t get any complaints from anyone that was a patron or hear about a player dispute.”
Richard Broome, executive vice president of public affairs and communications at Caesars, described the way things went down.
“The machines themselves, when they go down, typically the people will stand by their machines. And one of our supervisors or gaming floor employees will come over to them and the player will say, ‘Hey, this is my status,’ and they’ll be given a voucher,” Broome said.
“Then we allow one of two things to happen,” he continued. “One is they can cash out and we do that when we’ve been able to verify (the amount they’ve won). Or we say to them, ‘When the power is restored, you are welcome to come back and play this game again’ and we make sure it’s not in operation until they come back.”
If a customer left without talking to the casino, then came back to ask for lost winnings, there are other ways to see if it’s an honest claim, Broome said
“In the rare instance where someone will say, ‘I was playing that machine right there and I didn’t wait,’ the staff and the casino has a lot of surveillance cameras on floor so we can tell if they were at that game when the power went down,” he said
A similar protocol is in place at MGM Resorts International properties.
“It’s been a long time since slots have given out,” said Yvette Monet, the corporate communications manager for MGM. “But they operate on backup power. So in the event that happens, we would go to backup power stage, and that’s probably a good time for the player to cash out.
“It’s a very rare occurrence,” she added. “And when we get to the point where the machine goes out, we dispatch guest-services people.“
During a fire or active-shooter scenario, of course, grabbing a slot voucher and gaming chips wouldn’t be an immediate priority over getting to safety. So, if a customer was unable to grab their slot tickets, the casinos can still find a way to get them their money.
“If something like the fire alarm goes off, we lock the machines up (electronically),” Broome said. “So we know where they were at that point. And we’ll do our best to figure out exactly what machine the customer was at and what the status was when we were forced to evacuate.”
But leaving the casino before cashing in chips could be problematic because gaming regulations stipulate casinos are under no obligation to honor chips if they don’t know whether the person presenting them actually won them at their casino.
“When you’re cashing in chips, the cashier has to know what pit they came from in order to cash it out,” Monet said. “For any large amount, you will always see the cashier pick up the phone and call the pit.”
The regulation allows casinos to seize chips if the casino “knows or reasonably should know” that the chips weren’t obtained in the course of gambling by the individual presenting them.
The little-known rule is intended to protect casinos against theft, counterfeit and other types of fraud, and it allows cage supervisors to keep the questionable chips while they investigate their origin. This means it’s entirely possible for a gambler to come back after an emergency with a large number of chips and have the casino not honor them.
Still, safety is an exception to the rule.
“In that situation, if it’s a fire or an active shooter, well that situation would be huge exception to our rules,” Monet said. “That would be a thing where they’d come back and tell us, ‘I was there on this date and that’s why I have these chips. That happened in the past with Bellagio. There has to be an evaluation because every situation is different.”
Said Broome: “We’ve got surveillance tape. So we know at any given point, who was at each table or game or machine so we can follow up with them.”