Question of the Day February 7, 2016
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Q:Is there an organization that checks that the casino offerings are legit? I always wonder when they offer a chance to spin and win from five to 1,000,000 points, if there is there even a 1,000,000-points-prize possibility, or if it's actually a pre-determined "scam"?
A:Speaking strictly for Nevada, casino regulators don’t review promos in advance, but …
Casino promotions had better be on the level or they will come under scrutiny from the Nevada Gaming Control Board. According to a memo from the Greenberg Traurig law firm (one of the leading firms for gaming law), "Under Nevada gaming regulations, the Board has exclusive jurisdiction to hear certain types of complaints concerning prizes, premiums or other benefits in casino promotional offers … an ad can be illegal — and give rise to complaints from consumers, competitors and regulators — if it is either false or, if not literally false, is nonetheless deceptive or misleading. This can be a tricky area. Omission can be as important as an express statement. Pictures speak louder than words. And consumer perception can govern if a substantial number of consumers interpret the claim differently from what you intended. The golden rule is to be clear and transparent in communicating offers."
In other words, for the casino it is better to be safe than sorry, although it's also easily within the realms of the acceptable to make a promotion sound juicier than it might, in actuality, be. To quote a column from last summer by our resident video poker expert Bob Dancer, "Michael Gaughan (owner of South Point) has three rules for a successful promotion: 1) Give away what you promise; 2) Have lots of winners; 3) Kiss: Keep it Simple, Stupid. If he promises to give away $600,000, it's going to be very close to that amount, if not more, before it's over. It would be nice if more casinos were this honest about how much they were giving away."
As per NRS 463.362, the onus is on the casino to report a dispute:
"Whenever a patron and a licensee, or any person acting on behalf of or in conjunction with a licensee, have any dispute which cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of the patron and which involves:
(a) Alleged winnings, alleged losses or the award or distribution of cash, prizes, benefits, tickets or any other item or items in a game, tournament, contest, drawing, promotion or similar activity or event; or
(b) The manner in which a game, tournament, contest, drawing, promotion or similar activity or event is conducted, the licensee is responsible for notifying the Board or patron in accordance with the provisions of subsection 2, regardless of whether the licensee is directly or indirectly involved in the dispute.
If the amount involved exceeds $500, the licensee must notify the NGCB forthwith. "Less than $500, the licensee shall notify the patron of the patron’s right to request that the Board conduct an investigation." The NGCB then has 45 days to investigate the dispute. Failure to notify the Control Board of a dispute is grounds for discipline under Nevada law.
Casinos are also answerable to state and (especially if the promotion in question is interstate) federal laws. A California resident brought a lawsuit in the Golden State against a Las Vegas casino for advertising what it called a "suite" but which the customer thought was just a regular room. And if you advertise yourself in direct comparison to your competitors – something casinos rarely do – you can be the subject of federal-level liability. Customer testimonials, if used, will have the Federal Trade Commission looking over your shoulder.
If a casino advertises something (like slot play) as "free" then that ad must disclose "all material terms" or you can take them to federal court. In Nevada, state regulations stipulate that "payoff schedules or award cards applicable to every licensed game or slot machine shall be displayed at all times either on the table or machine or in a conspicuous place immediately adjacent thereto … Payoff schedules or award cards must accurately state actual payoffs or awards applicable to the particular game or device and shall not be worded in such manner as to mislead or deceive the public." Similar – but far more extensive – rules apply to progressive jackpots.
An LVA staffer recently experienced a machine malfunction at a neighborhood "chain" thanks to which it became evident that the signature slot free-play bonus-award process was actually pre-determined, and that although three options are offered to the player to select from, the free=play amount awarded is already decided regardless of which option is picked. However, while the intimation is that there is an "optimal" option to pick for a maximum prize, the casino actually makes no such claim, nor even hints that there is any difference in the outcome depending on which option you pick, so presumably they are not guilty of any false advertising.
Nevada law also devotes three full pages of fine print to the payout method of jackpots and other large prizes. (MGM Resorts International spokeswoman Yvette Monet adds that the company’s internal compliance department vets the language for all promotional offers. Monet says "we risk losing both our gaming license and guests if something like that [misleading promotional language] was in the works.")
As an example of a lax casino promotion, Nevada Gaming Control Board Chief of Enforcement Karl Bennison cites a casino that would hold a nightly prize drawing. On occasion, the master of ceremonies would draw a name from the drum, look at it, pocket it silently, and then draw another name. (Only one prize could be awarded per player, per night.) The Control Board sent agents undercover to observe this process and they discovered that the casino was honoring the rules of its promotion – and that the name drawn, but not announced, belonged to a previous winner -- but it was not sharing those rules/results with the players. The casino was advised to improve its communication skills.
So, if in doubt about the legitimacy or transparency of a promotion, call the Enforcement Division of the Gaming Control Board (775-684-7700). They’ll see if that promise of the potential for million-points spin is the real deal or not.
UPDATE: 02-07-2016 A reader responds:
"In response to your QOD today about the Gaming Control Board.....twice in the past I have had a dispute with a casino in relation to small bets ($10 - $25). Both times I contacted Gaming Control after the fact, they investigated on my behalf, and got my money from the casino. More importantly, the second time, they told me that they are available 24/7 to respond to complaints.....they told me that the next time I have a dispute with a casino, I should call Gaming Control *right there*, from the casino floor, and they'll send someone out to investigate."