A retired carpenter in his mid-50s was playing a slot machine at PhiladelphiaPark Casino on Monday when a gambler next to him leaned over and said, "Hey! It looks like you've won a bonus."
Stephen Wilkinson, of Feasterville, could hardly believe his eyes.
"My name came across the screen - 'Congratulations. You are the power player jackpot winner. You've won $102,000.' "
His joy was short-lived, however. Casino officials soon walked over and told him it was a mistake - a system malfunction.
They said he had no money coming.
"They offered me two comps for the buffet," Wilkinson said derisively yesterday.
Wilkinson filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which said it is investigating the incident.
Doug Harbach, a board spokesman, declined to speculate on what recourse, if any, Wilkinson might have.
But he said the state investigation would include "making sure the public has confidence in the industry."
"If this is a violation of internal controls, they [the casino] will be heavily fined and sanctioned to deter future behavior of a similar nature," Harbach said.
Harbach said he was not aware of a similar incident in Pennsylvania since the board began licensing what by next year will be 11 slot casinos across the state.
PhiladelphiaPark, the second of three to open so far, began operating 2,100 slot machines on Dec. 19.
Andrew Becker, a PhiladelphiaPark spokesman, verified that Wilkinson had received a message on a Wheel of Fortune video screen saying he was a $102,000 winner. Wilkinson's name appeared on the screen because he was using his casino-issued player card to track his betting.
"That is not in dispute," Becker said. "What is in dispute is whether that was valid or not. It was not."
He said a disclaimer on all machine tells players, "Machine malfunction voids all pays and plays." But he also that said the mistake appeared not to have been in the machine but in the casino's in-house computer-run communications system.
"It was just an error in the communication system - an unfortunate one, I might add."
Becker said that, under the normal practices of regulators nationwide, a casino is "protected" from having to pay out in such cases.
Another PhiladelphiaPark official said malfunctions were not uncommon in the casino industry. She said this was a first at the facility in Bensalem.
"This happens every day in Atlantic City and anywhere else," Darlene Monzo said. "It is an electronic piece of equipment. We have over 2,000 of them and we've been open for a month. . . . In fact, we've had an awesome record."
However, Dan Heneghan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, said: "A malfunction of that type, of that size, is quite rare. That's not to say it might not happen. . . . But I don't have an example I could point to."
Wilkinson, 56, who said he has gambled at least 15 times at PhiladelphiaPark, said he had been there about two hours Monday afternoon when he hit what be believed was a jackpot.
He said he had been wagering two quarters at a time and was down only a few dollars when the message came on screen. Then, he said, a light began flashing atop the machine and music started up.
Linda McCormack of Salem County, who was sitting on his left, noticed the message first.
"I was yelling across the floor to my sister, 'This guy just hit for $102,000,' " she recalled.
McCormack said she watched as casino officials gathered around. An on-site gaming board official arrived. The talk went on and on, she said.
Wilkinson said he was reluctant to leave the machine until the gaming board had seen the message on the screen, which had locked up.
Said McCormack: "I told him I would have chained myself to that machine; I wouldn't leave."
Wilkinson said he eventually went to the gaming board office at PhiladelphiaPark and filed his complaint.
He said he expected to meet with a gaming board official soon to go over his complaint.
He said he was nervous, excited, angry - all at once.
"I'll be OK - if I don't have a heart attack."