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In what sounds like the plotline of a bad Hollywood movie, a gambler in Florida has lost his $100,000 pokies jackpot after he let a female friend press the spin button for him.
Joe Flato, an experienced punter, placed a bet on the Double Top Dollar slot machine in Fort Lauderdale’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and asked his friend Marina Medvedeva Navarro to press the spin button for good luck. The spin resulted in the jackpot win of $100,000, but instead of handing the money over to Flato, Navarro claimed the jackpot for herself, fled the casino and hasn’t been seen by Flato since.
On the surface this sounds like blind theft, but according to Florida’s gaming laws, Navarro is the rightful owner of the money. Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said the casino was simply following the rules that stipulate the person who pushes the button is the winner of the prize.
Casino managers have checked the CCTV footage and confirmed that Navarro was the one who pressed the spin button.
According to Flato, he and Navvaro (who he met in 2015 in the high-roller room at Florida’s Gulfstream Park Casino) met for a drink in Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Center Bar before heading to the high-roller room to play the slots. He started feeding bets into the Double Top Dollar machine, which requires a minimum bet of $50 per spin to play. He asked Navvaro to “push the button for good luck,” but the luck turned out to be all hers as she became the rightful owner of the $100K jackpot.
Navvaro received a $50,000 cheque and another $50,000 in cash from the casino and asked security guards to keep an eye on Flato as she left the building. He said the only contact he has had from her since was a text message asking, “Still hate me?”
Flato says he wants to use his experience to teach other punters the important lesson that you should never let someone else press the spin button for you. He said, “I want everybody to know what happened so it won’t happen to them. I’ve played slots all over the country and never had a problem like that. Even the people handing out the money said, ‘This isn’t right.’”
Navarro’s version of the events is quite different. She told the Miami Herald it was she who placed a $400 bet on the machine and triggered the jackpot win. She claims she offered Flato a portion of her winnings but he refused to take it.
Frank Legato, editor of Global Gaming Business magazine who has testified as a legal expert in similar slot machine cases, said regardless of who puts in the money, the act of pressing the spin button is what constitutes as the technical act of placing the wager.
Unfortunately for Flato, lawyers agree that Navarro is the legal owner of the money. He said no one will take his case, and he has to accept the jackpot money is long gone.