This Made Me Uncomfortable – Gambling With An Edge

Bonnie and I were at Harrah’s in Cherokee, NC for a Caesars Seven Stars trip. Cherokee is in the Smoky Mountains and a world away from Las Vegas. Plus, they have $5 NSU Deuces Wild.

For a Seven Stars trip, you get up to $1,200 airfare, $500 in resort credit, and transportation to and from the airport. The airport means either Asheville (about 50 miles away, but not a direct flight) or Atlanta, which is 160 miles away (which is much easier to get to). We usually fly into Atlanta.

Because I don’t want to carry a lot of money through airports, I have a line of credit set up at Cherokee. My usual pattern is to take out a $20,000 marker when I get there, denominated in $2,500 TITO (ticket in ticket out) tickets. At the beginning of each session, I like to have three of those TITOs on me ($5 NSU definitely can turn sour periodically) and keep the rest locked up. If my first $20,000 gets lost in the machines, I take another marker and get more.

If (or rather when — although it doesn’t happen every trip) I hit a $20,000 royal flush, I collect another eight $2,500 TITOs. For $5,000 four deuce hands, I collect two such tickets. I do play other games as well and sometimes hit W-2Gs in other amounts, but these are infrequent and I usually just take cash. 

The machines only take up to $2,999.99 before they spit out tickets. Especially when I start with $2,500, I can easily go over that limit hitting multiple wild royals ($625), five of a kinds ($400), straight flushes ($250), or even $100 four of a kinds and full houses. It’s not uncommon having several of these tickets. When I run out of money in the machine, I’ll always use the smaller tickets first, keeping the ones in $2,500 increments. This makes counting money easier.

On this particular trip, we were scheduled to leave the hotel for the airport at 9:30 on a Wednesday morning. At 6:00 the previous evening, I went to the cage to cash out. This trip happened to be profitable (trust me they aren’t all that way), so I had a number of $2,500 tickets. My goal was to pay off the $20,000 marker and receive a check for the remainder. The casino has done this previously and it isn’t a problem.

This time, however, one of the $2,500 TITOs registered as “void” in the system. I was paid by check for the remaining TITOs and told that this voided ticket was still pending and I would not receive payment until this issue was resolved in my favor. If it was.

I demanded to speak to a supervisor.  The supervisor arrived and told me that some other supervisor, not her, marked this particular TITO as void and she didn’t know why. The office that audits these things was closed at the moment. When it opened up in the morning, I would either be paid or be told why I wasn’t going to be paid. If I already had left the property when it was resolved in my favor, if it was, I would be mailed a check. There was nothing she could do about it now. She was polite enough, but it quickly became clear that she wasn’t going to budge from her position, so arguing with her would just create a scene without getting any quicker resolution. So I shut up and left.

While this casino is managed by Harrah’s, it is owned by a band of Cherokee Indians. If there becomes a dispute about the $2,500, it gets resolved in tribal court. United States courts have little or no jurisdiction on this kind of matter. I could hire a lawyer, but he’d have to sue in the tribal court and the elders of the tribe itself would decide what the resolution would be. Plus, a dispute of $2,500 is too small to interest an attorney. There is no small claims tribal court.

Although my host had gone home for the day, he’s been employed there for almost 20 years. If anybody knew how to get things done, he was the guy. I hoped. I sent him an email explaining what had happened. I explained that the only way I ever got one of these $2,500 TITOs was from the original marker or because of a jackpot. When I signed for them, I signed that I received the correct number of tickets and they all were for $2,500. Whether or not one of them had been voided prior to me receiving it, I had no way of knowing that.

At this point, I’m thinking (hoping, really) there’s an innocent explanation. This was my sixth trip to the resort and I had not run into any significant problem previously. Yes, every tribal casino has some policies that are different from those of non-tribal casinos, but working within those policies hadn’t been that difficult for me. At least not yet.

The “most likely” explanation, to my mind, was that one of the times when I was scheduled to receive eight TITOs, nine were accidentally printed. Before the TITOs ever got to me, one of them was voided — both physically (however they do that there) and in the computer system. Somehow, the one they physically voided was not the one they voided in the computer system.

I explained to my host that I was not taking any TITOs with me when I left. Every one I received was either inserted into a slot or video poker machine, or turned back into the cage to be redeemed. If I was given a voided one, there must be another ticket for $2,500 that was created but not cashed so far. If so, that money belonged to me.

Losing $2,500 in this way wouldn’t have been a disaster for me, but it was annoying. Having this money “stolen” from me would definitely affect whether we returned there. If I told you I didn’t lose any sleep over this that night I’d be lying.

At 8:30 the next morning, while Bonnie and I were eating breakfast, my host called me up and told me it had been resolved and I could go to the cage and pick up my money. My host had called up the cage manager and together they decided to honor the ticket. It was a legitimate Harrah’s Cherokee TITO and I had indeed signed for receiving that particular ticket. So, it should be honored by the casino. And it was.

I was relieved, and picked up my money. I was optimistic that this would be resolved in this manner, but nothing was certain until I had the cash. And now I did. Thank you very much.

The fact that this happened at a tribal casino is essentially irrelevant. The same kind of situation could have happened at any casino. They are financial institutions, of a sort, and have procedures that must be followed. When something “unusual” happens, they have to figure out how to make it right. The only reason that being a tribal casino changed things would be if we couldn’t reach agreement on how to make things right. But that didn’t happen here, and for that I’m relieved.

Harrah’s Cherokee handled this well, in my opinion. Although I would have preferred to be paid immediately when I first presented the TITO, I understand that all the i’s have to be dotted and the t’s crossed. This took some time, but not an inordinate amount of time.

Bonnie and I are looking forward to our next trip to that casino.