When Katrina Bookman’s slot machine hit the jackpot, she was understandably over the moon. And of course she took a selfie to mark the staggering winning total of $43 million! Then she noticed security striding towards her. But these men weren’t there to escort her safely home. Rather, they dropped a bombshell: the machine was broken, they said.
Many people dream of a life of luxury. Indeed, some hope to be famous and enjoy all the riches that superstardom brings. And others put in hard graft and enjoy the rewards of their efforts. Others still turn their hands to gambling and, either by good judgment or sheer luck, hope to take home a big win.
Katrina Bookman, it seems, was a hopeful part of this last group of people. So one evening in August 2016, the 44-year-old hit the Resorts World Casino in Queens, New York. There she sat at the “Sphinx Slot Machine,” a digital version of the traditional gambling game.
And as the screen flashed in front of her, it appeared as if Bookman’s luck had finally come in. In fact, it said she had won, and the total was for a massive $42.9 million. This payout would have been the biggest ever for a slot machine win. Whether or not Bookman was aware of that fact, she nonetheless took a victory selfie next to her prize total.
So what was the winning feeling like? As Bookman described to WABC in November 2016, “I can’t even describe the feeling. It’s like my whole body just got numb.” No doubt she knew in that moment that her and her entire family’s lives would change forever.
You see, Bookman grew up in a foster home, and when she was a teenager, she was forced to live on the streets. And after later raising four kids, she enjoyed the fruits of her children’s success as she watched them all graduate high school. No mean feat for a single mom.
“The struggle I’ve been through, it’s hard to cope,” Bookman admitted to WABC. So it’s no wonder that she felt giddy. Plus, she’d already planned what she would do with her winnings. Apparently, some she would’ve given to her son to open a barber’s shop, but a lot would’ve been invested in her community.
“I thought it was my lucky day,” Bookman told Inside Edition in January 2018. After it happened, crowds soon started to gather around the mom of four to congratulate her. But then security came striding toward her, and they weren’t there to offer their well-wishes or a ride home with her prize.
Instead, Bookman was instructed to return to the casino the next day to discuss her winnings. But when she did, there was some crushing news in store for her. Yes, the casino claimed that the machine that Bookman had been playing on had gone wrong.
“I said, ‘So what did I win?’” Bookman recalled to WABC. “He said, ‘You didn’t win nothing.’” Instead, the single mom was offered a steak dinner. The proposition was, however, scant consolation to a woman who was expecting to receive a check for nearly $43 million.
Still, The New York State Gaming Commission confirmed the machine’s error. And as with all games in the casino, the contraption carries the disclaimer, “Malfunctions void all pays and plays.” So Bookman was to walk away from the casino that day completely empty handed.
An audibly upset Bookman described to WABC, “All I could think about was my family.” The blow, understandably, must have been a devastating one. In fact, the news likely would have been particularly hard to take since the mom of four had recently lost her job as housekeeper at a local hospital.
“There was nothing wrong with it when I was playing the machine,” Bookman explained to New York Daily News in November 2016. “How do we know when there’s a problem with it? Once I hit something, now you’re going to say it’s a problem. I totally don’t think that was fair.”
But the machine was reportedly immediately pulled from play to fix the alleged malfunction. And in compliance with state gambling laws, the casino said it was only able to offer Bookman the amount that she actually won. According to a ticket printed by the machine, the winnings amounted to $2.25.
Bookman accepted neither the complimentary meal nor the $2.25 prize. “You offer me a steak dinner? I feel like they did me real dirty,” she told New York Daily News. Instead, she hired a lawyer who labeled the casino’s excuses “ridiculous.” So attorney Alan Ripka is fighting the single mom’s corner; the case is still pending.
As Ripka explained to CNN Money in June 2017, “You can’t claim a machine is broken because you want it to be broken. Does that mean it wasn’t inspected? Does it mean it wasn’t maintained? And if so, does that mean that people that played there before [Bookman] had zero chance of winning?”
However, the case is not without precedent. In 2015 a court ruled that a casino in Iowa was not liable to pay 90-year-old Illinois grandmother Pauline McKee a jackpot in excess of $41 million. According to the game’s rules, it seemed, jackpots were capped at a modest $10,000, and the big bucks award was only an advisory “gratuitous promise.”
It’s a system Ripka believes is wrong. As he explained to WABC, “They win, and now the house doesn’t want to pay out. To me that’s unfair. The machine takes the money when you lose. It ought to pay out when you win.” But when he asked the casino how the machine malfunctioned, he said it didn’t provide an answer.
Any profit this casino makes, however, is plowed back into the state’s education fund. As an institution that operates in a similar way to a state lottery, then, the money earned by the casino is reportedly protected by capping the jackpots offered to its winners.
Nonetheless, this is of scant consolation to Bookman, who believes she should have won the machine’s permitted jackpot. “I feel I should win the max and I will treat him to a steak dinner,” she told WABC. However, that’s not a scenario gaming law supports.