Mississippi Court Rules Slot Wagering Vouchers are Gaming Debts which may be Voided if not Redeemed by Expiration Date
On January 8, 2019, in response to a patron’s appeal of a Mississippi Gaming Commission decision, the Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled that a slot voucher, a/k/a TITO, was a gaming debt under the Mississippi Gaming Control Act and that any dispute over the payment of a slot voucher was governed by the patron dispute provisions of the Act.
Two patrons played slot machines at a Mississippi casino for 32 days in 2012 and 2013. During that time they played in $6,500,000 and netted $280,000 in winnings. Twenty-seven months later, they returned to the casino and asked to cash in 21 vouchers totaling $41,317, which had expired 24 months earlier. The face of each voucher stated “Ticket Void after 60 days” or similar language. Because the casino had changed slot accounting systems, the casino could not determine who had won the vouchers, only that the vouchers had not been previously cashed in.
The casino declined to redeem the expired tickets, and the patrons asked for an investigation by the Executive Director under the Gaming Control Act patron dispute provisions.
Pursuant to the Commission’s minimum procedures for each licensee, slot wagering vouchers are required to, among other things, be barcoded with the licensee name, date, time of issuance, and “expiration period or date when the voucher will expire.”
The Executive Director held that the presented slot vouchers and the casino’s Internal Controls, which voided a ticket after 60 days, complied with both the Commission’s Rules and Regulations and with the casino’s own Internal Policy and that the patrons were not entitled to the redemption amount. The patrons then asked for a hearing on the matter.
The patrons knew that the vouchers expired, and they gave no explanation for the long wait before an attempt at redemption. They argued primarily that the vouchers were promotional giveaways and not covered by the Gaming Control Act patron dispute provisions; that the Executive Director had no authority to allow a casino’s Internal Controls to determine when or if a voucher expires; that there were strong public policy reasons not to allow the casino to void expired vouchers; and that the unredeemed amounts should be turned over to the State Treasury under the Unclaimed Property Act.
After trial, the Hearing Officer held that the:
Gaming Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over [the patron’s] dispute pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. § 75-76-157(2), because [the patron’s] claim “springs directly from [the] Casino’s failure to pay gaming debts not evidenced by a credit instrument.” Moreover, “[the] Casino complied with 13 Miss. Admin. Code Pt. VII, R. 9.7, as properly promulgated by the Commission, and the expiration date was clearly printed on each voucher. Petitioners knew the vouchers had expiration dates and multiple options were available to Petitioners for timely redeeming the vouchers. Unfortunately, Petitioners elected not to utilize any of these available options for more than two years. Accordingly, Petitioners have failed to meet their burden of showing that the Executive Director’s decision was incorrect in this matter.
The Commission adopted the Hearing Officer’s decision as its own, and the patrons appealed that decision to the Harrison County Circuit Court and then to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which assigned the case to the Mississippi Court of Appeals.
The Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed the Harrison County Circuit Court decision which affirmed the Gaming Commission decision. The Court of Appeals rejected each of the patrons’ arguments, stating that
1.) the dispute over slot wagering vouchers was not a dispute over “promotional giveaways”;
2.) the Executive Director had authority to resolve disputes between patrons and casinos as a claim by a patron for “payment of a gaming debt not evidenced by a credit instrument”;
3.) the Gaming Control Act made all gaming matters the exclusive jurisdiction of the Gaming Commission;
4.) there was no right to a jury trial because the Legislature gave patrons a forum to resolve a gambling claim which formerly did not exist because a claim based on gambling in Mississippi is illegal and void at common law;
5.) the Commission requires casino vouchers to contain “expiration period[s] or date[s] when the voucher[s] will expire”, and the vouchers “presented had the expiration dates plainly and on the face of the vouchers”.
In Mississippi, if a gaming licensee wishes to void a slot wagering voucher when it is not redeemed within a defined period, the licensee’s Internal Controls must comply with 13 Miss. Admin. Code Pt. VII, R. 9.7; the expiration date must be prominently displayed on the face of the ticket; and there must be options for the patron to redeem the ticket easily and conveniently.
To review the opinion, click here.