Regulation: Anatomy of a Casino Patron Gaming Complaint Investigation

by David Vialpando

The hallmark of tribal casino gaming is the unwavering commitment to the integrity of gaming activity. Patron complaints are inevitable in an entertainment environment as diverse as today’s modern casino. Casino operators maintain established procedures to address patron complaints, from perceived substandard service to table games payout disputes. Occasionally, patrons will complain that an electronic gaming device (EGD), commonly referred to as a slot machine, is not operating fairly. Due to the technical nature of EGDs, an investigation by the independent Tribal Gaming Regulatory Agency (TGRA) or gaming commission may be required to determine the validity of the patron’s complaint.

The TGRA’s investigation begins by establishing clear and unambiguous gaming regulations, consistent with the tribe’s gaming ordinance, and TGRA-approved casino policies and procedures related to patron complaints. Examples of regulations in this area include: offering the patron the option of lodging a complaint with the independent regulatory agency (TGRA) when the patron and operator are unable to resolve the complaint at the operator’s level; an EGD ordered sealed by the TGRA for investigation cannot be offered for game play until released by the TGRA; access to all operator maintained information related to EGD maintenance and gaming activity; and the TGRA’s final decision in an investigation is binding on the casino operator.

When the TGRA is contacted by a patron with a complaint about an EGD, the patron will be asked to complete a pre-designed form outlining the sequence of events giving rise to the complaint. The patron will have a prescribed period, usually 72 hours, in which to file the complaint form with the TGRA. The EGD in question will be ordered removed from access by patrons and casino personnel and the access points sealed by the TGRA while the TGRA awaits submission of the complaint form. If the form is not submitted within the prescribed period, the TGRA may conduct functionality and integrity testing, then return the EGD to service if the results reveal no anomalies.

A casino patron complaint form may request the following information:

  • The complainant’s contact info and ID.
  • Location of the EGD in question.
  • Casino employees involved.
  • Details of the incident.
  • Attempted resolution by the casino.
  • Identification of witnesses.
  • Patron’s requested resolution.
  • Additional information, if any.

Upon receipt of the written patron complaint, a TGRA investigation will be conducted by a TGRA gaming investigator. The assigned gaming investigator will conduct an independent, objective investigation following a defined inquiry process similar to the following:

  • Review surveillance video coverage of the patron’s interaction with the EGD in question.
  • Obtain witness statements from involved casino personnel.
  • Obtain a position statement from the casino regarding the patron’s complaint.
  • Request a technical examination of the EGD in question by TGRA gaming technology personnel.
  • Review applicable TGRA regulations.
  • Issue findings and a determination regarding the patron’s complaint.

Integral to any investigation involving an EGD in dispute is the technical examination of the device. This portion of the investigation starts with a technical description of the EGD’s operation, manufacturer, patron interface, device options, and game outcomes including bonuses. The investigation will outline the EGD’s certification by an independent testing laboratory according to jurisdiction standards and integrity testing of software and hardware by the TGRA pursuant to regulations prior to being offered to patrons by the casino operator. Post-complaint testing of the EGD will involve the following: verification the TGRA seals remain in place; TGRA retesting of all EGD software to ensure compliance with independent testing lab’s certification standards; credit testing, coin test, EGD meter tests, host system communication tests to ensure compliance with all requirements without error or anomaly; review EGD access records; and review EGD’s gameplay for a prescribed period (usually the past twelve months) to determine EGD hold as compared to the EGD’s theoretical hold.

The investigation will include attachments documenting the results of the above processes and other documents related to the TGRA’s inquiry.

The results of the TGRA’s investigation will be communicated to the casino operator and the patron complainant. If the patron is not satisfied with the determination rendered by TGRA staff, they can usually appeal the decision to the TGRA’s governing body, the commissioners or board of directors. Some TGRA have thresholds that must be met before a patron complaint is accepted, such as a minimum monetary alleged loss of $500 or similar threshold. The casino operator must be given the first opportunity to resolve the complaint, and non-gaming complaints are not accepted.

Patron confidence in the integrity of casino gaming activity is paramount to the business success of the casino operator. When errors and EGD malfunctions happen, casino patrons can be confident that independent tribal gaming regulators will advocate on behalf of the patron and ensure that defective EGDs are removed from game play until they are repaired or replaced, and the patron is made whole.

David Vialpando is Executive Director of the Pokagon Band Gaming Commission and Vice-Chairman of Tribal Gaming Protection Network. He can be reached by calling (269) 926-5485 or email [email protected].