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What to expect when you hit a hand-pay slot jackpot

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Mark Gruetze
Adrian Ashmore, a slot shift leader at Meadows Casino, has paid out cash jackpots of more than $100,000. He stands in the Meadows' high limit room, next to a $100 Wheel of Fortune machine.
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Adrian Ashmore is the type of guy slot-machine players love to see heading their way.

That’s because he’s one of the people entrusted with handing out stacks of cash when a big jackpot hits.

He was on duty when Meadows paid a $1 million slot jackpot in August 2012. He’s made cash payouts of more than $100,000. He says he has no idea of how much he’s handed out in the 6 12 years the Washington County casino has been open, but it’s more than $1 million.

“Way over,” he says in an interview at his office, a few steps from banks of clanging slots. “Way, way over. Way, way, way, way over.”

“I’ve had cash filling up my clipboard,” he says, holding it out like a cafeteria tray and describing $100 bills strapped into $10,000 bundles and stacked three or four high.

Casinos make “hand pays” when a slot jackpot is $1,200 or more. At Meadows, a shift leader such as Ashmore must get involved when the total reaches $10,000. At $250,000, the slot manager or casino manager are summoned.

The $1,200 limit is based on federal income-tax rules, says Gerald Stoll, director of the state Bureau of Casino Compliance. Casinos must record those payouts and issue an IRS W2-G form documenting the payout.

A jackpot winner must show a valid government-issued ID before getting paid.

Stoll says federal and state taxes generally are not withheld from jackpots. State law details steps casinos must follow in making hand pays.

Ashmore says the jackpot goes to whoever pushed the “spin” button, regardless of whose player’s club card is in the machine. A player’s club card is not required for a payout, but the personal data on it might speed the process.

If the player does not have a valid ID, the jackpot can be held in “safekeeping” until the winner provides one. The safekeeping period can vary by casino, from days to years, Ashmore says.

Ashmore takes pride in his crew making quick hand pays. Player’s Advantage watched one that took seven minutes from the time the $2,550 jackpot hit until the money was in the player’s hands — along with a 12-pack of Pepsi awarded as a bonus.

The Meadows’ electronic dispatch system notifies slot attendants of jackpots, giving the machine number and amount. If the total is more than $5,000, a surveillance crew monitors the payout, Ashmore says. The attendant must verify a winner’s name and address, then check that he or she is not on the state exclusion list. In some cases, an attendant is able to pay the jackpot from a money belt each wears. With larger jackpots, the cash might come from the cage or a lockbox in the slot area.

Winners can choose payment in cash, a check or a combination. “If you don’t say it, we’re going to pay you cash because cash works everywhere,” Ashmore says.

Many people continue to play after hitting. When they decide to leave, they can ask for a security-guard escort.

Understandably, most people are happy when getting hand pays. On big jackpots, it’s not unusual for people to start crying as the third $10,000 bundle gets handed over, Ashmore says. But a few people grouse about winning enough to pay taxes, he adds.

Most people tip the person making a hand pay. One rule of thumb is to tip 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the jackpot, or $6 to $12 on a $1,200 payout. Savvy players keep small bills aside for tips. Workers typically pool tips, so don’t feel obligated to tip everyone who witnesses the payout.

Ashmore says the payouts he remembers most fondly involve people who never expect to win. He recalls an elderly woman with vision problems who asked for help in redeeming $10 worth of free play. He explained the process and watched her play a few spins on a penny machine. As he walked away, she called again for help. The machine was in a bonus round that wound up with a $10,000 jackpot. If he hadn’t helped her redeem the free play, he says, she might not have played at all.

“Those really stick in your mind,” he says. “You know you did something good.”

Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or [email protected].

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