Behar Merlaku Wins $57M Jackpot, But Casino Claims 'Software Error'

on December 13 2011 4:24 PM
  • Fruit Slot Machine
    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced that he supports the construction of a full-tilt casino coming to New York City. Creative Commons
  • Behar Merlaku
    Behar Merlaku (L) says he will "fight for this until my death," and is furious at Casinos Austria for "what they have done to me and my family." Deser/Creative Commons
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When Behar Merlaku won $57 million on a slot machine game in Bregenz, Austria, he never imagined that when he went to claim his earnings, the casino would turn him down.

But that's exactly what happened: the 26-year-old Swiss banker, instead of walking away with millions, was offered $100 and a free meal for his trouble, with the casino claiming the win was the result of a software error.

Merlaku, however, isn't satisfied with the casino's apology: he plans to sue, and his lawyers say he may be entitled to the full $57 million in winnings.

'I was so overjoyed.'

Merlaku, a Swiss gambler, thought it was his lucky day when the jackpot alarms went off at the fruit machine he was playing at the Casinos Austria AG establishment in Bregenz, Austria.

 There was music and the sum I had won, nearly 43 million euros, was displayed on the screen, Merlaku said in an interview with The Daily Mail.

I was so overjoyed, and in my head I began calculating what I could do with this money.

But when he went to claim his prize, casino officials told him that though the alarms sounded, the slot machine itself only showed four of the matching five symbols.

The owners, brushing it off as a computer glitch, offered Merlaku a free meal and $100 for the confusion. Merlaku, however, noting not only the jackpot alarms but the accompanying flashing screen, demanded his winnings. When the casino refused, Merlaku decided to take them to court.

Where Was the Error?

Merlaku's civil action, thought to be the biggest claim of its kind anywhere, is being watched by both gamblers and gaming operators all over the world.

The Bregenz casino, whose company Casinos Austria operates locations in more than 15 countries, insists that the error was purely in the software, blaming the fruit-slot machine manufacturer. They argue that they informed Merlaku of the mistake the moment he tried to cash in his winnings.

Casino officials also noted, interestingly enough, that Austrian law forbids jackpots of over two million euros anyhow, making the $57 million (42 million euros) win an impossibility no matter what the situation.

Merlaku's lawyers, however, and sites like Gizmodo, question how the casino is so certain that the problem lies with the software, and that the result came from a computer error.

Merlaku's attorneys argue that since there was no contemporaneous independent assessment of the claimed software glitch, and no opportunity has been given to the lawyers to examine the machine's computers, it is likely the casino simply blanched at paying up.

Sites like Gizmodo, meanwhile, wonder how the casino can be certain that the problem was a computer error at all, regardless of the owner's intention.

Isn't it just as likely, the site posits, that the mistake lies in the display, which showed four of five fruit symbols, than in the result, where the machine called a jackpot?

'I will fight for this until my death.'

The first hearing in the Merlaku gambling case is schedule for January 10, 2012. A press conference was held in Innsbruck, Austria yesterday outlining the case against Casinos Austria.

For Behar Merlaku, it is clear that the $57 million has become very personal. For him, there is no grey area, no middle line: the machine gave him the win, so he should have his winnings.

I will fight for this until my death, Merlaku told Austrian paper Heute. He said the incident had left him with psychological problems and that losing such an enormous sum after winning it was an unacceptable outcome. It is outrageous what they've done to me and my family.

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