BLACK HAWK, Colo. -- Seventy-six cents.
That’s how much a Denver man said he was convicted of “stealing” from a Colorado casino after he innocently played that small credit abandoned on a slot machine.
On Wednesday, the FOX31 Problem Solvers exposed how casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek are helping prosecute hundreds of customers a year under a little-known statute: Fraud -- Take Money not Won.
Since then, similar stories of casinos and prosecutors making criminals out of everyday gamblers have come to light.
Casinos in Colorado get special treatment under the law when it comes to keeping someone else’s money.
If you find a buck on the floor or find a left-behind slot machine credit voucher, the money belongs to the casino.
Try to keep it or cash it in and you’ll likely end up being charged with a misdemeanor crime, like A.J. Werling.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Werling said. “I’m not a criminal. It’s ridiculous. It’s 76 cents.”
Werling said the first time he visited Black Hawk with his friends, he had just turned 21 years old.
He said he stuck $20 in a slot machine, not realizing the previous player had left 76 cents. Security soon approached.
“They got on the walkie-talkie thing and said, ‘We got ‘em.’ And I looked up and went ‘You got what?’ They said I tried to steal 76 cents from somebody,” Werling said.
Gilpin County prosecutors, the casino and the Colorado State Department of Revenue Gaming Division teamed up to convict Werling.
He has a criminal record that has haunted him for 13 years.
“I still have to deal with the background checks, having to go over what transpired for jobs, apartments, anything that requires a background check,” Werling said. “I have to disclose why I have a gambling theft conviction on my record.”
Court records show Werling was convicted of fraud, fined nearly $500 and forced to perform 24 hours community service painting a community center.
Werling is far from alone.
More than 900 cases in the past five years show casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek utilizing state gaming enforcement agents to have customers -- often caught on surveillance camera playing abandoned slot machine credits -- cited, arrested and even jailed for “stealing” money left behind by other customers.
Werling said his sister saw the investigation that profiled Dan, a casino customer who was convicted for using $2 in leftover slot credits.
He tuned in and said his “jaw dropped at the similarities.”
He said gamblers better start paying attention because casinos are not going to warn them about the potential criminal prosecution for “taking” lost, abandoned or accidentally left behind chips, cash or credits.
“If you find money in a casino, in a slot machine, even if it’s one penny? I don’t care if it makes you irritated to go find security. Go find security and have them clear it out," Werling said.
There is not a specific statute in Nevada that is comparable to Colorado’s. Before 2011, Las Vegas gamblers operated under a finders-keeper rule.
In 2011, the Nevada legislature passed a law that would allow casinos to keep 25 percent of abandoned credits and found money, with 75 percent going to the state treasury.