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A national crime wave: people punching gambling machines

NEW YORK — Along with more than 5,000 blinking, whirring digital gambling machines, the new Resorts World Casino, opponents predicted, would bring a surge of crime to Queens when it opened last year.

Nine months later, police officers from the 106th Precinct have been a familiar sight, arrests frequent and acts of violence disturbingly common. There is, in fact, a crime wave plaguing the cavernous halls of this mega casino: people punching gambling machines.

''It happens like three, four times a week, and that's only on my shift,'' said Mike Persaud, a security guard at the casino.

Persaud described the usual scene — fuming gamblers who have punched, kicked, or slapped a slot machine that refused to spit out a jackpot, leaving flickering rows of cherries and number 7s beneath a pane of shattered glass. Their rage sometimes costs them more money than was lost to that unlucky machine in the first place.

These demonstrations of slot and roulette rage are familiar to casino operators across the country, as well as the police officers, hand surgeons, and repair workers.


In Queens, the police have arrested 41 people who attacked slot machines since the casino opened in October. By comparison, in the same time period there have been 19 arrests of casino patrons for larcenies, mostly pickpocketing, and 19 arrests for assault, according to records kept by the Queens district attorney's office.

Those accused for beating up a gambling machine are charged with criminal mischief in the third degree, which carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

Despite the dire predictions, the high volume of traffic — 15,000 to 25,000 people visit the casino each day — and the ubiquity of dollar-bill-filled pockets, the surge in crime has not come to pass.

Overall, Brown said, the casino, which is surveilled by an arsenal of 1,500 cameras, has so far proved to be a remarkably safe place.


Except, that is, you're a slot machine.

"I hit the machine because I lost five grand,'' said a 34-year-old man, identified in court records as Jashim Uuddin, after he caused $2,000 in damage with a punch in January, according to a complaint.

He was sentenced to 70 hours of community service.

Marcus Prater, executive director of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, which represents many gambling machine companies, said these attacks occurred at casinos across the country. But as more casinos switch from old-fashioned slot machines with spinning reels behind glass panels to all-digital versions, with multiple LCD or touchscreens, pulverizing one can result in thousands of dollars of damage.

Those who break machines are commonly banned from the premises for a period of time — or forever. In 2010 the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Troy Blackford, a truck driver from Des Moines, could not claim nearly $10,000 he had won in 2006 from the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona, Iowa, because at the time he had already been banned for punching a slot machine.