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Woman in $416,000 jackpot dispute: I'm so stressed

Casino staff said there was a glitch and offered her $50,000 cash and a luxury car instead. -TNP
Koh Hui Theng

Sat, Oct 29, 2011
The New Paper

She has lost count of the number of calls she gets. Her mobile phone has been ringing constantly.

"That's why I'm losing my voice. People just keep calling and asking me about 'it'," said Ms Choo Hong Eng.

"It" refers to her dispute with the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) casino.

The hawker, 58, claims she won more than $416,000 playing the jackpot on Oct 18.

But casino staff said there was a glitch and offered her $50,000 cash - the maximum payout - and a luxury car instead.

Ms Choo refused and hired lawyer Choo Si Sen, consultant at Straits Law Practice, to fight her case.

"Everyone's asking me, how is it? What's the outcome? It's very stressful because I'm talking to my lawyer and so many people daily.

"I don't know what's happening as Marina Bay Sands has not been in touch with me since that day," she told The New Paper inMandarin.

Fame spreads overseas

Overnight, life changed for the boss of a vegetarian food stall.

Now, people recognise her when she goes to various places.

"Everyone wants to shake my hand. They say the wealth may rub off on them," she said. Her fame has even spread beyond Singapore.

Ms Choo claimed some reporters flew in from Hong Kong and waited outside her Geylang East stall for three hours on Tuesday.

"They couldn't get hold of me, so they decided to camp at my stall instead," she said.

"The attention is overwhelming. So many people are turning up asking for me, I've had to tell my staff to tell them I'm overseas."

Ms Choo laughed when teased about her new-found celebrity status.

But the feisty woman turned serious as she recounted what had happened.

That morning, she was showing some overseas friends and employees around MBS. The group ended up in the casino.

Around 6am, the one-armed bandit she had parked herself at suddenly lit up.

"I thought I had won over $400 or $4,000 at first. A man, a fellow customer in the casino, told me no, I've actually won over $400,000."

$416,742.11, to be exact.

Stunned, Ms Choo stared at him. The news sank in only after others crowded around her, yelling their congratulations.

But she said a casino employee then told her the machine had malfunctioned and offered to pay her $50,000 cash and a car worth more than $250,000.

A confused Madam Choo pointed to the jackpot screen: "I said the machine showed the winnings. And I had won over $400,000."

As the argument raged for the next two hours, Ms Choo did not budge, not even to go to the toilet. She finally went, only after someone agreed to stand guard by the machine.

In the end, Ms Choo signed a form stating that she understood what she had been told.

Added Ms Choo: "The casino staff said they'll give me an answer later. If I was unhappy, I can go to the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA)."

Matter of principle

The Straits Times reported yesterday that MBS had declined comment.

CRA said it was inappropriate to comment further as its inspectors are still looking into the dispute.

As for why she consulted a lawyer, she said: "It's a matter of principle. I just want my money, not a cent more, not a cent less."

Ms Choo intends to donate a third of the amount to charity, as "three sounds lucky".

But does she have a case?

Lawyer Tan Hee Joek of Tan See Swan & Company said: "It would depend on whether the jackpot machine in question did malfunction (and) that affected the outcome of the game.

"The burden of proof would lie on MBS to prove such malfunction."

Lawyer Foo Cheow Ming from KhattarWong suggested that Ms Choo's lawyer could raise several arguments including why the casino staff members did not say that the machine was not operating properly when it was taking Ms Choo's money, but only claimed that it was malfunctioning after she had won a lot of money.

The case highlights the peculiarities of casino gambling, said Dr Derek da Cunha.

He is the author of Singapore Places Its Bets, a book on the social and economic impact of the casinos opening in Singapore.

"I think the CRA should ask MBS a number of questions," Dr da Cunha said.

"How many occasions has the casino come across malfunctioning machines where the customers have lost money as a result of the malfunctions?

"And how many times has the casino given refunds to customers due to malfunctioning machines?"

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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