Decoding Casino Lingo: What Exactly Is A Hand Pay In Slots?

Decoding Casino Lingo: What Exactly Is A Hand Pay In Slots?

A hand pay in slot machine terminology simply means that something has gone very right or wrong and that you will need to be paid by a human. In the best circumstances, it means you’ve won a taxable jackpot, and the casino will need to collect some info before paying you by hand. In worse situations, it just means the machine has run out of paper or malfunctioned.

What Is A Hand Pay In Slots?

The IRS in the United States requires documentation on all slot, video poker, or bingo game wins of at least $1200. This amount goes up to $1500 on keno. This is a win from one spin or game, not your aggregate win from the machine or for the day.

These “jackpots” are issued a W2-G after the winner’s ID and tax info have been checked. Some state tax agencies have decided to complicate matters, so this amount can be lower if that state says so.

The slot hand pay is a simple matter of the casino entering or checking to see if they already have your SSN or ITIN on file, verifying a valid identification, and issuing a cash payout to the slot attendants so they can pay you by hand.

Slot machine jackpot requiring a hand pay

How Does A Hand Pay Work?

The cash payment will be minus the state and federal taxes they are mandated to take out and will include the W2-G form as a sort of receipt and record of your winnings.

Some casinos may not withhold the federal tax of 24% on wins under $5,000, but you will still need to report this on your federal taxes. While often called “jackpots,” these payouts are on any wins exceeding the threshold.

There is also etiquette to tip on a hand pay jackpot.

How Frequent Are Hand Pays On Slots?

Hand pays can occur every few spins on some larger denomination slots, as a $1200 payout isn’t uncommon on $100 denom machines. While Congress has discussed upping this amount passed into law almost 50 years ago, no concrete legislation has yet materialized.

How Long Does A Hand Pay Take?

Much more significant slot wins may take a little longer as the casino will have policies and procedures that must be followed before paying out more considerable sums.

Many casinos I have worked at require a seal check on the inner door for jackpots over a specified amount. This is to ensure that no one has unlocked the machine and set the jackpot reels by hand, or otherwise altered the outcome.

Even more significant wins will require the State Gaming Commission to review the surveillance tape and seals as well, which in many venues may require them to drive to the casino. I recently saw a 2.3 million dollar jackpot hit, and it took almost four hours to pay. But I’m sure the guest didn’t mind waiting as the casino kept them well-plied with Champagne.

Are Hand Pays Always In Cash?

Hand Pays for particularly large wins will mostly be in the form of a check or money put on deposit for the guest to draw from. Though the aforementioned guest requested the almost $1.7 million after taxes in cash.

Hand pay slot
Hand pays may be specified like so. Image credit: Marco Verch/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

While many people search for how not to pay taxes on gambling winnings, the obvious answer is to enjoy your big payout and consult a tax attorney for possible ways to mitigate some of your liability should you hit a large jackpot.

Other Reasons For A Hand Pay At A Casino

Mechanical Issue

Slot machines are part mechanical, part electrical, and part computer. And sometimes, they are the worst of all three. When problems arrive with printer jams, out-of-paper errors, a machine rebooting itself over and over, or numerous other mechanical issues, it can cause the device to need a hand pay.

While machine-issue hand pays aren’t the most entertaining of diversions from your slot pay, they are the most numerous. And while no one likes to see the Call Attendant screen, most of these problems can be sorted quickly, and the slot kept in play.

Attendants and slot techs are flagged on their handheld devices when various things go wrong with your machine or when you hit the service button, so they will quickly be en route to get you paid and the issue fixed.

Server or Network Issue

When there is a short power outage, most slot machines can reset themselves automatically without going into hand-pay mode. They know where they were in either the spin, jackpot, free bet round, or completing the payout and will automatically bring themselves back to that point once power has been restored.

Sadly, the same cannot be said when the server or network goes down. This can cause a sort of hand-pay Armageddon, where every machine on the floor must be hand paid to cash out. Although this rarely happens, when servers and networks fail across slot floors with several thousand machines with just a handful of attendants, wait times to get your money issued by hand pay can stretch into hours.

False Jackpot

Even more rare, but worth mentioning, are the occasions when the slot seems to indicate a hand pay jackpot or payout when you haven’t triggered any of the jackpot payouts on the reels. Should a slot indicate a jackpot, but you haven’t hit one, it’s not advisable to get too excited.

Courts have repeatedly held up the “malfunction voids all jackpots” issue in favor of casinos. And while not at all common, there are instances of machines insisting on multi-million dollar jackpots on devices that have top payouts of several thousand dollars.

This malfunction is often caused by programming errors or even mechanical reels put back in the wrong order. If your machine insists on your good fortune by showing a large win without any other indications that you hit a jackpot, be prepared to be disappointed.

Hand Pay Slots Conclusion

Slot hand pays can run the gamut from considerable winners to punch-in-the-gut machine malfunctions. If you have a hand-pay winner, “Congratulations, and make sure and tell your friends,” as we say in the business. And if something has gone wrong, rest assured that experienced slot attendants will know how to handle your hand pay and get you back chasing that jackpot very quickly.

Lead image credit: Lee Thomas, Unsplash