If this story had a log line like a TV show, it might read “The Parent Trap meets Ocean’s Eleven”. In separate incidents, two women allegedly participated in “jackpot switching” at Wild Rose Casino in Jefferson.
In one incident, 36-year-old Jessica Baxter from Carroll allegedly switched seats with another woman who’d won $1,223 at a slot machine at 10:49 p.m. on Jan. 26. The real winner allegedly asked Baxter to do so, according to Raccoon Valley Radio.
A week and a half before at the same Iowa casino, on Jan. 15, 31-year-old Katie Wisecup from Ames allegedly traded seats with a male slot player who’d won $1,231.22 at 4:46 p.m.
Baxter and Wisecup both claimed those respective jackpots. To do so, they each filled out an IRS-W9 form, which certifies under perjury.
In both cases, Wild Rose’s casino surveillance department spotted the jackpot switch when reviewing footage of the win. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) then reviewed the casino’s information and filed charges.
The real female winner owed the State of Iowa over $1,310. The male winner owed the state $24,000. The state applied both of their winnings to their debts.
Authorities arrested both Baxter and Wisecup. Greene County Jail booked them both and the charges were:
- Class D Felony
- Aggravated misdemeanor for third-degree fraudulent practice
In both cases, the State of Iowa emerged as the only winner.
Jackpot switching happens, says IRGC Administrator
“It’s something we do see from time to time. It’s happened a handful of times,” Brian Ohorilko, Administrator at the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC), told PlayIA.com about jackpot switching.
To deter it, the state criminalized the practice in July 2022. Perhaps counterintuitively, the state only charges the party who “switches” to claim a jackpot they didn’t win even though the real winner allows it.
As mentioned, Iowa also has laws in place mandating that jackpot winners get screened against a state database for delinquent child support, back taxes, etc. These situations lurk behind the majority of jackpot-switching incidents, Ohorilko said.
Jackpot switching may also result when someone who has self-excluded from gambling wishes to avoid detection and penalties post-win.
The 19 casinos in the state have different screening methods, according to Ohorilko. He added that casinos that don’t screen properly can be “held to a penalty.” As to Wild Rose specifically, Ohorilko praised them for screening 100% of the jackpots won there. “[Wild Rose Casino] Jefferson does a good job of reviewing surveillance footage.”
So you might wonder, given the risk or even the likelihood of getting caught and the ensuing penalties, why would someone switch with a winner and claim their jackpot? It seems likely the actual winner may offer them a portion of the prize.
And, Ohorilko pointed out, some people participate in jackpot switching because they don’t know any better. “They are trying to gain a benefit; however, they don’t realize it’s illegal.”
Is Iowa casino crime on the climb?
Of course, casino crime is nothing new. Movies like the “Ocean’s” franchise may make it seem exciting, but the reality can sometimes prove far more mundane, like jackpot switching. Other activities like onsite drug dealing and money laundering may act as a criminal bass line to the constant sounds of slots.
By 2006 Iowa casino crime had become so prevalent that the DCI had increasingly morphed into “a casino enforcement agency, with more agents working on gambling than on general crime cases,” according to Casino City Times.
At that time, Assistant DCI Director Joe Diaz said: “Everybody that we are hiring now goes straight to the Gaming Bureau. Those are now our entry-level positions.”
Unfortunately, some casino crimes happen directly against patrons, and they can be frightening or even injurious. While many casinos have security measures, like the surveillance cameras involved in these two jackpot-switching cases, patrons should maintain situational awareness while gaming — and even when going home. Criminals have followed winners out the casino doors and on the road.