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Woman forfeits $1,400 jackpot after self-barring from casino

NIAGARA FALLS – Two years ago, Pasqua DiGianni had a bad night on the slot machines at Seneca Niagara Casino.

After winning a jackpot and then losing most of it back because she wouldn't stop gambling, she ended up signing a document barring herself from the casino.

On April 15, the Woodbridge, Ont., woman returned to the Niagara Falls casino for the first time since that incident – and had an even worse night, despite winning again.

After pumping at least $600 into a single machine – she contends it was far more – DiGianni finally hit the jackpot to the tune of $1,400.

But when she headed for the cashier's window to claim her winnings, casino management refused to pay her.

Not only that – they called Niagara Falls police, who charged her with trespassing.

It seems the self-imposed ban on visiting the casino was still in effect. Now she has a court date Monday.

DiGianni, 69, did receive a $600 refund for the cash the casino says she spent on the slot machine that night, though she says she spent more than twice that much. She said played the same $1 slot machine, spending $400 at first, then went to the cashier and got another $500, then another $400.

With no luck playing the minimum nine chances at a time, DiGianni finally punched the maximum $45 play button, and that's when she hit the $1,400 jackpot.

"If I didn't win that jackpot, they wouldn't know anyway (that I was there)," she said. "If they would have given me that jackpot, I would have broken even."

She admitted to The Buffalo News last week that, in 2015, she had signed a document barring herself from the casino. She also said she received a letter last year inviting her to return, but she was unable to locate it.

DiGianni said as far as she's concerned, she should have been let off with a warning if she was still barred.

"I was really shocked. They could have warned me, 'OK, we believe what you're saying,' but not give me this court date," DiGianni said. "And then they wouldn't give me the jackpot. They should have given me the jackpot regardless."

Philip J. Pantano, a spokesman for Seneca Gaming Corp., said he couldn't comment on the matter because of regulatory restrictions.

But the Seneca Niagara Casino website includes a policy that could explain why DiGianni was arrested and not paid her winnings.

On a page headed "Responsible Gaming," the casino warns, "If a person who has been voluntarily excluded enters the premises while under exclusion, he/she is subject to arrest for trespassing and any winnings will be forfeited."

The policy also says that after a year, those who have barred themselves from the casino may ask in writing for reinstatement. It appears DiGianni might have received a letter allowing her to do that.

"When I received the letter that they wanted me to go back, I was surprised, too," she said.

"Regulatory provisions prohibit Seneca Gaming Corporation from discussing any specifics related to the exclusion of an individual. If any authentic documentation exists that would further clarify this situation, we would be happy to review it," Pantano said.

The police arrest report said DiGianni has been barred since May 28, 2015.

"Two years ago, I signed out, because I won the jackpot and I wasn't winning anymore. I gave it back, almost all, and then I signed out," DiGianni said.

DiGianni lives north of Toronto and said she and her husband sometimes stop at the Niagara Falls casino after visiting relatives in the Buffalo area. She said she seldom goes to other casinos.

She was upset by the publicity her story has brought her.

"What's the big story? That I trespassed?" she asked, adding that she doesn't think the situation reflects well on the casino.

"They made a big thing out of nothing," DiGianni said. "One thing about Americans, they're troublemakers. I'm a simple citizen and I went there. I received a letter last year. So what that I went there? It's not a big deal. They could have said, 'I'm sorry. Next time, don't come.' "

Now DiGianni faces a Monday court date before Niagara Falls City Judge Danielle M. Restaino on the trespassing violation.

"I'm going there and I'm going to explain to the judge, this is my truth, and I was naïve about it," DiGianni said.

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