Who paid to play? There’s a new spin in the Hard Rock slot-machine mystery

Marina Medvedeva Navarro says she was the one who put the money in the Hard Rock slot machine that hit a $100,000 jackpot.
Marina Medvedeva Navarro says she was the one who put the money in the Hard Rock slot machine that hit a $100,000 jackpot.

The wheels keep on spinning in South Florida’s own Jackpotgate.

The woman who pushed the button on a slot machine and hit a $100,000 jackpot says she was the one feeding money into the machine, not her friend who claims she made off with his loot.

Marina Medvedeva Navarro, whose story was featured in the Miami Herald this week after her friend claimed the jackpot was truly his, disputes much of Jan Flato’s account of what happened that Jan. 31 night at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Flato told the Herald his version of the story earlier this week, and Navarro at the time declined to comment, other than to say that winning a slot jackpot was personal. But after she saw Flato’s comments in the story, she wanted to provide her own account.

Flato says he was the one putting cash into the Double Top Dollar machine, and that Navarro pushed the button to spin the reels. When casino personnel checked the video before making the payout, they said the winnings would go to Navarro. Gambling experts agree that the protocol at casinos throughout the country is that the wager is placed by the person who pushes the button or pulls the handle on a slot machine.

But Navarro says she was playing on her own dime, and there was never a question that it was her money. She says she made a good-faith offer to share the winnings. And she says Flato, an experienced gambler, knew that the jackpot went to the person who pushed the button.

Hard Rock casino management declined to discuss the case, saying the tribe keeps gambler information confidential.

Navarro, a Hallandale Beach based mortgage broker who lives in Aventura, says that her husband, who works in sales, is furious.

“I’m a hard-working professional and [Flato] is playing with my honor,” she said.

She confirmed that she and Flato originally became friends at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, and that Flato met her at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Jan. 31. He caught up with her at the center bar, after she had taken a break from a losing session at blackjack, then headed toward the high roller room.

We yelled and screamed and hugged. We were very happy.

Marina Medvedeva Navarro

“My favorite game is Top Dollar slots, and the best ones are in the high limit room,” she says.

She says she placed $100 in one machine, and hit a small jackpot that ran her winnings to $400. She then took that voucher into the Double Top Dollar machine, which costs $50 per spin.

She says she placed Flato’s players club card in the machine so he would receive the slot points that go toward casino perks.

Then she hit her jackpot.

“We yelled and screamed and hugged,” she says. “We were very happy.”

A big crowd gathered and the casino officials reviewed the video.

“They took about 15, 20 minutes, and [Flato] was already dividing the money,” she says. “They came down to give me the jackpot and he went ballistic.”

Navarro said her plan was to give Flato a portion of the winnings.

“I said, ‘Just wait and let me figure this out, and when you calm down we’ll speak,’” she said, and then asked casino security to walk her out.

Navarro says that after that, she received several text messages and emails from Flato, insulting and threatening her, including one that said: “I'd move back to Russia, if I was you.”

Flato doesn’t deny sending them.

“Of course, I was angry,” he says. “She stole $100,000 of my money.” He says he doesn’t regret any of the personal attacks he made, but is sorry he said mean things about her children.

Then there’s the matter at the crux of the disagreement, which Navarro says should be moot. She says Flato knew all along that the person pushing the button wins the cash.

“We would play video poker together at Gulfstream, and for good luck he’d have me place my fingers on top of his” when they had cards favorable for a jackpot, she says. “He said that by doing that, he would still get the jackpot.”

Flato says he has never had a problem getting jackpots paid directly to him, no matter who pushes the button, although none was for $100,000.

Flato, who moved to Aventura about a year ago from Las Vegas to take care of his 88-year-old mother, said the major reason he talked about the story — first reported on a Las Vegas podcast about a month ago — was to warn slot players to be careful about who pushes the spin button.

On Thursday, after the Herald story ran, TV stations called her, Navarro said, as well as friends — and a couple of angry gamblers who found her number.

“I never thought it would turn into such a disaster.”

Contact Nick Sortal at NickSortal@BellSouth.net