Editor's note: Deal Me In, a new weekly column, is written by Mark Pilarski, a nationally syndicated gambling columnist. He is a recognized authority on casino gambling and has worked 18 years in the casino industry.

Dear Mark: I subscribe to the local paper and look forward to your column each week. I have learned a lot from it and was hoping to learn a little more, maybe.

A friend and I went on an all-nighter junket to the Reno Hilton about 15 years ago and what happened to my friend has stuck in our craw for all this time. Not being young anymore (40s then!), we were not used to staying up all night, tired and yes, accepted their generous offer of free drinks. My friend dropped three $5 coins into a slot machine. While I was laughing at him for even trying, he bet "max bet" and pulled the arm. Much to our surprise, up comes Cherry, Cherry, Cherry, and bells and whistles start going off with $50,000 flashing on the top.

After about a minute, I was wondering how he was going to collect. No one showed up, and the machine wasn't going to pay out $50,000 in coins. Then a man in a suit came out of the darkness, yes, darkness, and pulled out his keys, opened some door on the machine, stuck his hand in there, "clicked" something and the bells stopped. The $50,000 stopped flashing and he shut the door, announced "malfunction" and disappeared into the darkness from whence he came. Surreal, actually! The only thing missing was fog.

I told my friend to wait and went after the guy for an explanation, but he had literally disappeared in that short moment. To make matters worse, our tour guide was calling "last call" for the bus to the airport! We chose going home. We did learn a lesson that has kept us solvent since then. Now, when we get offered a free drink, we say, "Yes, coffee, please. Thank you".

Was there anything we could have done differently? More importantly, are these "malfunctions" common? I have never encountered a malfunction before, although I don't play slots often and certainly have never won a jackpot. - Nick L.

Yes, Nick, machines do act up and malfunction. Always have, and always will.

When you play a slot machine, you will note that the payout table not only spells out the coin return for various symbol combinations, but you will usually see this clause on the machine, stating, "Malfunction voids all pays and plays." Reason being, Nick, is that today's slot machines are nothing more than computers, and computer errors do happen.

That is why after any decent-sized jackpot, a slot manager will open up the machine to be sure it hasn't been tampered with and that the slot's computer program is working properly. It is the slot machine's electronic record that pays those gigantic jackpots, not necessarily what you see displayed on the screen or the sights and sounds of winning - flashing dollar signs and ringing bells.

It is the duty of the slot supervisor, even one coming from the mist with a face that resembles the knave of a playing card, to check for an internal malfunction and not just automatically hand over 50 large.

Possibly some additional dialog is missing between the two of you from 15 years ago. But, I'm going to side with your mystery man on this one for one very specific reason. I am hung up on your jackpot description: "Cherry, Cherry, Cherry." I know of no slot machine where three cherries as symbols makes for a preeminent jackpot. It is customarily something like three treasure chests, the casino's logo or some pictogram out of the ordinary. Three cherries are typically a small jackpot, one definitely on the lower end.

Now if it were a legitimate jackpot, like all three top-line symbols lining up perfectly, no way would I have boarded that plane. Nevada has a Gaming Commission that would at least investigate your claim, and they are on call 24/7. I would have handcuffed myself to the machine and waited until the cavalry arrived. However, Nick, with your Cherry, Cherry, Cherry result, you didn't strike it rich, so flying home was the correct call.

Finally, I leave all readers with this often-overlooked gambling advice that Nick now claims he follows: "Sip for pleasure, don't gulp for effect."

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Nobody ever committed suicide who had a good two-year-old in the barn." - Racetrack Saying