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The motto for most gamblers who come to Las Vegas on a lark is rather simple – go big or go home.
If you’re going to wager real American dollars on games of chance and skill, there’s no reason to take the conservative route. Bankroll management notwithstanding, the goal for any gambler in Sin City is to hit it big, win the jackpot, and walk away with more money than you know what to do with.
Of course, the vast majority of us who take these shots don’t mint themselves instant millionaires. Instead, the house’s inexorable edge and every gambling game’s inherent odds against the player combine to pour our money straight into the casino’s coffers.
For this reason, what happened at the Excalibur casino on March 21st of 2003 when a random tourist from Los Angeles decided to hit the slots has become the stuff of Las Vegas legend.
On that day, an anonymous 25-year old gambler arrived in town to visit his family. With the annual “March Madness” college basketball tournament in full swing, the player figured they might as well get some action down on Duke, Arizona, and the rest of the sport’s heavyweights.
The young man’s uncle heard about the trip to Excalibur Hotel & Casino and offered his nephew a little sage advice from a Las Vegas local – play the Megabucks slot machine and see what happens.
And with a $10 million starting seed* – not to mention millions of tourists plunking down the requisite $3 per spin to give themselves a chance – the Megabucks jackpot had swelled to an astounding $39.7 million.
*Megabucks initially offered a $1 million starting seed, before increasing to $7 million in 1997, and $10 million in 2005
Thus, the visitor from L.A. found a Megabucks machine and took a seat with $100 in hand.
What happened next made history…
First things first though… in case you’re unfamiliar with the Megabucks slot, here’s a quick crash course on the greatest progressive jackpot game of them all.
Casino game manufacturer International Game Technology (IGT) introduced its Megabucks slot way back in 1986. At the time, slot machine jackpots were static in nature, meaning each individual machine offered its own kitty based on how many coins had been previously deposited in between major payouts.
IGT had a revolutionary idea, however, so the company linked its various Megabucks machines all over the Silver State together. In other words, whenever a player in Reno, Mesquite, or anywhere in Nevada for that matter played one Megabucks machine, their coins contributed to the same jackpot total.
This wide area progressive jackpot concept proved to be an immediate hit with players, who loved to watch the meter continuously climb into the seven-figures.
And those meters did climb on a daily basis too, thanks to the Megabucks game’s enormous odds against on the topline jackpot.
Megabucks is a deceptively simple game, one which eschews the multiple paylines and expanded reels that make up the bulk of a casino’s slot inventory nowadays. For a maximum bet of $3, players send three reels spinning, each featuring traditional symbols like 7s, cherries, and BARs. To form winning combinations, players hope to hit three matching symbols along a single payline.
The game’s jackpot symbol is a golden “Megabucks Eagle” which depicts the slot’s distinctive logo. The only thing is, landing even one of these crucial symbols along the payline requires the player to beat odds of 1 in 368. Knowing this, the odds against spiking all three at once come to an astronomical 1 in 49,836,032 – or (1/368)3.
For this reason, the Megabucks progressive jackpot often goes unclaimed for extended stretches, many of which lasting more than a year. With so much time in between big winners, and so many players statewide tossing $3 per spin into the kitty, Megabucks jackpots soon became notorious for reaching epic proportions.
Before that fateful day in 2003, Megabucks players enjoyed an incredible run which saw the jackpot rise to a then record $27.5 million in 1998. That life-changing sum was won by a lucky slot spinner at Palace Station in November of 1998, but the record was eventually broken with a $34.9 million payout awarded to a cocktail waitress playing at the Desert Inn in January of 2000.
A little more than three years later, a new record was waiting to be set at the Excalibur.
Starting out with only $100, the player from L.A. had just 33 spins to work with given the $3* price of play.
*Megabucks can be played for $1 or $2 spins, but the progressive jackpot is only awarded to players who opt for the max-bet of $3
Even so, as a press release issued by IGT later revealed, the player with a birthdate featuring three 7s seemed to have Lady Luck on his arm from the very start. Within the span of those 33 spins, the man watched as not one, not two, but three of the “Megabucks Eagle” symbols slowly spun and came to a rest alongside one another.
Just like that, the player had beaten odds of nearly 1 in 50 million to put nearly $40 million in his pocket.
Well, not all at once anyway. The winner elected to take $1.5 million installments over the course of 26 years – which means he’s still receiving seven-figure payouts annually to this day. In fact, the winner has another 10 years and $15 million remaining on his record-setting payment plan.
Although he chose to remain anonymous, the winner provided the following statement to IGT:
“I’m still stunned; it doesn’t seem real yet. But both of my parents are still working, so some of this money will be used to fund their retirement.”
John Sears – who served as vice president of IGT’s MegaJackpots program at the time – confirmed that the $39,713,982.25 payout smashed the previous record for largest slot machine jackpot ever awarded:
“This MegaJackpot is nearly $5 million more than the previous world record slot jackpot amount of $34.9 million – this one goes into The Guinness Book of Records.”
Check out the table below – featuring 10 real megabucks jackpot wins – to get a better sense of just how ridiculous the record-setting jackpot really is:
Megabucks Jackpot History (Wins of $10 Million or More)
|3/21/2003||Excalibur||Las Vegas, NV||$39,713,982.25|
|1/26/2000||Desert Inn||Las Vegas, NV||$34,955,490.00|
|4/12/2009||Terrible’s Rail City Casino||Sparks, NV||$33,000,563.00|
|11/15/1998||Palace Station||Las Vegas, NV||$27,580,878.00|
|5/27/2002||Bally’s Las Vegas||Las Vegas, NV||$22,621,229.00|
|6/1/1999||Caesars Palace||Las Vegas, NV||$21,346,937.00|
|9/15/2005||Cannery||Las Vegas, NV||$21,147,947.00|
|11/14/2003||Stardust||Las Vegas, NV||$19,600,523.30|
|12/14/2012||M Resort||Las Vegas, NV||$17,329,817.67|
|11/30/2014||Rampart Casino||Las Vegas, NV||$14,282,544.21|
Within the slot machine gaming enthusiast community, learning that Megabucks’ massive jackpot had been won proved to be bittersweet indeed.
In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun conducted shortly after the news broke, Kim Wong from Kailua, Hawaii told the newspaper how she felt watching the meter reset back to $10 million:
“I was here at lunchtime around 12:30 and it was still around $39.7 million. Then I came back around quarter after one and it was resetting. It was such a drag. It was a little more enticing with the $39 million up there, but I’m still playing.”
Judy Selasky from Lavonia, Michigan provided a similar story, telling the paper that even though a record payout was off the table, she and her husband would still play in hopes of a “lightning strikes twice” type of moment:
“I said, ‘Hurry up and get up to the room, so I can get downstairs. I figure if he won, there might be some magic here. I’m not a hog.”
In a city like Las Vegas which was founded on excess, setting the world record for slot machine jackpot winnings really is something special. And while we don’t know much about the software engineer from L.A. who did the deed, learning that a 25-year old tourist took the honors should give hope to every gambler who makes the sojourn to Sin City.
More than 16 years have passed since the record-setting spin, and nobody has even come close to claiming such an incredible Megabucks jackpot over that span – which shows just how astonishing that memorable moment in March of 2003 really was.
Megabucks is a Nevada state-wide slot jackpot network that is owned and run by the slot machine company, International Game Technology (IGT). Considered Nevada’s state lottery, Megabucks is extremely popular and has created quite a few millionaires in its 19-year history.
Thanks to a wonderful marketing strategy, Megabucks continues to ignite a firestorm every time the jackpot reaches ‘megabuck’ status. It is also a slot machine that generates a ridiculous amount of gossip and urban legend circulating on the game and its winners.
However, if you look at the real truth behind IGT’s Megabucks, even with all the myths and legends dispelled, it will become apparent that this progressive slot is a poor place to spend your money.
IGT’s Megabucks is a dollar coin slot machine that requires 3 coins or $3.00 to hit the jackpot. The jackpot is reset to a predetermined amount after every mega win. While the present reset amount is $10-million, there is chatter that this will be increasing to $11-million.
Megabucks is part of the company’s MegaJackpot slot system that connects about 750 machines in 136 Nevada casinos to one primary jackpot that builds from the base jackpot amount. International Game Technology owns the Megabucks machines and the casino gets a cut of the money that each machine wins from the players. It is common knowledge that IGT created Megabucks to compete with state lotteries.
Nevada is the true home of Megabucks and is found in nearly all of the casinos on the strip. Unlike multi-state lotteries, this game does not cross state lines. IGT runs Megabucks jackpots in the states of California, New Jersey and Mississippi, as well as some Indian reservations.
I’ve had the opportunity to throw a few dollars in the Megabucks ring on a trip to Mississippi. I noticed the jackpot was much lower than I have seen in Las Vegas and while I did feel like, by some magic formula, my odds were better because the stakes were lower I did not win.
However, these don’t include as many venues as the Nevada edition and their jackpots are usually only a fraction of the original. Each state that offers Megabucks has a separate jackpot system with individual meters and winners. If a jackpot is won in one state, it does not affect the progressive jackpot in another.
Each Megabucks machine has its own random number and hence chooses its own outcomes. These outcomes are then reported to a central location. When the jackpot is hit on one machine, the central station sends out a message to the other machines, resetting their respective meters.
Statistics about the true odds of winning the Megabucks jackpot remain sketchy at best.
It is certainly understandable why the betting for the Megabucks sometimes reaches chaotic proportions and has people crossing over the state line just to have a shot at winning so many millions.
But do winners really receive what the games advertise? Let’s take the example of a $35-million win. Initially, for that amount of money, winners get a check of $1.4 million. They then have between sixty and ninety days to decide whether they want to take their money in annual installments over twenty-five years or a lump sum of 60% of the money.
For a $35-million win, that would result in $21-million before taxes. Obviously, most winners choose the former and take the lump sum payment.
Whichever option the winner chooses, he or she still needs to take into account the taxes payable to the IRS. They are subject to the maximum tax rate of nearly 40%, with state taxes also needing to be taken into account. When all is said and done, the prize money dwindles somewhat miserably after Uncle Sam takes a bite.
Of course, nobody has ever refused the money all together & taken $0. So, I suppose most people wouldn’t scoff at $14 million or so.
No slot machine in the history of the world has had close to as many urban legends, myths and stories surrounding the game of Megabucks.
Typically, these legends center around the unfortunate fate of Megabucks winners, which leads the masses to believe that winning the multi-million dollar jackpot will result in an ultimately unlucky death. While pretty much all of these stories have proven to be fabricated, Megabucks still has the obstinate reputation of being cursed.
Many believe that the genesis of the rumors hanging over Megabucks is based on the truly tragic story of a 37 year-old cocktail waitress named Cynthia Jay-Brennan. In 2000, Jay-Brennan, was the lucky winner of a $34.9-million Megabucks jackpot, played in the Desert Inn Casino in Vegas.
Less than 2 months after her win, Jay-Brennan was surprisingly involved in a car crash. Her sister was killed instantly and poor Cynthia, herself, was left a quadriplegic. The driver of the car that hit the pair was under the influence of alcohol and was eventually tried and sentenced to 28 years; however, this did not stop rumors flying that Megabucks was a cursed game to win.
The fact is that Jay-Brennan’s accident was not the first of these rumors, as they circulated well before the year 2000. However, since this event, stories continuously surface regarding the tragic fate of every winner of the latest Megajackpot win.
When another young man hit the jackpot in 2003, rumors spread like a virus of his untimely ‘death’ through various ends, including a fatal drug overdose in a casino hotel and in a gang fight as far away as Los Angeles. All these stories have, thus far, proven to be false and while the winner chose to remain anonymous, IGT has assured the public time and time again that the lucky young man is alive and well, and enjoying his new found wealth.
To date, none of these stories have come up as anything other than tall tales.
A rumor, which has not yet been dispelled, is one regarding the change in the Megabucks programming system. Some claim that IGT changed the programming of the system to make the jackpot hit less frequently but for more money. While IGT claims that they did not do anything of the sort, there are many experts in the gambling field who feel that some sort of change was made in the past.
Finally, a minor rumor that can be dispelled is one that says that the central station to which each jackpot machine reports chooses the winner. IGT assures its gambling public that each machine has its own RNG and thus every machine chooses its own outcome.
So, while you now understand that most stories flying around the industry regarding the curse of Megabucks are false, I cannot ignore the fact that this is simply a bad slot game to play for 2 reasons.
First is the house “hold”. Megabucks holds between 10% – 15% of every dollar played. Many slot machines in Nevada hold as little as 2% or 3%. The second reason that makes Megabucks a terrible play for the serious gambler is that you only receive 60% of your jackpot. There are many other progressive slots in your casino that pay big jackpots, but give you the whole thing.
When we strip Megabucks from all the pomp and glam that surrounds it, we find a middle of the road progressive slot game that doesn’t give you much for your money. And even if you do get incredibly lucky and win, you don’t exactly get the flashy numbers promised to you. Instead you will have to settle for a sum that is much more modest in nature, paid off to you over a period of 25 years. Final conclusion? Megabucks is not a mega hit. In fact, there are lots more fish in the proverbial gambling sea.