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…
How Does the Megabucks Slot Machine Work?
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.
$100 Flier Turns Into Life-Changing Record Jackpot Win
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.”
Largest Megabucks Jackpot Ever – And By a Long Shot
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|
Competing Jackpot Hunters Lament Loss of Record-Setting Total
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.