Despite being an archaic, mechanical, three-reel slot machine dating from the Nineties, prior to August, 2014, the aptly-named ‘Lion’s Share’ was the most famous and popular attraction at the MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip. In fact, so famous was it that it featured in a piece in the ‘Wall Street Journal’, which boosted its popularity still further.
In its heyday, the ‘Lion’s Share’ was played once every five seconds or so, day in, day out – that is, five times more often than the average game on the casino floor at the MGM Grand – and regularly attracted queues of eager gamblers. Paradoxically, the interest in the ‘Lion’s Share’ stemmed from its extreme frugality, at least with regard to its progressive jackpot, which accumulated over a period of two decades or more to an impressive $2.4 million.
In any event, the most enduring slot machine jackpot in Las Vegas was finally won by New Hampshire couple Walter and Linda Misco on August 24, 2014. Apparently, the Miscos had been playing the $1 three-coin machine for just five minutes when they lined up three green lion symbols on the pay line, thereby hastening its retirement. The ‘Lion’s Share’, which was believed to have been on the casino floor since 1993, was the only slot machine of its era remaining in the MGM Grand and only lasted as long as it did because the money accumulated in the progressive jackpot had to be won or, possibly, transferred to another machine.
On January 27, 1996, US Postal Service worker John Tippin, who hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, visited the Las Vegas Hilton – now Westgate Las Vegas – as he had done for the previous fifteen years. However, having invested just $9 for three spins on an International Game Technology (IGT) ‘Megabucks’ slot machine, Tippin lined up four jackpot winning symbols on the bottom pay line on his third and final spin and won $11.97 million.
Tippin was, by his own admission, ‘not a frequent Megabucks player’ and was, in fact, ‘getting ready to play another machine’ when he inadvertently broke the world record for a slot machine payout, which previously stood at $10.9 million. At the time, Tippin said he had no immediate plans for his winnings but, having waived his right to anonymity, was forced to ride what he described as ‘a psychological roller coaster’ as he attempted to come to terms with his instant wealth.
Indeed, five years later, in 2001, he was inspired to publish a book entitled ‘I Did It! My Life After Megabucks’. Although the book does contain a chapter on winning strategies, it is, for the most part, a warts-and-all story of how sudden wealth affected Tippin and his wife, Stella. According to co-author Lance Tominaga, Tippin was clear that the purpose of the book was to describe what happens when you win money in Las Vegas or elsewhere. Indeed, Tippin himself described ‘I Did It! My Life After Megabucks’ as a ‘textbook of sorts’ for anyone who has done so.
The first modern slot machine – that is, a coin-operated gambling machine – was invented in the late nineteenth century but, ever since, unscrupulous gamblers have been trying, by fair means or foul, to shift the odds in their favour. Early, low-tech attempts at cheating slot machines included the classic coin-on-a-string trick, in which a coin, drilled with a small hole and tied with nylon string, was dropped into the slot and pulled out again once it had been registered by the coin detector. Other crude, but nonetheless effective, cheating strategies involved inserting foreign coins, or even washers, of the same size and weight as a coin of the expected denomination.
In the early days, slot machines were not shielded from external magnetic fields, so a slightly more sophisticated approach was to apply a strong magnet, which caused the slot reels to drift, allowing winning combinations to be aligned at will. More recently, a former television repair man who devoted much of his later life to cheating slot machines, invented devices known as the ‘monkey paw’ and the ‘light wand’. The former was physically inserted into a slot machine to trigger an illegal payout, while the latter was used to shine a bright light into fully electronic slot machines from outside, blinding the payout sensor, with the same effect.
Of course, modern slot machines are controlled by microprocessors, which execute an algorithm – in other words, a series of computer instructions – known as a Random Number Generator (RNG). However, by definition, any RNG can only produce an approximation of randomness so, despite appearances, even these high-tech offerings can still be vulnerable to those ‘in the know’. For example, in 2017, a number of arrests for conspiracy to commit fraud were made in the United States after a team of Russian scam artists reverse-engineered the RNG of an outdated slot machine and, based on video footage of similar machines transmitted from the casino floor, could accurately predict when a winning combination would occur.