Late on the morning of Monday, December 22, 2003, less than 24 hours into her annual holiday to Las Vegas from her home in Kaunakakai on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, Amy Nishimura held aloft a cheque for $8.92 million dollars, having hit the jackpot on the ‘Megabucks’ slot machine at the Fremont Hotel.
Nishimura, who celebrated her seventy-second birthday just two days later, had apparently been playing slot machines at the Fremont Hotel since the Eighties, but was especially fond of one International Game Technology (IGT) ‘Red White & Blue’ machine. ‘My machine’, as she called it, was linked to the Megabucks progressive jackpot system, which connects hundreds of slot machines across Nevada, and cost $3 a spin to play for the jackpot payout.
Having eaten breakfast, but not yet been to bed, Nishimura had reportedly been playing the machine for about three hours when her investment of $140 or so finally paid dividends. She lined up three golden ‘Megabucks’ symbols on the pay line of the standard, three-reel slot machine – in so doing, defying odds of 16.7 million to one – and won $8,919,598 with 37 credits left to spare.
Nishimura admitted to being nonplussed, initially, but after time to reflect on her good fortune – believed to the biggest win on Las Vegas slots by a Hawaii resident since John Tippin won a Megabucks jackpot of $11.9 million nearly eight years previously – came up with some ideas about how to spend her winnings. They included paying off her mortgage, visiting Las Vegas more often and indulging her family.
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.