The biggest casino wins ever

Ruben Hill
July 17, 2019

If you’ve ever spent an evening at a casino, whether it’s in Blackpool, Manchester or indeed Las Vegas, then you’ll know that the real draw is to have some fun and enjoy that special atmosphere. Some good games in good company, perhaps washed down with a dry martini or two is the sort of evening most of us would be prepared to spend some money on, so if we end up with a little less money in our wallets than when we began, that’s hardly unreasonable. Few of us really head off to the casino actively seeking to win a fortune. 


Of course, if it’s your lucky night and you finish the evening a few pounds up, then that is really the icing on the cake and will pay for dinner and your taxi home. But just occasionally, something truly remarkable happens in the shape of a life-changing win. 


The mysterious allure of the slots


Here’s the thing, big wins don’t typically come from table games like roulette or blackjack. Play these, and you’ll see there are no outrageously long odds. In blackjack, it is mostly even money bets, and even a straight up in roulette, where you call the right number, is only a 35/1 return. Now a £350 win on a £10 stake is a very nice reward, but it will not change your life. 


For the truly long odds and therefore the biggest wins, we need to turn our attention to that most mysterious and misunderstood feature of the casino, the slot machine. Back in the early days of casinos, these were seen as a sideshow – in fact according to researchers, they were designed to keep the ladies occupied while their husbands were busy at the gaming tables. Today, however, they are by far the biggest attraction in both online and physical casinos, among both sexes and all ages. 


The unique thing about slots is that the random number generators on which their reels are built can be programmed such that the odds of a jackpot coming up might be a several million, or even a billion to one. Sure, that means you are not going to see five of the top ranking symbols line up very often. But when they do – well, just take a look at the following examples to see what can happen. 


Second time lucky for Elmer


On 22 November 1989, the Mirage opened its doors for the first time. Just 10 hours into operations, one of those millions-to-one events happened, and World War Two veteran Elmer Sherwin scooped more than $4.6 million in a megabucks jackpot. Sherwin decided to spend the money travelling the world, but he made sure he included periodic trips back to Vegas into his busy schedule, just for old times’ sake. In 2005, lightning struck a second time, but on this occasion, the prize was an incredible $21 million. By this time, Mr Sherwin was 92 years old, and he donated most of his winnings to the Hurricane Katrina relief charity. 


Set for life in LA


Despite winning more than $25 million with his two jackpots, Elmer Sherwin is not the biggest slots winner ever. That accolade goes to an unnamed software engineer from Los Angeles. He also played the Megabucks machine, but his $30 investment yielded more than $39 million. That payout, which happened back in 2003, remains the largest on record. The amazing thing is that the lucky winner had only decided to play in order to kill a spare five minutes while waiting for a basketball game to commence. He chose to take his winnings in the form of $1.5 million per year over the course of 25 years. 


The finger of fate


Back in 2000, Cynthia Jay-Brennan, a cocktail waitress at the Monte Carlo Casino in Las Vegas, decided to try a few spins on the Megabucks machine after a family celebration. As someone who had worked in the casino for years, she seldom gambled herself, and always set a strict budget on the rare occasions that she did. On this occasion, she allowed herself $30 for 10 spins, and on the very last spin, she hit the $35 million jackpot. However, that is just the beginning of the story. After the win, she invited her family to join her for a celebration, and within hours, they had all been involved in a horrific car accident. Cynthia’s sister lost her life, while Cynthia herself will spend the remainder of her years in a wheelchair. The incident inspired all sorts of rumours and urban legends about curses, but it is worth noting that Cynthia has since used her wealth and her fame to help several charities, including the Free Wheelchair Mission and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. 


Never give up


Many sage casino goers live by the phrase “quit while you’re ahead,” but that strategy was of no interest to an unnamed woman in her 60s who visited the Palace Station Hotel and Casino back in the late 1990s. After winning $680,000 on the Wheel of Fortune, she had no interest in going out on a spending spree, but instead, decided to move on to our old friend the Megabucks slot. Soon enough, she hit the jackpot, taking home in excess of $27 million. 


Biggest disappointment


We finish on a sad note, with the cautionary tale of New York casino enthusiast Katrina Bookman. She was astonished when the Sphinx slots game she was playing at Resorts World coughed up a ticket showing she had won $42.9. When she tried to cash it in, however, she was told that it was the result of a malfunction, and the prize was actually, just $2.25. The resort offered her a steak dinner as compensation to make up for the disappointment, and unsurprisingly, Bookman declined the offer and instead hired a lawyer. The lawsuit has turned into a latter day version of Jardyce versus Jarndyce, and is still ongoing to this day with no end in sight. 


Other reports by Click Lancashire

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