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Gamblers look to cash in on record jackpot

Bill Hardacre spent $20 on Megabucks Progressive slots at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, but it was his friend who was playing around.

Bill Cauthon of Gardnervillle was making himself dizzy turning circles behind Hardacre, hoping to bring him luck.

“Oh, he’s just getting warmed up,” Hardacre said Thursday. “Wait until we start winning. He’ll be doing handstands on the chairs.”



Although his wife earlier won $120 at a Megabucks machine, Hardacre was more interested in winning the record $29 million jackpot.

“Hell, yeah. At $29 million, why not give it a shot?” he said.




Mike Moss of South Lake Tahoe felt the same way.

“This machine was lucky last night,” Moss, who won $600 Wednesday, said. “The 600 bucks is nice, but I would have rather won it all.”

He brought his wife’s grandmother to the same machine Thursday. She won $150 after playing for four minutes.

The amount players invest in Megabucks machines increases significantly when jackpots are high, according to Ed Rogich of International Game Technology in Reno.

IGT operates the Megabucks machines in casinos throughout Nevada, which enables them to offer such large prizes.

“When it hits, this will be a Guinness world record,” Rogich said.

The latest prize was won in June 1999 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

The highest Megabucks jackpot won was $27.6 million on Nov. 17, 1998 at the Palace Station Casino in Las Vegas.

That was also the casino’s reopening night, which fueled speculation that the odds of winning the Megabucks jackpot are better at new casinos.

“I know they deny it, but I think the chances are better when they are new,” said Jim Rafferty of Harveys Resort & Casino. “If I was on a trip to Las Vegas I would be running to the Bellagio or to Paris.”

Two Megabucks jackpots have been won in Stateline casinos.

James Runions of El Cerrito Calif., won $4.5 million at Caesars Tahoe in 1991. Most recently, on Nov. 26 1994, Fomsack Phommasack of Oakland won $4.3 million at Harveys.

“What’s exciting about Megabucks is that it’s life changing, and it’s such a high to give out those big checks,” he said. “That’s the fun part of this business.”

Megabucks began offering statewide progressive jackpots in 1987 with a minimum prize of $1 million. In 1995 the base sum was increased to $5 million.

In the last five years 11 jackpots, averaging $11.3 million, have been won.

Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s Tom McKinnon is certain someone soon will win the prize.

He said it has probably gotten this high because someone won $5,000 on a $1 bet. The Progressive Jackpot can only be won on a $3 bet.

“How awful would you feel about winning $5,000 instead of $29 million,” Mckinnon said.

“We continue to hear unverified stories of someone lining up the winning symbols without having played three coins,” IGT’s Ward Chilton said in a press release. “We don’t want that to happen to anyone.”

At Caesars, play has been slow on the Megabucks machines, said Sue Hyde, the marketing director. And according to Harrah’s Don Mize, “It’s been really hit or miss, but when it’s up like this there are usually people playing.”

One of the few people playing at Harrah’s was Jean Shaver, who came to Tahoe to celebrate her birthday.

“I’ve never had good luck at Megabucks,” Shaver said. “I lose my shirt half the time, so it’s just for fun.”

Another woman who asked not to be identified said, “I’ve got as good a chance as anybody else, and at my age you can’t wait.”

The 80-year-old woman won $100 on her machine and joked that she was going to “go out and tie one on.”

“If I won the $29 million I would go out and really get gassed,” she said.


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