Gamblers take a shot at Big Easy |

Gamblers take a shot at Big Easy

Andy Bourelle

On your mark …

Get set …

Tap! Tap! Tap!

Tap like you’ve never tapped before!

That was the scene Monday at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe when 325 people competed for a chance to go to New Orleans in November and try to win $1 million.

It happened like this.

Sixty-two people would take their stations, sitting comfortably – or consumed with anxiety – behind multi-colored, noise-filled slot machines. An official would give the signal, and the participants would start tapping away, hitting the slot machine’s buttons as fast as possible.

Some hit it with one hand; some used both. Some used their elbows. Some had no technique at all.

Behind them, their friends and often opponents in the competition cheered them on.

They did that for 15 minutes – 15 minutes of solid slot-slammin’ action.

When the round was over, they would walk away, get a beer at the nearby bar, smoke a cigarette or hang out and watch how their adversaries/new friends were doing. Mostly, though, in their time off they would get ready for their next round. Each participant had three rounds in which to accumulate the best score.

The top five winners get a free trip to New Orleans to play against winners from 12 other Harrah’s properties around the country. The winner there gets $1 million.

The high scorer Monday at Tahoe was supposed to win $10,000.

The top 10 winners earned at least $500 from the competition.

The event is quite a spectacle.

What kind of people play this crazy game?

Well, people who love to gamble.


“We come up to Harrah’s this time every year,” said Debra Tomberline of Fillmore, Calif. “So we just entered the tournament.”

Monday’s festivity was a fifth annual event, and Connie Thurman of Visalia, Calif., has been to each one.

“I’m here every year,” she said, resting at the bar between rounds. “I won $10,000 one year and went to the (Millionaire) Maker in New Orleans. I didn’t place there, but I had a good time.”

So how do you win? Technique? Probably not.

“There isn’t any technique when you’re playing slots,” said Jerald Shaw of Merced, Calif., between rounds. “You put your money in and hope for the best. Here, you just have to start tapping away.”

That must be the key – tapping as fast as you can.

Not so, says Thurman. (Remember, she won $10,000 one year.)

“You see all these people doing this,” she said, pretending to quickly tap a machine. “That has to hurt. Just wait for the light to light up, and press the button. “

So, let’s ask this former winner what the key to success is.

“It’s just having a smile on my face and being very happy,” she said.

Fun, huh? That’s it – just have fun? It’s probably better that way. Who really wants to win $1 million, anyway?

“I would probably drop dead,” Tomberline said. “I couldn’t enjoy it.”

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