Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2003 | 9:24 a.m.
Having a Christmas Eve birthday usually means getting shortchanged on presents, but not for 71-year-old Amy Nishimura, not this year.
The retired homemaker from the Hawaiian island of Molokai wasn't even a whole day into her annual Las Vegas vacation when she won $8.9 million while playing a Megabucks slot machine late Monday morning at the Fremont hotel.
She hadn't even been to bed yet when she hit the jackpot, according to International Game Technology spokeswoman Connie Fox.
Nishimura had just finished eating breakfast at the hotel when she sat down with a girlfriend to play Megabucks.
After putting $100 into the machine, Nishimura hit the jackpot, with about $40 left to spare.
A security officer held Nishimura's blue-denim purse for her as she raised a giant check for $8,919,598 over her head.
Nishimura, who will celebrate her birthday on Wednesday, was all smiles Monday afternoon as she stood in front of the winning slot machine. It had been cordoned off with purple velvet ropes to keep the gathering crowd at arm's length. The slot machine stood blinking with Nishimura's 37 credits still left.
Onlookers buzzed with excitement and disbelief as Nishimura held up a check nearly as big as she.
Megabucks is a progressive slot machine that is networked with machines in casinos across the state. It's $1 a play, but to win the big jackpot, a person must play $3 a pull. The odds of hitting the jackpot are about 16.7 million to 1.
Nishimura said she had just been dreaming of winning the jackpot before breakfast that morning.
"On the way to breakfast, I saw the wall with the pictures of all the people who have won jackpots here at the Fremont, and I thought to myself, 'I want to be up there,' " she said. "But I never thought it would be because of Megabucks."
Nishimura said she has been playing slots at the Fremont since the 1980s.
As to how she would spend the money, Nishimura said Monday that she was "really blank right now."
"I know it's lots of money," she added, "but I'm still in shock because it all happened so quickly."
Nishimura later told IGT's Fox she had some ideas on how to spend the money.
"I'd like to pay off my house and come to Las Vegas four or five times a year," she said. "Plus, I have a daughter and two grandsons that I will be able to spoil."
Megabucks is paid in 25 annual installments, though winners can choose within 60 days to take a lump sum for a lesser amount. Nishimura's first check was for $350,000.
Nishimura also cashed out the remaining $37 in credits that were left on the winning slot machine.