Las Vegas Sun

March 4, 2024

Record jackpot claimed by Calif. engineer

Judy Selasky of Lavonia, Mich., didn't hit the big one on Friday. Neither did Dee Cluck of Henderson, Suzee Groth of Las Vegas or Kim Wong of Kailua, Hawaii.

Bill Elfritz of Phoenix put $20 into the Megabucks at Excalibur on Saturday, but by then it was too late.

The record Megabucks jackpot of $39,713,982.25 was won just after 1 p.m. Friday by a 25-year-old software engineer from Los Angeles. The winner didn't want his name released to the media, but the also-rans -- hopeful that lightning could strike twice -- didn't mind letting God and the newspaper know they were still giving it a go.

After all $7 million, while only 18 percent of the record, "is still $7 million," Cluck observed.

"If I won that I think I could be happy," Groth said.

Ed Rogich noticed right away when the symbols aligned for the big winner. The vice president of marketing for International Game Technology, which operates the progressive machines, saw the jackpot meter at his office reset -- one second it was $39.7 million and rising, the next $7 million.

Then the calls started coming in from gamblers all over the state who saw the same thing happen at the 691 machines in 160 casinos in Nevada, he said.

They all wanted to know: Who won? Where did it hit? How much was it? Is this real?

He couldn't give firm answers for about an hour -- that's how long it takes for a battalion of officials, from slot technicians to state Gaming Control Board agents, to verify a valid win, Rogich said.

At the same time the public relations team headed to the front line and Mr. Los Angeles was whisked into a VIP room to wait it out.

Once IGT and Gaming Control agents were satisfied, only one detail was left: Check the ID. Mr. Los Angeles was a legal 25 years old, they confirmed, and would get his first of 25 annual checks for $1.5 million. (Only one big jackpot winner has ever been disqualified for being underage, and it wasn't at an IGT machine, Rogich said.)

While all of the verifying was going on behind the scenes, Megabucks machines were still consuming the $3 maximum bets of hopefuls, Rogich said. He could see the meter in his office spinning from $7 million upward. The odds don't get any better no matter the size of the prize, however. The chance of winning the Megabucks grand prize are one in 16.7 million.

That didn't deter Wong from contributing to jackpot, via the machines at Green Valley Ranch Station Casino in Henderson. She had been unable to get to a machine the night before, but it wasn't a problem after 1 p.m. Friday.

"It was a little more enticing with the $39 million up there, but I'm still playing," she said.

Anything over $1 million is enough, she said, to fulfill her goal: pay off the mortgages of her relatives.

A $7 million jackpot would also pay for the pool that Cluck would build and a vacation to Hawaii as well. But she had been in it at Green Valley Ranch Station for the big one.

"I was here at lunchtime around 12:30 and it was still around $39.7 million," she said. "Then I came back around quarter after one and it was resetting. It was such a drag."

That didn't stop her from playing, though it did drive away many, she noticed, looking at the empty seats at the Megabucks machines.

"Do you believe it's empty?" she said.

Rogich noted that after the last record jackpot -- $34.9 million won by Cynthia Jay Brennan on Jan. 26, 2000 -- the big one hit two more times within a month, and two more times after that. Others got lucky, though for lesser amounts, on Feb. 4, Feb. 14, April 19 and May 19, 2000.

"You never try to figure out randomness," Rogich said.

It was that chance that kept Selasky tethered to a Megabucks machine Saturday night. She had walked into the Excalibur on Friday afternoon to check in and heard the commotion of the big win.

"I said, 'Hurry up and get up to the room, so I can get downstairs,' " she said. "I figure if he won, there might be some magic here."

Even if it's only $7 million worth of magic?

"I'm not a hog," she said.

Sun reporters Dan Kulin and Jace Radke contributed to this story.