The 20 Year Progressive Jackpot
Until recently visitors to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas would have noticed one very elderly looking slot machine amongst the more modern ones, a machine so old that it had mechanical reels and cashouts paid by hand – the sole survivor of a bank of machines that were installed in the early 1990s.
That machine was the Lion’s Share. It had already attained cult status with locals when the Wall Street Journal ran a piece about it in February 2014. After that it became so popular that the venue had to install a special queuing system for it.
What on earth could have possessed so many people to queue up to play a 20 year old machine and why was it even still in service?
The answer is the progressive jackpot, which stood at a little over $2.3 million at the time of the article in the Wall Street Journal. Under Nevada law a slot machine must pay out a minimum of 75% of wagers (most pay closer to 95%) and this jackpot represented player money that was yet to be paid out. The MGM Grand could perhaps have made an arrangement to transfer the jackpot to a less ancient machine, but why do that when the machine had become a tourist attraction in itself? History is unclear as to whether this particular machine had never paid out at all or whether the jackpot had been hit a couple of times in the early years when, the story goes, the machine was just one of 50 Lion’s Share machines on the casino floor.
The Wall Street Journal article tells of two generations of gamblers playing the same machine, of superstitions and odd behaviour surrounding it, of players so unwilling to stop playing that they fall asleep at the machine. A great piece of journalism, it captured the imagination of thousands of visitors to Vegas and turned an already popular machine (with its own Twitter account, Facebook page and fan websites) into the object of a stampede.
Fans of the Lion’s Share had waited almost two decades for it to pay out when the article was published. They didn’t have much longer to wait! On Friday 22nd August 2014 the jackpot was finally hit by Walter and Linda Misco, a retired couple from New Hampshire. Legend had it that the winner of the progressive jackpot would also get to take the retired machine away with them as a souvenir. It is no simple matter to move a gaming machine across state lines or transfer one to private ownership, but the management of the MGM Grand worked hard to get the necessary permissions to make this happen. It turned out that the machine couldn’t legally be sent to the Miscos’ home as New Hampshire law requires gaming machines in private ownership to be at least 25 years old and old as the Lion’s Share was, it wasn’t quite that old. The story does have a happy ending for this iconic slot machine though; the Las Vegas Sun reports that it has now taken up residence in their holiday home in Florida.