Wednesday, Jan. 28, 1998 | 9:48 a.m.
The Nevada Megabucks jackpot climbed above the $12 million mark during the busy Super Bowl weekend and, as a result, the world-record slot payoff set last April is in danger of being shattered.
Officials at International Game Technology, manufacturers of the Megabucks reel slot machines, say the record could be set within the next two weeks unless, of course, someone hits it before then.
"We always see increased play and a lot more media interest when we get close to a record," said IGT spokesman Ed Rogich. "The play is significantly greater -- possibly two or three times greater than when the progressive jackpot is reset to $5 million (after a jackpot is hit)."
Last Friday, the jackpot stood at $11.8 million, then the third highest in the 11-year history of the statewide network of nearly 690 machines in 132 casinos. By late Sunday, the $12 million plateau was topped for just the second time as casinos were overflowing with Super Bowl bettors and other gamblers.
The record Megabucks jackpot was set last April 14 when Las Vegan Suzanne Henley hit it for $12.5 million at New York-New York hotel-casino. She broke a record $11.9 million jackpot that was recorded two years ago Tuesday by Honolulu's John Howard Tippin at the Las Vegas Hilton.
In all, 46 people have hit the main Megabucks jackpot for a total of $219 million. The last was an $8.3 million payout on July 13 in Tahoe.
And, regardless of many jokes to the contrary, the winners are not always tourists. Despite the needle-in-a-haystack odds against hitting a Megabucks jackpot, many Nevadans have tried their luck, and nine -- about one of every five big winners -- have walked away multimillionaires.
And, because Nevadans have hit three of the four biggest Megabucks progressives, they have taken home 27 percent of the main jackpots ($59.9 million).
Also, 61 percent of all Megabucks jackpots have been hit at Las Vegas casinos. That figure jumps to 78 percent for Southern Nevada casinos when gaming houses in places like Laughlin and Mesquite are factored in.
"When the jackpot gets this high, we usually get a lot more requests for added banks of machines to meet the demand," Rogich said.
At least one casino has made the pot even sweeter. The Fiesta, starting today, is offering a $1 million bonus to the next Megabucks winner -- if that jackpot is hit at the Fiesta.
To win at Megabucks, a player must bet three $1 coins per pull. If it is a single-line machine, the player must line up three or four Megabucks symbols in the middle. If it is a three-line machine, a player must line up the symbols on the bottom line.
There have been incidents where players have properly lined up the symbols, but played less than three coins and were not awarded the jackpot.
"It clearly states on the machine that to win the big jackpot you must play the (maximum) three coins," Rogich said. "Also, a player should make sure the coins have registered by checking the indicators on the machine. If they don't show three coins played, the player should call (a floor person) before pulling the handle."
Megabucks has grown in popularity worldwide. Other statewide links are in Mississippi, Louisiana, Colorado and Missouri. A citywide link has been established for Atlantic City. Another link is in Macau near Hong Kong. Megabucks also is linked to various American Indian casinos nationwide.
However, Rogich said, the near-record jackpot is attainable only on Nevada machines.
Megabucks is one of 16 IGT progressive systems offered in Nevada. Others include Quartermania, Wheel of Fortune and Nevada Nickels. To date, they have paid out $1 billion in major jackpots, Rogich said.
The jackpots are paid in annual installments. Should a Megabucks winner die before receiving all 25 payments, the installments continue to go to the winner's heirs -- they do not revert back to the casino or IGT.
A winner of a jackpot greater than $10 million generally moves into the top (30-35 percent) tax bracket, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The winner generally pays greater than $150,000 a year in taxes unless tax shelters (charities, interest on land and houses, business investments, etc.) are established.
Late last year, IGT installed Super Megabucks machines in more than 20 Nevada casinos. The progressive payout for those four-reel slots start at $10 million each time a jackpot is hit.
Currently, the Megabucks jackpot is higher than the Super Megabucks jackpot. Still, Rogich notes, it is the first time in history that two slot jackpots of greater than $10 million are being offered at the same time.