Megamyth shadows casino openings

We can all blame Elmer Sherwin for one of the greatest urban myths in Nevada gaming.

On Nov. 22, 1989, the 76-year-old retiree won a $4.6 million Megabucks jackpot at The Mirage. The slot machine pull came about 10 hours after the resort opened.

Sherwin’s jackpot is the basis for a prevailing legend: Megabucks will hit on a casino’s opening night.

“Unfortunately, no. I hate to be the spoiler,” said Boris Hallerbach, product manager for MegaJackpots, a business unit of slot machine giant International Game Technology, which operates Megabucks.

Despite popular belief, there isn’t a magic switch that can be flipped that ensures the three Megabucks symbols line up on a designated slot machine at a particular casino during a certain time.

Hallerbach explained that a random generator controlled by a central computer oversees the Megabucks system. Each of the 761 Megabucks slot machine in 156 Nevada casinos hooked into the network has the same odds of hitting the jackpot.

The odds, he said, are not public information.

“There is no correlation between Megabucks hitting and the opening of a casino,” Hallerbach said.

Try telling that to the true believers.

Seven months after The Mirage opened, the Megabucks machines were consistently filled for the first weekend of the Excalibur.

Every subsequent casino opening in the past 20 years — including MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, The Venetian, Bellagio, and Wynn Las Vegas — has witnessed a run on their Megabucks slot machines by gamblers thinking a jackpot was imminent.

Two weeks ago, a couple of hard-core players waited in line for Aria to open, carrying a bankroll ready for action because they believed in the Megabucks opening-night superstition.

Reportedly, these folks also believe in the existence of the Yeti or his North American cousin, the Sasquatch.

I hold Sherwin responsible.

Since his jackpot at The Mirage, there have been some two dozen casino openings in Las Vegas. None of those events produced a Megabucks jackpot.

IGT introduced Megabucks in 1986 and the system has paid out almost $650 million in jackpots.

Sherwin kept on playing Megabucks, and 16 years later he hit the Megabucks jackpot again, this time at the Cannery in North Las Vegas, for more than $21.1 million.

That jackpot was bad news for conspiracy theorists. Sherwin’s second Megabucks came more than two years after the Cannery opened.

Somebody threw the wrong switch.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. E-mail him at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or call 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz.

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