People gamble with a dream of earning a huge pay-out of their lifetime. But it rarely comes true for many gamblers. You cannot trust that your hard-earned money would pay well in the slot machines and casino dealers, but the slight possibility of becoming instantly rich continues to lure people of all generations to casinos and gambling centers.
It’s not always the most experienced or skilled gamblers who win the jackpot. It pays to have the skill, but some were just lucky enough to win big. Here’s a list of the biggest gambling wins in history:
1. $590.5 million
Gloria McKenzie, a Florida grandmother, became the largest single winner of the Powerball lottery when she won $590.5 million in May 2013. She beat the odds of 1 in 175 million to win the jackpot. She bought her ticket in a local Publix supermarket in the town of Zephyrhills, Florida, wherein a person in front of her in the queue had let her go first. That act of kindness cost that person a lot!
The entire annual budget of the town where she lives is only a fraction of her instant fortune: $49 million. It was reported that McKenzie opted to receive a lump sum of half the payout than to receive 30 annual installments of the full jackpot. It’s understandable, given that she was already 84 years old when she won the prize.
2. $40 million
This one’s not an instant $40 million. One of the finest high-stake gamblers in the world, Archie Karas was a gambling legend. After losing $2 million in a Los Angeles poker game, he drove into Las Vegas in 1992 with only $50. He ran into a friend and borrowed $10,000 to play high-stakes Razz. After three hours, he repaid his $10,000 debt with 50% interest and had plenty more money to keep playing. He won every game he tried. Well, he lost occasionally, but he always came back and won more than how much he had lost. His lucky streak lasted for three years until he amassed $40 million.
But Karas didn’t stop there, invest the money and just live a fancy life. He kept playing. He lost $11 million in craps in just three weeks. He tried to win it back in baccarat, but he dropped $17 million. Then he lost another $2 million in poker, having only $10 million. Taking a break from his huge losses, he flew to Greece for a vacation. But still, he returned to Vegas and lost it all.
But if you think Karas stopped there; he didn’t. Less than a year after, he borrowed $40,00 and turned it into $1 million. After mini-streaks of winning and losing money, including arrests for being busted for cheating, he got banned from all Nevada and Las Vegas casinos for life.
3. $39.7 million
While waiting for a basketball game, an unnamed 25-year-old software engineer from Los Angeles decided to pass the time at the Excalibur Casino in March 2003. He deposited $100 at the video slots and left with one of the biggest Vegas payouts of all time: $39,710,826.36! He beat odds at the time of one in 16.7 million.
The man decided to take an annual $1.5 million dollar payout for the next 25 years.
4. $35 million
Cynthia Jay-Brennan faced good and bad fortunes in extremes for just a short span of time. While she was a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas, she took bets on the now-defunct Desert Inn hotel-casino. On a birthday celebration of her future mother-in-law in January 2000, she decided to take a spin at the Megabucks slot machine. It was in her ninth try when she won $34,959,458.50 – at the time the largest Megabucks jackpot in history. She spent it by giving herself the wedding of her dreams just two weeks later, marrying her boyfriend Terry Brennan.
Unfortunately, after another few weeks, Cynthia got involved in a horrible car accident which killed her sister and left her paralyzed from the chest down and unable to walk again. Their car was hit by a drunk driver. Instead of traveling the world with her new husband, she found herself confined to a wheelchair. Her story fueled a myth that bad things happen to people who win big jackpots.
5. $27.6 million
In the Palace Station Hotel in Las Vegas, a 67-year old retired flight attendant had only intended to put $100 at the Megabucks machine. She ended up putting $300, but the machine rewarded her with $27,580,879.60! That was in November 1998, and it was the first time Megabucks surpassed $20 million.
For the lady, it wasn’t her first time winning a big jackpot – she already won $680,000 on the Wheel of Fortune slot machine months before hitting her millions.
6. $22.6 million
In March 2002, a 74-year-old woman from California named Johanna Heundl was on her way to breakfast at Bally’s when she decided to play the Megabucks machine first. For an early morning gamble, she put in about $170. After one quick spin, she made her way to breakfast as a multi-millionaire, having won $22,618,156.67.
She said that she misread the meter at first and thought that she won $2 million. She would have been already happy with that.
7. $21.3 million
An Illinois business consultant deposited only $10 into a Megabucks machine at Caesars Palace in June 1999. For just one lucky spin at the Megabucks slot machine, he hit the jackpot worth $21,346,952.22.
The anonymous guy wanted to keep his identity a secret. They say he was single, had no children and would occasionally visit Vegas to play.
8. $21.1 million
Megabucks has made most people in this list extra-rich including this one. But this time, this lucky gambler won the grand prize not just once, but twice in his lifetime. A World War II veteran, Elmer Sherwin, was 76 years old when he won a $4.6 million Megabucks jackpot in 1989 at the Mirage, just 10 hours after it was opened to the public. He used the money to travel the world, but he continued to play once or twice a week. He said it was his dream to win the Megabucks jackpot twice.
After 16 years, Sherwin had his dream come true when he won $21,147,947 in September 2005 at the Cannery Casino in Las Vegas. The odds of hitting the jackpot twice on Megabucks are 1 in 50 million, making Sherwin an incredibly lucky old man. He donated lots of his money to charity, including the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
9. $15.1 million
A one-man blackjack master, Don Johnson played from three casinos in 6 months to earn about $15.1 million. Johnson was a corporate executive and former racetrack manager who took advantage of casino discounts and incentives offered in the wake of the recession in early 2011.
Johnson didn’t count cards or use tricks and cheats. Instead, he negotiated special rules in casinos with favorable house rules to get an advantage, so he could simply earn more winnings the more he played. One big benefit for Johnson was the guaranteed 10% payback that some casinos offered to lure gamblers in. What he did was to negotiate a massive 20% payback and the right to bet up to $25,000 a hand. As a result, he made himself $15.1 million dollars richer for just half a year.
10. $14.5 million
For the biggest payout ever made for online gambling, the recipient was a Norwegian player known by his first name Peter. In 2011, 20-year-old Peter decided to give a spin on a progressive jackpot slot called Arabian Knights at Betsson. He exchanged Norwegian crowns into euros to play.
After a while, he found out that he accumulated €11.7 million and contacted customer support to know its equivalent amount in his local currency. To his surprise, Peter became a millionaire on and during that session with $14,487,759 total winnings.