What Really Happens When You Hit a Slot Machine Jackpot
By Al Parker | Sept. 1, 2018
It’s the dream of every slot player: Slide money into the machine, press the button, (or pull the handle if you’re an old school player), and watch the symbols line up.
Winner. Winner. Winner!
Suddenly you realize you’ve just won a big jackpot. You hit it really big. It could be a life-changing moment if the prize is hefty enough.
“About 12 years ago a group of ladies came in to play and brought a friend whose husband had passed away,” recalled Johnny Barrientoz, director of slots who oversees some 1,430 machines at both Turtle Creek Casino and Leelanau Sands Casino. “They just wanted to take their friend out to have some fun, take her mind off her troubles.”
It was the widow’s first-ever visit to a casino. She felt out of place, but was willing to try her hand at a slot machine. She sat down and slipped $20 into a progressive Wheel of Fortune machine. On her very first pull ever, she won the $330,000-plus jackpot.
“It changed her perspective,” recalled Barrientoz. “It just goes to show, it’s timing and luck.”
Kalkaska resident Jennifer Guggisberg was celebrating the July 4 holiday by playing a 10-cent Quick Hits game at Turtle Creek when she hit for $4,638.
“All of a sudden all of these Quick Hit symbols came up,” she said. “I didn’t realize what I won at first. Then I got excited. You’d think I won a million dollars!”
Guggisberg quickly made plans for a family trip to Florida next April.
Two days later, on a Friday night, she returned and won another $2,200. Then her fiancé went back two days after that and hit for $5,400 on another Quick Hit machine, right next to the one that originally paid off for Guggisberg.
On July 10, Jacquelyn Williams was at Turtle Creek with her mother and playing a Life of Luxury machine for the first time when her 60 cents resulted in a $6,358 jackpot.
“I had only been there 20 minutes or so,” said the Bay City resident. ”I picked a gem, and I didn’t know what was happening. The machine just kept adding up the money. It was just a very lucky moment.”
The win means Williams will be planning a spring trip to Italy to see her son who is stationed there in the U.S. Air Force.
And recently a Turtle Creek guest was playing a 100-Play Video Poker machine when he was dealt a Royal Flush. The payout for the 100 Royals was $100,000, according to Barrientoz.
But before you mentally start spending your next slot machine windfall, here are a few things you should know:
First, once you spin and win, no need to flag down an attendant. A casino employee will quickly find you. At Turtle Creek, a new automated system sends a signal to an iPod carried by each slot attendant, who will check the machine, making sure it’s working properly, and that your win wasn’t the result of a machine malfunction.
If it is a malfunction, you still get the money right? No. Most machines carry discrete labeling that says “Malfunctions void all pays,” which protects the casino.
The attendant will then verify your identification. You won’t get a penny unless you show a valid ID. But once you show your ID, you’ll get your hand filled with bills.
If your win is $1,200 or more, you’ll need to fill out a federal income tax form. Yes, the IRS gets a cut. You have to pay federal tax on all of your winnings and the casino will issue you a W-2G form, an IRS document specifically designed for certain gambling winnings.
If you’re a casino regular, you can deduct the money you spent while chasing that jackpot, provided, of course, that you kept records of your wins and losses.
You can have the tax bite taken out at that time or pay later. “About 20 percent of our big winners have the taxes taken out at the time,” said Barrientoz. “It’s at the discretion of the guest.”
At Turtle Creek, if the jackpot is more than $25,000, the casino will issue a check. And in certain situations, the casino will offer the winner a free room and a dinner while employees process the appropriate paperwork.
After all, if you have a free meal and all that freshly won cash, there’s a good chance you may keep playing. That’s what the casino is hoping. If you do decide to leave, most will happily have their security team to escort you to your car.
If you’re one of the very rare players who wins more than $1 million, you have options. Many casinos will offer either a cash payout or an annual fixed sum. You usually have 90 days to make your choice. For some large progressive jackpots, it can take hours. Sometimes it’s out of the casino’s hands, since some payouts — like the Megabucks in Nevada — are handled by game manufacturers. You could have to wait days or weeks for your money.
If you’re only won a few thousand dollars (still pretty good), you’ll get the money quicker. But don’t stress if it takes longer. The casino is not trying to get out of paying you. It’s a good time to grab a meal at a casino eatery, relax, and contemplate your good fortune.
After all, if your lucky slot machine has 64 stops on each reel. Your chances of hitting the biggest jackpot would be 1 in 262,144, and many machines have far more than 64 stops per reel.
Manton resident Kathy Duranso finished in first place in the 2017 Turtle Creek Casino TournEvent in October, winning $2,500 and a trip for two to Las Vegas to compete in the national tourney.
Duranso had never been on a plane before, let alone outside Michigan. She and her boyfriend Dan stayed at the elegant Wynn hotel-casino.
“I felt like I already won,” said Duranso, who met actors George Hamilton and Danny Trejo during the trip.
There were some 175 other players from 90 casinos taking part in the national event.
Playing in the tourney’s first session, Duranso did well, advancing to the second round. Cheered on by some Turtle Creek staff who flew out to see her, Duranso placed in the top 14 players, taking home $5,000 in cash, enough to pay off her house and buy winter coats and boots for her grandchildren.
For every great win story, there are countless losses. So play only what you can afford to lose, and if you can’t help but play more, contact Gamblers Anonymous to find help near you: www.gamblersanonymous.org.