We’ve been around the casino scene a long time, and we’ve heard every excuse in the book when it comes to not winning at the tables. “My luck isn’t in” and “why is it never me?” are probably the most common two phrases we hear. Now, while losses at the tables and slots can be disheartening, it’s possible for anyone (and we literally do mean anyone) to win big when at a casino.
There are more big winners at casinos than you think – a lot more. Most of the time, however, these winners are often high rollers who play high stakes, which your average casino-goer doesn’t have the chance to do. Most people won’t be able to come up with a bankroll for high stakes games, nor will they be able to develop the professional skills to make money at a reliable rate.
That said, there are a few “regular Joe” folks who have taken home major casino prizes. Whether you’re relying on strategy or just some good old-fashioned good luck, everyone dreams of becoming a millionaire in an instant with one good bet. The chances are astronomically rare, but there’s still a chance. To show you how that pipe dream can come true, here are 7 of the biggest wins in casino history, with a little bit of the story behind them.
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Smashing Records with Every Roll
This is a story that has been told a thousand times over, we’ve even discussed it ourselves many times. There is a very good reason for this though, as the name Patricia Demauro is and should be the stuff of legend.
Ms. Demauro is the record-holder for a truly difficult record – the most rolls in craps without being severed out. Patricia rolled 154 times straight in 2009 before she finally rolled the number seven.
For any wondering, Demauro was not a secret expert in either dice or craps, but instead a very novice gambler. In fact, she rarely visits casinos, and it was really only luck that had her in right place at the right time. Sometimes to become a big winner, being in the right place, the right time is all it takes to scoop a huge win.
In 2009, Patricia went with her friend, John Capra, to the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa. Originally, she had planned to play the slot machines while Capra enjoyed the poker tables, but eventually, she grew bored. Instead, she convinced Capra to show her how craps – a game she had only played once before – was played, and some strategy.
Little did she know, she’d be setting an incredible streak record with that one simple plan.
As Demauro rolled the dice over and over, crowds began to form when she consistently avoided crapping out. The odds of making 154 rolls without rolling a single seven in a craps game are nearly impossible – 156 trillion to 1 to be exact. In setting the record, Demauro won herself a tidy prize in the form of several hundred thousand dollars.
Let’s be real, she may not be the biggest winner of all-time. But, when you combine the payout, the circumstances, and how she smashed the record, you can help but praise this New Jersey grandmother that proved that beginner’s luck is certainly real.
Heywood with a Touch of Hollywood
A former soldier in the British army, John Heywood is the winner of one of the biggest jackpots in the history of online real money slots. In 2015, through the Microgaming slot Mega Moolah, Heywood won a staggering £13.2 million in pounds. It’s safe to say that this man’s life changed instantly, as he joined the mega-rich club off just a single spin.
In 2015, Heywood had just returned from an Afghanistan military tour and was making minimum wage while playing online casino slots for fun in his free time. There was no big bankroll to fund Heywood’s account – in fact, the deposit that preceded the huge payout was only £30. That’s right, all he had to play with was around 50 bucks, so he certainly wasn’t a high roller.
Playing low stakes, with just 25p (45 cents for our American readers) for every spin, Heywood managed to get into the bonus round of Mega Moolah. It was there that Heywood would land on the “Mega Jackpot,” defying all the odds and taking home what would be a record-breaking payout at the time.
At first, Heywood thought that the payout he would receive would be £10,000. This isn’t an amount to shake a stick at by any means, and Heywood would have walked away a happy man all the same. However, he soon came to the breathtaking realization that he hadn’t just won a few thousand pounds – he had won a few million.
Heywood didn’t go out looking to buy a mansion or a sports car once he’d found out the magnitude of his jackpot. He kept his minimum-wage job while waiting for the money to officially hit his bank, courtesy of Microgaming.
He still hasn’t bought that mansion or a Ferrari. Instead, Heywood used the money to pay for his father’s major medical bills. He also started his own business in renovating homes. It’s safe to say that following this huge win Haywood didn’t go Hollywood and has kept his feet firmly on the ground.
Taking Glory from Tragedy
The story of Cynthia Jay-Brennan is the story of the second-largest jackpot in slots history but is a tale that takes a tragic turn. One of casino history’s most talked-about jackpots, and not for the reasons that you would hope. We hope you have tissues at the ready, as Cynthia’s tale is heart-wrenching to say the least.
Cynthia Jay-Brennan was a former cocktail waitress working in Las Vegas, who went out for a night of fun at Vegas’ Desert Inn Casino. Her game of choice was the slot machines, and she had no idea when sitting down at IGT’s Megabucks that she would be walking away with a life-changing jackpot of $34.9 million dollars.
It was only 45 days after this win that Cynthia was involved in a car accident while she and her sister were driving through the city. The other driver, Clark Morse, had a plethora of DUIs on his record, and rear-ended the pair, and then fled.
Cynthia’s sister was pronounced dead at the scene, while Cynthia survived only to be fully paralyzed for the rest of her life. Morse was later found asleep on his mother’s couch and was put away for life by a Clark County Judge.
Today, though, Cynthia Jay-Brennan has handled her tragedies with grace. She is still married to her loving husband, Terry, and works to help others with disabilities and paralysis.
We tip our hats to Cynthia, as while she may have won a record-smashing sum of money, she has gone on to do so much more than just being “another big slots winner” – well done Cynthia!
Let it Rip on the Tables
When gamblers or would-be gamblers dream of that big jackpot or wins in the seven-figure range, they don’t often dream of Caribbean Stud Poker. While a fun game, Caribbean Stud isn’t a game that often dishes out big wins. However, in the world-famous Venetian hotel Las Vegas back in 2018, Kevin Ripski proved that Caribbean Stud can pack some prize power.
From Ontario, Ripski played Caribbean Stud while making side bets of $5. His eyes were on the Sands Millionaire Progressive Jackpot, and to the surprise of everyone, including himself, Ripski walked away with it. It was all thanks to a royal flush, which meant that the native Canadian would be going home with a jackpot of $1,114,079. A millionaire off just a few cards, it’s possible and as this story proves, it can happen to anyone.
The real catch here is that Ripski doesn’t play with any of the “best” strategies for poker players that exist out there. Instead, he plays “blind.” Playing “blind” in poker means that the player bets before ever looking at their hand. In most circumstances, we would say that Ripski was foolish playing blind, as even the most hardened pros avoid this strategy. Given that he won seven-figures and we’re sat here writing this article, we don’t think that we’re in much of a position to judge.
Ripski’s bet was made before he even realized what he had. “I let the dealer flip over my cards,” he said in an interview, “so it’s a surprise at the end.” This is, as you can guess, not the ideal strategy for playing Caribbean Stud Poker, or any other casino game. The important thing that Ripski did do, however, was one that every player should do – he made sure that he was able to qualify for the jackpot.
If you play and you’re not playing the bonus bet, you’re missing out. If you aren’t playing and you hit it, that’s a regret that you’ll be carrying for many years, if not forever. Anyone can learn that lesson from Ripski, if you want the progressive jackpot, don’t let the bonus bet slide, make sure you play it every time, others you might miss out.
From Austria with Love
There aren’t many people who can say that they’ve won a major payout before breakfast. One such person who can is Johanna Huendl, who stopped to play a Megabucks slot machine before continuing on her way to the breakfast buffet while at Bally’s Casino Las Vegas in 2002. Megabucks is a progressive slot game for those that don’t know, with it more than living up to its name if past performance is anything to go by.
Huendl, from Vienna, Austria, decided to try her luck after witnessing another person winning a $3000 prize. This on-a-whim decision would prove to be a life-changing one, as Huendl hit the jackpot and won an incredible $22,621,230 on the Double Diamond Megabucks Slot Machine. Coffee, eggs, and a side of seven-figure winnings, this is the perfect breakfast if there ever was one.
She couldn’t believe her eyes when she glanced away from the machine for split second, only to turn back and find three of the Megabucks logos lined up in front of her. At first, Huendl thought the prize was “only” $2 million. After learning that she had actually won $22.6 million, Huendl was elated and excited.
Johanna Huendl had come to the United States as a bride in the year 1956. She said that she planned to use some of the winnings to make a return visit to her home country, Austria. Well, with more than $22 million in the bank, we like to think she flew back first class with a huge glass of champagne in hand.
A Big Win with Breakfast
Ready for another big winner story? Well, it all starts with bingo. We know what you are thinking, bingo might be the ugly cousin of the casino world, with it being played almost exclusively by pensioners and old-timers. None of these statements are false, but that doesn’t mean that bingo can be home to a big winner or two from time to time.
Bingo as a game actually has surprisingly big payouts when compared to other luck-based casino games, as Soraya Lowell learned in 2008. Lowell visited the Club 3000 Bingo Hall along with her neighbor, Agnes O’Neill. Before going, they made the pact that if one should win a major payout, they would share it with the other.
Little did they know that in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, Soraya Lowell would be taking home a jackpot prize of £1,167,795. She, as according to the pact, shared the winnings with O’Neill – talk about the ultimate friendship.
After that, Lowell kept her minimum-wage cleaning job, unable to decide what to do with the money. She said that it was easier to come up with what to spend it on when you hadn’t won it yet, and added, “But in reality, it’s very tough.” She had just bought a car before winning, so she decided she didn’t need a new one, and she loved her house and neighbors so she didn’t want to move. On top of that, she loved her work and enjoyed spending time with her coworkers.
This is a story that has an unfortunate twist as well. In 2012, Lowell was taken to court for unpaid taxes to the tune of over £13,000. In addition, before the windfall, she and her husband filed for bankruptcy when they couldn’t make their mortgage, and ended up having to hand over to the Bank of Scotland a home worth £150,000.
O’Neill, unfortunately, didn’t have much time to spend her share of the winnings. Only two months after collecting, O’Neill passed away peacefully in her sleep at the age of 68. Overall, while this represents a huge win, especially by bingo player standards, it is tinged a little bit with sadness over what might have been for both of these ladies.
The Legend of Elmer Sherwin
You knew this was coming, as no list of rags to riches stories are complete without mentioning a certain Elmer Sherwin. His name is synonymous with winning big at the case and that’s something that certainly hasn’t happened by chance.
Though it may seem prevalent throughout media and advertising, the actual odds of winning a huge jackpot off of a slots machine are astronomically low. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to win something like seven figures, let alone millions. Which makes Elmer Sherwin’s wins utterly amazing – that’s right, wins with an “s”, as this guy rode his luck to the big bucks TWO TIMES.
Sherwin is the only person in IGT history to win the Megabucks Jackpot not only once, but twice. The odds of winning this jackpot even once are 50 million to one, so to do it twice is an incredible feat.
Even though Sherwin had been playing at casinos for his entire life, since he was of age and could legally gamble, he’d never had much luck in terms of winning. It was only when he reached his golden years in his sixties and retired that his luck started to change.
In 1989, while traveling across the United States with his wife in an RV, Sherwin stopped in Las Vegas. They planned to visit family and play casino games for fun. Elmer’s bankroll was a meager $100 a week when he played at the casinos in Vegas, so imagine his surprise when he hit the Megabucks $21.2 million jackpot payout. We’re sure his eyes lit up as that magical number splashed across the screen.
Now, that means that Sherwin defied the odds once. However, he turned around and did it again in 2005. He was actually trying for the jackpot this time around, hoping for the prestige of doing something no one had ever done before. He succeeded, to the tune of $4.6 million while playing at the Cannery Casino and Hotel.
We’ll be honest, Sherwin is, without doubt, the ultimate “average Joe” at the casino, with his wins being rightfully being etched into the history books. He defied the odds on two occasions to reap all the rewards of the world’s most famous online slot, smashing the reels and then some in the process. Big wins can happen to anybody, with age certainly not being a factor. Won a jackpot previously? Well, you can definitely win again. Aged over 65? Well, luck knows no age limit. Sherwin’s epic wins prove all this to be true.
Will you join this list? There is only one way to find out!
Woah! This list really is something special in our opinion. All these players have shown just how to break the bank at a casino and did it without a huge bankroll. It proves that to hit the big time you don’t need thousands to play with, sometimes a few bucks are literally all it takes.
It’s a pretty common dream people in all walks of life have – you go to a casino and manage to get lucky, winning a massive prize and changing your whole life. Safe to say, that most people never see this dream come true, but those that do aren’t exactly gambling pros, actually they rarely have extensive gambling experience.
The seven players above succeeded where others failed, even when they least expected it. Some got luckier than others and now live comfortable lives off of their winnings. Others are even sitting on eight-figure fortunes that have fired them onto many gambler “rich lists”.
Look, players shouldn’t walk into a fabulous casino with $10 and expect to leave a billionaire. But these stories are inspiring all the same, especially to gamblers who may need to see that there’s always a chance to win big.