The legend and cult of the $2.345 million Lion’s Share slot machine at MGM Grand

Just what does a 20-year-old MGM Grand slot machine have that keeps people from around the world playing it day and night? The answer is a $2.345 million jackpot!

It’s 11 p.m. two days ago, and I find the Lion’s Share machine located on MGM Grand’s casino floor between Michael and Jenna Morton’s new restaurant Crush and the High Roller slots parlor directly across from the restaurant Grand Wok. An Asian couple has been playing it for five hours without pause. Six other people are patiently waiting in line for their shot at fame and fortune.

The machine is now the only one left of the original 50 that MGM Grand had for its opening two decades ago. It has become the stuff of legend, so much so that a worldwide cult following has grown around it.

I take the seventh seat in line that MGM Grand managers have kindly provided for the waiting players. Here’s a YouTube video of the most storied slot machine in Las Vegas history.

Justin Andrews, executive director of slot operations at MGM Grand, told me: “Lion’s Share has had a cult following for a long time. People are drawn to its history, as well as all the different theories surrounding it. It really has become somewhat of a legend.

“There has been a continual line of guests at the machine, sometimes 12 deep, waiting to take a shot at its life-changing jackpot. Everyone seems to be having a good time. We are starting to see a lot of bonding between the guests waiting in line, and our slot staff has been having a lot of fun with it.

“Lion’s Share has always been very popular and is among the most-played slot machines of the more than 2,000 we have throughout the entire casino. The machine could hit just about any time — this month, next month, this year, next year. There are no odds of it hitting because just like every slot machine, the jackpot hit would be totally random.

“Under Nevada law, we have an option to turn the machine off and move its jackpot to another machine with the same denomination; however, at this time the plans are to keep this machine operational. At this very moment, it is $2,345,404 and counting.

“We haven’t needed any special security: Everyone is very respectful of others who want to play, and there are a lot of kindred spirits in line.”

Justin told me that a Sigma Derby multi-player horse race machine near the buffet also has a cult following: “It is one of the oldest slot machines in existence; it accepts quarters, and it is constantly played. I have never seen the machine without players in all of my 11 years of working here, but this one doesn’t have a jackpot.”

It takes three lions in a row to win; no bells and whistles — it’s that old! MGM Grand President Scott Sibella, who starred on “Undercover Boss,” would be dragged out instantly — even in the middle of the night if — to pay the winner on the spot by check. The machine would be reset to $1 million. A meter on the machine, which is audited daily by MGM Grand accountants, shows players how the big prize increases with every bet.

You can play with just $1, but you have to play $3 for the giant jackpot, as smaller bets aren’t eligible for the $2 million-plus haul.

“In this past week alone, the nonstop waiting line has reached as many as 20 people deep. It’s played by people from age 21 to 100, and people are coming from overseas, especially Europe, to play it. The legend grows. It even has its own Facebook page for fans to swap rumors, stories and post photos. They’re there be it 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., 12 midnight or 12 noon. It’s become a club,“ Justin added.

Lion’s Share is a standard older mechanical slot machine and quietly sits there without screaming for attention with neither video nor neon lures. It has a retro look and those bygone era mechanical dials. This final machine is kept in active operation because Nevada state gaming laws stipulate that a progressive jackpot must be won by a player and not pocketed by a casino.

One rumor is that the eventual winner also will get to keep the machine. I watched as players talked to it, rubbed it and pushed its buttons in different ways.

“Players have a lot of theories of how to play it” said Justin.” I’ve seen people use their feet, their backsides. Some just push the buttons. Some push and rub the side quickly, some slowly.

“At some point presumably somebody will play $3 and walk away with well over $2 million, or it could grow slowly over time to $3 million until somebody wins.”

Midnight was nearing, and my spot in the line had moved up only two spots. The Asian couple was still playing after six hours. I’d seen the lion’s heads twice on different spinning cylinders. Another couple waiting in line decided to call it a night.

An English tourist waited just ahead of me. “Now I’m so close, I’ll hang out for as long as it takes,” he told me. “I’ve got $300 to play, and I could leave with $2 million. It’s worth the shot, and it could pay for my entire holiday.”

I was too tired to wait any longer, so I called it quits and figured that I’d return another day. But I’m keeping my eye on the Lion’s Share. Somebody has to win it!

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