Winning big

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Soaring Eagle Palace awards $305,701

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Bruce Hawkins won $305,701 when he hit a Wheel of Fortune quarters MegaJackpot at the Soaring Eagle Palace April 3.

The winner, a retiree from Saginaw, said he chose the winning machine ;'because of the size of the jackpot.'' After investing around $20, Hawkins reported that he didn't realize he had won the top progressive prize right away. When asked about immediate plans for his winnings, Hawkins didn't have any specific comment, but the happy MegaJackpot winner did go on to say: ''[I] increased my retirement by 50 percent!''

This MegaJackpot prize is the first to be paid at the casino so far this year. Last year, the casino paid multiple back-to-back Wheel of Fortune MegaJackpot awards. The run began June 27 with a $447,236 Wheel of Fortune video nickel MegaJackpot. Then, on July 8, the Soaring Eagle paid a $139,028 MegaJackpot on a 25-cent machine. The very next day, the casino awarded a $172,118 Wheel of Fortune MegaJackpot on a 50-cent machine.

Last year, the casino paid seven MegaJackpot prizes totaling $2.4 million. The casino has now paid 29 MegaJackpots since 2001 totaling more than $14.7 million in prize money, including five jackpots more than $1 million each, and an amazing $1.8 million Wheel of Fortune MegaJackpot on a

$5 machine.

The Soaring Eagle Casino belongs to an American Indian progressive network that includes more than 300 tribal casinos in 16 states nationwide. Progressive systems allow for larger jackpots than traditional stand-alone slot machines, as each coin that is played in a linked machine at a participating Native casino contributes to the cumulative jackpot.

The Wheel of Fortune quarters progressive is one of the most popular systems in Native America, and features an exciting bonus spin that has come to be one of the favorite facets of the game for players and fans alike. Wheel of Fortune has a starting jackpot of $100,000. In order to win the MegaJackpot, a player bets three quarters at a time while attempting to line up the Wheel of Fortune reel symbols on the machine's payline.

Wheel of Fortune was developed by International Gaming Technology (www.IGT.com), a global company specializing in the design, development, manufacturing, distribution and sales of computerized gaming machines and systems products. All IGT MegaJackpot top awards are paid in annual installments upon verification, except MegaJackpots Instant Winners Jackpots, which are paid in their entirety upon verification.

Foxwoods Casino awards $267,001

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - The Foxwoods Casino awarded a $268,001 Wheel of Fortune MegaJackpot on a 50-cent machine April 7.

The winner, who asked to remain anonymous, said that she visits the casino regularly and that the ''seventh'' is a lucky day for her. The winner went on to say that she had only invested $40 into the winning machine when it hit.

''I played and won 100 credits, then moved down the row to this one,'' she said. Although the MegaJackpot winner reportedly ''couldn't believe'' she had won the top progressive prize, she did comment that she plans to share her winnings with her children and grandchildren.

This jackpot is the second International Gaming Technology MegaJackpot to be awarded at Foxwoods so far this year. The first, a $725,736 Wheel of Fortune MegaJackpot, hit on a $1 machine Feb. 20. Last year, Foxwoods awarded three MegaJackpots totaling more than $2.4 million in prize money, including a $1.1 million Wheel of Fortune MegaJackpot, also paid on a $1 machine. Since 1995, more than $35.4 million in MegaJackpot awards have been given away at the casino.

Foxwoods is one of two Connecticut casinos that belong to a 16-state gaming network that includes more than 300 tribal casinos nationwide. The network is made up of casinos that carry one or more IGT progressive games. Any time a coin is played in a linked machine, anywhere in the network, the cumulative jackpot continues to grow until it is won.

Each time a coin is played in a linked machine, anywhere in the network, the jackpot accumulates until some lucky winner hits the top jackpot award.

Mohegan Sun awards $1.6 million

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - The Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort awarded a $1.6 million Wheel of Fortune Special Edition MegaJackpot March 31.

The winner, Denise Brown of Bloomfield, said she was visiting the casino on her day off and that the winning machine is one she knows well. ''[I] always play that same machine, it's my favorite,'' she said. Brown went on to say she knew she won the top progressive prize. ''I had just won $500 and was continuing to play. I asked the attendant previously how you win [the] jackpot, so I knew I won,'' she commented. The new millionaire said immediate plans will include buying a condo, and that she plans to continue working as a home health care provider. ''I love taking care of my patients,'' she said.

Brown's jackpot is the fifth this year, and the third in a run of million-dollar MegaJackpots to be paid in less than a month at the casino. The excitement began Jan. 26 with a $247,762 Jeopardy! jackpot. Then, on Feb. 1, Mohegan Sun paid a $116,987 Wheel of Fortune quarters MegaJackpot. Just four days later, the casino paid an amazing $2 million Wheel of Fortune MegaJackpot on a $1 machine. Rounding out the MegaJackpot run and bringing the casino's payout for the year, to more than $6 million, was an incredible Wheel of Fortune Special Edition MegaJackpot hit Feb. 17 in the amount of $3.5 million.

Since 1995, the casino has awarded more than $105.6 million in MegaJackpot prize money. The casino is one of two in Connecticut belonging to a 16-state gaming network that includes more than 300 tribal casinos in the nation.

The Wheel of Fortune Special Edition progressive has a starting jackpot of $500,000. In order to win the MegaJackpot, five Wheel of Fortune symbols must line up on the machine's first payline with a maximum bet wagered.

Pendleton man wins big on Wildhorse anniversary

PENDLETON, Ore. - As if the 13th anniversary of the Wildhorse Resort & Casino weren't reason enough to celebrate with a brilliant fireworks display March 29, Pendleton resident Jeff Beers found two more reasons - very profitable ones, at that - to light up the night sky. What happened to Beers may dispel any superstition that 13 is an unlucky number.

The commemorative fireworks display at the resort set the cool evening sky ablaze for almost a half-hour. As the excitement waned and night slowly slipped away, musical tones of winning combinations on the slot machines wafted through the temporarily quiet Wildhorse Casino. Then, at about 2:30 a.m., a modest - but slightly clamorous - roar rattled the early morning silence. As if struck by a bolt of lightning, Beers sat stunned - he had just hit a progressive jackpot worth $29,552.

With heart pounding and head spinning, Beers called his sister and convinced her to ''come on down and play a while on casino money.'' Still reeling from his big payoff, he returned to the rows of slots to calm his jangled nerves and to regain his composure. As dawn crept in, Beers and his sister quietly spun the slots. Suddenly, lightning struck again, sending him head over heels: at 4:58 a.m., he hit his second jackpot - playing the same game, but on a different machine. The pot, $179,083, was more than enough to make even Beers weak in the knees.

He said that night was only a part of a life-changing experience he won't forget soon.

''In a six-day period, I hit 17 jackpots at Wildhorse, ranging from $400 to the big one Sunday [March 30] morning. Each time, I was absolutely stunned. But when that big one hit, I was floored.''

Wildhorse Casino Slots Director David Rohn said Beers' winning streak is among the most notable he's seen in almost 17 years in the gaming industry.

''The odds of hitting two progressive jackpots in the same game in such a short period of time are astronomical. But, the Wildhorse machines have been extremely generous. In March, players hit 475 jackpots of $1,200 or more each, for a total of more than $1.3 million.''

Wildhorse Resort & Casino is the Pacific Northwest's highest-paying casino, with a record $9.3 million slot jackpot. The resort includes a 24-hour casino; five restaurants, including the new buffet restaurant, Traditions, and new fine-dining restaurant, Plateau; the players lounge; weekly live entertainment in the Wildfire Cabaret; hotel; RV Park; 18-hole golf course; and tribal museum. It is located just minutes off I-84 at Exit 216, four miles east of Pendleton. For more information, call (800) 654-9453 or visit www.wildhorseresort.com. Wildhorse is owned and operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.