Slots are hottest
at So Cal casino

Nov 28, 2006 5:14 AM

It’s like finding gold in your backyard.

That’s how seven people have felt after winning upwards of $1 million jackpots playing Wheel of Fortune slot machines at San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino near Highland.

The casino has the highest payout of all casinos in the state for the Wheel of Fortune game, holding two record jackpots of $7.3 million and $6.4 million.

"It’s the luckiest place. Come on, we’ve given a lot out here," said Steve Lengel, executive director of operations.

Indeed they have.

Since 1996, San Manuel has paid $28 million to big-spin winners — more than any other casino in California.

Wheel of Fortune jackpots have surpassed $192 million throughout California and $2 billion across the country in the last 10 years.

There are 39 Wheel of Fortune slot machines at the casino, and a continuous cycle of people playing them. A new Wheel of Fortune spin has drawn a hefty crowd at all hours.

Shirley and Michael Myers spent a recent afternoon sitting side by side at the big spin, taking turns pressing the button.

Although her husband had played the game before and gone home winless, Shirley Myers was trying the big spin out for the first time.

"I watch the Wheel of Fortune, so here I am," she said.

She pressed the button and then bounced excitedly in her chair, slapping her husband’s arm, when she won $780.

Lengel said the popularity of the Wheel of Fortune slot machine, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is primarily due to the game show.

"When they see things they can relate to, it makes it more fun," he said.

Sheri Martinez, who sat feeding $1 bills to the machine, said the game show isn’t what compels her to play Wheel of Fortune.

"This is a game I prefer because I have pretty good luck with this one," the San Gabriel woman said. "This one’s pretty good to me, and I usually make up my difference here. That way, I don’t go home broke."

She has never hit a jackpot, but said she’s won more than $400 at a time.

Some may think a casino cringes every time it hands over million-dollar jackpots, but San Manuel casino directors insist it’s exhilarating for them, too.

After all, it doesn’t cost them anything. The payout is an accumulation of all the money plugged in from players across the state.

"Giving away money never loses its excitement," said Jill Philbrook, director of marketing. "I think it lets people know that you can come and make a dream come true."