A Grand Ghost Goes Extinct


In 1994, one evening and late into the night during the annual gaming show, I was walking the floor of the MGM Grand.  I was tired and wanted to go to bed, but could not resist exploring just one more casino.  Every year, those walkabouts were one of the most important aspects of attending the gaming trade show, not just for me but for all attendees.  Everyone went out scouring casinos, hoping to find some secret that would magically transform their casino or their client’s casino instantly into a cash cow.

The MGM was brand new that year, and it was more than grand it was huge. It was the largest hotel in the world. Its casino challenged conventional casino design thinking and defied human scale.  It was an overwhelming, but not always enjoyable experience.  That night while wandering around in a fog of exhaustion; there were very few customers and the casino floor was very quiet. And then, I stumbled on a phenomenon that I had never seen before and never saw again.  In a small out of the way cul-de-sac with 40 progressive slot machines, people were standing in line waiting for a seat at one of the games.  The games, Lion’s Share, were made by Bally with an MGM theme and logo, the machines were not linked and by today’s standards the jackpots were not very large.  The jackpots hit too often to progress much past $3000 or $4000.  But they were popular, wildly popular.  I asked an employee about the people waiting and she said they were willing to wait for hours for a seat.

It was surreal and dreamlike; an unbelievable thing that seemingly only happened in the middle of the night at the MGM Grand.  It was unknown to the rest of the casino world. No one on the floor of the gaming show was talking about Bally’s games; and no one was talking about MGM Grand getting a lion’s share of the slot play.  Bally representatives were not knocking on every casino’s door telling the tales of fabulous success of the Lion’s Share.  Undoubtedly MGM had a restrictive agreement preventing Bally from selling the logo or the theme to any other casino.  But Bally could have sold games with the same math.  Why didn’t the company take advantage of the success of those games?  I never found the answer.  It is very strange because in the casino industry every success is copied.  The next day, or the day after, I left Las Vegas and returned to Reno.  In time I stopped thinking about those Lion’s Share slot machines; the MGM Grand went through many changes in its early years and I always assumed those game got lost in the process.  Not so.

 “There has been a continual line of guests at the machine, sometimes 12 deep, waiting to take a shot at its life-changing jackpot. At this very moment, it is $2,345,404 and counting.”  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. Robin Leach, Las Vegas Sun, 2-20-14

Robin Leach found the last Lion’s Share on the edge of extinction, and lo and behold, there was still a line of people waiting to play.  There was just one Lion’s Share left, the very last of its kind.  Unlike the early jackpots I had seen, the last jackpot was very big and people were eager to take a shot at riches, but people had always been eager for those jackpots even when they were only a couple of thousand dollars.  I still wonder how those games remained a secret, hidden in the dark corners of the MGM Grand, known only to casino employees and the devotees of the games.  In fact, if Robin Leach had not written about them, I might have thought the Lion’s Share was a ghostly dream.

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