12 of the Biggest Casino Wins in History
Call it luck or recklessness, or a combination of both, but some people risk large sums of money on the off chance of an enormous win. And it does happen, with some paydays so ridiculously huge they are life changing, turning ordinary people into millionaires in a matter of hours.
Some of the luckiest casino wins of all time have happened to ordinary people, many of them down on their luck. But luck always has a way of surprising everyone, although higher payouts do tend to come from the larger bets.
Here are 12 stories about some of the biggest casino winners of all time.
Archie Karas – Poker and Craps
Known as the “king of the casinos,” Archie Karas famously turned $50 into $40 million. Karas worked as a waiter until he learned about pool hustling, where he amassed serious wealth — to the tune of $1 million. Never afraid of losing, he would bet, in a single throw of the dice, what many gamblers might earn in a lifetime. While playing high-stakes card games in Los Angeles, he won plenty of money and was also completely broke on numerous occasions.
It was in December 1992 that Archie began what many consider the greatest hot streak in the history of gambling. He had just lost $2 million during a Los Angeles high-stakes poker game, so he only had $50 to spare. But it was all he needed to start winning big.
Karas began in Binion’s Horseshoe casino where a friend spotted him $10,000 to play high-stakes Razz, a game in which the lowest hand wins. He went head-to-head with 15 of the world’s greatest poker players, including Stu Unger, Chip Reese, Johnny Chan and Puggy Pearson. He won millions at poker before winning millions more at craps, eventually coming into possession of the Horsehoe’s $5,000 chips — worth $11 million. By the time his run ended, he had won $17 million playing craps and poker at the Horseshoe. Incidentally, he was able to repay the $10,000 loan with 50% interest.
His winning streak continued for over two years, until he had amassed $40 million. He was able to turn $7 million into $17 million by besting some of the best poker players in Vegas at seven-card stud. He also earned over a million dollars playing nine-ball pool. Even the occasional losing streak was not enough to keep him from winning far more than he lost.
His winning streak, however, did eventually come to an end over a three-week period in 1995, where he lost $11 million playing craps. He also lost $17 million at baccarat and another $2 million at poker. He soon lost the remainder of his $40 million — although he was eventually able to borrow $40,000 to win back $1 million.
Archie’s luck may have ran out in spectacular fashion, but his phenomenal winning streak remains the stuff of legend, and it is proof that anything is possible in gambling.
Elmer Sherwin – Megabucks Slots
In 1989, a man won $4.6 million on a Megabucks slot machine at the Cannery Casino & Hotel in Vegas. His name was Elmer Sherwin, and he beat the odds, not once but twice, on the same slot machine. Some people consider certain machines lucky. After Sherwin won his $4.6 million, he continued playing the same machine until he eventually won $2.1 million in 2005 at the age of 92, despite the odds of winning being estimated at one in fifty million.
Sherwin said he had been a fan of Megabucks for a long time. He believed it would pay off eventually, and that belief sustained him for years until his second win confirmed his instincts. It took 16 years playing the slot machine to duplicate his original feat.
Sherwin’s first win came on the casino’s opening night, leading to speculation about how big wins occur on opening nights. But as everyone attempts to explain what cannot be explained, a mythology arises. People may wonder how to duplicate Sherwin’s feat of superhuman luck, but so far, he remains the big winner — twice over.
There are other big winners of Megabucks slots, including a retired flight attendant who risked $300 in 1998 and won $27.5 million. Such wins may be rare, but they do happen from time to time.
Peter – Online Slots
The honor of winning the largest online gambling payout belongs to a Norwegian gambler by the name of Peter. It may not be his real name, but that is not what is important. What matters is that he became an online casino winner by playing a progressive jackpot slot called Arabian Knights — and it was the fruit slot machine that made his surprise win possible. His winning streak netted him 11.7 million Euros, which translated to 38 million Norwegian Krone.
Peter played at the Betsson online casino which features the slogan, “Anything can happen.” Peter may have taken that to heart, and it was a good thing he did.
Mike Ashley - Roulette
Mike Ashley, multi-billionaire owner of the Newcastle United Football Club, was already famous when he won 1.6 million pounds in the span of three hours at a roulette table in a London casino. His lucky number was 17, and his method of betting focused on every possible combination of that number. As luck would have it, the roulette ball dropped into the 17 slot, converting his initial 480,000 pounds to three times that amount. Ashley retrieved his winnings and called it a day.
The odds of hitting 17 were high. But Ashley must have known that even a lucky number rarely strikes twice in a row. Then again, stranger things have happened. Although in 2011, Ashley lost one million pounds in the span of two hours. Easy come, easy go.
Sean Connery - Roulette
Sean Connery, aka super spy James Bond, also had tremendous luck betting on the number 17. While at a casino in the Italian Alps, in true Bond fashion, Connery put his money on 17. He missed the first two times, but on the third spin, the ball found 17. Leaving his winnings there, the croupier spun the wheel. Surprisingly, the ball found the 17 slot again. What may have been even more surprising, or perhaps insane, was the fact that Connery once again left his winnings in place. Miraculously, the 17 came up a third time in a row, against odds of 50,000 to 1.
In Bond fashion, Connery coolly collected his winnings of 10,000 pounds, which in today’s market could very well be worth 163,000 pounds.
Curiously, there was a time when “17” was one of the most commonly played numbers in roulette. Not only did Connery win big on the number 17 in 1963, but he did the same in the 1971 film Diamonds Are Forever.
Although some have won fortunes on the number 17, it does not mean the rest of us will have the same good fortune with that number. If we have lucky numbers, the challenge is in figuring them out, and they do not always come neatly wrapped in fortune cookies.
Charlie Wells - Roulette
In 1891, Charlie Wells netted $1 million after playing roulette for 11 straight hours. He was the man who literally “broke the bank at Monte Carlo,” inspiring a famous music hall song by Fred Gilbert. Breaking the bank meant winning more chips than are available on the table, and Wells did that not once, but 12 times in the course of the night.
It turns out Charlie Wells was a famous confidence trickster. After making a profit from a fraudulent invention called the “musical jumping rope,” Wells decided to try his luck in Monte Carlo. His game of choice was roulette, and it was at the roulette table that Wells took 4,000 francs in chips and turned them into a million francs, winning 23 out of 30 successive spins at one point. After winning a million francs, he came back to the same casino a year later and won another million francs over the course of three days.
In today’s dollars, his one million francs could be worth well over $20 million.
Luck was not always so kind to Wells, however, and after amassing more money from people who had invested in a fuel-saving device he invented for steam ships, he lost everything at gambling. He later spent eleven years in prison in England for fraud and five years in a French prison before he passed away in 1922, penniless.
Money comes, and money goes, and for men like Charlie Wells, it was all part of life’s adventure.
William Darnborough - Roulette
William Darnborough hailed from Illinois when he played roulette at a Monte Carlo casino, winning half a million dollars over the course of seven years between 1904 and 1911 — which could be a staggering amount in today’s market. He had already become an expert gambler by playing roulette in the U.S. at illegal casinos operated inside saloons. It was said he was a wheel-watcher who could anticipate where the ball might land.
Unlike Wells, though, Darnborough quit playing while he was ahead, marrying into nobility and keeping his fortune.
Don Johnson - Blackjack
Gambler Don Johnson had a technique when it came to blackjack. He negotiated rules to give himself an edge, like splitting a favorable hand into four separate hands. He also picked dealers who stopped drawing cards when a hand equaled 17, increasing Johnson’s chances of getting a better hand. Whenever he could, he would double his bet.
Fortunately for Johnson, some casinos offer high-rollers 10 percent paybacks, meaning he could keep an entire win while still keeping money after a loss. By also negotiating the right to bet up to $25,000 a hand, he was able to multiply his winnings much more quickly.
Although Johnson relied on luck as much as anyone else, his use of the rules left less to chance and more to strategy, earning him $15 million from three casinos in half a year.
Antonio Esfandiari – Poker Tournament
Already successful as a poker professional, Antonio Esfandiari risked a lot of money at a 2012 WSOP charity poker event — $1 million to be precise. In so doing, he took home the largest purse in poker history with a total of $18,346,673. Even with 11% of the winnings going to charity, Esfandiari netted a staggering fortune.
The win brought Esfandiari’s total tournament winnings to $23,245,838, which is the most any player ever won in poker tournament history.
Ashley Revell – Roulette
Around 2003, Ashley Revell sold his home and belongings in London and left for Vegas with roughly $135,000. Revell risked it all by placing it on red on a roulette wheel at the Plaza Casino in downtown Vegas. He quickly doubled his money and left.
Although Revell was not a professional gambler, he assumed an enormous risk and won big. He now owns iGaming Recruitment that helps staff gambling companies.
Kerry Packer – Blackjack and Baccarat
Billionaire Kerry Packer could afford to place large bets. During a 1995 trip to the MGM Grand in Vegas, he won between $20 and $40 million at blackjack and baccarat. Allegedly, Packer played up to eight hands at once on multiple tables, betting up to $250,000 a hand. Forty minutes after his first bet, he had already won $25 million, finishing $20 million ahead of where he started.
Lady Luck favored Packer on a number of other occasions from 2010 through 2011. A $5.8 million win at the Tropicana Casino took under 12 hours. He also won millions over a number of nights at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
However, his luck turned two years later when he lost $28 million in a London casino.
Patricia Demauro - Craps
With its many betting options, craps gives players a chance of winning big or losing big. For Patricia Demauro, luck was on her side. She had only played craps once before, so when she arrived at the craps table at the Borgata in Atlantic City, she could not have been expecting to win 154 consecutive throws in the span of 4 hours and 18 minutes. Although she never revealed her winnings, she bought in for a mere $10 and could have won hundreds of thousands of dollars with conservative bets. If she were placing expert bets, winnings may have been in the millions.
It should be noted that the odds of her accomplishment were 1 in 1.56 trillion, and yet it happened in one unbelievable night.
There are actually huge casino payouts all the time. For example, an anonymous man waiting for a basketball game at the Excalibur Casino won $39 million dollars. A woman visiting Vegas from Hawaii played the same slot machine for three hours with less than $100 before winning close to $9 million. Another woman won $680 on a Wheel of Fortune machine at the Palace Station Hotel, later to win $27 million in a Megabucks jackpot. Who says one win ever has to be enough?
A Former owner of the Golden Nugget wrote of a video game developer called Mr. Royalty who walked out with close to $5 million, only to come back a week later to win an additional $1.5 million.
There is even a story of a homeless man who cashed a $400 social security check and turned it into roughly $1.5 million at the Treasure Island casino. Those who observed the man considered him the rudest and luckiest player they had ever seen. Unfortunately, the man later lost it all before being kicked out.
Want to see if luck is on your side? Come visit Dover Downs Hotel & Casino! When you play smart and thoughtfully, you never know what might happen.