Published Winter 1994
Winning the Jackpot
by Frank Oliveto, M.D.
Every minute of the weekend counted down to that one magic pull of the lever, that one great moment when the $8.5 million megabucks jackpot would be won. The biggest slot-machine jackpot ever in Atlantic City. Everything we did up to that moment was a factor in putting me in the right place at the right time--not the least of which was savoring my "lucky cigar."
It all started when my wife Margaret called Bally's Casino Resort in Atlantic City to reserve a room for Saturday and Sunday, August 13 and 14. They were booked solid. She called another resort, and they had a room, but we had to check in on Friday, August 12. Instead of heading to Atlantic City on Saturday as originally planned, we left our Belle Terra, New York, home on Friday and drove to New Jersey.
We woke up in our hotel room on Saturday at 7 a.m. and started our day--as we have for about five years--with a six-mile walk. We hit the ocean boardwalk with an ultimate destination in mind: Bally's Grand. We walked for about an hour and 45 minutes and eventually got to the Grand, where we waited on line for breakfast for about 30 minutes. It was worth the wait; the few times each year that we visit Atlantic City, the Grand is our favorite place for breakfast and our favorite casino.
I finished my bagel and lox about 11 a.m. and we went down to the casino, the one we had initially planned to get to much later that day.
I always play blackjack and craps, rarely the slots. When I got to the blackjack table, I did what I always do: I lit up a Bering Imperial. I started smoking Bering Imperial about seven years ago. It's a mild, reasonably priced cigar and it has one feature that is very important to me: all Bering Imperials come in individual metal tubes. I'm an orthopedic surgeon and spend a lot of time on the run from home to the office or hospital. With the Imperials, I can smoke on my way, then stash the cigar away in the tube when I arrive.
So there I was at the blackjack table ready to smoke my cigar. That's when the dealer pointed out that it was a nonsmoking table. Who could tell with all the signs they have on the tables now? No Mid-Shoes Entry. We play surrender. We play double exposure. I didn't notice the No Smoking sign. I moved to another table. Same thing. No smoking. I started to go to a third table, but that's when I changed my mind. "I'm going to enjoy my cigar in peace at the slot machines," I said to Margaret.
With $100 in one-dollar coins, I found a slot machine and started feeding it, three coins at a time. Twenty minutes later, I had spent about $80 and smoked my cigar uninterrupted. It was about 11:45 a.m. when I heard the bells ringing, lifted my head and saw the megabucks golden eagles--four of them on the third payout line. At first I thought it was just a display panel; I didn't realize this was it. I looked at the guy next to me. I asked, "What do you think I won?" He looked at the slots and said, "you won the whole thing." I offered him $1,000 to go find my wife.
By then I was surrounded by the Grand's attendants. They took my identification, secured the machine, roped off the area and told me it was safe for me to look for Margaret. I ran 35 feet and found her at the blackjack table. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Margaret, I think I just won $8.5 million." Then I started to run back. She said she could tell in my face that I was serious: this was big.
We spent the next few hours, not to mention days, being interviewed by everybody from the Associated Press to Newsday to "Good Morning America." This was major news: the biggest Atlantic City slot-machine win ever. And no one told me not to smoke my cigars during the interviews. (The Grand, by the way, finally found us a room--a penthouse suite.)
My kids are ecstatic. Meg graduated last year from the University of Richmond with a degree in psychology. Jenny, is a premed student at my alma mater, Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and Frankie is studying marine biology at the University of San Diego in California. Jenny says I'm her idol now.
Everybody loves me now. And everybody wants to know what I'm going to do with all the money. You know what I tell them? I'm going to spend more time with my wonderful wife and family and for the first time really enjoy all the things I have spent the past few decades working for. The son of Italian immigrants, I grew up in the Bronx and worked my way through medical school laying bricks with my father. For the past 22 years, I have worked six days a week as well as night-call duty. At 54, I won't retire yet, but I will slow down. Take off nights and weekends like most other people. One thing I will enjoy is upgrading my selection of cigars--recently I've begun smoking Davidoffs.
And I still have that lucky cigar, tucked away in one of those little metal tubes.
Frank Oliveto, M.D., is a practicing orthopedic surgeon based on Long Island in New York.