Joan Mainhart had wrapped up a moderately successful day playing the slots at Maryland Live — walking in with $100, stepping out with $150 — but standing outside the casino in the afternoon sun Friday she considered whether she would take a shot at a million-dollar jackpot for $500 a spin.
The retired IRS paralegal from Linthicum thought a moment and came to a definite maybe: "Only if I hit the lottery, then I might splurge." Otherwise, she said, "there's just no way."
From the regular folks like Mainhart who play the quarter and dollar machines to the high-rollers who think nothing of pumping a few grand into a slot machine, people will have their chance soon enough at the state's biggest slots jackpot as Maryland Live unveils a new $1 million machine at 11 p.m. Saturday.
Planned for months, the machine arrives just before the opening of what is expected to be Maryland Live's toughest competition — the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore is scheduled to open Aug. 26 near downtown with its own $500 slot machines, the limit allowed by state law.
Rob Norton, Maryland Live's general manager, won't say the timing has anything to do with Horseshoe, except to note that Maryland Live intends to remain competitive and the $500 machine is part of that, along with about 200 other new machines added to its floor.
The $1 million Double Gold machine remained under wraps Friday in a room marked with a lighted sign: "High Limit Slots," where 98 machines start at $2 per credit and go up to $500 a credit.
The existing $500 per-spin machine, a Double Diamond model, offers a top prize of $500,000, and lesser hits down to $1,000. People have played the machine about 10,000 times since it arrived last August, said Maryland Live spokeswoman Carmen Gonzales. Players have won payouts of more than $50,000, she said, but no one's hit the jackpot.
On Saturday night, the casino at Arundel Mills will unwrap the $1 million machine for an invitation-only party for a few hundred high-rollers who collectively generate about 80 percent of its revenue, amassing enough points to belong to one of the casino's VIP clubs, Norton said. Before the machine is open to the public, the VIPs will enjoy food and drinks and free pulls on the big handle on the side of the Double Gold machine, which looks like any other except for its dazzling jackpot.
There are other $1 million machines in the Northeast, but Norton said this is the only one that is not a "progressive" machine, meaning that several casinos contribute to the jackpot. In this case, the winning sum would be paid solely by Maryland Live, the state's largest casino and one of the highest earners on the East Coast, drawing about $1 billion a month in wagers and generating about $650 million a year in revenue.
As to the odds of winning that top prize, Norton won't say.
Kevin Harrigan, an expert on slot machines at the Gambling Research Lab at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, said at the usual rate of play, loss and gain, a player could easily lose $12,000 an hour playing a $500 machine.
"It's just a wild amount of money," he said.
But, of course, so is the $1 million.
Danny Graner considered the possibility Friday afternoon as he sat in the "High Limit" room in front of one of his favorite $5 Triple Star machines, where he's won his share of jackpots in the two years Maryland Live has been open. Retired from the Army, the Severn man sat in his gray "I'm Only Lazy When I'm Awake" T-shirt, blue shorts and flipflops.
He's played $5, $10 and $25 machines, but never the $500 machine. Maybe if he hits for a few thousand dollars on one of those lower-priced machines, maybe if he's feeling really lucky and loose with a buck, he might try throwing a $500 bet or two into the new machine.
But why the new machine and not the existing $500 slot?
"There's a certain ring to a million," he said. "Nobody wants to be a half-millionaire."