506 South First Street, Immokalee, FL
SEMINOLE IMMOKALEE CASINO
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IMMOKALEE — For a quiet man playing slots in the corner of a casino, Christopher Detzler made a lot of noise Sunday.
That’s when the 59-year-old furniture refinisher from Bonita Springs won the state’s largest slots jackpot ever -- $3.5 million off a progressive machine at Seminole Casino Immokalee.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
By Monday, it had become more believable, moreso than the oversized check that casino management handed to the quiet Detzler on the casino floor. He already had endured a long interview with the company that operates the slot machine (they also broke it down to make sure it worked properly) and had been asked how he wanted the winnings distributed.
“It’s setting in,” he told reporters.
The jackpot came at an interesting time. Monday was the deadline for a new gambling agreement between the tribe and governor, one that would exchange revenue sharing from the tribe for the right to offer otherwise exclusive games, such as Vegas-style slots and banked card games like blackjack.
Gov. Charlie Crist signed a proposal Monday afternoon. The Legislature still needs to approve the deal, after which it would go to federal officials.
Detzler was playing one of the Class III games, a popular progressive slot machine based on the game show Wheel of Fortune. Progressive slot machines share jackpots among casinos on reservations across the United States.
“That results in these higher jackpots and periodically big hits,” said Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the tribe.
Detzler’s luck came on Sunday afternoon, after a morning of gambling turned his $60 into roughly $8,000, he said. Deciding to call it a day, he headed for the front entrance. Still feeling lucky, he hesitated, and eventually decided to keep gambling.
It was the right decision, in retrospect.
He headed to a machine in the back corner of the building. Several hundred dollars later, lady luck smiled, and the screen flashed jackpot.
A fellow gambler turned his head.
“He said, ‘What’d you hit?’” Detzler recalled. “I said, ‘$3.5 million.’ He said ‘No way!’”
Then the nearby machines reset their jackpots to $1 million, and Detzler knew he was a winner. The full amount: $3,577,517.97.
Dressed in gray slacks and a blue-striped shirt on Monday, a reserved Detzler answered questions about the win. He comes to the casino occasionally, maybe two or three times a month.
Detzler is no stranger to luck -- he won an $8,000 jackpot in Immokalee and a $22,500 jackpot in the tribe’s Tampa casino, by his own account.
He plans to buy a house, he said. Beyond that, well, he’s still trying to figure it out.
Asked about his strategy, Detzler simply said that a gambler has to go with his gut. Some machines “call your name,” he said.
It doesn’t always work -- he was sure he’d win a recent car give-away the casino held.
He’s still deciding whether to receive the weekend’s winnings in installments or a lump sum.
Casino management was happy for Detzler’s stroke of luck, as well.
“All the casinos, they want that big winner,” Seminole Immokalee manager Tony Sanchez said.
The casino is continuing to expand slots, replacing existing games with Class III machines. By the end of the year, Sanchez expects most of his nearly 1,200 machines to be Class III.
The previous record for the state, $2.02 million from the Seminole’s Coconut Creek casino in 2008, also came from a Wheel-of-Fortune slot machine.
The Immokalee casino has never seen a jackpot higher than $1 million, Bitner said.
Detzler, asked if he knew the chances for winning a $3.5 million jackpot, didn’t have a guess: “They’ve got to be phenomenal.”