Woman strikes gold with $5.5 million jackpot

She plans to go back to work today, buy truck

Although she never has to again, Alvenia P. Stephens left Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio with plans to go to work this morning. But the same woman who arrived on a bus left in a limousine.

On one of her twice-a-month bus trips to the casino, Stephens, 48, a teacher’s aide and hospital nutritionist from Panorama City, won a $5.5 million mega-jackpot on a $1 Wheel of Fortune game Sunday afternoon.

After about 20 minutes of playing, Stephens’ lucky hand struck gold — three wheels of fortune.

At first glance, Stephens thought she’d won $5,000, said Richard Sackley, the casino’s public relations manager.

But a slot representative quickly showed her she’d actually won $5,537,958.38.

“To get a jackpot as large as this, she had to be betting the maximum,” said Chris Korpi, a spokesman for Sodak Gaming in South Dakota, a division of International Gaming Technologies of Reno, Nev.

Sodak cut an initial winnings check for Stephens on Sunday. Korpi said she will have 30 days to decide whether to take a lump sum of money or receive payments.

Korpi said the lucky slot was a progressive, meaning people around the country contribute to the same jackpot from different slots connected by phone wire.

Korpi said there’s no truth to the notion that a machine is due to pay out. He said each time the symbols spin, it clears the previous loss. It’s all a matter of luck, he said.

“If a person walks out to that game, their odds of winning a jackpot will be just as good as the last person’s,” Korpi said. “But the jackpot’s going to be smaller until it builds up again.”

Before leaving in a limousine paid for by the casino, southern California’s newest millionaire told casino representatives she plans to buy a new truck and visit family in the Philippines with her winnings.

After work, of course.