Spin the wheel, choose a vowel, solve the puzzle… try not to go bankrupt. “Wheel of Fortune” is coming up on its 50th season. It is the third-longest running television game show in American history behind “Jeopardy” and “The Price is Right.” Perhaps more impressively, Wheel’s consummate hosts, Pat Sajak and Vanna White, are the #1 longest running game show hosts in American TV history.
Wheel of Fortune’s original host was Chuck Woolery. Chuck hosted from the show’s debut in 1975 until 1981 when he demanded a huge pay raise from the show’s creator Merv Griffin. Merv Griffin declined. In his place Merv hired a local NBC Los Angeles weatherman with a slightly unusual last name. That weatherman was Pat Sajak.
A year later the show’s original letter turner, Susan Stafford, quit to embark on a career as a humanitarian aid worker. More than 200 models and actresses turned up to audition to replace Susan. In the end it came down to a Playboy bunny and a 25-year-old aspiring actress with a slightly unusual first name. In the end, Vanna White got the job.
As you might suspect, Pat Sajak and Vanna White are paid quite handsomely for their respective hosting and letter-turning duties. Every year Pat Sajak earns $14 million to host Wheel of Fortune. Vanna White’s salary is $10 million.
Best of all, they only work 48 days a year. The current filming schedule of Wheel consists of four taping days per month. Each day, six episodes are taped. So if you break down their respective salaries, Pat earns $312,500 per workday/$48,611 per show, while Vanna makes $208,333 per workday/$34,722 per show.
A better gig might not exist on the planet.
But it actually gets better.
Believe it or not, working on “Wheel of Fortune” doesn’t actually produce Pat and Vanna’s largest paycheck every year. Their largest paychecks come from…
If you’ve walked through a casino in the last decade, you may have noticed that all the generic “cherry/grape/bar” slot machines have been entirely replaced with machines based on popular films and television shows. Walk into any casino and you’ll see slot machines based on “Wheel of Fortune,” “The Simpsons,” “I Love Lucy,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Game of Thrones,” “Jurassic Park,” “Survivor,” “Friends,” “Ghostbusters,” and even “Sharknado.”
Every year hundreds of millions of dollars are paid in licensing fees to production companies, studios and celebrities to create themed slot machines.
Want to guess which entertainment property was the very first to be licensed for a slot machine? Want to guess which entertainment property, out of the thousands that have been licensed, is consistently the most-profitable and popular slot machine theme in global casinos? I’ll give you a hint:
Wh__l _f F_rtun_
Back in 1996 Wheel of Fortune became the very first entertainment property to be licensed for a slot machines. The first versions did not actually feature Pat or Vanna’s voices or images, they were simply branded with “Wheel of Fortune” logos and when you played you would hear the sound of a recorded audience chant “Wheel! Of! Fortune!”
Wheel of Fortune slot machines quickly proved themselves to be extremely popular in Las Vegas. They became even more popular in 2001 when a video version of the Wheel slot machine was released. The video version finally featured lots of video and audio of Pat Sajak and Vanna White.
According to a report by the New York Times, by 2003 the world’s 12,000 “Wheel of Fortune” slot machines were generating $3.6 million in revenue PER DAY for global casinos. Roughly $1.3 billion ever year.
Today there are roughly 20,000 Wheel slot machines in casinos around the world and it is by-far the most-popular themed machine in North American casinos.
In 2009 a Wheel slot machine in Biloxi, Mississippi delivered a $14.4 million jackpot to a single gambler thanks to a newly-introduced, progressive bonus feature.
According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, today there are 250 iterations of Wheel slot machines in use and those machines have paid out more than $3.3 billion to gamblers since 1996. At least 1,100 people have become millionaires thanks to Wheel slot machines.
But you know who has made the most money of anyone off Wheel slot machines? Pat Sajak and Vanna White.
In return for licensing their names, liknesses and voices, every year Pat Sajak and Vanna White are each paid…
That number can go up slightly when you include periodic appearance fees and updated voice-over sessions.
As you may recall, $15 million is about a million more than Pat earns from hosting the actual show. It’s a full $5 million more than Vanna’s Wheel salary.
When you total it all up, between the show and the slot machines, Pat Sajak makes around $30 million every year and Vanna makes around $25 million.
Let’s say Pat and Vanna spend a week every year working on slot machine related duties. When combined with the 48 days they spend every year taping shows, that’s 55 total days of work. In return they make $30 and $25 million, respectively. An NBA player who makes that much has to play 82 games a year, without even including practicing and training. There are 17 NFL games every season… but the season is basically a full-time, grueling job for five months. The CEO of Goldman Sachs made $35 million in 2021, but that’s almost certainly a 24/7/365 job.
Bottom line, Pat Sajak and Vanna White may have the best gigs in the working world. And neither of them will ever go bankrupt.