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Best of Donald Catlin

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The End of a Story

5 December 2009

As many of you know in 2003 I wrote and published a book entitled The Lottery Book; The Truth Behind the Numbers. In it I traced the history of the lottery, explained lottery mathematics, offered advice, and told some stories of lottery winners. One such story is related below. The following are exact quotes from my book.

Remember the 1994 romantic comedy It Could Happen to You? Nicholas Cage plays a cop who tips a waitress, played by Bridget Fonda, by promising her half of his lottery ticket. When he wins he splits the prize with Fonda, divorces his greedy wife, and he and Fonda fall in love. Nice story, but it didn't happen that way. The story is based on two real life people, Bob Cunningham and Phyllis Penzo. Though Cunningham was a police officer and Penzo a waitress, they were (and are) simply friends who split a lottery ticket. Both are married and neither left their spouse for the other.

Now if the movie producers wanted a true-life story about someone leaving a lottery ticket as a tip, they would have told the story of Edward Seward Jr. and Tonda Dickerson. It wouldn't have been a romantic comedy though. In 1999, Mr. Seward tipped Dickerson, a waitress at the Gulf Coast Waffle House in Grand Bay, Alabama, with a lottery ticket for the March 6 Florida Lotto drawing. The ticket was a $10 million winner.

It turns out that Seward, who was a regular at the waffle house, had also given tickets to other workers there: Matthew Adams, Sandra Deno, Jackie Fairly, and Angela Tisdale. These folks claimed that there was a standing verbal agreement that any winning lottery tickets would be shared equally. This claim was supported by Seward, who said in addition, that if there were any big winners the five had agreed to buy him a new pickup truck.

Dickerson would have none of it. She, her husband James, and three other family members set up a corporation called Nine Mil shortly after the win and said there was no such verbal agreement and the money would go to the corporation. The other four employees filed a lawsuit against Dickerson, claiming she had violated an agreement. They also filed a civil conspiracy complaint against the other Dickerson family members.

The case went to trial on April 19, 1999, and a jury ruled that Mrs. Dickerson would have to share the prize with the other four employees. Dickerson appealed and, in 2000, the state Supreme Court reversed the decision, thereby allowing her to keep all of the prize money. That is the end of the story as far as the four coworkers are concerned but it sure isn't the end of the story.

Before her big win, Tonda Dickerson had been married to a man named Stacy Martin; however she and Martin divorced before her $10 million windfall. At approximately 6:30 AM on Friday, February 8, 2002, Martin forced his way into Dickerson's pickup truck and drove her from Grand Bay across the state line to Jackson, Mississippi. Once there, Tonda pulled out a .22 caliber pistol from her purse, then shot and wounded her abductor. According to a local paper, "Authorities said Martin had recently been released from the Mobile county jail, where he was being held on a burglary charge after a December break-in at Dickerson's residence."

Dickerson was not charged but Martin was expected to be charged with kidnapping. As of this writing I haven't heard if Seward got his pickup truck or not.

Quite a story! It turns out, however, that it doesn't end there. This past October I received the following letter in the form of an e-mail.

Mr. Catlin:

I am Melissa Seward De La Fuente, Edward Seward's daughter. I just read the excerpt in your book which mentions his lottery ticket case. It was a very well written article.

In it you wondered if he ever got his truck. He never did. I thought you'd like to know.

I didn't know if you were still interested or wondered about it. I see you retired from UMass. Hope you are enjoying retirement.

Have a great day!

Melissa

I wrote back to Melissa thanking her for her letter. I also mentioned that I was not surprised her father didn't get his truck and expressing some disdain for the Dickerson clan. Her reply to me reads, in part, as follows.

Hi Don:

Ms. Dickerson did file chapter 13 a few years ago, so I guess his truck was never in the future anyway. I'm glad you highlighted it in your book though. I think I'm going to order a copy soon. I was just able to read an excerpt online.

Have a great Sunday,
Melissa

Chapter 13 is a type of bankruptcy. Can you imagine winning $10 million and then filing for bankruptcy a few years later? Most lottery winners fare very well but there are a few who don't; you can read about them in my book. Thanks to Melissa I now know the end of this bizarre story. See you next month.


Don Catlin can be reached at 711cat@comcast.net

Donald Catlin

Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers
Donald Catlin
Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers