How One Waitress Hit the Powerball Jackpot When Someone Left a Ticket as a Tip

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  • Author:
    Shaun Greer
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Bartenders and waitresses have been given life-changing tips in the form of winning Powerball tickets as tips.

You’ve heard the tale before. The diner patron realizes he’s short on cash and can't leave a proper tip. But he does have a Powerball ticket in his wallet and offers it to the waitress instead. Reluctantly, knowing a piece of paper isn’t going to pay the bills, the waitress accepts the Powerball ticket. Only, this isn’t just a wasted printed paper with random numbers. This ticket has the winning numbers. And the waitress is the latest jackpot winner, worth millions.

You’ve heard this tale before, maybe because it was a movie in 1994 called It Could Happen to You. Nicolas Cage played the New York City policeman who came up short on cash for a tip. And it was Bridget Fonda who played the reluctant waitress, who ended up winning big. This fictional tale, rooted in a romantic comedy, was actually based on a real-life event. And it wouldn’t be the first time a winning Powerball ticket would end up as a gifted tip for a waitress who really needed it.

The Winning Tip that Inspired a Movie

Robert Cunningham was the real-life New York City police detective. And it was 1984 when he visited one of his favorite Yonkers pizzerias and asked his regular waitress if she’d accept a lottery ticket in lieu of a tip. In this version of the story, though, Phyllis Penzo was the waitress and Cunningham a 15-year regular in her section. Always joking, the two decided to take the ticket and seriously agree to split the winnings, should their carefully selected numbers hit big. The rest, of course, is history, and this $6 million jackpot split between pizzeria waitress and cop patron was a story that would live on in Hollywood.

One Lucky Bartender in Missouri Scores a Big Tip

In October of last year, a bartender found herself in a similar situation with her Powerball ticket as a tip from a patron. Taylor Russey works at a bar in O’Fallon, Missouri, called Bleachers Bar. This bar also sells lottery tickets. And when the jackpots get especially sizable in dollar amounts, one particular patron, who now prefers to remain anonymous, would scoop up Powerball tickets and randomly hand them out to staff and fellow patrons in the bar. In October of 2019, he left one of these Powerball tickets for his favorite bartender as a tip.

A $50,000 Jackpot Surprise

Taylor Russey didn’t put too much stock into her Powerball ticket as a tip. And it wasn’t until the bar’s terminal alerted to having issued a $50,000 winning ticket that anyone really paid attention. Russey was joking about one of her co-workers having won and not telling anyone before realizing that she had a ticket of her own to check. And to her surprise, her Powerball tip scanned with four white balls matching and the Powerball number. Needless to say, she was beyond thrilled.

What This Bartender Did Next

The first person she called was that customer who had tipped her to tell him the great news. In an interview with TODAY, Russey said her customer was genuinely happy for her. She hadn’t figured out exactly how she planned to spend her jackpot winnings entirely. But she did say she was going to have some dental work performed that her insurance wouldn’t initially cover. And she told TODAY that she had no intentions of quitting her bartending job.

Missouri Bartenders Are Winners

Another Missouri bartender won a whopping $439,000 jackpot in the form of a winning ticket tip. It was 2016 when Sherry Miles received her unusual gratuity. She, like Taylor Russey, didn’t plan on leaving the restaurant business either. Instead, she continued to tend bar and used her substantial winnings to pay off her mortgage and do a little home remodeling.

Taylor Russey’s winning Powerball ticket was Missouri’s 40th winner to match the Powerball and four out of five white balls. And it just proves that even giving the gift of Powerball as a tip can be life-changing.

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