By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
In her dream, Mary Iacono stands in front of a slot machine. She drops a silver dollar in, pulls the lever and the machine flashes WINNER. She doesn't know how much money she wins -- but she knows it is a lot.
Mary believes in dreams. Most things she sees in her sleep come true, she says. And the Las Vegas trip, thanks to a friend, turned into reality in 1997.
Mary hadn't wanted to go, because she was wheelchair-bound from a hip surgery, and traveling is hard for victims of severe rheumatoid arthritis. But Mary says Carolyn Lyons would not take no for an answer, even when Mary, a 56-year-old former beauty shop receptionist, told her she didn't have the money.
But Carolyn said she'd pay for everything. Mary would be her good luck charm, Mary remembers Carolyn saying.
Like many friends who go to Vegas or scratch off a lottery ticket together, they said they'd split the winnings 5050, Mary insists.
By their second night in the gambling mecca, all they had was at least $47 in losses at the quarter slots at Caesar's Palace. They were on their way out the door to a Vegas revue when Mary spotted the dollar slots. Carolyn said there wasn't enough time.
"Finally, I somehow managed to convince her I just had to play the machines," Mary says. "All I could think of was the dream."
Mary says she pointed out a slot machine that resembled the one in her vision. Because of Mary's arthritic hands, Carolyn dropped the dollar in -- and lost.
"See," Mary remembers Carolyn saying. "Nothing. I told you I don't like these dollar machines; they're too scary."
"One more time," Mary remembers begging.
Carolyn looked at her, smiled and said, "This one's for you, Puddin'."
The winnings: $1.9 million, in $95,000 annual checks for the next 20 years.
But Carolyn swears she was the only player and so she's the winner -- the only winner. Carolyn says Mary's whole side of the story must be a dream. A dream that's now Carolyn's legal nightmare. Two years after the trip, Mary sued for half the jackpot.
"I don't know why this is even a lawsuit," Carolyn says. "I'm so tired of it I could scream. It's all lies."
Carolyn sits in her red-walled living room surrounded by gold candles, gold candle holders, heavy gold frames, mirrors and sparkling sequined stockings on the mantle. With her winnings she has created a more tasteful Vegas.
"I like glitter," says Carolyn, 50. The former secretary has cinnamon lips, wide olive eyes, soft smooth skin and a cropped Angela Lansbury hairdo.
If you ask Mary, she and Carolyn have been close friends for 35 years. Carolyn says she and Mary were never friends. Mary was someone she knew and someone she invited to her wedding, but not someone she spent much time with.
Three years ago Carolyn's sister told her that Mary had just gotten out of a nursing home; sick and depressed and alone most of the time, Mary was dealing badly with the death of her sister.
Carolyn wanted to help her. She was still recovering from being struck by a car, an accident that had led to a large settlement for Carolyn. She knew what pain was, and she wanted to help Mary.
"It's horrible to be lonely," Carolyn says. "Pain is pain."
Carolyn started taking Mary to the doctor, to Saturday Mass and then to dinner at the Grotto and Carrabba's. They got to be good friends. Carolyn says she gave her grocery money, helped pay her rent and lent her money for family emergencies.
Being nice, Carolyn invited Mary along on one of her occasional trips to Vegas. Carolyn's friends told her she was crazy to want to schlepp Mary around Vegas, Carolyn says. She guesses that Mary weighs nearly 200 pounds and her wheelchair is another 60.
Recalling the big night in Vegas, Carolyn says Mary only wanted to watch her play the slot machines. Mary pointed out a machine, but Carolyn says she used a different one.
"Nobody picks the machine for me," she says adamantly.
On the second play Carolyn noticed three matching symbols in the slot's window. But nothing happened. She mashed on the buttons, but the machine was jammed.
Carolyn called an attendant over and told her the stupid thing was broken.
No, the attendant said, you won. Bells don't go off at Caesar's Palace.
"It was a miracle," Carolyn says. "God gave it to me."
Patrons swarmed around trying to touch Carolyn, hoping her luck would rub off. The general manager took Polaroid pictures and escorted her to a back office, where they watched a video surveillance tape to confirm that she was the one who had played the winner. Then they cut her a check for $95,000.
A limo took Carolyn and Mary back to the Mirage Hotel to pick up their bags and returned them to complimentary rooms at Caesar's.
For four more days Vegas was theirs. They shopped and celebrated. Mary won more than $400 on her own, and Carolyn gave her $1,500.
"We had a ball," Carolyn says. She has smiling pictures to prove it.