Vegas Dreams

A slots jackpot takes two ex-friends from casino to court

And she doesn't remember Mary saying anything about wanting to split the money.


When the slot rang up the jackpot, Mary was so excited people thought she was the one who had won. That irritated Carolyn, Mary recalls.
Iacono (left) and Lyons shared happiness in Vegas after the big payout.
Iacono (left) and Lyons shared happiness in Vegas after the big payout.

"We won together, didn't we?" Mary insists she told her friend. Her version is that they decided that Carolyn would give her monthly cash payments so she could keep getting her Social Security disability checks.

Gambling in the Roman Room a few days later, Carolyn turned to Mary and told her that she'd decided not to split the winnings, Mary says.

"It's just not enough money," Mary remembers Carolyn saying.

Mary didn't fight with Carolyn, because she didn't want to get stuck in Vegas in a wheelchair with no money. She thought if she kept her mouth shut everything would work out.

Back in Houston, Carolyn offered to buy Mary a mink coat, Mary says. Mary didn't want it; she wanted the money. Carolyn offered a big-screen TV. Mary didn't want that either; she wanted the money.

Carolyn left $500 in Mary's wallet one day.

"I guess she considered that the payoff," Mary says. "We won that money together. It's true that the money was hers that we went there on. But I didn't want anything that wasn't already mine."

Mary's nephew, Vito S. Iacono, called Carolyn and said Mary was going to sue for half the winnings, Carolyn says. Mary told her that he was just saying that, and that there was no reason for legal action.

Vito repeatedly called Carolyn to say he wanted her to buy him a car, Carolyn says, or else he was going to sue. Carolyn's own nephew didn't have a car, so she said no. He called more than 110 times on March 15, 1997. Carolyn called the police.

Carolyn stopped talking to Mary, got an unlisted phone number and moved.

A year ago, Carolyn says, Mary called Carolyn's sister and asked for $5,000 to save her condo again. Carolyn didn't trust her anymore. She told her sister to tell Mary that she didn't have the money and she hoped everything worked out well for her.

Time passed. Mary had four operations. On pain medication or in the hospital, she says, she never got a chance to straighten things out with Carolyn.

"And to be quite frank, I thought she would come around," Mary says. But she didn't, and Mary feared that it would soon be too late to file legal action for her share.

On the eve of the third $95,000 jackpot payment to Carolyn, Mary slapped her with the lawsuit.


In chasing the payoff money, Mary has thus far fared no better in court than she did in the casino.

Carolyn's lawyer, Barry Flynn, cites provisions that govern contracts in the Texas Business and Commerce Code. Promises or agreements that aren't going to be fulfilled in one year aren't legal if they're not in writing and signed by the person who has to pay up.

Since Carolyn is getting the money over a 20-year-period, the alleged oral contract would have had to be in writing -- and there is no written contract, Flynn says.

Mary's attorneys, Alden "Doug" Holford and Linda Cryer, challenge that position. Holford says Carolyn won the money within a year of the women's pact to split the proceeds. He says it doesn't matter legally that it will take 20 years to receive all the money.

A second defendant is simply mystified by it all. Mary has sued International Gaming Technology, the Nevada-based corporation that made the slot machine and doles out the money. Mary's lawyers want to bind the company to paying her if the suit is successful.

The company didn't need to be hauled into court, because the payout will go to whoever is the legally designated recipient, says the company's Austin-based lawyer, Michael Burnett. "IGT does not care who receives the money," Burnett says. "They don't care."

State District Judge Jane Bland nixed Mary's attempt to have the payouts diverted into a special holding account until the lawsuit is resolved.

Later, Bland's peer, Judge Pat Mizell, threw out the case, granting Flynn's request for summary judgment. An appeals court recently heard arguments from Mary's attorneys on reinstating the suit.

Mary says Cryer told her the case could go all the way to the supreme court.

"If Carolyn is smart, she would settle," says Mary's nephew, Vito. "Maybe it's ridiculous that we would try to win."

In a conference call, Mary interjects, "But it's the only fair thing."

Carolyn keeps the turquoise folder labeled "lawsuit" buried in the back of a storage closet behind clear cases of softball-size gold Christmas tree ornaments. She says she tries not to think about the case because it hurts her too much that someone she was kind to would take her to court.

"Sue me for being mean, but don't sue me for being nice," she says. "I would have shared with her all my life, she knows that."

But if Mary thinks she's getting any money now, she's still dreaming.

E-mail Wendy Grossman at wendy.grossman@houstonpress.com.

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