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Waitress Gets $3 Million Tip from Lottery Winner

In the 1994 romantic-comedy It Could Happen to You, a New York City cop (portrayed by Nicolas Cage) wins big at the lottery and splits the prize with his waitress friend (portrayed by Bridget Fonda).

It was a hit with audiences, and would definitely be one of the most interesting stories in lottery if it wasn’t fictional.

But did you know that it wasn’t entirely all made up?

The main premise – wherein a waitress receives a winning lottery ticket as a tip – that actually happened!

This is the true story of Robert Cunningham and Phyllis Penzo – the real-life inspirations for the main characters of the hit movie.

A still from It Could Happen to You

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Robert Cunningham and Phyllis Penzo

In 1984, New York City police detective Robert Cunningham was at South Pizzeria in Yonkers when he jokingly asked waitress Phyllis Penzo if they could split a lottery ticket instead of tipping her. He promised to split the winnings between them if he won.

Cunningham and Penzo had been friends for 15 years at that point, so some friendly ribbing wasn’t unusual. But, even if it was said in jest, both took it seriously. Penzo agreed and even helped Cunningham choose the numbers.

Can you guess what happened next?

Raking it In

On April Fool’s Day, at 9:00 am, Penzo received the call that would change her life. It was Cunningham, calling to give her the big news – they had just won $6 million!

She didn’t believe it at first because she was still half-asleep and, well, because it was April Fool’s Day! However, Cunningham managed to convince her and once the news finally sank in, Penzo screamed and woke her husband.

True to his word, Cunningham split the winnings between them right down the middle.

Their haul? $287,715 annually for 21 years, each.

Cunningham and Penzo appear in a lottery commercial

Cunningham added on to the house that he and his family shared with his wife’s parents. Penzo bought a house, a car for her husband and her daughter, and traveled a bit.

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Reality or Fiction?

In It Could Happen to You, strangers Charlie and Yvonne are both married to unbearable, self-centered people, and they find solace in each other amidst their turbulent personal lives.

Spoiler alert: Both protagonists end up divorcing their respective partners and end up marrying each other instead, living happily ever after.

However, the only thing that It Could Happen to You got right about Cunningham and Penzo’s story is the core premise: a New York cop sharing a lottery win with a waitress.

Cunningham and Penzo were never a couple in real life. As mentioned earlier, they are long-time friends. They’re also happily married to other people.

There’s no sweep-you-off-your-feet romance. No antagonists making things hard for our heroes. No fairy tale ending. Cunningham and Penzo led very normal lives, all things considered.

Not as captivating as the movie’s plot, right?

Still, who knows – maybe one day you might just end up sharing a lottery win with a stranger, only to fall in love with them. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, after all – it could happen to you!

When a police officer shared his lottery winnings with a waitress, their lives were forever changed. Sounds like a movie and not real life? It’s actually both!

A Fun Way to Pick Your Lottery Numbers with Your Favorite Movies

If you don’t have lucky lottery numbers, or they keep failing to bring in the money and you don’t want the lottery machine to pick them for you in a Quick Pick, there’s a more fun way to obtain your “winning” lottery numbers. Maybe one of these sets of following numbers will get you on the board in the next US Mega Millions lottery, for example. Try using the numbers from lottery movies that have won. Here are six sets of winning lottery numbers that won in the movies.

From the drama series, “Lost” the character Hurley steals some documents that contain the repeated numbers 04–08–15–16–23–42. These turn out to be the same numbers Hurley had used to win a lottery jackpot. Over the ensuing weeks, everyone around him seems to suffer increasingly bad luck. Hurley then visits a mental asylum to talk to another patient who keeps repeating the numbers to him. He keeps saying, “The numbers are bad.” The numbers may have been bad for those around Hurley, but nevertheless they were still lucky for him.

The Lottery Ticket

In the movie “The Lottery Ticket” Bow Wow (played by Kevin Carson) and his grandma hit it big with a $375 million jackpot with numbers from a fortune cookie. The plot of the movie thickens when he has to survive a three-day weekend after his opportunistic neighbors find out he’s holding the winning ticket. The winning numbers were: 04–32–33–42–45–21.

It Could Happen To You

“It Could Happen to You” is such an apropos title for a lottery movie because you know that it can indeed happen to you. That’s why you play. Isn’t it? In this film a policeman promises to split his lottery winnings with a waitress because he didn’t have any change for a tip. Well, you guessed it. He wins the lottery and now is perplexed by the promise he kept to the waitress. What would you do? The winning numbers were: 06–12–16–26–64–08.

Paycheck

In “Paycheck” Ben Affleck is a reverse engineer meaning he analyzes his clients’ competitor’s technology and recreates it, often adding improvements beyond the original specifications. To protect his clients’ intellectual property and himself, Affleck undergoes a memory wipe, but not before leaving himself the winning numbers to a lottery jackpot. The winning numbers were: 17–44–04–26–37–70–22.

Lucky Numbers

In “Lucky Numbers” weatherman John Travolta is broke. He’s borrowed heavily to open a snowmobile dealership, but it’s unseasonably warm. He tries to run an insurance scam, but that goes wrong as well and he is out another $10,000. Finally he and his girlfriend figure out a way to rig the lottery to get her cousin to buy the winning ticket. Their winning numbers were: 22–70–16–9–27–07.

Waking Ned Devine

This is an English comedy filmed on the Isle of Man. Although it’s a comedy, at the very start of the film the main character is found dead holding the winning ticket. He literally dies from joy when he hits the jackpot. It’s a story of a complicated plan by a village to outsmart lottery officials and the prize won by the title character. It shows how these people capitalize on human greed and depicts the ruthlessness of society. Ned’s winning numbers were 19–40–04–07–25–29.

So, regardless of how you choose your numbers: self-pick, Quick Pick, or from a lottery movie’s winning numbers, enjoy the game and play responsibly.

If you don’t have lucky lottery numbers, or they keep failing to bring in the money and you don’t want the lottery machine to pick them for you in a Quick Pick, there’s a more fun way to obtain your…