I DID IT!
MY LIFE AFTER MEGABUCKS
BY JOHN TIPPIN
WITH LANCE TOMINAGA
ã 2000 by John H. Tippin
What would you do with twelve million dollars?
Would you buy that dream house you’ve always wanted? If so, how much would you be willing to spend?
Would you invest in the stock market? If so, do you play it safe or go for the gusto?
Would you donate some of your wealth to charity? If so, how much?
Would you give a portion to family members and friends? If so, how would you decide who gets what, and who gets left out?
While you’re figuring out the answers to these questions, let’s complicate things a bit. Let’s say you weren’t prepared for your newfound riches. The $12 million just suddenly falls on your lap.
Congratulations. Now, how would you manage your money? Who would you go to for advice? How would you handle the scrutiny of being a shiny new millionaire?
As you can see, even the most tantalizing “What Ifs” can result in more questions than answers.
So, what would you do?
My first contact with John Tippin occurred in January 1996, just a few days after he hit his world-record jackpot at the Las Vegas Hilton. At the time, I was the editor for an exciting new magazine called Hawaii’s Guide to Nevada, a Hawai‘i-based publication catering to Island residents who have a passion for Las Vegas (there are literally thousands of them, including, of course, John and Stella Tippin).
As fate would have it, John hit his jackpot just as we were working on the premiere issue. My associate editor (Joyce Akamine) and I were co-authoring a feature story about Hawaii residents who traveled to the city of “Lost Wages”—I promise that’s the one and only time you’ll come across that term in this book!—and returned home with bulging pocketbooks. We were looking for some great Las Vegas stories and, while we got quite a few, we knew the story lacked that certain “oomph” we were searching for.
Then came Super Bowl Sunday, January 28. That morning, I stumbled out of bed and retrieved the daily paper. And lo and behold, streaking across the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser, there it was: “Isle Man wins $11.9 million jackpot.”
From a writer’s perspective, I felt as though I had just hit a jackpot, too.
I got John’s number from the phone directory. (As it turned out, a lot of people got John’s number from the phone directory!) Why he was kind enough to return my call, I don’t know. Maybe it was because the concept of our magazine excited him. Perhaps my persistence impressed him. Most likely, he returned my call because the messages I left him were a welcome break from the usual “Congratulations-Mr.-Tippin-you-don’t-know-me-but-I-think-I-can-help-you-invest-your-new-wealth” solicitations.
So I conducted a brief phone interview with John, who had just recently returned to Honolulu from Las Vegas. He answered my questions thoughtfully and patiently, and by the time our conversation ended, I developed a very favorable impression of him. I genuinely felt happy for him and his wife, Stella. (Let’s face it, when you hear about someone hitting a huge jackpot or winning the lottery, you’re more likely to think “Lucky stiff!” rather than “I’m happy for the winner.” It’s human nature!)
The article generated some favorable responses, and John certainly must have enjoyed it. I can’t think of another reason why he’d call me two years later to discuss the possibility of doing a book project with him. I remember my boss at Davick Publications, Rick Davis, telling me about John’s idea: a detailed account of his once-in-a-lifetime win and, more importantly, what his life was like after hitting Megabucks.
I loved it.
Rick and I met with the Tippins at their condominium in Salt Lake, a quiet and unassuming residential area in Honolulu. We had a good meeting, but the project never got off the ground. My feeling was that John really wanted to do the book, but he wasn’t yet ready to put his trust into two complete strangers. Honestly, if I were in his position, I’m sure I would have felt the same way.
Two more years passed, and it was suddenly autumn Y2K. By that time, Hawaii’s Guide to Nevada was but a fond memory, and I had left Davick and had embarked on a fairly successful career in freelance writing. Rick called me and said, “Remember John Tippin? He wants to do the book. Are you still interested?”
I was. Better late than never, right?
So we met again, this time at the Honolulu Country Club, where John is a member. This time, I thought, John seemed a lot more sure of things, and he seemed eager to get the ball rolling. He looked healthier, happier and more at ease with himself. If it’s a true that “What a difference a year makes,” then I suppose two years must double that difference!
As I sat down with John and Stella to conduct the interviews for this book, I tried my best to put myself in their shoes. I tried to relate to everything they had experienced—the good and the bad—and fully appreciate how their lives had changed, all because of one fateful pull on a slot machine.
It was about midway through the interview sessions that I realized the futility of my attempts to relate to their experiences. The Tippins’ story, it turns out, is more complex than winning millions of dollars and living happily ever after. Instead, their tale is laced with intriguing subplots:
Gaining financial security.
Losing old friends.
Fending off scam artists.
Dealing with life under the microscope.
Finding a purpose.
Only the Tippins themselves will ever be able to fully understand what they’ve been through since January 27, 1996. I may have helped write their story, and you have an opportunity to relive it, but John and Stella have lived it.
Still, we did our best to present the full story. All the victories and setbacks, the good times and hardships—they’re all here. Nothing was sugarcoated or exaggerated—and trust me, you might have a difficult time believing some of John’s adventures!
From the start, John made the purpose of this book clear: He wanted to share his experiences and tell the world how sudden wealth can impact people’s lives. There were suggestions that he make the project more marketable by focusing on his winning strategies in Las Vegas (and there is a chapter in the book that provides helpful tips for you gaming enthusiasts), but John was pretty adamant. “This isn’t about winning money in Las Vegas,” he insisted. “This is about what happens after you win money in Las Vegas, or the lottery, or wherever.”
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. That’s easier said than done.
John Tippin, I discovered, is an accomplished poet, writer, songwriter...and a good man. “Moments. We all have them,” he once wrote. “What did you do with yours?”
This book is about what one man did with his.
In the end, however, I Did It! is also about learning a few of life’s invaluable lessons. One such lesson is this: No matter what cards you’re dealt with, you have to play them to the best of your ability. You might decide to raise the stakes, or you can fold completely and try to start over. But as John discovered, you can’t let other people try to play your hand for you.
It’s your life, and so it’s your call.
Five years after winning $11.9 million and making headlines across the country, John and Stella Tippin are only now enjoying their wealth on their terms. “It was all kind of overwhelming in the beginning, and it took some time to bring ourselves up to speed in understanding what our good fortune has brought us,” John told me. “The quicker you can reach that stage, the better life will be.”
Like I said, better late than never.
—Lance Tominaga, January 14, 2001
“HEY, HE’S IN THE BOOK!”
Monday, January 29, 1996. The cab pulled up in front of [xxxx] Ala Napunani Street in Salt Lake, a pleasant and relatively tranquil residential area in Honolulu, and came to a quiet halt. The driver got out of the vehicle and retrieved two suitcases from the trunk.
My wife exited the cab from the rear door, and I followed. We paid the taxi driver, grabbed our bags and headed for the lobby of the building. In the elevator, we both leaned back and breathed a weary sigh.
It had been quite a trip, and we were both tired.
When we reached the third floor, we got out and headed for the first apartment door just outside the elevator. Entering our humble abode, I dropped the suitcases in the middle of the living room, and we both plopped into the overstuffed chairs surrounding the coffee table.
We looked at each other for a moment, my wife and I, and we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Over the weekend, we knew, we had gone through something that can only be described as phenomenal. Even more, we understood that the past couple of days were just the beginning.
Life as we once knew it had changed.
“Stella, why don’t you get us something to drink?” I finally said. “I’ll go check on our phone messages.”
As Stella got up and headed for the kitchen, I stumbled toward our answering machine and could see its message light flashing in an almost desperate fashion. It was as though it was telling me, “Will you please check your messages already? I’m about ready to burst at the seams unless you lighten my load!”
“Well, here we go,” I muttered. I put a finger to the “Retrieve Message” button and pushed it. I could almost feel the machine sighing in relief.
Saturday, January 27. 4:48 P.M.
“Hi. This is Ann McDuffie from the Honolulu Advertiser.
Please call me at ___. Thank you.” Clickkk.
Saturday, January 27. 5:38 P.M.
“Hey, John and Stella! This is Wally. I just heard the news! Congratulations! (In the background, a woman echos
“Congratulations!”) It couldn’t have happened to a better guy!
Hey, if you decide to buy a golf course, remember that I’d like
to reserve a tee time once in awhile! (Laughter in the background.)
Man, this is great! Good, good, good going! Aloha!” Clickkk.
Saturday, January 27. 5:48 P.M.
“Hello, this is Alan from Channel 9 calling. My number is ___. I just want to wish you a warm congratulations. Thank you. Buh-bye.” Clickkk.
Saturday, January 27. 6:33 P.M.
“Hey John and Stella! Someone called me from Las Vegas
and told me the news. Congratulations!” Clickkk.
Saturday, January 27. 7:27 P.M.
“Hi JaeTee, this is Bertha. I’m calling to congratulate you!
I’m also wondering whether you’re coming back to work?
Good luck and congratulations. Bye!” Clickkk.
Saturday, January 27. 9:00 P.M.
“Hi. This is Patricia L. at KHNL News. I wanted to say congratulations,
and I also wanted to see if we could interview you when
you got back. We’re really excited about your...well, your newfound wealth, I guess. Give us a call at ___. Thanks.” Clickkk.
Saturday, January 27. 9:51 P.M.
“Hi, Mr. Tippin. My name is Honey calling for Channel 2 News.
We read over the wire that you hit the jackpot in Vegas.
Congratulations! We’re wondering if maybe we can talk to you when
you get back. If anyone can tell us when you’re coming back, we would appreciate it. Give us a call here at the station. The number is ___.
Thank you and congratulations again. Buh-bye.” Clickkk.
Sunday, January 28. 10:45 A.M.
“Hi, John and Stella, this is Dana. (Note: My ex-wife.) Just wanted
to say congratulations. I just read about your winnings in the Wichita paper today. So congratulations. Buh-bye.” Clickkk.
Sunday, January 28. 11:04 A.M.
“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Tippin, it’s David R. from Merrill Lynch.
Congratulations on your trip to Vegas! I wanted to invite you
to Merrill Lynch for a free one-on-one consultation.
Our number is ___. Thank you.” Clickkk.
Sunday, January 28. 11:24 A.M.
“Hello, this is Alan from Channel 9 calling again. Congratulations,
Mr. and Mrs. Tippin. Please give me a call.
My number is ___ Thank you. Buh-bye.” Clickkk.
Sunday, January 28. 2:20 P.M.
“Hey, John. Congratulations, man! Hey, we’ll talk to ya laters!
Bye.” Clickkk. (I still have no idea who this guy was!)
Sunday, January 28. 3:22 P.M.
“Hey John, this is Madge, you dumb ----! (Note: She’s my cousin.) I can’t believe this! This is wonderful! Great! I read about it this morning in the Fresno Bee, if you can believe that! Congratulations! Wait...hold on...
(Pause. Madge’s daughter gets on the phone.) Hi John, this is Kelly. Congratulations. (Madge takes the phone again.)
Give us a call. We’ll talk to ya soon! Bye! (Her husband gets on the phone.) Hey, I wanna borrow a million dollars! (Laughter.)” Clickkk.
Monday, January 29. 6:20 A.M.
(Note: These guys are radio disc jockeys calling my
answering machine during a live broadcast.)
DJ 1: “Hey John, my best friend! You don’t know who I am but,
you know, it was ‘friend’ at first sight!
DJ 2: “He just saw your name in the paper and he knew
you were his best friend.” (Giggles.)
DJ 1: “Hey, we’re on the radio and we just wanted to, you know, maybe stop by at your place this weekend. I’m looking to buy a car.
Buddy, actually, I’m looking to buy some food...
I wonder if a sad story would work?”
DJ 2: “Wanna try it?”
DJ 1: “Yeah. (Clears throat and coughs.) Last week,
I was...uhhh...I was hit by a car!”
DJ 3: “John, I guess you should know by now that you should
change your number because you’re going to have
a lot of weirdos calling you!”
DJ 1: “We wanted to call and rely on your benevolence. Call us! Jeez, it’s been over thirty years since you called us!” (Laughter.)
DJ 2: “Call us, buddy! And where the hell are you, man? I miss all the talks we never had!” (Laughter.)
DJ 3: “Change your number.”
Monday, January 29. 9:31 A.M.
“Hi, Mr. Tippin. My name is Lance T., and I’m an editor
at Davick Publications. I want to congratulate you on your
big jackpot. We’re doing a new publication called
Hawaii’s Guide to Nevada, and the first issue will be
coming out in April. I’m working on a story about people
who won money in Las Vegas, and I’m hoping to get a chance
to talk with you. Please call me at ___.
Thank you very much!” Clickkk.
Monday, January 29. 9:44 A.M.
“Yes. Hello. Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Tippin. My name is Ray G.,
and I’m contacting you to see if I can offer you any ideas as far as retirement or tax planning. I work with the firm Merrill Lynch
here in Honolulu, and my telephone number is ___. I will send you my business card and a note. And again, congratulations. Just give me a
call if there is anything I can do for you. Buh-bye.” Clickkk.
Monday, January 29. 9:59 A.M.
“Hello, this is Ken K. (Note: This is our insurance guy.) I’m just
calling you to say congratulations. It couldn’t happen to nicer people.
Call me if you have any questions. If you want to reach me,
call ___. It’s my new office number. Thank you, John.” Clickkk.
Monday, January 29. 11:55 A.M.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Tippin. This is Andrew D. Congratulations
on your win! Please give me a call. I can be of great assistance to you.
Call me, and we can chat about it. My number is ___.” Clickkk.
Monday, January 29. 1:01 P.M.
“Uhhh, John? Umm, if you’re the jackpot winner,
I would like to talk to you. My name is Scholten,
and I’m a vice president of a bank in Michigan.
My phone number is ___ and you can call me collect.
I’d like to talk to you, and I may have some information
that would be would helpful for you. Please give me a call.
Thank you. Buh-Bye.” Clickkk.
Monday, January 29. 4:08 P.M.
“Hi, John. This is Colin. (Note: This is my step-son.)
This is probably about the hundreth phone call you’ve
gotten by now. (Chuckles.) I just wanted to congratulate you.
I saw you on ‘Good Morning America’ this morning, and
I just wanted to tell you congratulations. Buh-bye.” Clickkk.
Those were just some of the calls we received while Stella and I were away. As I listened to the messages—each congratulatory remark, every interview request, all the offers of financial assistance—it began to dawn on me just how life had changed for “Team Tippin.”
Some aspects of our lives, I reasoned, would improve tremendously. Difficulties? I was fairly certain that we’d face a few.
There was one thing, however, that I was very sure of. It was practically guaranteed.
The quiet, unassuming life that John and Stella Tippin once knew?