The Waitress Who Lived To Regret Her Tip

Edward Seward walked into a Grand Bay Waffle House in Alabama nearly 20 years ago, sat down, and ate breakfast. That was the day he changed the life of the waitress serving him. As Seward was paying up, he gave a lottery ticket as a tip to Tonda Dickerson, something he often did as a regular of the restaurant. Dickerson, a divorced woman in her late 20s, ended up winning $10 million in the Florida lottery. She elected to take $375,000 a year over the next 30 years, rather than the lump sum. Dickerson would never have to work again, or so she thought. She quickly found herself embroiled in multiple legal battles with friends, colleagues, the IRS, and even Seward himself. Five waitresses from Waffle House claimed that Tonda had promised to share any winnings with them. Although they initially won the lawsuit, the Alabama Supreme Court overruled the decision and Tonda got to keep her winnings. Just when she thought her life was back on track, Seward reappeared, claiming that Tonda had promised to buy him a new truck if she won. His claim was also rejected in the courts. Next in line was Tonda’s ex-husband, Stacy Martin, who kidnapped her at gunpoint. Tonda managed to wrangle the .22 caliber handgun away from Martin, shooting him in the chest in the process. Though he survived and Tonda wasn’t charged, her troubles were still not over. The IRS was hot on her trail for “gift tax” and for income tax that included her new winnings. Tonda gave away most of her winnings to family through a business they set up. Little is known about Dickerson today, except that she works as a poker dealer at the Golden Nugget casino in Biloxi, Miss.