The Luckiest Man in Chardon
In a darkened television studio beneath the glow of spotlights the woman who’s spent more than fifty years proving Bill Manning a lucky man enters three numbers into a touch screen, locks them in. In less than an hour she, Chris Manning, will emerge into the light of day a winner but then again she knows this going in; perhaps knows it as well in this moment at center stage on Cash Explosion* as she did at sixteen in a rambling ranch on Summers Drive, a house her family built in Chesterland diagonal from a family whose son had always felt lucky. Many happy years together have stood witness to Bill’s triumph over amazing odds and under unique circumstances. By chance or divine providence he has a gift. His gift is luck. To the one who has been given much, much will be expected. But, what is luck? What is much?
If you frequent the library you’ve likely met Bill. He’s a conversationalist and he likes to talk, too. The library is where I met Bill, through Susan whom I met at Beans. Yet another example of how uptown mysteriously draws people together - Chardon Square, the Bermuda Triangle. Today Susan and I sit across from the Manning’s at Beans two days before the evening they’ll watch Chris press those three numbers, when big digits following dollar signs will loom large on the small screen. However, this is not their first experience on Cash Explosion, a TV game show run by the Ohio Lottery. Bill played in an episode that taped on the 19th of January, 2013. His name was chosen again on the 19th of January, 2019; Chris’s turn this time, he said. Her episode was taped on the 19th of February. He bought his first winning ticket at Little Eagle, his second at Giant Eagle. If you didn’t just get the chills you’re obviously not a bird lover.
Bill began playing the Ohio Lottery at its inception in 1974, Cash Explosion in 1987 but it was around 1965 when he got his official start in gambling, wagering on horse races with his Gram at Thistledown. Gram selected winners by the strength of their name and gut instinct. She, too, was gifted. At seventeen years old, Bill called the odds. These days he still works the track but now does his research - knows the jockey, the horse, the trainer and the odds. Only time and about nine miles separate Bill from the young boy who risked his lunch money flipping baseball cards; heads you won, stats you lost. Some days you didn’t eat lunch, he says. Today, more likely than not, Bill treats you to lunch.
It’s a familiar refrain that the only sure thing about luck is that it will change yet Bill’s has proven steady. It delivered big on December 22nd, 2008, when on his way home, around 8pm, he decided to stop in the convenience store near Guido’s Pizza Haven in Chesterland to buy an instant lottery ticket. Silver Bells, a holiday themed scratcher, his game of choice. There he sat under cover of darkness but for the dull glow of the car’s dome light scratching first to reveal the winning control numbers then one by one exposing a series of ten gift boxes. Slowly, methodically, scratching off just the the top half of each metallic-coated gift box, he matched one, two, five, then all ten numbers. Finally, Bill etched away the lower halves of the boxes. He’d won the maximum pay out, $20,000.
As if that weren’t enough, picture this: Presque Isle Casino, Erie, Pennsylvania, 2007. The game, Play or No Play. Chances of winning, 1 in 200,000. It’s raining. Usually Chris prefers not to go out on a day like this but today she says, Let’s go. They arrive and get in line, 14 entry tickets in hand. A customer service representative approaches, suggests they move to an adjacent line. It will move quicker, she says. They go. While waiting in the quicker line, the man in front of them turns around saying, I have to go pick up my wife from the salon. You can have my 26 tickets. Bill asks for his name and number should they win. The man laughs. You’re not gonna win, he says. Chris replies, You should do it. He’s very lucky. Skeptical, the man provides his information then departs. Bill marks an asterisk on each of the man’s 26 cards. The drawing begins. A card is pulled. Tension builds as no one claims it. The crowd begins chanting, Pull another! A second card is pulled, unclaimed yet again. Pull another! They pull another. It’s Bill’s, from the man whose wife is at the salon. Bill reached Kevin the following day, arranged to meet him to share in the winnings. The asterisk has never served a higher good.
Bill can bet on people, too. In 2013, at his taping of Cash Explosion he befriended a fellow contestant named Darlene. Darlene hoped to buy a used car for her daughter with her winnings and yarn for knitting blankets for the homeless and for hospitals, a favorite pasttime. Bill knew there was something special about her. As the contestants entered the stage he made eye contact with Chris in the audience, pointed to Darlene and mouthed she’s the winner. Darlene won both rounds that day and a third in the morning, walking away with $140,000.
Just as Bill bet on Darlene you can bet on Bill; on his ability to take $2 and multiply it a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand fold. You can bet on the Manning’s to humbly receive their blessings, share the bounty. His gift is luck; generosity, their mission. It’s a gift passed down to Bill by Gram through genetics, the way some people get varicose veins. When asked what would they do if they won $10 million dollars? That’s easy, Chris replies, spread it around. They, too, believe in bigness.
*Watch Chris Manning play Ohio Lottery’s Cash Explosion TOMORROW NIGHT, Saturday, March 16th at 7:30pm on channel 5, ABC