Queen of Hearts Keeps Her Face Down

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio – A few minutes after the No. 28 card was cut from the Queen of Hearts board at Barry Dyngles Pub, Jennifer Melago was still shaking.

As a hush fell over the crowd once the card had been cut from the board – still face down – Barry Dyngles general manager Doug Duganne asked her if she had anything to say. She shook her head no. Duganne flipped the card and held it up for the crowd to see.

The crowd groaned.

In most card games, the ace of spades trumps all, but not Wednesday night. With $329,469 at stake, Melago needed the queen of hearts to turn up to walk away with the prize.

“I’m shocked, really. I’m at a loss for words. I’m just happy that my name was called. It was the most exciting thing,” she said. “I’m sad I didn’t get the $300,000, but you never know. Maybe they’ll call my name next week.”

At first, she said, she didn’t realize her name had been called. But as Duganne announced it a second and third time, she started waving her arms and fighting her way through the crowd of 4,000-plus to the patio and the manager.

“I really thought I was going to win! I want to win it. I’ve been playing for months,” Melago said. “I don’t want to think about [how much I’ve spent on tickets]. But at least it’s on something good.”

Two hours before the drawing, Duganne was hurrying around the barbecue restaurant, trying to manage the game, his staff and the growing crowd, which has swollen to well beyond its typical size over the past month.

“It’s been absolutely insane. There were a hundred people lined up outside before we even unlocked the doors this morning,” he said.

At that point, he was estimating a pot of about $320,000. On Monday, he was guessing $300,000. As the audience shuffled out of the parking lot, many were suggesting that it would reach $500,000 by the next drawing.

“Everybody’s buying tickets and everyone thinks they’ve got the winner. We’ll see who’s right,” Duganne said.

With the popularity surging over the past two months, Duganne said that it’s almost become too much.

“There is a small part of me that hopes somebody wins just because the pot’s grown so big now,” he said. “It would be nice to give somebody that money tonight and then get back to an amount of money that’s a little more manageable on our end.”

Leading up to the drawing, one could feel the electricity in the air around Barry Dyngles, 1601 S. Raccoon Road. Parking lots in surrounding businesses filled. Police showed up to direct pedestrians and nearly everyone was in a festive mood as they danced, sang and laughed.

“It’s crazy. We’re almost ready for it to end and take the money home,” said Denise Italiano with a laugh. “Everywhere you go, people are talking about this. It’s going to change the world for someone. Whether it’s paying bills or putting kids through school, it’ll make life easier.”

With the number of people who’ve been turning up for the drawings the past few weeks, other businesses along South Raccoon Road have seen a pickup as well. Next door to Barry Dyngles, Smoker Friendly has seen a constant flow of people every Wednesday night.

“It’s been very good for us. We’ve been busy until the last minute. It’s always one person after another. Even at 7:30 [when we close], they’re knocking on the door asking if they can still buy cigars or cigarettes. It’s a very good thing going on there,” said assistant manager Laurie Bowers.

With just 11 numbers remaining – now 10 – many had special reasons for picking the few that were left.

Joyce Duganne, the restaurant general manager’s mother, picked the card that was flipped Wednesday night, 28.

“His birthday is this Friday, Aug. 28. And number 28 is still a number on the board. So of course I asked for that one,” she said, glancing over to Doug as he worked. “I’d absolutely love to win with that. It would be really special.”

“I picked numbers 12 and 30 because my daughter and I were born on the same day, so those are our lucky numbers,” said Tomilyn Schriner of Austintown.

“Tonight, I played 27 because my lucky numbers are 7 and 12. This was a nice middle for those two,” said Diane Schriner.

After Melago walked away, shaking but not disturbed, several ripped up their tickets and threw them on the ground. Many will be back next week seeking the chance to turn a $1 ticket into as much as $500,000.

“I’m definitely going to be here. I’ll be right up front and getting something to eat,” Laura Digiacomo said. “I was excited. I couldn’t wait. It was like a madhouse here.”

Everyone also has a fantasy about what they would do with their winnings if lightning strikes next week.

“All I’m trying to do was decide if I wanted to buy a house here or one down in Florida,” M.J. Clacko said.

“We’re going to Disneyland. We really are,” Diane Schriner said, as another person in her group shouted, “Or Vegas!”

For Italiano, the money would go mostly to bills.

“I’ll also take some people out to eat, help some people out a little bit and then put a bit away for a while. $300,000 won’t go too far,” she said, “but it can go far enough.”

Pictured: Doug Duganne, general manager of Barry Dyngles, cuts the laminate to see what card lies beneath as the owner of the ticket he drew, Jennifer Melago, watches.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.