Published September 13, 2019


MELROSE — When Melrose resident Michael Miller’s Somerville friend Dan Hardy invited him to share a room at Boston’s new casino, Encore, on the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend he had no idea what awaited, but less than 24 hours later he came home $100,000 richer. And it wasn’t because he slipped a five-dollar bill into a slot machine and money came pouring out.

Encore was running a contest called the “Labor Day of Luxury Giveaway” and the two grand prizes were either $100,000 cash or a 2019 McLaren, a high-end vehicle.

It didn’t take long for Miller decide what he would choose. He wanted the cash.

How the “big win” came about is as interesting as Miller winning the money.

“Dan and I spent the night in one of Encore’s rooms on the 26th floor so we could be there Sunday, Sept. 1 for the Giveaway and not have to fight for a parking spot,” explained the jubilant Miller.

During the week leading up to the Casino’s opening on Sunday, June 23, Miller found himself on a lucky streak with Massachusetts State Lottery tickets. In fact, he was winning so often that he posted his winners on Facebook, using the hash tag #TheStreak.

“The first time I went to Encore, I actually used money from those winnings,” he said. “The first few months I had a little luck at the Casino and hit one time for $1,000 on a machine. A few other times I won several hundred dollars.”

Miller continued his story, saying that he and Hardy were later joined by mutual friend Russell Chiary on that Saturday night, and on Sunday Hardy’s friend Brian Gillis and Miller’s cousin Steven Ferreira arrived on the scene. In addition, many other people who know Miller went to Encore to try their luck.

“There’s a Facebook fan page for the Casino called ‘Everything Encore Boston Harbor’ and several members were there along with my wife’s friend Jen and her mother plus a few people who know me from a charity project I run,” said Miller.

Eligibility for the Luxury Giveaway contest required that participants be a Red Card Member of Encore’s loyalty program. Throughout August, for every 250 casino points earned, players received one entry. Weekly e-mails were sent from the Casino notifying them how many entries they had earned. Miller had accumulated a total of 13, but only 11 could be entered due to a few missed deadlines.

On the Sunday of the drawing between 10 a.m. and noon players who had entered the contest were required to be present to place their tickets in the drum.

“It was very crowded, to say the least,” Miller commented.

Every half hour, from 2 to 6 p.m., 10 winning names were announced over the public address system. Each half hour, the first nine people won $500 in casino credits, and the 10th name called every half hour became a finalist for the grand prize. Miller was the third finalist to be announced soon after 3 p.m., making him eligible.

“After each finalist’s name was called, we were given 10 minutes to check in or an additional name would be drawn,” Miller explained. “This meant that we had to be present to be a finalist but not present to win one of the credit prizes.”

Tired from a night of festivities, Miller left at 2:45 p.m. with the intention of going home and getting some rest. He headed north up Rte. 99 toward Everett center and was waiting for a light to turn green when his phone rang. The caller ID showed that Hardy was on the line. When Miller answered, Hardy informed him that Miller had been named a finalist.

“We’re very close friends, Dan and I, and at first I thought he was pulling my leg,” Miller said. “But then more people started calling, so I knew it had to be true.”

In an instant, Miller looked to his left and saw that traffic was horribly backed up. There was no way he could make it back to Encore in time. Adrenaline pumping through his veins, Miller pulled into the parking lot next to a sandwich shop, jumped from his car and began running toward Encore. Then, he noticed something — he had left his wallet in the car.

“I was thinking I was never going to make it, but I grabbed my wallet and ran as fast as I could. At one point, I was running in the middle of the street as traffic was so congested I couldn’t get across,” he continued.

While forging ahead, his phone rang but he let it ring. At the halfway mark, Hardy called again and this time Miller answered.

“You’ve got five minutes left,” Hardy shouted into the phone.

Miller asked Hardy to let Casino officials know he was on his way. He ran like the wind and finally made it to the Casino, thinking he’d have a better chance to beat the clock if he entered through the garage.

He took the elevator to the first floor where the Casino is located and heard an announcer say, “Michael Miller, you have two minutes.”

Realizing that the announcer was at the opposite end of the Casino, Miller sprinted across the floor, waving his hat and shouting “It’s me! It’s me!”

“All this, just to be a finalist,” Miller said. Exhausted from the run, he was offered a drink of water while he tried to regain his breath. He had made it with only 30 seconds remaining on the clock.

Minutes later, he went back to his car, knowing he would have to return to Encore by 6:45 p.m. to compete for the grand prize along with nine other finalists.

At the appointed hour, Miller and the others were escorted to a balcony where several Encore employees were gathered while his friends waited nervously on the floor below. A game for the finalists was about to begin.

The game involved a red board covered with 40 paper circles. Ten circles were covered with stars. Each of the finalists then took a turn punching out a circle, retrieving a small box and opening it to reveal a prize, nine of which were $2,500 in Casino credits. Only one held the grand prize.

Numbers were passed out at random to determine who would go first. Miller was number five. The first four players punched circles that contained secondary prizes.

“As I was calculating the odds of my winning, I decided that I would choose the circle right in the middle,” he said. “Then I heard my name called. It was my turn.”

Before making his selection, the announcer told onlookers that Miller had had to run to the Casino to meet the deadline for the contest. Meanwhile, he could hear his friends rooting for him on the floor below.

“A woman from the Encore fan page yelled out ‘Come on, Rocky!’ in reference to the fact that I had been running through the streets,” said Miller. “In fact, the story had made its way through the Casino and many people were cheering for me.”

Melrose’s “big winner” then raised his arms into the air and paraphrased a line from the great Lou Gehrig — “I am the luckiest man alive!”

“Well, let’s see how that luck plays out for you today,” said the announcer.

Miller then turned to the board and chose the middle circle, as he had planned. Before opening the little box, he wondered what the $2,500 prize looked like and was actually expecting that this was what he would win. But it wasn’t there, and that’s when he realized he had won the grand prize.

Miller let out a scream and began jumping up and down.

“Did I win the car? Did I?” Miller recalls yelling at the announcer.

“I probably scared him to death,” he said.

When he was told “yes,” the two men high-fived and then Miller went to the front of the balcony to inform his friends.

“Everyone in the audience was screaming, including my family and friends, but in somewhat disbelief,” he said.

Miller will forever remember the experience, one that will far outweigh the prize.

“I want to thank Encore for hosting the event and Dan Hardy for not only letting me stay with him but for notifying me that I was a finalist,” said Miller. “A big thanks, also, to Steven for staying with me that day. We talk frequently and now we toss around all the little things that happened that made the win possible. It was truly magical.”

What will Miller do with the money he won? He plans to pay off a loan, gift some to his wife and purchase a new vehicle to replace his 2003 Toyota. He will also remember Hardy and Ferreira, who helped with the win.  And, of course, Uncle Sam will get his share.

Michael Miller was born and raised in Somerville and graduated from Somerville High School’s Class of 1987. He has lived in Melrose for about 12 years. He is married to Chandra Miller and, together, they have a son named Jonathan, age 17.