Plane delay costs Middleton woman million dollar payoff in casino contest
When the million-dollar winner Candace Porter finally speaks, it is in a whisper to her sister-in-law. "This is unreal," Porter says. Her sister-in-law, whose face is stoplight red from joyful screaming, responds, "This is real."

A delayed flight from Dallas to Madison kept a retired Middleton woman from collecting $1 million in a contest requiring the winner’s presence at Ho-Chunk Casino in Baraboo late Saturday night.

Barbara Huffman, a legal secretary who left Foley & Lardner law firm in Madison this year, was the first person selected by computer in Ho-Chunk’s second annual Million Dollar Giveaway.

Huffman had planned to attend the drawing – which guaranteed a winner from among several thousand Players Club members who went to Ho-Chunk between Oct. 8 and Dec. 14 – but her flight landed at Dane County Regional Airport at 11:30 p.m.

As a result, Huffman chose not to go to the casino.

Contacted on Sunday, Huffman was unaware she could have won. She paused, then sounded shaken.

“Oh, my word,” she said. “That makes me ill.”

Later, she added: “We planned to go from the airport up there. But we were stranded in the Dallas airport because of Tulsa’s airport delays. You’re at the mercy of the airports.”

After a 10-minute wait for Huffman at midnight Saturday, the computer issued a new winner, Judith Clements, whose hometown was not available. Representatives of Rainbow Casino & Bingo in Nekoosa, a Ho-Chunk-owned casino linked by satellite to the contest, said Clements had left earlier in the evening.

As a result, a third name was released. That person – Candace Porter of Reedsburg – was in attendance at a Ho-Chunk ballroom and received the $1 million prize.


(December 18, 2001)

Feels like a million

Circus atmosphere highlights casino’s huge money drawing

LAKE DELTON – What do people do a few minutes before Ho-Chunk Casino gives away $1,000,000?

They chant.

“One million dollars!”  (louder) “One million dollars!” (louder) “One million dollars!”

The chant gains momentum until an announcer quiets the crowd to say that five minutes remain before the drawing for “one … million … dollars.” Green balloons, with $1,000,000 listed on each, hover overhead.

Thundercloud, a Ho-Chunk Nation drum group, plays a traditional beat, but hearts pound harder.

One million dollars. To one person. One person, that is, who – and this is the unique promotional twist – must be in attendance at the Ho-Chunk drawing, which began at midnight last Saturday.

As a result, an estimated 6,000 people fill the casino, a ballroom, the bars and restaurants, the hotel lobby and the hallways to watch a TV screen.

And they bet. Then they bet more. Ho-Chunk offers more than 2,600 slot machines and it is difficult to find even one empty seat Saturday night. Forty-eight blackjack tables are as tightly packed with players as a stack of chips. Hundreds more play bingo.

Ho-Chunk’s roomy ballroom serves as the contest’s main stage. A satellite feed with two other Ho-Chunk casinos – Rainbow in Nekoosa and Majestic Pines in Black River Falls – allows those patrons to enter, too. Each entrant is a Players Club member, whose free bonus card is placed in slot machines or a special machine at blackjack tables. Only patrons who played between Oct. 8 and Dec. 14 may win.

Called the Million-Dollar Giveaway, the contest received enormous promotional push through print, TV, radio and direct-mail advertising for several weeks.

To showcase the event, a two-hour satellite broadcast in the casinos drones as countless patrons are asked what they would do with one million dollars. Among the responses:

“I really want to start a massage place.”

“I’d quit working at the cheese factory.”

“I want to fish for the rest of my life.”

At midnight – with Lucky, Ho-Chunk gaming’s 7-foot-tall rabbit mascot, standing front and center on stage – a computer slowly displays each digit of the seven-number Players Club card winner on screens throughout each casino. Then the winning person’s name automatically appears, too.

She is Barbara A. Huffman. There are no shouts, no reaction from anyone. The satellite broadcast goes to the other casinos, where no one steps forward. She has 10 minutes to claim $1,000,000.

“We’ve had no Barbara Huffman sighting,” says a tuxedo-clad announcer at Ho-Chunk.

(A day later, Huffman, of Middleton, was reached by phone. A retired legal secretary, she said she had planned to go, but a delayed plane from Dallas to Madison kept her from the casino. She did not know she would have won until a reporter called. Though shaken by the news, she said she knew the rules required the winner’s presence.)

Ho-Chunk officials then start the computer for a second name. It picks Judith A. Clements, but no one steps forward again. Later that night, Rainbow Casino reps say that Clements had been at the casino earlier in the evening but left.

The third person selected is Candace Porter of Reedsburg. As soon as her name appears on the screen, Porter’s sister-in-law begins screaming in the Ho-Chunk ballroom. Standing next to her, Porter stands silently. Absolute silence.

Once onstage, Porter has trouble responding to questions. She had only one entry, completed one week before the drawing on her birthday.

Porter works at an auto parts store in Reedsburg, about 15 miles from the casino. Married with two kids, ages 15 and 11, she chews gum while holding an oversized check and roses. She will decide this week whether to take a $500,000 lump sum or to receive $50,000 annually for 20 years.

When Porter finally speaks, it is in a whisper to her sister-in-law.

“This is unreal,” Porter says.

Her sister-in-law, whose face is stoplight red, responds, “This is real.”

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