Gambler who stood his ground enjoys the payoff

He's off on a lark.

Steve Wilkinson, his first passport clutched in his hand, boarded a Bahamas-bound flight yesterday with his wife, Nancy, merrily reflecting on how life these days has been pretty sweet.

"It's the first time I've been out of the country," he said, his voice gurgling with infectious laughter. "I had to get a passport."

Wilkinson is the 56-year-old retired carpenter from Bucks County who was plunking quarters into a PhiladelphiaPark slot machine Jan. 22 when a video screen flashed the message, "Congratulations. You've won $102,000."

The casino, as the nation learned from news reports, would claim it was a mistake - a computer-system testing error. But after days of bad publicity, it gave in and paid the man his money: $76,500 after taxes.

Nancy Wilkinson has kept a tight rein on the wad ever since.

"I'm bad with money," Steve Wilkinson said, "so I let her control it. That's how I got to retire early."

His luck at the casino was not comparable to that of the South Jersey couple who won $142 million this month in the Mega Millions lottery.

"It's not a life-changing thing," he said. "But it's a nice five-years, do-what-you-want kind of thing." Having reached their 25th wedding anniversary in February - and with her birthday coming up April 14 - they thought the time seemed right to blow a little.

Yes, Nancy Wilkinson said, she has heard, through friends, the rumor that Steve lost more than he won at the casinos. Not true, she said; they both keep an eye on how much he gambles.

Nassau, in the Bahamas, has casinos.

Wilkinson said of his wife: "She may let me have 20 bucks to play."

Contact staff writer Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or