Cynthia Jay-Brennan The phrase ‘money isn’t everything’ is often used to downplay the importance of money, in a consolatory way, but the old saying was never more aptly illustrated than by the tragic tale of former Las Vegas cocktail waitress Cynthia Jay-Brennan.

On January 26, 2000, at the age of 37, Jay-Brennan invested $27, at $3 a spin, in a ‘Megabucks’ slot machine at the Desert Inn – which closed in August that year and was subsequently demolished to make way for Wynn Las Vegas – and won a record-breaking jackpot of $34.96 million. An infrequent and careful gambler, Jay-Brennan enjoyed living the ‘high life’ for a few short weeks, marrying her boyfriend, honeymooning in Fiji and looking after her family financially.

However, on March 11, during a family visit to Las Vegas, the car in which she and her elder sister, Lela, were travelling was smashed into by a habitual drunk driver, while stationary at traffic lights. Her sister died at the scene and Jay-Brennan was rushed to hospital, where she remained unconscious for several days. When she regained consciousness, she was informed by medical staff that her fifth lumbar vertebra had been shattered, leaving her paralysed from the waist down.

The offending driver was sentenced to serve a minimum of 28 years’ imprisonment, but that, of course, was scant consolation for Jay-Brennan. While thankful to be able to pay her medical expenses, she said, ‘I’d give every cent I have’ to turn back the clock to the days before the accident.

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