The local TV star who rigged the lottery

The local TV star who rigged the lottery

Shortly after 7pm on April 24th, 1980, tens of millions of Pennsylvanians watched closely as a 3rd and ultimate ping-pong ball shot up the tube of a system on are living tv.

“And there you have it,” exclaimed the station’s liked announcer, Nick Perry. “Today’s Pennsylvania lottery daily number: 6-6-6!” 

As the tacky tune pale and the lighting dimmed, Perry implored fortunate price tag holders at house to say their prizes: “If you’ve got it, come and get it!”

What the public did not know was once that Perry — together with a rag-tag workforce made up of colleagues, church buddies, and a state lottery legitimate — had fastened the complete factor in his prefer. Through an elaborate ruse involving syringes and latex paint, he’d simply netted himself and his pals $1.2m ($Three.7m these days) in profitable tickets.

Soon, one in every of the biggest scandals in state lottery historical past would come crashing down.

The legend of Papa Nick

In the overdue 1970s, Nick Perry (actual identify, Nicholas Katsafanas) was once Pittsburgh royalty.

A radio and TV veteran of 30 years, Perry was once affable, captivating, and debonair — tall and tan, with whisked white hair and an ever-present ivory smile.

As an announcer and host for WTAE Channel four — Pittsburgh’s main TV station, and one in every of the biggest local networks in the nation — his presentations (Polka Party, Championship BowlingBowling for Dollars) attracted legions of adoring fanatics who referred to as him “Papa Nick.”

A Navy vet and church choir chief, he held the public’s unwavering believe. “He was always surrounded by people who loved him,” a former co-worker later mentioned.

When Pennsylvania introduced its day by day lottery, in 1977, WTAE gained the rights to broadcast the drawings state-wide each and every evening.

And the station may just call to mind no higher guy to entrust as the drawing’s announcer than Pittsburgh’s golden boy, Nick Perry.

The Daily Number

Dubbed the Daily Number, the draw briefly turned into the most well liked lottery recreation in the state — and one in every of the five biggest in America. Its proceeds, which soared to masses of tens of millions of bucks, had been the leader earnings supply for investment senior citizen methods.

The lottery itself was once easy.

An entrant would purchase a price tag staking any place from $zero.50 to $five on a Three-digit quantity between 000 and 999, in a selected order.

Every evening at 6:59pm, a lottery legitimate would wheel out Three air-powered machines, every stuffed with a suite of ping-pong balls numbered zero to nine. On are living tv, a senior citizen (decided on at random from a local aged house) would take away the cap from the most sensible of every system, propelling a random numbered ball up a transparent plastic chute.

The ensuing Three-digit aggregate was once the day by day winner. Lucky entrants would obtain $500 for each and every $1 wagered. (In the ones days, bets had been beautiful humble; maximum payouts had been in the 1000’s, no longer tens of millions, of bucks.)

Like maximum lotteries at the time, the Daily Number adopted a decent safety protocol.

When no longer in use, the lottery machines and balls had been locked in a WTAE garage room that required 2 keys to open; one was once held through the TV station, the different through the state’s lottery bureau. The balls had been automatically tested through an impartial laboratory, and had been best approved to have a 1.75 milligram variation in mass — about part the weight of an ant.

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as soon as wrote, Pennsylvania lottery’s popularity “rivaled that of ancient Rome’s Vestal Virgins.” The state prided itself on the squeaky blank popularity of its day by day drawing, and that of Perry, the guy at its helm.

But unbeknownst to them, Perry was once scrutinizing flaws in the machine — and searching for a chance to take advantage of it.

The scheme

In February of 1980, Perry sparked a friendship with Edward Plevel, a 52-year-old state lottery safety officer who was once entrusted with guarding the machines and balls.

Once a mutual believe was once established, Perry moderately broached the chance of a set lottery: In concept, he instructed Plevel, if he had get right of entry to to the garage room, he may just overwhelm all the balls except for a couple of numbers, dramatically cut back the imaginable profitable combos, hedge heavy bets on the ones numbers, and stroll away with tens of millions.

Plevel was once intrigued, and agreed to provide Perry the get right of entry to he wanted. Soon after, Perry started to position his plan into motion.

The first step was once to seek out any person he depended on who may just create copy units of the lottery balls. For this, he became to WTAE’s ex-art director and resident lettering skilled, Joseph Bock.

“What would you say if I told you you could make $100k?” Perry allegedly requested Bock at the station sooner or later, consistent with a later account in the Post-Gazette.

Bock scoffed. “Who do I have to kill?”

Perry gave Bock 12 syringes and a weighing scale and prompt him to shop for 30 ping-pong balls from a wearing items retailer just like the ones utilized in the machines.

Following Perry’s directions, Bock painstakingly replicated every ball through hand — Three units, numbered zero thru nine. Then, he got down to discover a delicate solution to overwhelm the balls that were not a four or a 6.

After experimenting with more than a few ingredients together with talcum powder and water, he settled on a tiny quantity of white latex paint — simply sufficient to forestall them from emerging as much as the most sensible of the machines and getting sucked up into the chutes.

In an untampered lottery, the odds of any Three-digit quantity had been 1 in 1k. If Perry’s plan labored, best the unweighted 4s and 6s would upward push to the most sensible, proscribing the profitable quantity to eight imaginable combos: 444, 446, 464, 466, 644, 646, 664, and 666.

Everything was once in position. Now, all Perry had to do was once position his bets.

Perry could not purchase lottery tickets himself — it was once too suspicious. So, he met with two adolescence buddies, Peter and Jack Maragos, at a pew in St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.

Part-owners of a small cigarette merchandising system trade, the Maragos brothers had been intrigued through the thrill of a large payout. They agreed to shop for the tickets, and shortly roped a 3rd brother, James, and his spouse, Jean, into the scheme.

The circle of relatives unit delegated the retail outlets the place they would acquire tickets, and assembled $20ok in money. Then, they waited for Perry’s command.

The special occasion

On the morning of April 24, 1980, the Maragos brothers rocketed round Philadelphia in an previous white Cadillac.

Targeting small mom-and-pop retailers — puts with names like Al and Virginia’s Variety Store, Herman’s Cigar Store, Squirrel Hill Newsstand, and Dew Drop Inn —  they positioned 1000’s of $1 bets on the eight imaginable combos of four and 6.

Meanwhile, Perry finalized his arrangements at the studio.

Typically, the senior citizen decided on to lend a hand with the lottery would run thru a convention drawing at 6:30pm, 29 mins previous to airing. That day, Violet Lowrey, the selected octogenarian, was once carted right into a inexperienced room upon arrival and remained there till 6:55.

During this time, Bock passed off the weighted balls to any other worker in on the repair, stagehand Fred Luman, who furtively swapped them into the machines as Plevel regarded the wrong way.

Once the process was once achieved, Luman rolled the machines out onto the studio ground, gave a nod to Perry, and disappeared into the shadows of the hall.

At 6:59, the broadcast went are living.

To tens of millions of audience throughout Pennsylvania, not anything gave the impression out of the odd. Perry was once offered along with his same old sign-on — “The man with all the dollars! The kingpin himself!” — and Plevel escorted Lowrey to the machines.

Lowrey got rid of the cap and the first ball shot up the chute: a 6. Then got here ball #2: “Another 6!” exclaimed Perry. Seconds later, the 3rd ball landed. The profitable quantity — 6-6-6 — danced throughout the display screen.

A 30 minutes later, Bock was once again at house, lighting fixtures hearth to a paint can stuffed with the 30 weighted ping-pong balls.

A gangster provides a tip

It gave the impression that Perry and his cronies had pulled off the highest crime.

The Maragos had decided on 6-6-6 on kind of 2.4k in their 14ok $1 tickets. With a $500 to $1 payout, the group was once taking a look at a payout of $1.2m ($Three.9m in 2019 bucks) — an unheard-of quantity for a state lottery at the time. Over the following couple of days, the brothers cashed in a couple of hundred tickets and delivered Perry $35ok in money — as soon as at a cemetery, a 2nd time in the back of a shopping mall.

Unbeknownst to them, there have been rumblings on the boulevard that the recreation were fastened.

As it became out, the Maragos brothers had additionally positioned bets with underground bookies, who had spotted the surprisingly top selection of hedges on combos containing the numbers four and 6. They refused to pay out winnings on 6-6-6, and alerted their boss, Tony Grosso.

A convicted numbers boss, Grosso were working his personal $30m-a-year unlawful day by day lottery on the streets of Pittsburgh for 40 years — and he was once glad to tip-off local reporter, Sandy Starobin, of a possible repair in the state lottery, which he regarded as the pageant.

In May 1980, an investigation was once opened through Pennsylvania governor, Richard Thornburgh.

Though lottery officers (together with Plevel) pooh-poohed the thought of an inside of process, investigators won a tip from the proprietor of the Dew Drop Inn: Weeks previous, two males in a white Cadillac had purchased masses of lottery tickets — all combos of four and six — and positioned a choice to a thriller guy.

The paper path and speak to data led them to the door of Peter and Jack Maragos, who promptly agreed to testify for the state in trade for dropped fees. Bock and Luman adopted and gave the state two names: Perry and Plevel.

On May 11, 1981, newshounds (together with Perry’s colleagues at WTAE) accrued at the county courthouse in Harrisburg for a felony trial in opposition to the two males.

Over per week, 25 witnesses — together with co-conspirators, store householders, and offended senior voters — took the stand. After 6.five hours of deliberation, a jury of 12 discovered Perry and Plevel in charge of felony conspiracy, felony mischief, robbery through deception, and “rigging a publicly exhibited contest.”

Neither guy confirmed emotion as the sentences had been learn: Three to 7 years for Perry; 2 to 7 years for Plevel.

As the tanned TV star was once led from the court in shackles, his fanatics grappled with the information. “[It’s like] Joan of Arc being burned at the stake,” one fan wrote in a Post-Gazette op-ed. “I can’t see why a 63-year-old man who has a good living and is established in the community would do something like this.”

The bowling items salesman

In the aftermath, WTAE misplaced the rights to air the day by day lottery to a rival station, costing it tens of millions of bucks in misplaced advert earnings. Eventually, government would recuperate maximum of the cash and uncashed lottery tickets.

Bock, Luman, and the Maragos brothers pale from the public eye after 1981 and settled into quiet, much less eventful lives. After serving 18 months, Perry and Plevel had been launched to a midway area.

Post-prison, Perry discovered paintings at Wissman Bowling Supplies, a bowling clothing store that had supplied apparatus to his hit display, Bowling for Dollars. In 1988, he made a short-lived go back to TV to host a brand new bowling display, however he by no means reclaimed his former glory.

When Perry gave up the ghost in 2003, at age 86, he was once remembered with a two-page unfold in the Post-Gazette. He maintained his innocence to the grave.

“Why would I get involved with something like this? For what reason?” he mentioned in a last interview. “I was making good money. They were the best years of my life, actually. I had too many good things going for me.”

The Daily Number recreation, since renamed the “Pick 3,” now includes a safety procedure involving 24-hour video surveillance, RFID-chip-equipped balls, impartial auditors, and a minimum of 6 drawing officers. It introduced in $269 million in earnings for the state of Pennsylvania in 2018.

Since April 24, 1980, 6-6-6 has been the profitable quantity on 24 events — all supposedly scandal-free.

And Pennsylvania lottery officers have since followed an unofficial slogan: “Be perfect.”

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Updated: October 18, 2019 — 9:20 pm

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