The 1980 Pennsylvania Lottery Scandal

Monday September 17, 2018 13:17 pm

The Lottery Lab Staff

In April of 1980, the announcer of the Pennsylvania Lottery conceived a plan to rig The Daily Number drawing. The Daily Number is was a Pick3 game where players had to pick three numbers from 0-9. Nick Perry, mastermind of the scheme and announcer for the game, approached a Pittsburgh lettering expert (who also worked at the television station broadcasting the lottery) named Joseph Bock about creating weighted replicas of the official balls used in the lottery machine.

The Daily Number lottery operated by blowing a set of balls around an enclosure until one of the balls was captured by a vacuum tube at the top of the enclosure. The replica balls were carefully weighted to prevent them from flying high enough to reach the vacuum tube. The conspirators believed that it would be too risky to weight nine out of ten balls and decided to only weight eight balls. The balls numbered 4 and 6 were left untampered with.

Perry was able to get access to the machines because the lottery official intentionally left the machines and balls unguarded for several minutes. Additionally, the television station stagehand personally switched the rigged balls with the official balls before and after the drawing.

On April 24, 1980, the scheme successfully resulted in a combination of 666 (this scandal is often referred to as the “Triple Six Fix” due to this combination). Lottery officials became suspicious when they realized that a handful of players were coming forward to claim over half of the then-record payout. At this point, there was no actual evidence of tampering and Nick Perry, who never publicly touched the balls believed he was home free.

By May 20, 1981, all seven of the conspirators had been charged and sentenced. The Pennsylvania Lottery adopted stricter precautions to guard against rigging. These included moving the location of the drawing, adding a “security chief” and conducting background checks on all staff related to the drawing.

Despite these efforts to protect against interfering with a mechanical lottery, it should be noted how the scheme was perpetrated. Every one of the men involved in the Pennsylvania Lottery Scandal was an official charged with ensuring the fair conduct of the game. Adding people to the processor changing the people involved in a drawing does not reduce the natural human temptation to tamper with lotteries. The only question is how to detect such tampering.