Hello, everyone. Happy day before St. Patrick’s Day. Hope you’re enjoying the March Madness. It’s been a while since I’ve last posted here, so I’m going to talk about two things that just seem to go together. The lottery and game shows. What is it about a game show that attracts so many people? Simple. The chance to win cash and fabulous prizes. What is it about the lottery that attracts so many people. Again, simple. The chance to win a lot of cash (and the occasional prize). So logically, what would drive up lottery sales? A chance to appear on TV, become famous, and win a boatload of cash.
The first state to do this was California in 1985 with The Big Spin. Its first few months were hosted by none other than Scrabble host and all around good guy, Chuck Woolery. He was reunited with his buddy from Wheel, the late Charlie O’Donnell. The show had humble beginnings. “All participants who won a $100 prize [on a scratch-off ticket] sent in their tickets to participate in a random draw; one out of every 2,000 tickets sent in was selected, and the participant qualified for The Big Spin. Later, instead of the $100 winners qualifying for the draw, qualifying tickets had their own symbol; as more of these tickets were printed, the chance of qualifying for the draw became 1 in 4,000.” [It’s all here in this entry from the U.S. Game Shows Wiki.]
So what did you do if you made it as a contestant? Easy. You went to the studio, you had a nice short conversation with Chuck, then you spun a giant wheel. I would explain all the semantics to you, but there’s really not much I can say that can’t be said here.
And that’s how 22 minutes was spent. Chuck left in January of 1986 to be replaced by Geoff Edwards, who took up the post until December 1994. Unfortunately, he took Charlie O with him. Adam Nedeff has an article about his run.
He was joined in 1993 by co-host Maiquel Alejo, presumably to assist in Spanish translations and give Geoff a break. When Geoff left, he was replaced by Larry Anderson, who was replaced by Jack Gallagher, who was replaced in 1999 by Pat Finn. Around the time Larry came in, Cal Image (the new producers of the show) decided to add more events, as you will see here.
When Pat arrived in 1999, Jonathan Goodson Productions bought the show and added it to their already expanding numbers of game shows sponsored by lotteries. But more on that later. We now return to the late 80s, where a large number of states in the Midwest were getting their own lottery game shows. States such as Ohio’s Cash Explosion, Michigan’s Fame and Fortune, and Illinois’ $100,000 Fortune Hunt (which was shown on WGN’s national feed). The procedure was quite simple. Pick a number, win cash (or advance towards a goal), then wait your turn. Rinse, and repeat. We’ll show you what we mean.
“Sounds like TV to iron your laundry by,” some people may be saying. And in some ways, it paled in comparison to the bigger games. After all, there was little skill involved, and no screening of contestants either. Anyone could be a contestant, and perhaps that’s what gave it so much appeal. You could turn on the show one night and see your best friend or your aunt or someone from church.
(You know, it’s incredible the amount of mileage you can get from having a sitcom character appear on a game show.)
Now this worked for some time until 1994. Then, a new innovation was brought to the lottery game show that shook most lottery officals’ worlds. It came from the sons of two giants in the game show world; Jonathan M. Goodson and Gary Dawson. As Gary mentioned in his interview, he created the first one for Estonia. We don’t have any footage of that, but we do have footage of the one that started it all.
This format was carried to Massachusetts, then Florida and New York.
Soon, everyone was getting into the act, including Missouri and nationwide. There are just too many videos I could show you, but you get the point.
Sadly, lottery game shows started losing steam around the 2000s and are becoming a dying breed. Illinois’ Luckiest, the only lottery game show nationally seen, left in 2000. Oh, there are still 2 lottery game shows out there, Ohio’s Cash Explosion and Michigan’s quarterly Make Me Rich.
Now, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Technically, we are opposed to gambling. Normally, I am. I think gambling in a casino is a waste of money. How people can spend $3 for a 1 in 175,223,510 chance of winning millions of dollars is beyond me. The LDS Church considers it a moral question. In 1975, gambling cost $30 billion a year. As Spencer W. Kimball put it, “Think what could be done if this money were diverted into worthwhile lines! What would $30 billion a year do to help the starving people.” There are a number of positions the Church has that I agree with, but when North Carolina proposed a lottery many years ago, I was for it in the hopes that we might acquire a lottery game show. That’s why I had to make sure my dad wasn’t watching when I was watching Illinois Instant Riches or Illinois’ Luckiest on WGN Superstation.
Of course, some of the mainstream game shows are also affiliated with lotteries. For example, here is Todd Newton in his native habitat.
I agree with the first one, but Wheel and Todd together puzzle me. Pat could’ve made the trip, I’m sure of it.
Anyway, my position is that some lottery game shows are quite exciting and make the lottery even more enticing. But if you’re reading this from Michigan or Ohio, think carefully before you play one of those scratch-off tickets. You may get a few thousand bucks if you’re selected, but how many tickets will you need to buy before it becomes an addiction?