Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bowling for Dollars, Nick Perry and Hearst-Argyle on YouTube

When I was growing up south of Pittsburgh, channel 4 meant WTAE-TV. The news was Paul Long, Don Cannon and Joe Denardo with the weather. I might have forgotten most of that, except WTAE is owned by Hearst-Argyle which has recently signed a deal to put some of their stations on YouTube in exchange for a cut of the revenue.

Here's the announcement:

YouTube said on Sunday it has reached a revenue-sharing deal with Hearst-Argyle Television whereby local TV stations will be paid when users of the video-sharing site watch their programming. YouTube, a unit of Google, and Hearst-Argyle said in a statement that they will share advertising revenue on news, weather and entertainment videos from five TV stations the first time YouTube has paid for local TV programming.

Hearst-Argyle television stations in Boston, Manchester in New Hampshire, Sacramento, Pittsburgh and Baltimore will begin posting local video content to dedicated channels on YouTube.

YouTube will also distribute Hearst-Argyle's new digital video initiatives, including high school football, basketball and local amateur entertainment, the companies said.

Hearst-Argyle, which owns 29 local TV stations in the United States, will take an undisclosed cut of the advertising revenue YouTube earns when its users view clips, a spokesman said.

The WTAE channel on YouTube includes some vintage promos as well as highlights of some shows from my youth. On that caught my eye in particular was this video of Bowling for Dollars which was hosted by Nick Perry:



As it says in the Wikipedia, Nick Perry was a television and radio personality who became infamous after being indicted in a scandal involving the rigging of the Pennsylvania Lottery in 1980.

I was in college and 500 miles to the south at the time, but it was big news across the country. Nick and his buddies rigged the lottery but couldn't keep it quiet.

The full story is fascinating, once again from the Wikipedia entry:

In 1977, Perry became the host of the live nightly broadcast of the Pennsylvania Lottery, which was then held in the studios of WTAE in Pittsburgh. On the night of April 24, 1980, more than six million viewers watched as 666 was pulled as the winning number. (Contrary to popular belief, Perry was only an announcer and never drew the winning numbers. This was always done by a senior citizen volunteer, as the lottery benefits senior citizens in Pennsylvania.) Lottery authorities and local bookmakers became suspicious when they noticed a large number of tickets were purchased for certain numbers, and a handful of players came forward to claim approximately $1.8 million of the then record $3.5 million payout. However, they had no actual evidence that the drawing was fixed.

The scheme was masterminded by Perry, who first discussed the idea with two of his business partners, brothers Peter Maragos and Jack Maragos, whom he worked with in the vending business. Once committed to the plan, Perry approached local Pittsburgh lettering expert and WTAE art director Joseph Bock about creating weighted ping-pong balls that were replicas of the official balls used in the lottery machines. Bock agreed to help, and experimented with powder and other substances until he settled on white latex paint. Bock performed careful experiments to determine just the right amount of paint to use so that the weighted balls could fly up off the bottom of the machine, but not high enough to reach the vacuum tube so the ball would be drawn out of the machine. The men thought it would be too risky to weight nine of the ten balls for each machine, so they decided to leave both the 4 and 6 balls unchanged. Those would be the only balls light enough to actually be drawn. This would reduce the number of possible combinations that could come up to eight: 444, 446, 464, 466, 644, 646, 664, or 666. Bock then applied labels on the balls (obtained from an art supply store) that matched those of the originals.

However, Perry needed more help to pull the scheme off. Perry got access to the machines and ping pong balls through the involvement of Pennsylvania Lottery official Edward Plevel. Plevel left the machines and balls unguarded for several minutes on a few occasions. Perry also got WTAE stagehand Fred Luman to actually switch the original balls with the weighted ones before and after the drawing. Bock then took the balls back to his studio and burned them in a paint can half an hour after the on-air drawing was done.

The Maragos brothers, on the date of the drawing, travelled around Pennsylvania buying large quantities of tickets containing the eight possible numbers. The investigation was broken open with an anonymous tip led to a bar near Philadelphia where the Maragos brothers bought a large number of lottery tickets. An employee remembers the Maragos brothers coming into the bar with a platinum blonde woman and laying down a large amount of cash to buy lottery tickets, all on eight specific numbers. While the employee worked the lottery machine to print the tickets, he remembered that one of the Maragos brothers used the pay phone to make a call, spoke in a foreign language, and held up the phone so the listener could hear the lottery machine printing the tickets. Investigators pulled the phone records and traced the call to the WTAE announcer's booth in the studio where the drawing was done. They had successfully implicated Perry, but also knew he could not have acted alone. Further investigation and questioning of the Maragos brothers eventually implicated the rest of the men.

It was later revealed that the Maragos brothers also placed bets on the eight numbers with local bookmakers who had illegal numbers games that used the lottery drawing as the winning result. The brothers also told friends and family which numbers to play. This extra bit of greed may have been what ultimately did all of the conspirators in.

A grand jury was called and charges were brought against all six men. Plevel was convicted and spent two years in prison. Bock and Luman pleaded guilty in exchange for lighter sentences. The Maragos brothers avoided jail time by agreeing to testify against Perry. Much of the $1.8 million was recovered from the Maragos brothers, as were numerous lottery tickets.

Perry was convicted of criminal conspiracy, criminal mischief, theft by deception, rigging a publicly exhibited contest, and perjury in 1981 and was sentenced to 7 years in prison. He served two years at Camp Hill State Penitentiary and spent another year at a halfway house in East Liberty, Pennsylvania. Perry remained on parole until March 1989. He held a number of jobs after prison including an unsuccessful attempt to return to broadcasting in the late 1980s. Perry died in Andover, Massachusetts on April 22, 2003, having never admitted his role in the scandal.


Watch: WTAE on YouTube

ps: So, why doesn't my new favorite channel 4, WYFF-TV in Greenville have their videos on YouTube? Especially those that feature my mother's favorite tech guy chatting with Tim Waller or Nigel Robertson?

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