After The Vest Project, I need to go off topic for a bit. I’m going to discuss something I’ve done on The Driver Suit Blog Before. I don’t know where my fixation on lottery memorabilia came from I don’t know why I find this stuff interesting. I guess it had to do with the way I grew up. Up until my grandfather came to live with us at age 10, we only had free television. In the Chicago suburbs, that meant we had WBBM Channel 2, WMAQ Channel 5, WLS Channel 7, WGN Channel 9, WTTW Channel 11, and WFLD Fox 32. There were others, if you were lucky with your rabbit ears, but those were the ones we got. As such, we would watch the news on WGN, which was what my family liked.
A part of those newscasts were the Lottery drawings, which fascinated me, but I can never remember our family playing the lottery. Again, it goes back to what I said during my first Lottery column, when I said that “Human beings all have hope, but human beings need something to hope for, and something to inspire hope. For many, religion is that outlet. For others, it is their sports teams. For many, the hope that they could win millions in the lottery is that beacon of hope.”
The history of the lottery in the United States dates back to the 1600’s, while Europe was colonizing North America. Many colonies saw gambling as harmless fun, but as English investors waned to profit from the New World, this changed quickly. As time went on, each of the 13 original colonies had a lottery system in place to help fund the colonies. It became a civic duty to play the lottery. Recessions, scandals, and corruption had almost eliminated the lottery in the United States by 1868.
In 1934, Puerto Rico, then a US colony, started a legal lottery. It would take 30 years, but in 1964, New Hampshire started a lottery. Since then, 44 of 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Washington DC, and the US Virgin Islands have lotteries. Alabama, Mississippi, and Utah don’t have lotteries due to religious objections. Nevada has the gambling industry, and they don’t want competition, and Alaska and Hawaii, not being mainland states, aren’t worried about losing tickets out of state.
The lottery takes several forms. Scratch off tickets, first introduced in the 1970’s, are a very popular method of playing the lottery. There are many different kinds of games, with different rules. Pick 3, pick 4, main drawing, and Powerball have their origin in “numbers games.” Numbers games were popular in poorer areas of the country, especially urban areas. The game works by drawing balls that had numbers to pick the winner. A similar game was popular in South Florida and Cuba called “Bolita” or “little ball” was where betters would bet on which number would be pulled out of a bag containing 100 numbered balls.
All the pre 1934 lotteries had one major drawback that kept them from being as accepted as it is today. They were easily rigged, and people lost money on the racketeering that took place around them. Today, the equipment, the drawing, the tickets, and every other aspect is heavily supervised and regulated so that this kind of cheating is not possible. The level of security for a drawing is high, due to the amount of money involved.
One thing that I learned about lottery security is that most of the people directly involved don’t know what equipment is going to be used. 90 minutes before the drawing, the equipment is determined, tested, the host rehearsed, and by the time that is all done, the broadcast is almost ready to start. Though security is high, and equipment is tested, there is always the case that something can go wrong. Do a quick search for “lottery blooper” on YouTube, and you get several examples, including this one:
Security is also high because the amount of money can entice people to cheat, even those inside the system. The chance for cheating can’t be avoided either, as the Pennsylvania Lottery discovered on April 24, 1980, when the winning number for the Daily Number was 666, which tipped off the lottery officials that something was off. It turned out that Nick Perry, the announcer for the lottery drawing, and a group of people replaced the standard lottery balls with latex paint. Of the 10 lottery balls, 8 were replaced with these new balls, so there would reduce the number of possible combinations to eight: 444, 446, 464, 466, 644, 646, 664, and 666. The 666 combination seemed odd, so an investigation was conducted, the guilty parties were caught, and to this day, the number 666 in the Pennsylvania Lottery is referred to as a “Nick Perry.”
Another result of the amount of money involved being as high as it is, is that the equipment has to be specially designed under very secure conditions. Only a few companies have the ability to produce the equipment that is used, and the equipment itself is insanely expensive. One company that was very innovative in designing lottery equipment was Beitel Displays of Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Though they are credited with designing the
Criterion, which is the design basis of most, if not all, big lottery machines. Though this was a lucrative business, it was only a side business, since Beitel Displays was primarily in business to design displays and exhibits for trade shows and companies.
According to a 1992 Lawrenceville Journal article concerning the company: “Mr. Beitel can count customers in 27 states, including New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington. His machines are in 40 countries, from South Africa to Iceland. He does not play the lottery.
The National Basketball Association conducts its annual lottery draft using a Beitel machine and the Virginia Slims Tournament sets its teams using one of the machines.
Next January, the European Community will become a Beitel customer when it begins its “Eurogame” lottery, using the Criterion machine, with a potential audience of 100 million people. Mr. Beitel expects the political changes in Eastern Europe to create another surge of business.
Poland is one of Mr. Beitel’s newest customers and he and the vice president of the lottery products division, Tracey S. Herrera, have been negotiating with representatives from Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.”
Such was the influence of Beitel Displays, that one of their main engineers founded SmartPlay in 1993, and four years later, acquired the the rights and licenses to all their products. SmartPlay is based in Ohio, and manufactures the equipment used for state and national lotteries.
The Criterion was a major contribution, but it had a setback, in that it needed special rubber balls to operate. These balls are very carefully made, and very carefully matched up into a set. One such example is this set of Beitel Criterion balls of unknown vintage. This kit of 30 rubber lottery balls is custom-made, with each ball costing $60 each. According to the SmartPlay website, “The weight of each ball is measured in Grams (g). Each ball weighs between 77.80 and 79.50 grams. The variation of each ball in any given set is +/- .60 grams from the average weight of all balls within that set.” Though most of the balls don’t show that much abuse, some show more than others. Each ball is stamped with “BEITEL USA.” The interesting thing I noticed about these balls is that they have no bounce to them whatsoever. In the machine, they can bounce, because they are either being blown around, or something is spinning them, but when you try to bounce one on a table, they just land.
Wining the lottery is the ultimate hope of those who play the lottery, as winning the race is the ultimate goal of those who race cars, as watching their favorite driver win is the ultimate goal of those who watch racing. Next week, I will begin a two-part series about one of the best tools at a drag racer’s disposal.