Nick Perry Pennsylvania Lottery Scandal
When Pittsburgh television host Nick Perry began scheming to rig the lottery in 1980, he was hopeful he would be successful. After all, he planned meticulously and made all the necessary arrangements to ensure his plan wouldn’t fail him. Unfortunately for him, things quickly unravelled after he and his co-conspirators came forward to claim their winnings, which aroused suspicions from investigators. Despite its eventual failure, the Nick Perry Pennsylvania Lottery Scandal became one of the most infamous lottery cases in the world.
Rigging the Lottery
While concocting a plan to rig the lottery, Nick Perry was confident that he could succeed in doing so, especially when several colleagues agreed to participate in his plans. First, Perry reached out to Jack and Peter Maragos, his partners in a vending machine business. He described his plans to rig the lottery, indicating that he intended to weight most of the Ping-Pong balls used in the machine for the lottery drawing.
After the Maragos brothers agreed to act in the scheme with him, he communicated with Joseph Bock, letting expert and art director at WTAE—the studio Perry and Bock both worked for. Brock would go on to create the weighted replicas of the official balls used in the lottery machines. Specifically, the balls numbered 4 and 6 were chosen to act as the “lucky” lighter balls.
With his plans solidified, Perry was ready to act. He went through Edward Plevel, a lottery official, to receive access to the room holding the official machines and Ping-Pong balls used for lottery drawings. Perry recruited Fred Luman, a stagehand at WTAE, to switch the original balls out for the weighted ones. After the drawing, Luman returned the original balls to the room while Bock burned the replicas to destroy the evidence.
A Successful Draw & An Immediate Bust
On April 24th, 1980, Nick Perry was hosting The Daily Number when the winning numbers were revealed to be “666.” His plan had been executed successfully. The payout amounted to $3.5 million, which translates to roughly $10.9 million today. This amount included the $1.18 million (or $5.59 million today) that went to eight people involved in Perry’s scam. Had lottery officials not become suspicious, Pennsylvanians would have never known the drawing had been fixed.
When the group who aided in the rigging of the lottery came forward with a significant amount of winning tickets, lottery authorities were certain there was a conspiracy at hand. They launched an investigation, eventually uncovering that there had been a large number of tickets sold with the same eight possible combinations. More specifically, they received a tip from an employee at a local bar, who revealed that the Maragos brothers had come in to purchase several tickets and were acting suspiciously while doing so. The employee noted that one of the brothers had used the bar’s pay phone to make a call. During the phone call, he spoke in a foreign language and boastfully held up the phone to the lottery machine printing the pickets.
After receiving the tip, the lottery officials checked the phone records and found the call was made to a phone within WTAE studios where the drawing was done. During interrogations, the Maragos brothers confirmed that the call had been made to Nick Perry, which later led to the implication of all involved in the scam.
The Group Lands in Court
After revelations were made regarding the scam, Nick Perry and his co-conspirators landed in court, where charges were laid against the seven men involved. Lottery official Edward Plevel was sentenced to two years in prison, though he denied involvement. Bock and Luman agreed to a plea deal, as did William Moran—a resident of Fairmont, West Virginia, who arranged the out-of-state buying of Pennsylvania lottery tickets using the fixed number combinations.
Beyond that, the Maragos brothers managed to avoid prison time by testifying against Nick Perry. Their statements led to Perry being convicted on multiple charges, including criminal conspiracy, criminal solicitation, theft by deception, rigging a publicly exhibited contest, participating in a rigged contest, and perjury. Despite being sentenced to seven years in prison, Perry never admitted guilt in this case.
After Nick Perry’s lottery scandal, the Pennsylvania Lottery centred its focus on preventing the lottery from being rigged. The lottery drawings were moved from WTAE to a different network, known as WHP-TV, which was located in the state capital of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This switch was ordered by Governor Dick Thornburgh, though the drawings now air on WPXI’s network as of July 1st, 2015.
Additionally, a security chief was added to the Pennsylvania Lottery’s staff, as well as guaranteed background checks of any staff members involved in lottery drawings. Safeguards like this have essentially changed how lottery numbers are drawn, making the entire process much fairer and more transparent.
Nick Perry's Pennsylvania Lottery scandal was such a hot topic that it ended up being made into a movie starring John Travolta,
Lisa Kudrow, and Tim Roth, among others. The story, however, got the Hollywood treatment and is only loosely based on what happened with Nick and his accomplices. As a result, it's much sillier and lighthearted than it needed to be.
Nick Perry’s Background
Nick Perry, also known as Nicholas Pericles Katsafanas, was born in 1916 and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Duquesne University and went on to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Following the war, he became a radio broadcaster in West Virginia before returning to Pittsburgh to become a television broadcaster for WDTV. When he moved on to WTAE-TV in 1958, his career continued to evolve until he became the host of the broadcast of the Pennsylvania Lottery. He was considered somewhat of a local celebrity.
Nick Perry died on April 22nd, 2003. He was 86 years old.
While rigging the lottery may seem like a guaranteed path to wealth, it doesn’t come without its own set of consequences. Like other scammers, including Eddie Tipton, Nick Perry may have been brilliant enough to create an elaborate scheme to fix the lottery, but he didn’t plan for the prison time that inevitably followed.
Luckily for us, many lottery winners have become millionaires without having to cheat the system—something we should all aspire towards when playing the lottery. After all, vacationing in the Caribbean sounds much more appealing than serving a prison sentence.