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Lottery Project via YouTube
Lottery Project via YouTube

A Revealing History of Lotto Scratch-Offs

Lottery Project via YouTube
Lottery Project via YouTube

Two things happened to John Koza in December 1972 that would forever alter the course of state-sponsored gambling. First, Koza earned his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Michigan, cutting him loose from academia. Second, the company he worked for part-time fired him, freeing up the rest of his schedule.

Koza had been an employee of J&H International, a firm specializing in promotional gaming cards that were popular with grocery stores and gas stations in the 1950s and 1960s. The free cards could be compared to supermarket ads in newspapers in a manner similar to the game Bingo: If a card matched the graphic symbols in print, the consumer could win food, money, or prizes.

Koza assisted J&H with odds calculation, making sure the games were fair and the winning cards evenly distributed. Some had a waxy coating that could be rubbed off to reveal prizes—“probability” games that required players to reveal only the winning symbols—and that intrigued him. State lottery drawings were beginning to spread throughout the country, and Koza believed that an “instant” scratch-off game with serious money offered would be preferred over having to wait for a weekly prize drawing.

Koza was confident that the idea would be a hit with lotto players. The trick would be in convincing lotto officials.

Koza was a computer scientist who could handle algorithms; he decided to partner with Dan Bower, a retail promoter and fellow J&H employee who could help sell the notion of instant-win tickets and acted as co-developer. By March 1973, the two were operating Scientific Games Corporation out of Atlanta, Georgia. They flew from state to state explaining their concept—at the time, roughly eight had lotteries—and tried to convince lotto commissions that the games would be secure.

Eventually, Koza and Bower found a guinea pig in Massachusetts. The head of the lotto commission, William Perrault, had graduated from the University of Michigan in 1949 and may have felt a kinship toward Koza. He agreed to give Scientific a shot, ordering 25 million cards for the state.

Koza and Bower put themselves to work in the nascent field of scratch-off lotto and immediately ran into trouble. Federal laws were in place prohibiting the transport of gaming cards across state lines, making their production in Georgia and shipment to Massachusetts a tangle of legal red tape; there were taxes levied on non-horse related gambling, which shouldn’t have applied to the cards but had to be explained to accountants; and there was the concern of counterfeiting, which necessitated a secret recipe for the silicone coating that can be rubbed off with a coin.

The tickets were called “The Instant Game,” with a top prize of $10,000. (Players could also win entry in three monthly $100,000 drawings.) When the scratch-off debuted in May 1974, players in Massachusetts had been buying roughly $1 million dollars’ worth of six-digit lotto drawing tickets every week. By the end of the first seven days of marketing instant-win cards, the state had sold $2.7 million dollars’ worth of them. Just as Koza had predicted, the immediacy of the result proved irresistible to lotto fans.

Scientific Games went on to provide scratch-off tickets for multiple states, growing their revenue from $1.1 million in 1974 to $15 million in 1976. In 1981, Bally Manufacturing bought out the company, leaving Koza a golden ticket of his own. By 1985, California had ordered a staggering 700 million scratch-offs, with Scientific earning two cents for every one they delivered.

J. Money via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The instant-win, however, still had another growth opportunity. In 1985, a small business owner named Cal Tigner stopped off at a convenience store in Oregon and noticed the cashier kept the scratch-off tickets in the register drawer. Tigner bought some, but wondered how much better sales would be if the tickets were visible. That night, he made a cardboard display that sat on a retail counter and dispensed the cards. Graduating to clear plastic, his Take-a-Ticket revolutionized the lotto world, which currently collects more than $75 billion per year from instant win alone [PDF].

As for Koza: While he left Scientific Games in 1987 a wealthy man, he can still appreciate the entertainment value of his creation. In an interview with ScratchCards.org, he confessed to impulsively buying a scratch-off in Quebec. He won $500.

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How Frozen Peas Made Orson Welles Lose It
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

Orson Welles would have turned 103 years old today. While the talented actor/director/writer leaves behind a staggering body of work—including Citizen Kane, long regarded as the best film of all time—the YouTube generation may know him best for what happened when a couple of voiceover directors decided to challenge him while recording an ad for Findus frozen foods in 1970.

The tempestuous Welles is having none of it. You’d do yourself a favor to listen to the whole thing, but here are some choice excerpts.

After he was asked for one more take from the audio engineer:

"Look, I’m not used to having more than one person in there. One more word out of you and you go! Is that clear? I take directions from one person, under protest … Who the hell are you, anyway?"

After it was explained to him that the second take was requested because of a “slight gonk”:

"What is a 'gonk'? Do you mind telling me what that is?"

After the director asks him to emphasize the “in” while saying “In July”:

"Why? That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. … That's just stupid. 'In July?' I'd love to know how you emphasize 'in' in 'in July.' Impossible! Meaningless!"

When the session moved from frozen peas to ads for fish fingers and beef burgers, the now-sheepish directors attempt to stammer out some instructions. Welles's reply:

"You are such pests! ... In your depths of your ignorance, what is it you want?"

Why would the legendary director agree to shill for a frozen food company in the first place? According to author Josh Karp, whose book Orson Welles’s Last Movie chronicles the director’s odyssey to make a “comeback” film in the 1970s, Welles acknowledged the ad spots were mercenary in nature: He could demand upwards of $15,000 a day for sessions, which he could use, in part, to fund his feature projects.

“Why he dressed down the man, I can't say for sure,” Karp says. “But I know that he was a perfectionist and didn't suffer fools, in some cases to the extreme. He used to take a great interest in the ads he made, even when they weren't of his creation.”

The Findus session was leaked decades ago, popping up on radio and in private collections before hitting YouTube. Voiceover actor Maurice LaMarche, who voiced the erudite Brain in Pinky and the Brain, based the character on Welles and would recite his rant whenever he got the chance.

Welles died in 1985 at the age of 70 from a heart attack, his last film unfinished. While some saw the pea endorsement as beneath his formidable talents, he was actually ahead of the curve: By the 1980s, many A-list stars were supplementing their income with advertising or voiceover work.

“He was a brilliant, funny guy,” Karp says. “There's a good chance he'd think the pea commercial was hilarious.” If not, he’d obviously have no problem saying as much.

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How Google Chrome’s New Built-In Ad Blocker Will Change Your Browsing Experience
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If you can’t stand web ads that auto-play sound and pop up in front of what you’re trying to read, you have two options: Install an ad blocker on your browser or avoid the internet all together. Starting Thursday, February 15, Google Chrome is offering another tool to help you avoid the most annoying ads on the web, Tech Crunch reports. Here’s what Google Chrome users should expect from the new feature.

Chrome’s ad filtering has been in development for about a year, but the details of how it will work were only recently made public. “While most advertising on the web is respectful of user experience, over the years we've increasingly heard from our users that some advertising can be particularly intrusive,” Google wrote in a blog post. “As we announced last June, Chrome will tackle this issue by removing ads from sites that do not follow the Better Ads Standards.

That means the new feature won’t block all ads from publishers or even block most of them. Instead, it will specifically target ads that violate the Better Ad Standards that the Coalition for Better Ads recommends based on consumer data. On desktop, this includes auto-play videos with sound, sticky banners that follow you as you scroll, pop-ups, and prestitial ads that make you wait for a countdown to access the site. Mobile Chrome users will be spared these same types of ads as well as flashing animations, ads that take up more than 30 percent of the screen, and ads the fill the whole screen as you scroll past them.

These criteria still leave room for plenty of ads to show up online—the total amount of media blocked by the feature won’t even amount to 1 percent of all ads. So if web browsers are looking for an even more ad-free experience, they should use Chrome’s ad filter as a supplement to one of the many third-party ad blockers out there.

And if accessing content without navigating a digital obstacle course first doesn’t sound appealing to you, don’t worry: On sites where ads are blocked, Google Chrome will show a notification that lets you disable the feature.

[h/t Tech Crunch]

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