Press Your Luck – Michael Larson “Scandal”

Who else remembers this from the 1980s? To me there was no scandal just a guy who studied a flaw in the game and used it.

In 1984 Michael Larson had a part time job in the summer selling ice cream. He must have had a lot of spare time selling ice cream. He watched the game show “Press Your Luck” and noticed a pattern to the show. When playing you would have to press the button to stop the lights on a square. He noticed that all in all it had 5 patterns and never deviated. He would pause the VCR to study when to stop. No internet at that time so he studied it for around 6 months.

He also knew which squares always held the most money and free spins.

He used all of his life savings and bought a ticket to Los Angeles. When he got there he went to a second hand shop and bought a cheap suit. When he auditioned for the show, one producer was suspicious because Michael was a tad too confident and talked too much. Another producer interviewed him and thought he was fine and let him on the show. He would regret that decision.

Press Your Luck was pretty straightforward. Each episode began with the show’s host, Peter Tomarken, asking the three contestants a series of multiple choice questions.

Whoever buzzed first and answered correctly earned three “spins” on the “Big Board,” the prized centerpiece of the game show…that looked like this.

press your luck no whammies GIF

In the game if you hit a “Whammy” you would lose all the money you had and your turn. In the first round Michael did hit a whammy so he looked completely normal. From that point on he didn’t make another mistake.

In the second round  he got a spin and he took off from there.

After Michael started he went from just over 2000 dollars to $110,237 plus a trip to Bahamas, Kauai and a sailboat. He knew the patterns of the game and exploited it. He kept stopping the lights on money and free spin squares. He was not afraid of hitting a whammy because he knew exactly what he was doing. The funning thing is he could have went on and got more than he did.

They had to pause the game and continue on the next show because Michael kept winning and against all the game’s logic going for it. Of course now we know why he kept going for it. He knew exactly what he was doing and exactly how to beat the board. The average contestant hit a whammy 1 out of 6 spins…Larson we 45 straight spins without hitting one.

CBS was furious…At first they refused to pay him because in their mind he cheated. They looked through their own rules but could not find a way to disqualify him from the game. They did not invite him back to the next game but hey had to pay him.

CBS banned the episode for 19 years after he won…plus him from ever returning not only to this game but any other CBS game show.

Michael Brockman, then head of CBS daytime programming.“Pilots are test vehicles, and you can cut corners,”  “On this show, what was expensive to create was the light pattern on the board. No one wanted to spend that much money on the pilot. And then the pattern wasn’t improved enough when the show went into production.”

Soon after Larson’s triumph, the board was reprogrammed with 32 patterns, ensuring his method wouldn’t work again. The show went off the air in 1986.

Unfortunately that was the high point for Larson the rest of his life.

Larson did invest some of the money in Ohio real estate, he also lost $50,000 in a home burglary. Larson had the cash on hand because he was trying to beat a radio game that offered a prize if you matched announced numbers with those on a $1 bill. He was robbed when he was at a Christmas Party.

He eventually took a job as an assistant manager at Walmart. Michael got swept up in an illegal pyramid scheme called Pleasure Time Incorporated that stole $3 million from 20,000 investors who thought they were buying shares in a Native American lottery company. The FBI, SEC and IRS were investigating him.

Larson failed at several get rich quick schemes, his all-consuming hobby. Ultimately, he died of throat cancer in 1999.

Press Your Luck was back on air in 2003. They brought the other two original contestants back along with Michael’s brother James…yep James won over 6000 dollars.

Here is the episode…Larson kept going for it and winning that they had to spread it over two episodes.

This is a Good Morning America Episode 10 years after the Press Your Luck Episode.

The show were his brother James was invited to play against the two original contestants his brother beat back in 1984.

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

23 thoughts on “Press Your Luck – Michael Larson “Scandal””

    1. During summer vacation there were a few of the game shows I would watch once in a while and this was one of them. It got a spot on the news that summer. Yea he beat them fair and square.


    1. I remember it because it was summer vacation and I watched it once in awhile…and it was on the news that summer. The guy saw a flaw and exploited it…and just kept winning.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. He kept wearing out two blocks that never have whammys and usually has a lot of money and a free spin.
      Unbelievable that they called him a cheater at first…I would have done the same thing. He would watch I think two paticular squares light up and he knew where they were going next.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think I remember the name but never saw the show. Too bad , I say hats off to Michael. Wasn’t cheating, just got better at understanding it. The producers should have been fired (well I guess they all were in fairly short order) for making it so easy to get the better of.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That brings up card counting…I see nothing wrong with it. If you can do it in your mind…without using anything…how is that cheating? To me that is a strategy.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I remember watching a lot of Match Game, Name That Tune & Hollywood Squares with my grandmother. I do not remember this one or the scandal. But, I agree. Cheating is breaking rules. Learning patterns and crafting a legitimate strategy is not cheating. Strategists win wars. Another strategy is to be well read, like Ken Jennings.

    Card counters are always going to be the bane of the existence of casinos. About five good ones would destroy one. It isn’t cheating, they are just better than the casinos. The casinos must always win or they wouldn’t exist for long.

    Games are only as good as the integrity of the game, itself and the players.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can’t believe CBS tried to wiggle out of it. Yea the house doesn’t like to lose.

      Yea I don’t see how they can even do something to card counting but they do. I guess if you can do it…you do it in shifts…win some big money and lose some to make it look real and come back months or maybe a year later.

      You would have to be smart about it and not go for broke.


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