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.
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.