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Lotto Flashback 

When Charles T. Howard, the man behind the curtain of New York's infamous 19th century gambling syndicate, wanted to operate his own lottery, he moved on down to New Orleans in 1852 and made a visit to the state Legislature. As legend has it, Howard spread around $300,000 in both chambers. 'Ticket gambling' was born with a wink and a smile.

The following year, a complex system was put into place -- blindfolded youngsters were used to pull tickets out of two barrels. One barrel contained various monetary amounts, while the other held the names of players. As a way to keep the odds in its favor, the old Louisiana lottery would assume that all unsold tickets were its property. So if one of those unsold tickets hit, the company would quietly declare itself as the winner. And the extra jingle was put to good use, especially when 'reform-minded' legislators needed to be greased.

To uphold its quasi-legitimate public image, the late-1800s lottery cut a deal to donate $40,000 of its annual proceeds to the state treasury. Everything else was gravy. In its first year of operations, the lottery reportedly netted more than $1 million.

Surprisingly, only 7 percent of this amount came from Louisiana players. The long arms of the lottery reached across both North and South America, earning it the nickname 'The Octopus.' When several states banned out-of-state lottery games, Howard's bayou team shrewdly sidestepped the prohibition by introducing mail-order tickets.

Two things happened in 1892 to effectively quash the crooked gig. First, Murphy J. Foster was elected governor and convinced the Legislature to kill the lottery's charter. Secondly, the U.S. Supreme Court put an end to tickets through the mail.

Today, the Louisiana Lottery Corp. is aware of its roots but is quick to point out the differences. 'We're very happy to say, that from the very beginning, we've operated in a completely opposite way,' says Randy Davis, the lottery's current president.


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