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The Big Spin is the California Lottery's first television game show. Originally a Fred Tatashore production, it was later an Alexander Media Services production, followed by a production of Cal Image, and then finally a Jonathan Goodson Production.

The Big Spin
Created byFred Tatashore
Presented byChuck Woolery
Geoff Edwards
Larry Anderson
Jack Gallagher
Pat Finn
Maiquel Alejo
Narrated byCharlie O'Donnell
Rich Hardaway
Jackie Taylor
Randy West
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons24
No. of episodes1,213
Executive producer(s)Jonathan Goodson
Running time22 Minutes (without commercials)
Original networkSyndicated (weekly, California only)
Original releaseOctober 28, 1985 (1985-10-28) –
January 10, 2009 (2009-01-10)

It ended with a fixed top prize of $3 million and a minimum guaranteed cash prize of $1,750. The total cash and prizes given in 2007 came out to $17,872,500, the most money given away in a game show that year, therefore being "the biggest money game show on Earth" as its introduction stated.[1]

Originally, the show was taped in Hollywood, California at Hollywood Center Studios. From 1986 to 1998, the show was taped in Sacramento, Mike Side hosted a short time when the show was done at the KTXL studios in Sacramento, CA. The state capital as well as headquarters of the lottery. From 1999 until the end of its run, the show was taped in Hollywood at KCET Studios.[2]

The Big Spin ended as the second longest-running lottery game show[3] on January 10, 2009, over 23 years since its first broadcast in October 1985; it was replaced with Make Me a Millionaire on January 17.[4][5]



The show debuted October 28, 1985 with Chuck Woolery as host and Charlie O'Donnell as the announcer.[6] The two previously worked together on Wheel of Fortune. Only three weeks later, however, Woolery left the program after its November 18 broadcast to concentrate on hosting Scrabble and Love Connection. On November 25, Woolery was succeeded by Geoff Edwards, who would soon host the Canadian-produced Chain Reaction, requiring him to commute between the two countries. Edwards hosted the show until January 21, 1995.

For a six-week period after Edwards left, various guest hosts were used in what were on-air auditions for a permanent job. Among those who did so were former Match Game host Ross Shafer, comedian (and That's My Dog host) Wil Shriner, and Peter Tomarken of Press Your Luck. In addition, future hosts Larry Anderson and Jack Gallagher each hosted an episode.

On February 4, 1995 Anderson (who also hosted the 1980s version of Truth or Consequences) took over as the show's host. On September 14, 1996 Anderson was replaced by Gallagher, who remained with the show until December 26, 1998.

On January 2, 1999 Pat Finn (of Shop til you Drop fame) took over the show, which was briefly retitled Big Spin 2000 to herald the new millennium. During Finn's reign as host, an award honoring a "Hero In Education" would be presented each month by a celebrity guest. The California Lottery has donated over $20 billion to state public schools since its inception in 1985.

Other talentEdit

By 1993, there were so many Spanish-speaking contestants on the show that Maiquel Alejo (known as Maiquel Suarez until 1997) was brought in as co-host, in addition to serving as a translator for Spanish-speaking contestants.

The announcer for at least the first three months was Charlie O'Donnell, then Rich Hardaway until 1999, followed by Jackie Taylor from 1999 to 2003 (who also filled in for Maiquel as co-host during her 2001 maternity leave).

Veteran game show announcer Randy West joined in 2004 and was the show's final on-camera personnel change prior to its cancellation.

Getting on the showEdit

When the California Lottery first started, there was only one kind of scratcher ticket. All participants who won a $100 prize sent in their tickets to participate in a random draw; one out of every 2,000 tickets sent in was selected, and the participant qualified for The Big Spin. (In the earliest days, there were 20 spins per week, not all of which were televised.) Later, instead of the $100 winners qualifying for the draw, qualifying tickets had their own symbol; as more of these tickets were printed, the chance of qualifying for the draw became 1 in 4,000.[citation needed] During a point in the Geoff Edwards run, a bonus drawing was also featured, in which a winning scratch-off ticket was drawn at random, and the person who mailed it in won a car.

Ultimately, for participation in Aces High or the Big Wheel, the lottery produced a Big Spin scratcher. This scratcher has numerous dollar amounts from $1 to $500. There are also TV SHOW, SPIN, and TICKET spaces. Matching three of a given word or amount wins the specified prize. TV SHOW scratcher winners went to the 10-person elimination rounds, while SPIN scratcher winners went right up to the Big Wheel, usually at the end of the show.

Although the show ended with its last broadcast on January 10, 2009, replaced the following week by Make Me a Millionaire, Big Spin Scratchers remained in circulation for a few months. During that time, winners who would have gone to The Big Spin had a choice - become a contestant on Make Me a Millionaire, or spin the wheel or play Aces High on an untelevised Big Spin episode.[7]

A player who bought a $5 Fantasy 5 ticket got a coupon to mail in for a "second-chance" draw. Winners of this random draw originally played the Fantasy 5 Dream Machine on The Big Spin, but later became contestants on Make Me a Millionaire.[7]

Set and musicEdit

The original stage set featured two walls and the wheel. The left wall consisted of the California Lottery symbol and pictures of various California landmarks. The right wall, colored in pink and purple, displayed more pictures of the state of California.

When Geoff Edwards became the host and the show moved to Sacramento, the set became completely white and without ornamentation. In 1991, a new set was introduced along with the second theme song. The show continued to provide a new set for each new host. The final set, introduced in 2004 with Aces High, had the big wheel hidden behind a set of doors until it was time to spin the wheel.

The original theme song, composed by T.J. Knowles, was used from 1985 to 1991. The second theme song was used from 1991 to 1994. The third theme song was used from 1995 to 1998. The fourth theme song was a revamped version of one of the prize cues used on The Price Is Right[citation needed], while the final theme was composed by Tim Mosher and Stoker.

During its earlier years, the show featured certain licensed music as some of the cues; e.g., the show used Bebu Silvetti's "Spring Rain", and, whenever the wheel would be spun, the music was from NFL Films.

When Jonathan Goodson Productions took over the program, the well-known "clangs and whoops" sound, also from The Price Is Right, were used whenever a contestant won the top prize. When it filmed in Sacramento, clanging cymbals and noisemakers would be heard during such an occasion (sometimes an alarm or a fire raid siren would be heard, as well).


The Big WheelEdit

Spinning disturbed a ball, which then bounced off pegs along the circumference of the 100-space wheel. This wheel differed from other game-show wheels in that it did not have a flipper to slow it down (with the exception of the "Deal Wheel" from the U.S. syndicated version of Deal or No Deal). Whatever space the ball rested in with the wheel's momentum stopped for at least five seconds was the amount won. The wheel had to make three complete revolutions in order for the spin to be considered valid.

When the series started, the wheel was made up of 40 $10,000 spaces, 30 $50,000 spaces, 20 $100,000 spaces, and 10 $2-million spaces. When Geoff Edwards took over, the $2-million spaces were replaced by five $1-million and five $3-million spaces. Later still, the $3-million spaces were replaced by a sixth $1-million, a 41st $10,000, and three "Grand Prize" spaces (the jackpot started at $3 million and went up $25,000 per spin; there were 20 spins per week, not all of which were shown, and the highest jackpot won was $15,220,000[citation needed]). After that, the wheel added $25K, $50K, $100K, and $500K spaces, along with a "DOUBLE" space; landing on it earned another spin at double value, including the "Grand Prize".

When the state started Lotto in 1986 (which was the main reason most people voted for a lottery in the first place),[citation needed] interest in the "scratch-off ticket" games that led to the show dropped sharply, and so did the prizes. As such, in 1988, the "Grand Prize" spaces were changed to $1-million spaces.

On August 22, 1987, a truck driver from Los Angeles, Dave Flynn, spun the wheel, and landed on the "Grand Prize" slot, and won $3,825,000. During that run of the "Grand Prize" slot, it was a progressive jackpot that started at $3 Million dollars, and for each spin that it was not won, the grand prize slot grew $25,000 per spin.

In 1995, the wheel was changed again, as "DECISION" spaces were added, which offered a player $50,000 to stop or another spin of the wheel, at the risk of landing on a smaller amount. In 1999, the "DOUBLE" and "DECISION" spaces were removed in favor of "TRIPLE" spaces, which earned a second spin at triple value. Any subsequent spins that land on "DOUBLE" or "TRIPLE" did not count and the wheel was respun. These spins were cut from the show as they did not influence the outcome.

By the end of the series, a spin of the wheel always closed the show, whether the spinner got three "SPIN"s on the Big Spin scratcher or was the winner of Aces High.

The top winner of Aces High went up to spin the "Big Wheel". People who had "SPIN" three times on "Big Spin" Scratchers also got to spin the wheel, although ultimately they did so without being televised when they had the alternative of going to Make Me a Millionaire.[7]

10-player roundsEdit

In these games, introduced in 1995, ten players competed for a chance to go to the Big Wheel. One player would go on, the rest would get various amounts of money.

From Fall 1992 to January 21, 1995, everyone went up to a giant "Scratcher" dubbed the "Super Scratcher Board" which was a screen with 16 numbers. The contestant chose 2 numbers, and the contestant could either take $40,000 guaranteed, or keep their numbers. Each number had either a wheel symbol, a wheel symbol with the word "Bonus" underneath it, or $25,000. If the contestant matched 2 wheel symbols, they would spin the wheel, if they matched wheel symbols with the word "Bonus", they spun the wheel, and the special "Bonus" slot on the wheel was activated, and a player landing on that won $2,000,000. If they matched the $25,000 spaces, they walked away with that.

Winner's CircleEdit

A simple game of chance. Ran from 2/4/95–11/98.

Ten players stood around a circular maze. A motorized ball named "Scooter" was dropped in the center, moving randomly. The game ended when the ball fell through a hole. The player standing behind the hole went on to the Big Wheel round; the others won $1,500.

California CountdownEdit

The first two-round elimination game. Ran from 11/98–12/26/98.

Ten players stood behind a letter in the word "CALIFORNIA." When announced, the amounts were displayed. Seven players won a cash amount from $1,750 to $2,500. Three players then went to the second round, where each player chose a part of a California map (or one of three surfboards). One player went to the Big Wheel, the others won cash.

California GoldEdit

Ran from 1/02/99–12/03.

The first round had ten players, each standing behind a mock dynamite plunger. Players pushed down the plunger, revealing either the word "Gold" or a money amount (which would be either $1,750, $2,000, $2,500, or $4,000). The second round originally had gold dust from January to May 1999, which later changed to gold nuggets in boxes suspended by pegs. The second format lasted from May 1999 to December 2003. The player to get the most gold dust or nuggets without going over 10 advanced to the Big Wheel, and the loser got $5,000.

In the event the players were tied, the buckets used prior to the tie were taken out, and the gold carts were emptied. Finn asked each player to pick another bucket, and whoever had the most gold got to spin the wheel.

Aces HighEdit

The last 10-player elimination round, introduced in 2004. Usually played near the beginning of the show, but if there were no people going directly to the wheel, it was in the second half. Rarely, two Aces High games were played.

First roundEdit

There were 20 cards on a conveyor belt, 10 of which were visible at any time. Each player stood behind one of the cards, which were either:

  • One of two Aces
  • A $4,000 card
  • A $2,500 card
  • One of two $2,000 cards
  • One of four $1,750 cards

All players entered a vote to advance the cards 1, 2, or 3 spaces. The cards then moved to a starting position, determined by random draw, and finally they moved the sum of all players' votes, from 10 to 30 spaces. The people who got money cards won the amount on the card. The two people who got the Aces went on to the second round.

Second roundEdit

The two players who won the second round competed for the chance to go to the Big Wheel. Each player had four card wheels, each with three cards: the Queen, the King, and the Ace. The hand was randomly determined by spinning all four wheels, and by the player pressing down on a card to stop them. The ranks, from highest to lowest, were:

  1. Four of a Kind
  2. Three of a Kind
  3. Two Pair
  4. One Pair

After the first spin, the player with the lowest hand could spin any of his cards to try to get a better hand. If the player succeeded, the other player had a chance to spin. If the hands were tied, a one-card tiebreaker occurred.

The loser got $5,000; the winner went to the Big Wheel (see above).

Fantasy 5 Dream MachineEdit

A bean machine-like game, introduced in 1995 and named the "Fantasy 5 Dream Machine" because a player had to purchase five tickets to receive an entry form, which was filled out and sent in; one or more entries were drawn for each show.

At the start, the player pushed a button starting the first play, depositing a ball into the machine. The ball then bounced off pins and "spinners" to land in one of five spaces (from left to right):

  • $30,000
  • $10,000
  • $40,000
  • $25,000
  • $20,000

On subsequent plays, if the ball landed in an occupied space, the amount from that space was deducted, but the amount would be won back if the ball landed in that space again. The maximum was five plays; the contestant had the ability to stop at any time. If all five spaces were filled at the end of the game, a $25,000 bonus was added for a total of $150,000; otherwise, the player won the total of the amounts from the spaces filled by one or three balls apiece. Only twice was the $150,000 won.

From 2004 to 2009, if there were no contestants going directly to the wheel at the end of the show, three Fantasy 5 Dream Machines were played, with Aces High in the second half of the show.

Other gamesEdit

During the run of the show, various other games were played, all tying into various instant tickets. Some of these games would carry over to, or came from, other states' lottery shows:

  • Whirl Win—later used as Money Machine on Illinois' Luckiest, with a time limit of 45 seconds instead of 30, and with $50,000 as the top prize.
  • High Roller—originally used as Coney Island Coaster on NY Wired.
  • Camelot's Riches—originally used as Steeple Chase in Florida on Flamingo Fortune (also used as Rolling Thunder in Illinois on a special episode of Illinois' Luckiest for the Illinois Lottery's 25th anniversary), the prize was $100,000 instead of $250,000 (and $50,000 in Illinois).
  • Fantasy 5 Dream Machine—originally used as Double Dollars from Illinois Instant Riches/Illinois' Luckiest (also called Freefall on Bonus Bonanza in Massachusetts, and Lake Placid Racer on NY Wired), but with eight slots instead of five, no assigned money amount to each slot ($5,000 each time a contestant hits an empty slot), and using strikes rather than taking away money.
  • Twice as Grand Prix—The concept would be carried into the first game of the first episode of the quarterly show Make Me Rich for the Michigan Lottery. The "picking from 12 numbers" board, however, came from Illinois Instant Riches, Flamingo Fortune, and NY Wired, and never had been featured on The Big Spin.

Whirl Win (1995–1998)Edit

A player takes part in trying to get as much money as possible in 30 seconds in two glass boxes. The player can pick specially marked sheets from the ground or in the air and put them in boxes on his or her sides. When time is up, the player's winnings are counted in the boxes and in their hands. There are one hundred sheets marked $100, and ten sheets with $1,000. If the player gets the marked sheet worth $25,000, the player automatically wins that amount. The format is similar to the bonus round in the 2002–2003 version of Beat The Clock, and the bonus round of The Diamond Head Game.

Monopoly (1995)Edit

One lottery winner played in this adaptation of the board game. The player was given four rolls of the dice. Starting at GO, the player began by choosing to move forward either 2 or 7 spaces, which takes him/her to either Community Chest or Chance, sending the player to yet another space on the board. Each property conceals either an amount of money from $4,000 to $7,000, or a Top Hat. If a Top Hat is revealed, the player can either cash it in for $10,000 or keep it in an attempt to find a second one. The player also places hotels on two properties which adds an extra $7,500 if he/she lands on that property. Landing on Go to Jail halved the winnings, but did not take away the Top Hat. Income Tax took a fourth of the winnings, Luxury Tax took $750 away; passing GO earns $200. Getting two Top Hats bumped the winnings to $50,000.

The first game was taped in Sacramento on February 24, 1995, and was broadcast on March 4, 1995. Dan Baker, of South San Francisco, was the very first contestant.

Dream Home (1996)Edit

Three players begin the game. Each player chooses a key, which opens one of three doors. Behind each door is either $1,000, $2,000, or a large key, which means the player wins a chance at the grand prize.

In the second round, the player chooses three keys out of 18 available. 16 keys win an amount of money associated with one area of the home (from the $10,000 patio/backyard to the $40,000 garage), 2 keys for each of eight rooms. One key opened the booby prize—the $8,000 closet—and one opened the grand prize: a $180,000 dream home. After each key is used, the player can choose to take the room they won or give it up for the next key.

Wizard of Odds (1996–1997)Edit

Three players took part. Each player took turns hitting a button, which sent a ball up from a hopper containing 100 balls. Most balls had a dollar amount from $1,000 to $6,000, which was added to the player's score. Other balls won bonus turns, took money away, or disqualified a player immediately. Some balls had a lightning bolt on them; if one of them was drawn, the player could cash it in for $10,000 or hold on to it in the hopes of drawing a second lightning bolt. If successful, the player won $50,000. Otherwise, each player got 5 turns. The minimum a player could win was $4,000.

Fame and Fortune (1998–1999)Edit

Three players started. In the original version, each player chose a letter from a board of 16, each number having a number from 1 to 16. The two players with the highest numbers advanced to the next round; the third place player left with $5,000. In the second round, the board had 9 numbers, each concealing an amount of money from $7,000 to $13,000. The player who chose the higher amount advanced to the third round, the loser took home the amount he/she picked.

In the third round, the player chose one of four stars. Three concealed amounts of money which were added to the player's total, while one hid another star behind it, which won $75,000. During "Big Spin 2000", a couple changes were made: Only the player got to see the number/money amount chosen. After everyone picked, the player secretly decided to keep their picks or make another choice from the board.

Fun in the Sun (1997–1998)Edit

Four players played. Each player chose one of four keys. One key unlocked the door to a 1998 Ford Mustang. After all the keys were chosen, the players tried to unlock the door, one by one. The player that unlocked the car won it, along with $12,000 for taxes and licensing fees. The others left with $2,500.

High Roller (1999–2002)Edit

Two players played. At the beginning, a ball was sent along a track which consisted of five hills and six valleys. The ball rolled back and forth among the hills until it settled into one of the valleys. The player who controlled that valley (each player had 3) went on to the next round, the other player took home $5,000.

In the second round, the ball was sent along the track again, with the valleys worth from $20,000 to $75,000. After that, the player could stop with the money he/she won or send the ball down the track one more time. For this third go-round, three valleys double the player's total, one valley added $10,000, and two valleys cut the player's winnings in half. The maximum possible prize is $150,000.

Camelot's Riches (2001–2003)Edit

One player took part. In the first round, the player set seven balls—four gold, two black—down a track of ramps. The balls could split up and collide until they reached the bottom of the track and crossed the finish line. If a black ball finished first, the player won $10,000; if a gold ball finished first, the player got $25,000.

For the second round, there were four gold and four black balls used. A black ball winning the race earned the player $10,000 more, while a gold ball won $75,000. After the third round, the player could either play the third round with three gold and four black balls, or with six gold and three black balls. The second set, however, would cost the player half his/her winnings at that point. A black ball coming in first added nothing, a gold ball finishing first added $75,000, but if the gold balls came in first, second, and third, the player won $250,000.

Twice as Grand Prix/Weekly Payday Raceway (2001–2003)Edit

Each heat begins with six lottery players. The six players were grouped into three groups of two. For each group, the player reached into a pouch and drew one of three balls out. Two were green, one was red. If a green ball was drawn, the other player took a turn with one green and one red ball. If a red ball was drawn, that player was out and the other player advanced. The winning player then tried to draw the green ball again for a one-space head start in the race. (This rule was not used in the final championship race.)

When the race began, each player selected to go 1 or 3 spaces. The player who chose a different number than the other two got to move forward that number of spaces. After two rounds, the choice became 2 or 4 spaces. The first player to go 5 spaces and cross the finish line advanced to the final round. The final round was played between the three winners of each heat, and the eventual champion won $2,000 a week for 20 years ($2,080,000 total).


Following the show's ending in 2009, the wheel was placed into the California Lottery State Museum in Sacramento as part of a permanent exhibit. Guests of the museum are allowed to spin the wheel.


  1. ^ Archived from the original on January 2, 2008. Retrieved January 13, 2008. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Los Angeles Resident Wins More Than $2 Million Archived January 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Andreeva, Nellie. "3 Ball takes chance on lottery game show". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  4. ^ "The Big Spin" Show Signs Off, Making Way for "Make Me A Millionaire", 2009 1st Quarter Press Release, California State Lottery, January 9, 2009. Retrieved March 14, 2009. Archived January 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Commission Advisory, Videos of the Commission Meeting" of December 3, 2008, Agenda Item 7E, California State Lottery. Archived March 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Quietly Wealthy". The Milwaukee Journal. 29 October 1985. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  7. ^ a b c Make Me a Millionaire FAQ, California State Lottery Archived February 7, 2009, at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit