July 11--The lottery lady is staying on WGN-Ch. 9, at least for another year.
After flirting with digital alternatives, the Illinois Lottery has agreed to a discounted one-year deal to keep the live drawings on the Tribune Co. station, its television home since 1994.
"We've reached an agreement with the Lottery," Greg Easterly, president and general manager of WGN-TV, said in an email. "They've been great partners with us over the years. WGN has a long tradition with the Lottery and we're ecstatic our relationship is continuing."
Under the agreement, which took effect in July, the Lottery will pay WGN-TV an estimated $905,000, covering air time, production costs and talent, according to officials. That is a discount to last year's $1.2 million contract, reflecting the loss of downstate viewers after cable channel WGN America stopped carrying the evening drawings in February.
The Lottery pays WGN-TV to air two live broadcasts each day -- during the noon and 9 p.m. newscasts. The format has been the same for decades, with glamorous hosts drawing numbered ping pong balls out of glass machines for a variety of lottery games.
Local TV stations competed for the exclusive broadcast rights in the '80s and '90s, but the live drawings have become something less than must-see TV in the digital age. A number of games, such as "Hit or Miss," exist entirely in cyberspace, with a random number generator housed in the Lottery's Springfield office conducting four virtual drawings each day.
The decision by WGN America to replace the "News at Nine" with national programming was a catalyst for Lottery officials to consider whether the virtual technology might be just as effective for the big jackpot Lotto drawings.
While the Lottery decided to stay with WGN-TV for another year, it is still exploring digital alternatives, as well as the possibility of developing its own statewide network of television stations going forward, according to Michael Jones, Illinois Lottery Superintendent.
"We're going to send a general letter to every television station in Illinois," Jones said.
Jones said the Lottery remains open to a variety of ideas, including turning longtime "Lottery Lady" Linda Kollmeyer into an avatar for virtual online drawings. For now, Kollmeyer will continue to host the televised drawings in the flesh, according to Jones.
"We're working on it now," said Jones. "Our objective is to make these drawings as widely available as possible."
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