The white balls in the New York State Lottery’s game machines are doing their midafternoon flutter, zooming and bouncing inside plastic bins like giant kernels of popcorn.
Makita Bond stands ready in the Lottery’s downtown Schenectady television studio. With just a few minutes before the winning digits present themselves for the “Numbers” and “Win 4” games, Bond is doing her midafternoon heart flutter. Announcing winning numbers live for millions of Lottery fans watching in New York and neighboring states can be hard on the nerves.
At 12:27 p.m., Bond is cool and classy. Dressed in a yellow, platinum-and- black-striped blouse and slate-gray slacks, she is ready to annunciate. The winning “Numbers” are 4, 5 and 1; the “Win 4” bin swings around on the Lottery’s circular set, and 2, 7, 8 and 7 pop into view for both Bond and ticket holders watching at home and office.
“Have a great day, New York,” Bond says. In about 35 seconds, the show is over and Makita can turn down her heart volume.
“I don’t have as much jitters as I used to, but my heart still beats like a thousand times a minute,” said Bond, 24, one of three new women who began math assignments for Lottery in July.
“Everybody looks at the TV and they’re worrying, ‘Is Makita going to pick out my number? Am I going to be a millionaire tonight or in the morning?’ So it’s very important I get it correct.”
Bond became a winner herself this spring, when the Lottery began a national search for three new members of its draw team. Gretchen Dizer and Jina Matthews also were chosen, out of more than 1,000 men and women who mailed in photos and resumes.
Now the rookies, along with veteran announcer (and celebrity) Yolanda Vega and experienced numerologists Marissa Rodriguez and Sarah Pingel, announce winning numbers at mid-day, early evening and late night. They travel around the state, visiting county fairs, sports events, concerts and community events to spread Lottery goodwill.
One woman is on the air daily for the midday “Numbers” and “Win 4;” more numbers are read around 7:37 p.m. for the evening version of the two games. Relaying information for “Take 5” happens at 11:21 p.m. — on Wednesdays and Saturdays, “Lotto” details are part of the detail.
The team can also be tabbed to call numbers for “Mega Millions.” Winning numbers for the multistate game are chosen Tuesdays and Fridays at 11 p.m., but the draw usually takes place in Atlanta.
Lottery spokeswoman Carolyn Hapeman said announcers have been used since Lottery hooked up with television for live drawings in 1976. The first people behind the camera were used to television; singer Dean Martin and actor Telly “Kojak” Savalas read the numbers. Other celebrities also wanted in.
“It was so new, they all wanted to be part of the rich-and-famous aura,” Hapeman said.
Male and female announcers with less stellar backgrounds followed. The public fell in love with Vega, who started her TV job in 1990 and whose distinctive manner of identifying herself — “Yoooo-landa Vega” — quickly made her a Lottery icon.
For the new voices and faces, Hapeman said, 100 of the 1,000 applicants were chosen for telephone interviews and Lottery staffers gauged articulation and level of interest. Fifty were chosen for auditions and 10 more were called back for second tryouts. Then it was down to Makita, Gretchen and Jina.
Bond, 24, grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, and landed a television job shortly after graduating from Queensboro Community College with a degree in liberal arts in 2004. She became the host of “Whatcha Got On,” a cable access music video show that aired in Atlanta, Detroit and Jamaica (West Indies). She was used to broadcast cameras; she was not used to talking to live audiences.
“It’s much more about focus,” Bond said of the new gig. “As much as I’m a goofball, I have to be very straight and focus when it comes to doing the drawing because it’s no joke. I’m getting used to it.”
Bond is working on her calm. She doesn’t have to worry her closet — she knows how to dress, and hopes her sassy tastes in clothing will help attract younger people to Lottery games.
Dizer, also 24, is working on the fashion angle.
“Wardrobe is an issue for me,” said Dizer, from Tonawanda (near Buffalo) and a 2006 graduate of Niagara University. “I was never a big shopper. I’ll wear whatever is around, generally, and when I have to dress up, I’ll dress up. But the whole world of the business fashion was very new to me, so I’ve been getting a lot of coaching and help with it.”
Like Bond, she also had a case of nerves. But only in the beginning.
“During auditions, my calves were shaking and I thought I was going to fall over,” she said. “But once I got the job, it went away. I don’t get nervous anymore. . . . They hired me for a reason, my smile and my personality, and I just have to do my best to make sure those come out. To be nervous or to think about ‘Oh, I’m going to be on the camera soon’ doesn’t help me convey that.”
Dizer majored in theater performance and also studied communications at Niagara, and uses both for her Lottery duties. She also gets the chance to travel, and likes meeting her public — especially people who have cashed in.
“It’s interesting to be able to connect with them on a human level, talk to them and be excited for them and then they get more excited,” Dizer said. “To give them the check, it’s a formality, but it’s a fun thing to deal with. I like it because it shows everybody else out there who thinks people don’t win these things that people do win these things, and they’re normal people just like everybody else. It gives people that encouragement that they can dream about something cool happening to them. It’s cool to be a part of that.”
Jina Matthews, 25, thinks it’s cool to travel the state.
“The most fun part of the job is meeting all the Lottery fans,” she said. “I am a people person and I love to talk and meet new people.”
Matthews, a native of Silver Spring, Md., remembers watching Lottery drawings in Maryland as a small girl and trying to predict numbers that would emerge victorious. She graduated from Towson University in Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a minor in studio art. Before her big score with the Lottery, she was working in radio — doing promotions and event planning at WBIG in Washington, D.C.
Jumping into a live gig was tough at first.
“I definitely practiced the script over and over in my head,” Matthews said. “I’ll probably never be able to forget them now.”
Some people can’t forget Jina. Her fan base is building.
“I’ve only been recognized once, that was at America’s Fair in Hamburg [near Buffalo],” Matthews said. “It was a sweet little couple and it seemed like they watched the drawings regularly. They noticed I was one of the new girls there and they knew all the girls by name, too. So we do have some true fans out there.”
Besides the publicity and public relations perks, the Lottery women get to choose wardrobe worn during broadcasts from Burlington Coat Factory, which receives an on-air credit. They just can’t keep the blouses, skirts and pantsuits.
Outlandish clothing is not allowed.
“It’s not a joke to people who have wagered a dollar with the hopes of earning something back,” Hapeman said. “There’s an old saying, ‘At the Lottery, we’re very serious about our fun.’ ”
There can be serious moments on the Lottery set. Viewers might miss some, and catch others.
“If you do, by any chance happen to read a number incorrectly, everybody in the room will scream ‘Recap!’ and you have to react without hesitation, without jumping,” Dizer said. “At some point, you might be on-camera and say the date wrong. It’s just ‘Excuse me, that last number was . . . ’ or ‘Excuse me, the date is . . . ’ ”
And just because company rules say draw team members cannot buy Lottery tickets — neither can anyone in their families — that doesn’t mean the women can’t root against certain representatives from the prime and composite sets popping up during their shifts.
“There are these two numbers, number 9 and number 6, that are haunting me,” Bond said. The numbers are obviously similar, but there’s a small, spelled-out “six” and “nine” under each ball.
“You don’t know if it’s a 9 or a 6 unless it stops and you have to really look close to it,” Bond said. “And they come up all the time. Only with me though, I don’t know why.”