The Most Money Ever Won On 'Press Your Luck'

The TV game show "Press Your Luck" hosted by actress Elizabeth Banks was rebooted in 2019 and as of 2022, the show remained in production (via IMDb). The original "Press Your Luck" game show, hosted by Peter David Tomarken, was on the air in the mid-1980s for three seasons (per IMDb). In 1984, in the show's second year, a contestant named Michael Larson, an Ohio truck driver, won the most money in the program's history when adjusted for inflation.  

In 2022, a California woman and mother of two named FaLawna Barton won $265,000 in her second appearance on the new "Press Your Luck," according to California news outlet ABC10 News San Diego. As of this report, in today's money, Larson's single-day winnings record still stands. 

Larson's total was also the largest one-day earnings on a game show at that time, as The Hollywood Reporter explains. Even then, Larson's performance seemed too good to be true, and in some sense, it was. The "Press Your Luck” game show is played when contestants correctly answer a question which then earns them a spin on an 18-space board (pictured). Stop the cursor at the right point and win cash and prizes, land on a "whammy" instead, and lose everything, including all prizes and cumulative cash earnings. In 1984, Larson's sole appearance on the show was impressive, but he later stood accused of cheating.

Larson hacked the system

Whether or not Larson cheated to win the most money ever on "Press Your Luck" (when adjusted for inflation) is a matter of some debate. What's for certain, as a viewer, Larson noticed a repeated pattern in how the game was played and exploited it. As THR goes on to report, at that time, the cursor on the "Press your Luck” board followed one of six patterns. Larson taught himself how to recognize each, and in doing so, he managed to avoid a "whammy" — not once, not twice, but 45 times in a row, a statistical impossibility.

Michael Brockman, a producer on the show at that time later said the board was programmed with a limited number of patterns as a cost-saving measure. No one knew at that time if the show would be picked up beyond the pilot, and once it was, no one bothered to change it. Larson performed so well and earned so much money without ever landing on a "whammy" that the network took notice and, at first, refused to pay Larson his money. In Brockman's opinion, though, Larson didn't cheat, he simply noticed a fatal flaw in the system and used it to his advantage. Eventually, CBS acquiesced and Larson received his winnings.

Larson won around $110,000

As the New York Post reports, in Larson's single appearance on "Press Your Luck," he won a bit more than $110,000 and a number of prizes, or roughly $315,000 in 2022's money (via CPI Inflation Calculator). With today's million-dollar game show payouts, that might not seem like much, per GoBankingRates, but as the Post points out, in 1984, $110,000 was more than four times what could be won on other games shows on the air at that time, like "The $25,000 Pyramid," and Larson did it all in one sitting.

In show producer Michael Brockman's view, Larson did not cheat " ... He beat the system," (via The Hollywood Reporter). But Larson's luck didn't hold. In his lifetime Larson tried and failed at a number of other get-rich-quick schemes and scams. At one point he was robbed of $50,000, and was investigated for fraud by the FBI and Security and Exchange Commission, among other federal agencies. Larson died in 1999 at the age of 49 from throat cancer. The "Press Your Luck" board is now programmed with 32 different patterns, per THR.