Thursday, March 14, 2019

The use of Nixdorf 620 systems in [European] lottery coupon processing

The seller of these fantastic service manuals has provided his history working with these systems.  We are all thankful that he remembers this, saved these images, and especially, the service manuals...thank you Brian!

Here is his own story, in his own words:

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In the second half of the last century, many European countries introduced national or regional lotteries in order to raise funds to benefit good causes and charities.

Coupons were available to buy by the general public at agent locations such as tobacconists, newsagents and other local stores. Each coupon had a unique machine-readable (magnetic or optical fonts) serial number in a range of layouts depending on the games offered by the lottery operator – could be simple games of chance e.g. selecting 5 numbers out of 45, 6 numbers out of 49 etc. or based on skill and knowledge such as predicting the results of soccer matches.

All of the completed lottery coupons were returned to each lottery organisation’s central processing centre by the selling agents on a weekly basis. At the centre the coupons were microfilmed for security before passing through high speed document reader / sorters (up to 30 coupons per second / 108,000 per hour) in order to capture the betting mark and serial number data of all the punters’ coupons, which was then written to magnetic tapes.

Any coupons with read errors, such as not enough or too many marks, missing or invalid (e.g. failed check sum) serial numbers, were physically segregated by the reader / sorter equipment.

The Nixdorf 620 Key to Disc systems were used for a range of processes but mainly to access the rejected coupon data records from the magnetic tapes, load them to disc to facilitate the manual correction / verification of the data by operators visually checking each rejected coupon.

The corrected data records were then merged with the previously correctly read data to produce a master record of all coupons entering the pool that week. After the drawing of the lucky balls for a straight lottery or the completion of the soccer matches, the master record was then processed to produce winners lists for the different classes of win and the printing of payout cheques to be sent to the winners.

In the early 1970’s, I was involved with the installation and commissioning of the reader / sorter equipment and the Nixdorf 620 systems at the French lottery’s new computer centre situated in the grounds of a chateau not far from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. This lottery was originally setup to support French war injured soldiers but subsequently became the French national lottery. Its data processing operations were modeled on those of the highly successful Nordwestlotto, based in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Although I was never directly involved with the German equipment, they also used Nixdorf 620’s (and later 8870/6’s) for reject coupon correction / verification.

At around the same time, the Massachusetts State Lottery introduced similar machine-readable coupons and high speed reader / sorters. They would also have had a need for reject coupon processing. Maybe they used the Entrex system???

The below images provide some visual reference to the above text.  

Click each to enlarge, or click the "see maximum size" hyperlink below each image

620 installation at French lottery – 2 of the 3 main system racks and printers

620 installation at French lottery – 2 of the 3 main system racks and printers

620 installation at French lottery – data entry terminals, 3 sets of 12 (?)

Nordwestlotto 620 dataflow

showing Nordwestlotto coupon samples
 

I apologise for the poor quality of the JPGs but I took the photos back in the day when I processed my own black and white 35mm films.

                                                                                                     Brian Parkinson - March 2019

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Below is the summary of my email conversation with Brian about this.  There is a bit of repetition here, but worth reading, as he shares some additional details not in his narrative above.

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Back in the 1970s I worked for a company that supplied high speed document reading systems to the French national lottery. 

The Nixdorf kit was used to manually edit tape / disc records for the paper lottery coupons that were not readable by the high speed reader / sorter equipments. 

I was responsible for installing and commissioning all the kit in the new processing centre not far from Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris.

continued on 2019-02-27:
To be honest, I can't get my head around why someone would want to keep such a system running - it seemed so mundane at the time, key-to-disc is not exactly a "sexy" application. But it is a part of our computing heritage, so I wish you the best of luck.

...it was a one-off project and I didn't have any formal training on the system. From what I remember all 3 of the systems went in without any hardware issues that I recall, apart from the cabling to the data entry consoles. There were some glitches with the software application but they were the programmers' responsibility ;)

Continued on 2019-03-11:
The photos are of the actual equipment that had just been installed at the French lottery's new processing centre. One of the systems had previously been set-up in our factory to allow the application software engineers to do their thing. Later, this then joined the other two at site prior to "go live".

I was involved with the installation and commissioning of the three 620s and the high speed reader / sorter equipments (I think there were 6 of those) that were a mainstay product of the company that I worked for over a 12 year period between 1974 and 1986.

As I'd indicated previously, from what I can remember the installation and commissioning of 620s went quite smoothly with only a few cabling issues associated with the data entry terminals. So I didn't have any need to get deeply involved with their inner workings. 

In contrast, my experience on the reader / sorter systems was much more involved as it was a core product of the company and I was dealing with them on a daily basis. Work on those ranged from in-house build / configuration / testing / installation / commissioning / servicing of the document transports and the optical / magnetic sensors that scanned the documents, along with the Honeywell H316 minicomputers / punched paper tape readers / magnetic tape drives / printers etc. that controlled the transports and did first level processing of the data captured off the lottery coupons.

Cheers
Brian


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