Lottery Scratch Tickets
January 31, 2005 1:56 PM   Subscribe

What's up with scratch tickets? Are they just as much of a scam as the regular lottery? Are some a better gamble than others? Does anyone ever make any money off of those things?
posted by agregoli to Grab Bag (26 answers total)
I play scratch tickets all the time. It's more about the actual action of scratching more than the gambling for me. Most I've ever won is $16 on a 1 dollar ticket.
posted by corpse at 1:59 PM on January 31, 2005

Interestingly, in NJ, it's a better deal than the normal lottery. Pick-4 pays out 50% via a pari-mutuel setup. Scratch-off depends on the game, but they seem to aim for 65% pay out. Your state may vary.

(Note that these are far worse than any game offered at a casino.)

Does anyone make money on them? Well, if you hit a prize above $10,000, you probably come out ahead.
posted by smackfu at 2:10 PM on January 31, 2005

I think the odds are usually printed on the back of the ticket. As for making money, the state probably makes a lot, but ( at a -35% ROI per smackfu )... I would not consider it to be much of an investment. That being said, I did know someone who won 5k once.
posted by lobstah at 2:20 PM on January 31, 2005

I buy one on rare occassions when I'm feeling lucky. Twice a year or so. Right now the last four tickets I've bought have won me somewhere between $1 and $5. Each ticket costs $1, and I only ever buy one, so I'm not getting rich off of it. It's just something goofy to do on a road trip or long commute.
posted by bonheur at 2:37 PM on January 31, 2005

Here in Florida I get the $2 scratchers with my loose change once and a while. They hate to see me coming with my bag of pennies, but I do actually win sometimes. The most I've ever won on a single ticket is $20, followed by a few $10s on multiple tickets. Usually I just win another $2 ticket. I would have to say that I've won something more often than not.

On the other hand, when I get $1 scratchers I never win. Not ever. Nothing.
posted by Servo5678 at 3:17 PM on January 31, 2005

I read somewhere that the odds that are posted on the backs of the tickets are for the course of the game - that is, from the day it is released until the day it is retired. But the odds of winning on that particular game ("Lucky 7 Horseshoe" or whatever) are higher during the first few weeks or months of the release compared to the last few weeks or months. That way, you win, feel lucky on that game, and continue buying that brand. I don't remember what the actual ratio of beginning/middle/end of the game worked out to be, and I have no idea if the story is true or not.
posted by fionab at 3:21 PM on January 31, 2005

I love what these things say about human psychology. It's obvious that more money is going into the system than is coming out, so no matter how many you buy the odds are you're going to lose money. Which means it's illogical to even try, and yet it's almost impossible to resist thinking but what if...
posted by squidlarkin at 3:23 PM on January 31, 2005

My dad used to keep shoeboxes full of losing scratch-off tickets under his bed. When I asked him why, he said that it was because he needed to prove to the IRS that he lost more on the lottery than he won in order to avoid paying taxes on his winnings. It never helped to point out to him that those shoeboxes were full of evidence that he should stop buying scratch-offs.
posted by goatdog at 3:33 PM on January 31, 2005

You actually win your money back much of the time. I was given about $20 worth of scratch tickets a few Christmases ago. Since I had them already, I decided that I would reinvest all the proceeds of these until I'd either won big, or run out of prize money. I keep going well into the spring. I would say 1 out of 4 or 5 times you win your money back. This makes them addictive, and at my poorest, I found myself buying lottery tickets I really couldn't afford.

I am pretty concerned about public gambling. I was never out of control, but I think many otherwise bright people can lose perspective when things are tight. Now that my employment situation is good, I don't give the lottery a second thought.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:36 PM on January 31, 2005

I know of a guy who was a waiter where I used to work in the North End, Boston. He worked kitchen staff. And like most of the other kitchen staff, he would spend a good chunk of the small amount he made every night on scratch tickets.

He scratched a million off a ticket, bought at a local packie not two blocks from where I lived. He promptly quit his job, opened up his own restaurant a couple blocks away, and now is in debt to his eyeballs. Ain't luck grand?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:49 PM on January 31, 2005

About 10 years ago I spent 6 months working in a news shop that sold lots of scratch tickets (this was before my state made the $5 scratchies.) The entire time I was there, I sold one ticket that won $50. And week after week, I saw the same people buy 5 $1 tickets a day and get $2 or $3 back. One guy would spend $100 every week on $1 scratch tickets, and then come back the next week to turn in $30-$35 in winnings. I hope it provided him with some entertainment. I think that they bring the same percentages in winnings as slot machines.
posted by sophie at 4:03 PM on January 31, 2005

Slot machines in Vegas and other casinos pay out 90 to 95 percent.
posted by sacre_bleu at 5:31 PM on January 31, 2005

I know someone who went into a gas station needing to get gas, but only had $1. So he bought a scratch ticket, won $5, and got enough gas to get home.
posted by xo at 6:00 PM on January 31, 2005

squidlarkin: The same can be said for insurance.
posted by mendel at 6:26 PM on January 31, 2005

They're a tax on the mathematically disinclined.
posted by bshort at 10:25 PM on January 31, 2005

I once had a cashier at a liquor store tell me that there was some sort of pattern as to the winning tickets on a roll. I don't know if there was any truth to that, but it'd be interesting if there were a way to scam them.
posted by mindless progress at 10:47 PM on January 31, 2005

Well, my father won a not-insignificant amount of money from a scratch-off ticket about 25 years ago. He's still ahead ;)
posted by mkultra at 6:50 AM on February 1, 2005

When I worked at a gas station / convienence store, we got detailed sheets showing the odds of winning a prize on each kind of ticket (usually in the 1in3.5 to 1in5 range), and the odds of winning each category of prize. Law here dictates that the lottery corportations must have this info available. Other jurisdictions probably have similar legislation. It's not exactly advertised, but if you ask the information is available.

From 3 years of selling tickets day after day to the same people, I promise you that people that regularly buy tickets never end up ahead. Even if they win a more major prize, they keep buying tickets to (eventually) cancel out their winnings. The Lotto Corporation here pays out 50% of total revenue back into the prize pool. Overall, people buying the tickets are down. Way down. So if you wanna purchase a couple now and then for a lark, it won't hurt anything and you could end up with a couple bucks in your pocket. But long term it's not money-making.

A friend of mine calls lottery tickets a tax on the stupid. I don't completely agree with him (I still buy the occasional ticket - once a month at most) but he does kind of have a point. The people that spend the most on lotto tickets usually are the people that can afford it the least.
posted by raedyn at 7:31 AM on February 1, 2005

Slot machines in Vegas and other casinos pay out 90 to 95 percent.

I always caught the other 5-10 percent when I was there. ; )

I buy a scratch ticket every so often, when I am feeling lucky or when there's a new game that looks interesting. Most I ever won was $7 on a scratch ticket in Michigan. (That paid for lunch on the drive home to Illinois. ; ))

My sister bought a ticket on her 18th birthday and won $50.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:48 AM on February 1, 2005

The same can be said for insurance.

No, mendel, insurance is the other way 'round. You can only win by losing. The payoff is always available, it's just that in order to get it, some tragedy has to befall you, so you hope never to win.
posted by waldo at 8:01 AM on February 1, 2005

I so hate how gas/covenience stores have become casinos in my neck of the woods... All I wanna do is pay for my damn gas and there's this person in front of me spending their kids inheritance, leaning over the counter, scratchin' away, while I need to get to work!

But I have known a few people that have won decent amounts on one ticket. Of course, they're still waaaaay behind!
posted by LouReedsSon at 8:08 AM on February 1, 2005

No joke, LouReedsSon. The [in]convenience store where I used to pick up my morning caffeine intake now forces their employees to deliver some verbatim shill for scratch tickets at the beginning of each transaction. If they don't, the customer gets a free card. What they're not supposed to say is that the counter person gets to pay for that free card from their earnings. I thought it so craptastic that I stopped buying from that chain.

As for the question: lotto < scratch tickets < casino in terms of % payout. The only way to win lotto & scratch tickets is to not play at all.

given that there is some skill involved in certain casino games and even though I cannot make a living that way, I know someone who does.
posted by Fezboy! at 9:08 AM on February 1, 2005

A coworker of mine won $50,000 on a scratch ticket.

posted by jalexei at 9:18 AM on February 1, 2005

A friend of mine calls lottery tickets a tax on the stupid.

I'd always heard the phrase as, "tax on the poor."
posted by haqspan at 11:46 AM on February 1, 2005

Why scratch them off anyways, you get that yucky silver gunk all over you and the tickets "winningness" is determined by the bar code on the ticket, if you want to waste your money at least keep your hands clean, buy the ticket and just give it back to the cashier to scan and see if it won or not.
posted by Cosine at 1:38 PM on February 1, 2005

I'd always heard the phrase as, "tax on the poor."

That's the cigarette tax.
posted by callmejay at 1:48 PM on February 1, 2005

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