Are you planning on buying some lottery tickets for yourself or as a gift for a loved one? If you pick up lottery scratchers at your local convenience store or gas station, you know that you're probably going to end up winning no more than a buck or two, maybe $20 if you're lucky. But of course, you hope to win one of those big jackpots with an advertised value of $10,000, $50,000, or more.
But did you know that there's a chance that you could buy a scratcher ticket that advertises a big grand prize — and have absolutely no chance of winning that prize? Would you still buy that scratch-off ticket if you knew the odds of winning more than a few bucks weren't just low but zero? Especially if other games had better chances of a jackpot payout?
Before you buy a lottery scratcher, you must do one important thing: research which game you are going to play.
Why You Need to Do Research on Lottery Scratchers
Lottery scratchers are distributed to retailers in large rolls, and each roll is guaranteed to have a certain number of winners. Those winning scratch-off prizes will have values, some smaller, some bigger.
The lottery scratchers usually advertise grand prizes like a "$1 Million Merry Millions" jackpot. But unless the game has just been released, there's a chance that someone else had already won that jackpot.
If the winning scratch-off ticket has already been redeemed, the lottery knows that the big prize is gone, but they still sell tickets to that game because smaller prizes are still available.
Nothing prevents the lottery from legally selling those tickets, even if it involves advertising a prize that's no longer available.
Not fair? Well, even if the grand prizes are gone, there may still be attractive prizes available to you. But if you don't want to settle for a smaller win, a little bit of research will ensure that you have the best chances of winning a grand prize.
How to Research Your Lottery Scratchers
To make buying lottery tickets more attractive, the state lottery websites publish information about which scratch-off prizes are still available. While there's a small chance that someone has bought a winning ticket but hasn't redeemed it yet, checking the lottery website before you buy gives you the best odds of a big win.
Here's how to find the information you need:
- Visit the lottery website for the state where you're buying the tickets
- Look for the scratchers or scratch-off section
- Look for a break-down of all the different games and the prizes they have remaining
- Pay attention to when the records were last updated. If you can, try to buy shortly after the lottery releases an update so you're using the most recent information.
Once you know which prizes are still available, you can decide which game you want to play based on factors like the ticket price, the size of the prizes being offered, and how many prizes are still available.
What If You Can't Check the Website?
If you're buying tickets spontaneously or you don't have access to the internet, you might not be able to check the state lottery's website. So what can you do to boost your odds of choosing a big winner?
First, you'll want to look at the odds of winning versus the payout.
A rough rule of thumb is that scratchers that cost more money have better odds of winning and higher prize payouts.
If you have time to do a quick calculation, you can also use the risk to reward ratio to calculate where your best chances lie.
Another thing you can do is to look for games that offer a guaranteed winner per roll of tickets. This means that somewhere in the roll, there is a winning ticket (although it won't tell you whether it's been claimed or not).
Next, you can ask which number the next ticket on the roll has before you buy. Although this may vary by state, rolls are often numbered sequentially starting with 000, so if the ticket number is low, it's less likely that one of the winning tickets from that roll is already gone.
If you find a low-numbered roll with a guaranteed prize, you might want to buy a series of tickets from that roll. Each non-winning ticket you buy from the same roll gets you, theoretically, closer to a winning ticket. Switching games, however, means that the losing tickets won't necessarily bring you any closer to a winning ticket.
Controversial – but successful – lottery player Richard Lustig recommends always buying at least 10 tickets from the same roll to improve your odds.
Finally, you can ask the store clerk whether they've had a recent win from that roll. The clerk might not know, or might not be willing to answer. But if they do say that they've had a winner recently, your odds might be better if you pick a different game.
By taking a bit of time to strategize before you buy, you can raise your odds of winning a jackpot through a lottery scratch-off.