Can You Really Win on Lottery Scratch-Off Tickets?

scratch off lottery ticket

Just about everyone is familiar with the concept of the lottery, especially the big drawings that are held daily or every few days anyway. You select some numbers and hope to match them up to the ones that are drawn at random.

We’ve heard about the record-breaking jackpots and how office pools made an entire group of co-workers instant millionaires. Powerball and Mega Millions are the two biggies in the US and EuroMillions is Europe’s big millionaire making game.

Scratch-off tickets, though, have also created their share of nouveau riche. You don’t typically consider these instant win versions to be real contenders for providing big money, but you’d be surprised.

The Origin of Scratch-Off Tickets

Lottery draws have been a mainstay in the US since the 17th century and in other areas around the globe, well before that. In fact, lotteries were responsible for much of the original infrastructure in the new colonies and also helped to build the District of Columbia.

Scratch tickets don’t have nearly as rich of a history as they’ve only been around since the 1970s. Maryland was the first state to introduce them, but the concept didn’t kick into high gear until the 1980s, and now you can find them everywhere draw tickets are sold which, in the United States, is in 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. 

How Do They Work?

Scratch-offs or “scratchers” have some game play attached to them. Originally, you would have to do something basic like match up your number with the winning number or reveal three like prize amounts to be successful.

However, these days, the games are getting to be more and more intricate and involved, and it’s for a good reason. Lottery sales started to decline, but officials began to recognize that the longer the players were involved in the game, the more likely they were to buy more.

So, these days there are all kinds of extended play versions. For example, you could get a bingo scratcher and play through a full game of bingo scratching off each called number and then trying to match it to your number. Or there are crossword puzzles where you scratch off one letter at a time attempting to fill in actual words as each word equates to a prize payout.

It’s still a basic instant win premise as you’re not waiting for numbers to be drawn on a particular day, but it takes longer to get to the ticket result as you’re actively engaged in playing the game.

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What Kind of Money Can You Win From Scratch-Offs?

You hear about someone winning $2, $5 or even $20 here and there, but there is big money potential in these types of tickets, but it all boils down to the actual game itself. There are dozens, and dozens of ever-changing game variations and every one has a different prize pool.

A $1 ticket may have a maximum prize of $500 or sometimes $5,000 with higher odds. One ticket may have a higher top prize and not as many lower level ones. Another game may offer a plethora of smaller prizes, so your odds of winning are much greater.

Whereas a lottery draw has a standard price like $1 or $2 per chance, scratch-offs offer multiple denominations. You’ll find $1, $2, $3, $5, $10, and even $50 or $100. You would think that those pricier versions would sit on the shelf, but you’d be amazed at how many people play those larger amounts. The odds of winning swings much higher in your favor at higher buy-ins and payouts can be $1 million or even more.

You won’t see these prizes reach the billion dollar mark as Powerball has before, but I wouldn’t turn up my nose to a few million.

A Winning Story

Speaking of those multi-million dollar wins, how about a $4 million dollar birthday present?

In 2014, a teen (yes, a teen) in Illinois scratched off a ticket given to her as a birthday present and ended up with a $4 million dollar gift. That $25 Target gift card I put in an envelope now pales in comparison.

The ticket’s grand prize was $100 million, so there is big-time money out there waiting to be revealed… literally.

A Winning Strategy

If I had a truly successful formula to winning big on lottery scratch offs, I would probably opt to keep it to myself but, there’s never a sure thing to gambling and especially when it comes to lotteries.

However, there are a few considerations that you may want to pay attention to if you’re heading out to buy some tickets.

The odds of winning are included on the back of every scratch off ticket, and you can also do some advance research online. The state lottery websites will provide you with all of the pertinent details about every game they offer.

You can pull up any game and take a look at the odds of winning. You’ll find some may have higher odds like a 5 to 1 but some tickets can even come in under 3 to 1. The other thing you’ll note when you access this information is the actual breakdown of the prize pool. You can see which games have more top awards and exactly how many prizes at each level are being offered.

Let’s take that a step further. If you are serious about bettering your odds, you can study the different games, and the lottery commission even updates the prizes that are claimed. So, you might see a $50,000 top prize game that had 20 of the $50,000 prizes available but 16 have already been issued, or you may note that a similar payout ticket has all 20 of those big winning tickets still out there in circulation.

You can truly give yourself at least a slightly better chance by doing your homework.

I, personally, can attest that I have better luck in winning on scratch offs when the game is brand new. I scour the titles until I see a recently released game and I do usually have better luck in at least winning something. A push is better than a loss any day.

Another thing to consider is that buying more consecutive tickets can give you a better chance to at least get some prize win. At 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 odds of winning, it does make sense to buy ten of the same ticket in a row rather than ten different one-offs. No, that isn’t a proven method either, but we’re talking about tipping the scales in your favor any way you can.

Not Convinced?

In case you’re skeptical about the really big payouts from a tiny scratch-off ticket, let’s take a quick look at Joan Ginther.

Are you not familiar with her name?

She made headlines for winning an incredible amount on scratch-off tickets including a $10 million award in 2010 on a $50 ticket, making it her fourth million-plus prize from lottery scratchers.

Now, a player like Ginther is not your typical customer as she’s investing big money. In fact, four wins prompted suspicion from the lottery commissions, so the legitimacy was investigated, but all of the payouts were found to be valid.

How did she do it? She bought a lot of tickets, maybe even a few million dollars worth. Her net payout wasn’t as great, but she certainly increased her odds by sheer volume.

Now, most of us don’t have a few million to throw around on scratchers but, it only takes one. Case and point, the Illinois teen who is now a millionaire courtesy of one relatively small birthday present.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.