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Sneaky Odds for Scratch-Off Lottery Tix

Courtesy DC Lottery
Every few weeks or so, one of the big multi-state lotteries makes it into the national news when the grand prize jackpot reaches a certain level. This week the Powerball lottery grand prize is hovering around $500 million; and actually, it's above that now. 

We all know the chances of winning the jackpot is very small. It's unfathomably small: 1 in 292,201,338. If you were alive in the United States in 2004, well, there were 292,000,000 other people living here, so imagine one American being chosen at random. Those are the odds. If you play a pick 3 game like DC3, the odds are a lot better, but still long: 1 in 1000.

However, scratch off tickets are quite different. While random number generator games like pick 3, pick 4 or Powerball offer long odds for the grand prize, the odds are typically the same every time as long as they number set stays the same. Scratch off tickets also have an finite set of top prizes but your chances of winning the top prize can go from infinitesimal to literally zero pretty quickly, but you may not know that when you buy the ticket. 

Take the D.C. United branded scratch off game for instance. It was introduced on March 1, 2017. For a $2, you can scratch to reveal if there are any of 8 possible prizes waiting for you. The top prize is $10,000. There is a steep drop off for the second best prize, which is $200. The lowest prize is $2.

Unfortunately, if you purchased a ticket today you'd have 0% chance to win $10,000, or even $200. There were only 4 tickets with a $10,000 prize. They have all been scratched and claimed. There were only 14 tickets with $200 prizes. They have been scratched and claimed. If you play this game, you still have  a 1 in 4.27 chance of winning some prize, but IF you win, you will likely win $2, which there are 4,720 tickets remaining, or $5, which there are 3,541 remaining. You do have a chance to win a $100 ticket, but here are just 27 of those tickets remaining out of an original batch of 150. All this information is public. I'm not saying this information is hidden. It's also probably common knowledge for long time lotto players. State lottery web sites list this information pretty clearly. Here's Virginia. Maryland. DC.

Part of the draw for these DC United tickets is that there is a second chance game in which you can win memorabilia, game tickets, and merch from DC United even if the original ticket was not a cash winner. And I want to be really clear, that the DC Lottery says up front on the ticket home page that you should check for top prize availability before you play, but I'm not sure how many folks are checking the web page for the scratch off game before buying. Perhaps the super savvy players are. I wouldn't doubt that. But causal players at the corner store or gas station? I'm not so sure.