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Are scratchcards random?

Scratchcards, also known as scratch offs, instant win tickets, or instant lottery tickets, are a form of gambling sold by many lottery operators. Scratchcards come with a scratchable area that hides symbols or numbers. If certain combinations come up when scratched, the card is a winner. Prizes on scratchcards can range from free tickets, to small amounts of cash, all the way up to top prizes worth millions.

One of the big appeals of scratchcards is the experience of finding out instantly if you’ve won or not. With a traditional lottery draw, you need to wait for the numbers to be picked to know if your ticket is a winner. Scratchcards provide the anticipation of scratching away the covering on the card to reveal the symbols, coupled with the instant gratification of knowing right away if luck is on your side.

But are the wins and losses randomly distributed, or is there more to it behind the scenes? Let’s explore some common questions around whether scratchcards truly offer random results.

Are scratchcards truly random?

This is probably the biggest question most people have about scratchcards. After all, if the wins aren’t randomly distributed, that would imply it’s possible to improve your chances by picking cards in certain ways.

The short answer is yes, scratchcards are required to have random distribution of winning and non-winning tickets within each pack. While individual scratchcards may be printed on sheets in a set order, when those sheets are cut into individual cards and mixed into a complete pack for distribution, there is no way for anyone to know where the winning tickets will end up.

State lottery regulations in the U.S. mandate that scratchcard games must be random. Not only is this fair for players, but it also protects the integrity of the scratchcard revenue stream. If players felt the games were fixed or biased in some way, they’d be less likely to trust the lottery and buy tickets.

Independent testing labs and auditors are used to analyze scratchcard distribution and verify the randomness. Statistical tests look at the distribution of prizes, the frequency of wins and losses, and other metrics. Finding anything other than a random pattern would be a major problem resulting in pulls from distribution.

So you can trust that within any given scratchcard pack, wins and losses are sprinkled randomly amongst the tickets. But that doesn’t stop some persistent myths from popping up anyway.

Myths around scratchcard randomness

Myth: You can improve your odds by choosing “lucky” cards

One common myth around scratchcards is that you can improve your chances by picking cards based on subtle signs. For example, looking for cards with more shiny covering, or avoiding tickets on the edges and bottom of the dispenser.

This is extremely unlikely to make any difference. Remember, the lottery commissions do extensive testing to confirm randomness within a pack. Unless the dispensing process was shown to have a bias, like consistently not mixing cards sufficiently between fills, then any perceived “patterns” are just coincidence.

The reality is with scratchcards, you have the exact same tiny odds of a major prize, whether you pick a card from the middle or the edges. That’s what true randomness means.

Myth: Stores or dispensers know where winning cards are

Related to the myth above, some people believe store clerks or lottery officials must have inside knowledge on where the big winning tickets are. This thinking is fueled by cases where people have mistakenly thought store clerks were steering them away from winners.

But in reality, neither the stores nor the dispensers have any way to know where winning scratchcards will appear. The process of distributing packs, with randomly intermixed winning and losing tickets, makes this impossible. Retailers are just dispensing the cards sequentially from packs as customers purchase them.

The automated vending machines dispensing scratchcards similarly have no special knowledge. They’re just vehicles for issuing the cards in order.

So while it can seem suspicious if a clerk recommends avoiding certain cards, the truth is they’re just making meaningless suggestions, not hiding secret insider info.

Myth: Old or frequent players are luckier

Since the games are random, no group of players has an advantage over any other. Old and young, male and female, frequent and first-timers all have the exact same odds of winning.

That means those “lucky” people who seem to win more than their fair share are just benefiting from randomness and coincidence, not some kind of inside track. Our brains tend to find patterns, so we notice “hot” players on a winning streak rather than the many more people steadily losing over time.

In reality, someone playing scratchcards every day for years doesn’t gain some kind of scratch karma making them luckier. The cards don’t know or care who is scratching!

Do some scratchcards have better odds?

Scratchcard games vary considerably in their odds and prize structures. Some have a few huge top prizes, while others have better overall odds of winning smaller amounts. Does this mean some games are better to play than others?

In one sense, the odds printed on the scratchcard are objective facts. If Game A has 1 in 4 overall odds of winning and Game B has 1 in 5, Game A is statistically a “better” choice.

Digging deeper into the prize breakdowns, you could also calculate the expected payout percentage of different games. Some might average around 50% payback to players over the full run, while others could be closer to 70%. Again based just on the math, the latter would pay back more.

However, chasing the best payout percentages isn’t necessarily the wisest play. Those payout rates are based on the total lifespan of a game, i.e. when all cards have been sold and prizes claimed. As a player buying a few tickets, you’re dealing with likelihood on any single card.

For example, picking a game with a huge advertised top prize might seem appealing. But your actual odds of winning that specific prize are still astronomically low. You might be better off playing a game with smaller prizes but better overall odds that increase your chances of winning something.

There are also factors like the absolute ticket price and enjoyment of playing. A $20 ticket with a 1 in 10 overall win rate could still provide more fun than a $2 ticket with a 1 in 5 win rate.

So ultimately there is no one definitive “best” scratchcard to play. It depends on your budget, preferences for prizes, and subjective enjoyment.

Do scratchcards get refilled with new winners?

Another common question is whether stores refill scratchcard dispensers with new higher-value winners over time. Could this impact when you play?

The answer is no, dispensers do not get refilled with specially selected new winning tickets. Retailers simply refill from sequential books of cards, which contain random distribution of winners allocated when printed.

Some people think retailers want to “seed” new wins into games over time to keep interest going. But not only would this require far more operational complexity, it would actually undermine the Games since players could theoretically just wait for refill time to increase odds.

Instead, new cards with random winners are continually mixed into games as needed to replace sales. Any given purchase has the same published odds, regardless of timing or how recently a machine was restocked.

Are discontinued scratchcards better?

Lottery agencies regularly introduce new scratchcard offerings while discontinuing older ones. This helps keep the portfolio of games fresh and exciting for players.

But when cards for a game sell out, some people think the remaining tickets could have more winners seeded in. After all, the lottery wants to end on a high note right?

In reality, the same principle applies as with refills. The lottery can’t artificially manipulate the wins, or people could try to only buy cards about to sell out.

Discontinued games weren’t specially loaded. Any variation in big prizes claimed toward the end versus projections is just natural odds at play, not behind-the-scenes tweaking. So you don’t gain any advantage buying tickets for games about to end.

Can you win multiple prizes on one scratchcard?

Most scratchcards have multiple opportunities to win on a single ticket. You may need to match several numbers or symbols, uncover bonus areas, or scratch off a prize amount.

This leads to the question – can you win more than once on the same card? The answer is usually yes!

The instructions on a scratchcard will clarify the possibilities. Most cards with multiple scratch areas or prize spots allow combinations of wins. For example, you could match two number groups AND uncover a bonus “instant win” square for multiple payouts.

However, some scratchcards specify limits, like only the highest value prize will be paid. So you need to check the rules to understand how multiple wins are handled.

Don’t assume matching in two places automatically means doubling your money. But in most cases, scratching multiple win areas indeed pays out on each one. Just be sure to follow the card instructions.

Do scratchcards pay out less than the advertised jackpot?

Big flashy jackpot prizes are the main allure of scratchcards for many players. But do these grand prizes actually get paid out at the advertised level?

Some people think scratchcard jackpots pay you a lesser lump sum amount rather than the annuity or yearly installments. So while a $10 million top prize might really just pay $5 million cash upfront.

But this is mostly untrue. State lottery rules generally require top scratchcard prizes to be paid as advertised. A $10 million jackpot means the winner gets the full $10 million (subject to taxes).

You typically do get a choice in HOW you take the big prize. You can opt for a lump cash sum, which is reduced amount based on annuity math. Or take it as the full advertised prize in annual payments over decades. But the total payout is the same either way.

The one catch is sometimes the jackpot is tied to a fixed annuity. So if you take the lump sum, it’s slightly less than the nominal prize total. But this is just present value math, not shortchanging. You should still get at least half or more paid out immediately if desired.

Are losing scratchcards discarded or reused?

Since scratchcards have a limited number of pre-printed winning tickets, what happens to the leftover losing tickets once a game ends? Are they just discarded, or could they get reused?

The answer is losing scratchcards are destroyed and not reused. Each game’s tickets are uniquely tied to that game through identifiers like serial numbers. Reusing old losing tickets would disrupt the strict accounting of which prizes were claimed.

Lottery agencies have meticulous processes for tracking scratchcard distribution and accounting for every ticket, whether sold or unsold. They document destruction of unsold cards and can’t simply recycle them later. That would constitute fraud given all tickets are assumed available for purchase at some point.

So while reusing cards seems efficient, you can rest assured every scratchcard started out fresh when the game was launched. Old tickets don’t get mixed back into circulation later on.

Are scratchcards truly instant?

Scratchcards are sold on the premise of being “instant” games – you scratch and immediately know if you won. But how instant is the gratification really?

For small wins up to around $600 or $1000, scratchcards generally do pay instantly. Retailers can validate the win and pay out on the spot, or provide a claim form to mail in for a quick check. So you’ll get your winning in hand fast.

For larger prizes,ayout requires more validation. Details need confirmed, paperwork completed, and security checks done. A timeframe of 4-6 weeks for your first payout installment is common.

And for especially massive prizes reaching jackpot levels, payment could take 3-4 months. These huge prizes often involve news conferences and promotional appearances for the winner.

So while scratching the card is instant, collection on the biggest wins inevitably takes some time. But that’s a nice problem to have if you beat the long odds and score a monster scratchcard jackpot.


Scratchcards represent one of the most popular forms of gambling due to the exciting instant reveal and prospect of instantly winning big money. But with any form of gambling, myths and misconceptions also abound around how they really work.

As we’ve covered, extensive testing and security protocols ensure each pack of scratchcards has a verifiably random distribution of winners. There is no way to game the system by picking “lucky” cards or timing when you play. Wins are sprinkled randomly throughout, awaiting the players lucky enough match the required symbols or numbers.

Bigger prizes and higher payout percentages may attract you to certain scratchers over others. But keep perspective on just how long the odds are in any instance. Focus more on enjoying the experience rather than trying in vain to crack some winning secret.

And if you are fortunate enough to hit a jackpot-level win, hang in there through the necessary validation steps before your big check arrives. Your scratch skills may have been instant, but collecting that grand prize understandably takes a little longer.

So let go of any myths, misconceptions or superstitions, and enjoy scratchers for the fun instant entertainment they’re meant to provide. With the right realistic expectations, those tantalizing cards can deliver an exciting – and occasionally profitable – break in your day anytime you need one.