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Are scratch off lottery tickets misleading?

Posted July 11, 2008

— The odds are long, but scratch off lottery players dream of winning the top prize. But what happens if the top prize for that ticket has already been won?

Rob Schofield, of the government watchdog group N.C. Policy Watch, said these scratch off games are inherently misleading.

“It’s kind of sad and poignant that people are scratching these things off in the corner of a convenience store when they literally have no chance of winning that prize they think they're trying to get,” Schofield said.

The issue has prompted lawsuits in other states, including Virginia. North Carolina lottery officials are aware of the controversy and say they are moving ahead cautiously.

“It’s tough for a lottery to figure out what is the best way to do this,” state Lottery Executive Director Tom Shaheen said.

Shaheen said controversy in other states has prompted North Carolina to gradually pull scratch offs when the big prizes sell out. The lottery's website now lists individual games, the remaining number of top prizes and whether the tickets are being phased out.

When the lottery decides to pull a game because the top prizes are gone, it can take weeks to get all of those tickets picked up.

“If the belief is that every single player is playing to win the top prize, they should pick them up, personally, but I don't believe that they are. I believe that they're playing to win something,” Shaheen said.

Joan Davis said she plays to win her money back and maybe a little extra.

Lottery leaders stress players should play for fun and dreams, not for getting rich.


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  • whatusay Jul 11, 2008

    This practice should be illegal and the state of NC should be sued. Even after the grand prize has been won, and there is nothing else to be paid out, the state of NC still sales lottery tickets, knowing that the person buying the ticket can win "NOTHING". Just giving money, still selling tickets, with no chance in the world to win what is being advertised. This has to be illegal.

  • owlady Jul 11, 2008

    I bought them at Xmas to use as gift tags on presents. We got two free tickets, and then turned them in for 2 more losing tickets. Never again. haha

  • Mobile Geek Jul 11, 2008

    The rich get richer and poor get poorer because they keep doing the things that get there in the first place.

    Joan Davis says she plays to win her money back and maybe a little bit more. Sounds to me that a nice conservative mutual fund would have been a better choice.

  • random musings Jul 11, 2008

    while its rare that I buy scratch offs- maybe one or two a month, I do play powerball and cash 5 (when the jackpot is high). Do I expect to win anything? nope. Am I happy when I win a measly $1 or $3 or $7? sure. Even if I spent $10-$20 (my average weekly spending on lotto tiks). ITs amusing to dream, and then there's always the snowballs chance in H-E- double hockey sticks of actually winning something worthwhile! ;)

    the people complaining are putting WAY too many hopes and dreams into winning.

  • Travised Jul 11, 2008

    This is not pull tabs where you can see the remaining amount of tickets and remaining amount of awards and can weigh the odds. It's a luck of the draw based gamble. Consider scratch off tickets a loss if you are buying them. Don't expect to win. They are a LUXURY. If you win you win.

    Do you want to buy pieces of paper to start a camp fire with, or put gas in your tank?

  • Leonardo Jul 11, 2008

    This is the stupidest thing I've heard in a while. The only people complaining about it are people who don't understand basic probability theory, or people who are still upset about 'losing' the lottery debate (i.e. NC Policy Watch, and many of the regular posters here...you know who you are).

    The probabilities of winning the top prize are over the entire batch of tickets, not the probability of winning the prize at any one moment. For example, if 90% of the tickets have been sold without the top prize being awarded, the probability of winning it goes up by x10. Nobody's complaining when that happens, right? Sorry, but that's the nature of scratch lottery tickets. Are they supposed to throw them all out once the main prize is won? That seems like a huge waste.

    And besides, this only applies to the top prize. There's usually lots of smaller prizes that you can still win after the main prize has been won.

  • Made In USA Jul 11, 2008

    The lottery is more like a rebate check back to the state in return for the many welfare checks and food stamps they dish out to the poor.

  • Dr DatacIerk Jul 11, 2008

    and again, my theory: The lottery is a tax for stupid people (whether it's corrupt or not)

  • djofraleigh Jul 11, 2008

    Who's Joan Davis and what's that last line about?

  • gercohen Jul 11, 2008

    I think they should also cancel the rest of the season for professional sports teams when they are eliminated from the playoffs, or at least stop selling tickets at that point.