Photo: Pierre LaScott on flickr
The lottery isn’t a great way to spend your money, but millions of Americans do it anyway. In a thread on Reddit, an anonymous state lottery worker answered commenters’ questions, shedding some light on the industry’s practices.
“I’ve worked for a large state for the past seven years primarily as a programmer, security expert and general ‘go-to’ person for anything system related,” yourluckynumbers writes.
Although Reddit takes efforts to confirm source identity on these popular threads, nevertheless you should take them with a grain of salt. We’ve picked out the highlights, edited for clarity.
Retailers scam customers constantly:
“You’d be shocked at how often retailers steal tickets from players by telling them that their ticket isn’t a winner.
“A few states have even gone so far as to set up an undercover team that specialises in catching these people. What they do is present retailers who players have complained about with ‘marked’ tickets and then have them arrested when the retailer comes in to claim the prize. It’s a big program in California. They’ve caught a lot of people.
“I’ve also seen several cases where a retailer is mass producing draw game wagers and re-selling them overseas on the Internet for huge mark-up—sometimes as much as 1,000 per cent of face value. That’s a quick path to prison, too.
Customers also try to scam retailers:
“And then, of course, we get idiots who do everything they can to make losing tickets look like winners hoping to get an idiot convenience store clerk to ‘sight validate’ the ticket instead of scanning it in the system to see if it’s a win.
“We discourage the hell out of that behaviour. Clerks should never pay out based on a ticket they THINK is a winner. I will never understand why they don’t just scan the damn things.”
Winners often fail to claim their prize:
“Yes, it happens all the time. You wouldn’t believe how often, actually.
“I’ve seen it all: poker face, tears, hysterics … and one guy who busted out in a full-on dance routine that would have shamed even Michael Jackson.”
It is nearly impossible to rig the lottery:
“The lottery industry operates like Las Vegas. In other words, the whole thing is governed by an extreme separation of duties and access controls. Every lottery has a security division that exists for the sole purpose of catching crooks – both internal and external. It’s virtually impossible to ‘rig’ a drawing or generate a winning wager post-draw without collusion on the part of at least five or six people. And even then, it would take a miracle to get past audits, system checks, etc.
“I’m not saying that people haven’t tried, regardless. I’m not even going to say that it hasn’t happened. I will say it’s a one-way ticket to federal prison, though.”
What’s the best bet?
“It all comes down to odds. In my state we have several daily draw games that have relatively low set jackpot amounts, but the chance of winning is exponentially higher than the rolling jackpot games.
“As far as scratch (instant) games go, stay away from $1 and $5 games. Everyone buys them, so the chance of winning a top-tier prize is low. The top-tier prizes are normally not enough to warrant playing.
“You’ve got a good chance of winning big on $10 games if your state sells them … Anything is better than the $1 games. Those are designed to be low-return impulse buys that you win one out of 20 times. You’ll never win enough to make playing them worth it over the long term …
“It’s also all about the odds. In my particular state, I’d be playing the $10 instant games. I’d also be playing two of our draw games, which have low relative jackpots, but high payout rates.”
Debtors may be in for a surprise:
“Most states require a debt check in case the person trying to claim the ticket owes a debt to the state. (Court fees, child support, etc.)
“If they owe, the debt is subtracted from the win and the winner receives the difference.”
There aren’t good stores and bad stores:
“The vendor knows which packs contain the high-tier winners. The lottery doesn’t. And vice versa for where the packs are shipped. As long as that balance is preserved, everything is kosher.”
Some times are better to buy than others:
“The game is printed all at once. It isn’t done in phases, and a game’s prize structure doesn’t change once it’s set. It is possible for the top prizes from a game to be claimed within the first few weeks after a game ships.
“Scratch games are almost always shipped from the vendor to some sort of distribution facility owned by the lottery for which the game was printed. Tickets are shipped out to lottery retailers from there.
“Every instant ticket game has a set expiration date (usually printed right on the ticket) and some states have laws requiring that the lottery to post information about which prizes have already been claimed on their website and/or at their office(s). Most people never think to check this, though, and they just keep buying even after all “top tier” prizes have been claimed.
“Most lotteries have a set monthly or quarterly schedule for new instant games. That’s all relative to the size of the state and how popular instant tickets are there.
“There are only a handful of companies in the world that print instant tickets both because it’s incredibly expensive to do and because trust is paramount in the lottery industry.
“The two largest and most trusted printing operations are owned by Scientific Games and GTECH, which also happen to be two of the most popular draw game vendors.”
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