You've Heard it Before...
Maybe it was a Christmas gift. Maybe you won a contest at work. Maybe you bought it for yourself. It doesn't matter how you received your scratch off lottery ticket, but now you have it.
Deep down, you know this one is a winner. Deep down, you are preparing yourself to become a multi-millionaire on the spot. With trembling hands, you pull out a coin from your pocket and begin to scratch off the boxes and seek your fortune. Maybe you will win, odds are better you will lose.
However, something interesting happens when you 'almost' win.
First, Setup the Ticket
For this example, we will create a fictional scratch off lottery ticket.
We'll call it the Awesome Eights (Magnificent Sevens has already been used in countless states).
The rules: Scratch off all 8 boxes. If you find three '8's, you win the grand prize (it doesn't matter what amount that is, but we will say $10,000). If you find three of any number on the ticket, you win the prize indicated in a separate box.
Odds of winning on any ticket are 1 in 4.65 tickets (for the record, this is a real 'odds of winning' from an actual scratch off game).
Odds of winning the grand prize: 1 in 600,000.
Total grand prize winners: 20.
Before we go any further, think about what the odds of winning really mean. For every $5 you spend in tickets, you MIGHT win something (this includes the 'free ticket'). That is not a guarantee, just a mathematical possibility. However, this is not within the scope of our focus right now.
As stated, for our theoretical lottery game, you have 8 boxes. Right there on the front, it announces '8 Chances to Win!' This is true...sort of. Yes, a single '8' can allow you to win the prize. Yes, there are 8 boxes to scratch off. Yes, if there is a single '8' under any one of those boxes, you will win a prize. So, if you take each scratch of a box as a single chance to win, then you theoretically have 8 chances to win.
However, the scratch off lottery tickets don't work like that. When the lottery prints a ticket, the outcome has already been pre-determined. Remember that the odds of a winning on this game are 1 in 4.65, so the game area already determined before you scratch a single box. It doesn't matter how many boxes there are, the lottery already knows if that ticket is a winner or a loser.
In fact, you don't even need to 'play the game' anymore. Recent developments have allowed these tickets to come with a QR code that confirms if this one is a winner or not. All you have to do anymore is just scratch the collection code and have it scanned. If it is a winner, you scratch the rest of the boxes off to see what your prize is. I might recommend this if you are a fan of the scratch off lottery ticket.
The 'Almost Winners'
Now it gets insidious. You watch someone scratch off their Awesome Eights ticket in hopes of winning their prize(s). First box: No '8's. Second box: No '8's. Third box: 'Is that an '8'? Oh shucks, it's a '3'. It looked like an '8', however.' Forth box: ANOTHER '3'. 'If I get one more '3', OR I get an '8', I am going to win a prize!'
I'll save you the suspense. Four scratches later, and there are no '8's and no other '3's. However, two things happen. 1) The person scratches off the prize box and reveals a big $1000! 'This was a really good ticket, too! The $1000 prize was on there!' 2) I 'almost won' that time...
You Didn't 'Almost Win'
Let's go back to the game. The odds of purchasing a winning ticket are 1 in 4.65. This means for every ticket someone buys there are at least 3.65 losing tickets. Regardless of how many boxes are on the ticket. Regardless of how many pairs of numbers are on the ticket. Regardless of what the prize is on the ticket, there is a fact one should not overlook:
That Ticket Was a Loser Before You Bought It
I cannot tell you how often I have heard someone say they 'almost' had a winner. Whether this is by design, or it is simply them wanting to win, there is no such thing as 'almost' winning on a scratch off lottery ticket.
Before actually considering this statement, I will admit that I have used it myself in the past. Granted, I can count on one hand the number of scratch off tickets I have purchased. I will say I have met big money winners on some of those tickets. I'm even related to one of them. I am not going to say that no one wins at these games.
Understand though, when they bought the ticket, it was already a winning ticket. There was nothing that was going to change that. They may have bought the right ticket, but that ticket was a winner, and nothing outside of that was going to make it a winner or a loser. That decision had already been made.
Watch What You Think
I understand people taking that chance. Give $1, get $1,000,000 back? Who wouldn't be curious about the opportunity to get that kind of reward? People who don't want one of the 3.65 losing tickets, for starters. I am not going to tell people do or don't buy lottery tickets. What a person decides to do with their money is their own affair.
However, I would ask that people understand what those odds of winning really mean. Understand that each printed ticket is already either a winner or a loser before you bought it. Understand that when it comes to scratch off tickets, there is no such thing as 'almost winning'.
Now, when it comes to other lottery games (Power Ball, Mega Millions, Lotto Max, take your pick), you can almost win. However, those games fall outside of the purview of this article.