Scratch And Lose


If I had just a measly 25 cents for every "scratch and win" ticket I've ever bought in my life, I'd be drinking plenty of free coffee these days. Taking a little break from writing about web design once again, the decision for this week's article was a toss-up between the current state of traffic in Vancouver thanks to all the construction (view another photo — it's impossible to arrive anywhere on time because of the roadblocks at every second intersection) or those scratch and lose tickets you see in every corner store from here to Timbuktu. In an attempt to decipher the mystery of "probability" (aka: the odds of winning the lottery — something which has baffled me for years), I chose to write about the tickets. Like we say on our blog home page, we're interested in all sorts of stuff here.

Does anyone actually win on these things? Sure, I've gone down to the store to cash in my scratch and lose ticket only to hear the "band playing" over the lotto pipeline, making it sound as if I'd won 25 thousand bucks while I sheepishly walked out the door with a grand total of two whole dollars in my pocket (as all of the bystanders, no doubt, had a good chuckle on my way out). A toonie buys you a lot of beer, er, Starbucks, doesn't it? Just what are the odds of winning a big prize on a scratch and lose ticket?

It's a well-known fact that the odds of hitting the jackpot on the 649 are one in 14 million (technically, one in 13,983,816). But did you know that the odds of being struck by lightning in an 80-year lifetime are one in 10 thousand? Some sources claim that the odds are 1 in 5 thousand or 1 in 6 thousand and many people assume that the odds are the same as winning the "big one" on the Lotto 649 but this is incorrect. The odds are one in 10 thousand (before you even think of asking — I'd much rather win the lottery than be hit by a lightning bolt). The whole fact of the matter here is that your odds of being zapped by a bright flash of light from a big black cloud way up in the sky by the time you reach the age of 80 are almost 1,400 times better than getting all six numbers right on the 649.

Once you manage to find your way around on the Scratch And Win website here in British Columbia, the odds of winning a prize become fairly clear but what isn't overly clear are the total number of prizes offered. On a $2 Instant 6/49 "Scratch And Win" ticket, you have a one in 4,285.71 chance of winning anything over ten bucks! Does this mean that one in every 4,285.71 people in the City of North Vancouver who happens to waste two bucks on one of these "lucky" tickets will win enough to pay for a morning and afternoon venti vanilla latté (two coffees for a total of $10.19 including tax)? Of course not. That's partially because there are 1,500,000 tickets printed per edition*. And from there, you have to factor in the odds. A longshot or what?

Official 2011 Census data has yet to be released but we do know that the population here in 2006 was 45,165. If only one out of every twenty of those 45,165 people who live in this city were to buy one of these tickets (of which a total of 1,500,000 were printed), how many people do you now think would actually win something worthwhile? The odds of hitting the jackpot on a $2 Instant 6/49 "Scratch And Win" (with this particular jackpot being $25,649.00) are one in 750,000. These odds are 75 times worse than being zapped by a lightning bolt within eight decades of life on planet earth. They're that bad. Do the math (or take a very close look at the Instant Win Claimed Prizes page) and you'll realize that there are only two $25,649.00 prizes offered for every 1,500,000 tickets printed! Imagine the profit generated from selling these things.

I'll tell you an interesting little fact which I'm sure many others can relate to — the most I've ever won on a scratch and lose ticket was a whole ten dollars. Wow! Can you hear the band playing? Remember this the next time you decide to buy a scratch and lose ticket. You're better off tucking two dollars away in a safe place every week and forgetting all about your coin stash for a few years. Or grabbing yourself half a cup of beanwater instead.

Interestingly — since the first of these tickets went on sale in BC back in 1983 (just around the time things were really starting to happen for me in the music business), if I would have stuffed two bucks away every week since that time, I'd have $2,912.00 in my hands right now. Almost enough to buy me that gorgeous Les Paul Goldtop I've been eyeballing down at the music store.

Before closing, I'll leave you with a well-known Sherlock Holmes quote which seems to fit the "bill" quite well for this article. Ultimately, when it comes to winning the lottery, only you can decide for sure:

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

At any "rate", just make darned sure you're not out in a thunderstorm on Lonsdale Avenue when you're sipping on your 8:00 AM java tomorrow because, "hey, you never know!" (that was the slogan used in the Lottery Corporation's advertising campaign out here for years and years — funny thing about it, though, was that since I never won anything significant, hey — I always knew).

* Once all of the prizes are claimed for a particular "edition", a new "edition" is then printed so imagine what the odds are like now. And yeah, yeah — I know — people actually do win the "big one" on these lotteries. I wonder if they have lightning rods installed on the tops of their homes, too?

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