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Statistician figures out how to beat scratch lottery tickets. Srivastava could tilt the odds in his favor, like a gambler counting cards in a casino.


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Since this article was published in Wired , another technique of hacking scratch lottery tickets has surfaced: store clerks capitalizing on losing streaks. It's really dishonest. Shane, you're correct - the lottery has already priced in all the winning tickets and knows it'll come out ahead, so only the other players are being defrauded. I was unaware that you could return unscratched tickets. Obviously those "singleton" letters in each word control the number of winners - and yes, on the very first day I got one of those letters. Are the "returned" tickets resold or destroyed? It was too small so i just asked for another card and the discount was much more significant. There were five apples covered and one would get you a free prize. The other owner was highly annoyed, and saw it as killing the goose that lays the golden egg. In the UK scratch tickets are usually dispensed from rolls, so there is no option of pre-choosing the ticket. I would be awfully suspicious of someone coming in with a pile of unscratched lottery tickets to sell You are too right about the lottery. Just a thought. That's making the assumption that the actual POS vendors of said tickets haven't already paid the distributors for the bundles of tickets. Hollywood and the media might want to make it sound like a clever little romp vis-a-vis beating the system, but I've yet to see anyone bankrupt any of the gambling outlets, local state or otherwise. The capitalization of the losing streaks can't work if the number of winners is evenly distributed. On a related note, I wonder if playing on general awareness of this type of hack could actually be used to increase sales. From the manufactures point of view they want to produce them as cheaply as they possibly can ie tenths of a cent form the operators point of view they want to maximise the "hook" value as they get a fixed percentage of retail price. Tags: cheating , lotteries. In Ohio, USA the lottery is marketed as "supporting education". Most interesting is that there's statistical evidence that this sort of attack has been occurring in the wild: not necessarily this particular attack, but some way to separate winners from losers without voiding the tickets. Which would, in turn, mean that you're not 'beating the system', your 'defrauding the other players'. We figured out that you could simply hold the ticket over any light bulb and see right through the scratch-off material. There was a big mercury vapor lamp above the queue which was like a turkish bath but the up side-you could see through and know the size of the discount. Still leaves the profit margins relatively untouched. I stand by my statements. From my view point nearly all lottos are a viciously cinical exploitation of those at the very bottom of society I was wondering why any stores would as is mentioned in the original article buy back any of the tickets or allow people a choice in which ticket they get. At least not when I was a wee little gas station attendant in my high school years. Likewise not all lottery sales are through big state or governmental setups. That generally is not how scratch-off lottery tickets work, though. Store clerks of course can still count the losing streaks, but with up to 10 different cards on dispensers at each till, I doubt that it'd be easy to keep track. Not to mention isn't one of the ideas behind laundering money to avoid paying taxes? If a roll of tickets contains 50 tickets, and every roll is guaranteed to have two winners, there is a chance of the winners clustering at the end in some rolls. As I recall from the few that I've bought, you get the next one on the roll and it never even occurred to me that the sale could be taken back whatever happened to 'all sales are final'? Plenty of white collar bankers out there esp. They also expect that a percentage of winning tickets won't be redeemed; expiration dates are evidence of this. The major flaw in the lottery here is that the store has a machine that tells you if you have won - the usual scandal is the store owner having lots of wins from telling customers especially ones that don't speak english that they have lost and then keeping the winning ticket. Recently a food product I buy regularly started a contest - the inside of the lid has a letter, and if you can collect the letters to form certain words you can win fairly substantial prizes. Even if the dice rolls are "pre-rolled". They're criminals, so I feel its alright to be one too. Sometimes low-tech is the best approach When I was a student, MacDonalds had scratch tickets where you had to open just one box, and that box determined your prize. I'm not sure if the lack of wins actually put anyone off, but the ticket-buying-owner surely didn't make any great fortune, if he even did better than even. For those talkingabout "rolls" of lottery tickets, they are not always sold that way. It depends on the window over which winners are evenly distributed. Even worse, the lottery where I live always tries to associate the lottery with specifically supporting the school system to cover the stink of the ethical failing. Additionally, I don't see pulling the tickets off of the shelves any kind of tell as to the vulnerability of their profit margins.{/INSERTKEYS}{/PARAGRAPH} On the flipside, casinos and lotteries bankrupt your regular joe-middle-income quite frequently, before sending them off to their sister industry: gambling addicts anonymous. I remember when I was a kid, we got scratch-off tickets from the local convenience store where they said every ticket could be a winner, if you scratched the correct apple. That might be easier. Clearly these "hacks" while not terribly profitable for the player affect the bottom line, and clearly the lottery does care about cheaters. Pretty obvious. Flawed or not, the only 'winners' in the lottery are the state, and the gaming commissions. Those small wins are there to encourage people to buy more tickets. I see this as no more significant than counting cards in blackjack. {PARAGRAPH}{INSERTKEYS}Design failure means you can pick winning tickets before scratching the coatings off. Why bother? Everyone else gets like 50 cents on the dollar. If you consider the demographic of those who buy these "last hope" cards then you will get an insight as to why the manufactures printers and operators of such systems don't put a great deal of effort into them. Why would any lottery allow that, it seems stupid at first glance? I ate quite a few free hamburgers these days. I couldn't speak to that with any accuracy, but taking an example from just about every other facet of US retail, it generally doesn't work like that. If the winners are distributed randomly throughout all rolls, you will get some rolls that have no winners at all, yes. Sure, you can do it. Sure, they can already cover the payouts, but they get less in the end. Some jurisdictions allow refunds on unused lottery tickets to reduce gambling addiction! It's ok to level out the playing field.. If the guy who figured it out dismissed it as no more profitable than his day job, Wired is having a slow news day, and got a little woody from his background as a statistician. If you assume any given package of lottery tickets has a similar number of winners, wait until you sell most of the way through the packet without seeing those winners and then buy the rest. Which, considering the multi-billion dollar status of the industry, seems the likeliest of methodologies. I'd better buy more product Sure, we all know that logic is flawed, but this blog is FULL of examples of people misjudging the odds In high school I worked at a small gas station that sold scratch tickets. A reasonably successful strategy for picking winning tickets can turn into a reliable method of laundering money for organized crime. It's obvious looking at the list of words that each word has two unique letters in it, the rest of the letters appear in several or all of the words. But you're not gonna get rich, at least, not before doing some jail time or having your name plastered all over every casino in the country. If the customers don't get that incentive, they stop buying them, and the owner loses that revenue stream. Otherwise, why would the tic-tac-toe game be pulled from stores the day after its flaws were revealed? I had one case personally where a store gave you such discount cards when you stood in queue in front of the cash register. Clever maybe, but kind of ridiculous. They used to be sold from books like you buy raffle tickets. Many charities buy on "sale or return" books of lotto tickets for selling at fairs etc, which is just a variation on raffles or tombolers etc. Also in various european countries disabled or ex service people can buy on sale or return books of tickets that they sell from little kiosks or street corner stands alongside the bigger "draw" lottery ticket sales. Odds are that there's an awful lot of that letter in circulation, and it's the other one in the unique pair that really controls the prize - but a less skeptical person might easily think "Ooh, I got one of the special letters, I'm half-way to winning! So here you would have to buy lots, and return ones you don't want, which still works but is more effort. A hundred times no 6, does not make 6 more likely in dice rolls. The Wired article hints at this: is it possible that this design flaw isn't a flaw at all, but a feature? More winning tickets being redeemed means they pay out more than they were estimating. They are also adding slot machines for the more impatient fools. Thus the people who lose out in the long run are the "last hope" punters laying down the price of a tin of baked beans in the folorn hope of winning the big one. That seems awfully short-sighted; if players only buy winning tickets, lottery revenues would be significantly lower, despite payouts being unchanged or increased. I think we could all agree though, that if any 'hack' in the system was even remotely affecting the bottom line, it would've been noticed straight away. I was thinking the same thing, but then Srivastava said the following: "Of course, you could also just find a retailer willing to cooperate or take a bribe. What the state government never says is that for every dollar that the lottery gives to the education fund, the state takes away a dollar from their budget, so it's a wash. If crime organizations have penetrated the businesses that produce lottery tickets for the states, they can exploit the built-in back door to turn dirty cash into "legitimate" lottery winnings. I would vote against it, but sadly, both major political parties want it. Besides, did anyone stop to think that the lottery only prints winning tickets it can afford to pay for in the first place? Buy singles from a vending machine no returns there , or you buy them off of a roll at a convenience store.