I love instant win lottery scratch cards. I’m always preaching the gospel of scratch off lottery tickets. They’re fun, they’re affordable, and they make great gifts.
This post is all about instant win lottery tickets, or scratch cards, or whatever you like to call them.
I’m lucky enough to live in Texas, a state with a robust and successful state lottery program. We get tons of new tickets on what seems like a monthly basis. I can buy scratch off tickets everywhere from my gas station to my grocery store to my local watering hole.
If you want to learn everything there is to know about scratch tickets, read this post.
Lottery Scratch Card Basics
Instant win scratch cards are a popular lottery product. They’re issued by various state lotteries. Just about every state that sells lottery draw game tickets also sells instant win games.
Most of these games ask players to scratch part of the surface to reveal if they’ve won or lost. Some instant win games don’t require you to scratch anything, with your win or loss printed directly on the ticket.
These instant win games are available in eight standard denominations.
Not every state offers every denomination, though.
Generally, you’ll find instant win scratch lottery tickets at the following prices:
Why do people play instant win lottery tickets?
I feel qualified to answer this question. I’ve been buying them for a couple of decades now and I’ve written quite a bit on the topic.
Here are the three main reasons people play scratch off tickets:
- for entertainment (the games are fun)
- to gamble (scratch off games have slightly better odds than traditional lottery games)
- just because (usually an impulse purchase at a gas station or grocery store)
9 in 10 Americans have easy access to instant win lottery games. The rest of this post explains how these cards work, the prizes they offer, and strategy tips to help you win more often.
Instant Win Lottery Ticket Prizes
Every state lottery program operates independently of every other program. There’s no standard pay table or set of prizes for scratch off lottery tickets. It varies from game to game.
In general, the more you spend on the ticket, the larger your potential prize pool. Some scratch off lottery tickets offer million-dollar prizes. Other tickets have smaller top prizes.
Let’s look at two scratch off tickets from Missouri for an example of the kind of prizes available on these games.
Triple Payout – $1
Triple Payout is a simple game. Scratch and reveal your two numbers, then scratch and match with any number on the game board. Your prize is listed next to the matching symbol.
The top prize on Missouri’s popular Triple Payout $1 scratch off ticket is $6,000. The other big payouts are $1,000, $2,000, and $3,000.
All told, just 28 of these tickets have prizes of $1,000 or more, out of approximately 13.8 million printed tickets. You’ve got about a 1 in 576,000 chance of scoring a four-digit prize on this game.
But your odds of winning any prize are a lot better – 1 in 4.71. Those odds include your chances of winning 1 of the 1.3 million or so free ticket prizes that constitute the bottom end of the pay table.
Millionaire Blowout – $50
Right now, Millionaire Blowout is Missouri’s only $50 game. Scratch your winning numbers, then scratch and match hoping to claim a big prize.
Millionaire Blowout has a total prize pool of more than $320 million. That includes the two top prizes. The big payday is a $5 million payout – four of them, to be exact. The game also has 21 $1 million prize winners.
Missouri printed about 11.3 million of these tickets. Just 25 of them will make you a millionaire. That means each time you buy a Millionaire Blowout ticket, you have about a 1 in 452,000 chance of scoring a million-dollar (or larger) prize.
Your odds on this game are much better overall than on the $1 ticket above. Based on the pay table, you have odds of 1 in 2.84 of winning any prize, including the base $50 “break-even” prize.
Spending more on a scratch-off ticket tends to get you better odds and access to larger prizes. More on this in the section on improving your odds below.
How to Pick an Instant Win Lottery Ticket
Picking an instant win lottery ticket is hard because there’s so much choice.
Here’s a personal example:
Just this morning I went out for some grocery staples. At the checkout line, I saw that their lottery ticket vending machine had just been restocked and I spied some new games I hadn’t seen before.
Walking up to that machine reminded me of being a kid at the carnival. Too much to do and too little time in which to do it.
In Texas, the machines sell everything from $1 tickets up to the big $50 cards. Picking a denomination is hard enough – once you’ve decided how much to play, you have to pick a game.
Here’s my process for picking an instant win lottery ticket:
1. Decide why I’m playing.
Knowing why you’re buying a ticket has a big effect on which ticket you buy.
Sometimes I’m playing just for a little entertainment. I’m not worried about winning or about how much I might win. Other times, I’m playing instant win lottery games from a strategic perspective. In short, I’m playing to win.
If I’m just playing for fun, I’m likely to buy a less expensive ticket. Something simple and mindless I can play in the parking lot while I’m getting my music ready for the ride home.
If I’m trying to play from an advantage, I’m probably going to want to spend more money to chase better odds.
2. Decide how much I can afford to lose.
Rule of thumb – only buy lottery tickets that cost as much as you can get away with burning.
Your lottery budget should be no more than you can afford to lose.
If you can afford to spend $20 on gourmet coffees after breakfast, you can probably afford to spend $20 on lottery tickets.
On those grocery trips when I decide to play instant win lottery games, I like to think about how much money I could lose in the store without being upset. Usually, that’s somewhere between $1 and $10.
What I’m trying to avoid is a situation where I’m spending money that’s budgeted for something else to chase a lottery ticket win.
3. Pick a denomination.
With my goal and my budget in mind, settling on a denomination is pretty easy.
One complication – living in Texas, I often have as many as nine denominations to pick from.
Another wrinkle: if I have $20 to spend, do I buy one $20 ticket, two $10 tickets, or some combination of smaller amounts? Is it better to have more tickets or one ticket with better odds?
A lot of this comes down to experience and personal preference.
This particular morning, I bought a $50 card that I hadn’t tried yet – $200,000,000 Cash Blowout. I won $75, for the record. That’s a 130% return on my investment. Sometimes it makes sense to buy that one big ticket.
4. Pick a card.
Here’s where personal preference really comes into play.
I hate crossword-style instant win games. They take me too long to play, and they don’t match my playing style.
My wife, on the other hand, enjoys that kind of ticket. It slows her down and forces her to focus, and that makes for a better slice of entertainment for her.
It may take some time playing different card styles before you settle on your preferred ticket style.
3 Examples of Good Instant Win Scratch Lottery Cards
Below are three active lottery tickets from around the country that I think represent the best available in instant win lottery games.
1- 24K Gold (Missouri Lottery)
24K Gold is a $20 ticket by the Missouri Lottery. I like it mostly because it has great odds for a $20 instant win game.
Your overall odds of winning any prize are 1 in 3 including $20 break-even prizes. That means just about 1/3 of all 24K Gold tickets you buy will be winners.
I’m always happy to find tickets at the $20 or less price point with decent odds.
2- Millionaire Bucks (Texas Lottery)
I really like Texas’ $30 Millionaire Bucks game. I think it has the best odds of any $30 ticket I’ve seen or written about from any state lottery program.
Your overall odds of winning any prize on Millionaire Bucks are 1 in 2.66 but remember that includes the $30 break-even prize. You have about a 37.5% chance of winning on every Millionaire Bucks ticket you buy.
Those odds mean this is a low volatility instant win lottery ticket. To me, frequent wins are more fun than occasional big prizes.
Also, at the time of this post, there are still 2 top prizes of $3 million unclaimed. I like chasing unclaimed top prizes, even though I’ve never hit anything larger than a $1,000 win.
3- $1,000,000 Cash Blowout (Ohio Lottery)
This ticket caught my eye because of its annuity-based top prize ($40,000 per year for 25 years) and because it has decent odds for a $10 ticket.
Ohio Lottery printed four tickets with that “$40k/year for 25 years” prize, and only one has been claimed at the time of this post. The next top prize is worth $20,000, with more than 50 still unclaimed.
The overall odds of winning any prize on Ohio Lottery’s $1,000,000 Cash Blowout game are 1 in 3.68. That means about 27% of all tickets are winners. Remember that this includes the break-even base prize.
How to Improve Your Odds of Winning at Scratch Cards
The three tips below are the tools I use to increase my chances of winning on instant win games:
1- Buy the most expensive ticket you can afford.
Unlike with slot machines or other forms of gambling, you can actually improve your odds of winning on scratch off tickets by spending more money.
For example, Ohio has five tickets that cost $30. These are their most expensive instant win lottery tickets. The average overall odds of winning on these tickets is 1 in 2.7. That means more than a third of all $30 tickets in Ohio are winners.
Compare that to Ohio’s $1 tickets. These cheaper products have average overall odds of winning of 1 in 4.6. That means only about 1 in 5 of Ohio’s $1 tickets are winners.
Clearly, you have a bigger edge against the “house” when you play more expensive tickets.
2- Check for unclaimed prizes.
Most state lottery programs publish lists of tickets along with information about total prizes and how many of each prize has already been claimed.
Logically, you have better odds playing a game with most prizes still unclaimed. Your odds decrease as prizes fall off the board. This is particularly true when a game’s top prizes are all claimed.
Before you buy a ticket, know how many prizes you’re chasing have already been claimed.
3- Play older games.
It’s good to play new games because they have the most unclaimed prizes.
But old games with some big prize amounts remaining can also confer great odds.
Think of it this way – as more tickets are sold without giving away those top prizes, the pool of possible winning tickets shrinks. If a game with a $1 million top prize started with a pool of 4 million total tickets, that game’s odds skyrocket if half of those tickets sell without paying out the jackpot.
An old game with enough big prizes remaining to keep you interested is the best scratch off lottery ticket you can buy in terms of odds.
Conclusion: Instant Win Lottery Scratch Cards
This post explains everything a person needs to know before playing instant win lottery scratch cards.
Don’t be intimidated by selection. If you understand your reason for playing and stick to a budget, lottery scratch off tickets can be a legitimate form of entertainment and advantage gambling.