How Are Scratch-Off Tickets Made?
Millions of people play the lottery every year, and one of the most popular forms of lottery is scratch-off tickets. Also called instant tickets, these are the cards that players can buy and learn within seconds whether or not they’re a big winner—no need to wait for a weekly draw. Scratch-off tickets come with many different prize amounts, games, and themes, and work by having players scratch off panels that reveal numbers, letters, or symbols that must match designated numbers, letters, or symbols elsewhere on the ticket to win specified prizes. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “How are scratch-off tickets made?” we’re here to answer that question.
Security Features of Scratch-Off Tickets
There is a lot of money at stake in the lottery, and a significant part of the process of making scratch-off tickets is ensuring that the cards are tamper and fraud-proof. After all, part of the fun of buying lotto tickets is that everyone has an equal chance of winning. Some methods of ticket fraud include analysing serial numbers and batches to find winning tickets, trying to view the symbols through the scratch-off coating, separating the layers of the tickets to view the symbols, or using a solvent to make the symbols bleed through the scratch-off coating.
All of these nefarious methods are taken into consideration when designing and making scratch-off tickets, though the techniques used vary by game. Similarly, the way scratch-off cards are made may change and evolve as fraudsters develop new techniques to circumvent the odds and claim prizes through deception and criminality.
How Are Scratch-Off Tickets Printed?
There are generally two different techniques used to print scratch-off cards, both of which begin with a stiff paper-based or plastic card. The first technique is a continuous feed process, where sheets of the paper card tickets are run through a computer-controlled printer. The other is the sheet press technique, which involves sheets of the paper tickets being imprinted by engraved plates. In both of these processes, game information such as ticket price, rules, prize information, validation dates, and graphics are printed onto the appropriate paper card material using ink. The printing process essentially transfers the basics of the game as you see it in the store onto the cards.
Once the printing is complete, the paper card sheets are sliced into tickets, shuffled, and stacked so that the winning tickets are randomly separated. Manufacturers do not want the tickets to be kept in consecutive order, as winning tickets need to be distributed to a wide and far-reaching network of lottery retailers. This helps keep the distribution of winning tickets random and gives players from all over an equal chance of purchasing a life-changing ticket.
How Are Scratch-Off Tickets Coded?
Placing the serial number coding on the cards is one of the most important parts of making scratch-off tickets. The serial number is a series of alphanumeric digits that the lottery operator uses to track tickets through distribution, and that selling agents and retailers use to determine whether the ticket is a winner. Serial numbers contain other information such as whether the game is only valid until a certain date.
The way the serial number is applied to the ticket varies based on the printing technique. If tickets are printed through a continuous feed, the printer will likely use a sequencer that advances the coded number with each sheet of tickets that passes through the printing press. An advanced algorithmic process is used to determine which serial numbers contain a winning ticket, and to record this information as the tickets are printed.
If tickets are made through the sheet printing technique, then the serial number will be applied after the tickets are cut, shuffled, and stacked. The individual tickets will then be run through a serializer, which adds a computer-generated number onto the ticket using an ink jet printer. Sensors on the printer read and transmit information from the serial number as they are printed.
How Are Scratch-Off Tickets Made?
The final step in making scratch-off tickets as we see them in the store is the process of coating the tickets to conceal the game. This is the part that gives the tickets their ‘scratch-off’ quality, as concealing coating is applied to the ticket. The concealing coating placed on the tickets is very important, as it has to be opaque enough that the game panel symbols are visually impenetrable. They also need to be able to be scratched off easily, though not be able to be rubbed off accidentally through the delivery process or at any other stage before the buyer is able to play the game.
The material used for concealment varies. Some tickets use a metal or aluminum foil that is applied using pressure. Pull tabs may also be used for concealment, though this method is not as common as it used to be in the past. Today, the most popular material used is an acrylic or latex film that is applied in several layers. First, the panels on the ticket are treated with a primer coating that makes it easier for the other layers to adhere to the surface. Next, random lines or symbols in the same colour as the winning symbols are applied in what is known as a confusion pattern. The next layer is the letters, numbers, or symbols that make up the game, which are printed onto the other layers. A seal coat is then applied.
The final layer is the highly opaque concealing coating that is most often made of carbon black pigment or an aluminum paste mixed together with acrylic resins. Other solvents, such as methyl ethyl ketone, may also be mixed with the paste. To finish off the ticket, an additional confusion pattern is added on top of the opaque coating before additional graphics and instructions are printed on.
A lot of work goes into making sure that all lottery players have an equal chance of purchasing a winning ticket from a licensed lottery retailer. The work of outsmarting potential fraudsters starts with the design of the ticket and continues through every process of making scratch-off tickets. Scratch-off tickets are made with the intention of making the games as fun as possible for players, which includes offering an easy user experience that conceals the results until the final scratch.
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