How to Tell if a Lottery Ticket is a Winner Without Scratching It
In a world full of losing lottery tickets, it would be nice to have a way of knowing whether or not a ticket is a winner before buying it—even if it’s a small prize. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, primarily because scratch-offs are meant to be random and not at all obvious. Still, most of us often ask ourselves how to tell if a lottery ticket is a winner without scratching it, and in this article we’ll take a look at a few people who successfully managed to do so.
Mohan Srivastava: Hacking the Scratch
In June 2003, Toronto-based geological statistician Mohan Srivastava won a measly $3 on an old tic-tac-toe ticket he’d found. Though the amount was small, Mohan was thrilled. He soon started to ponder how such tickets were made and how the computer program used to generate them would determine the winning tickets. It was evident to him that there was no way this was random, as the lottery corporation would have to have its limits on winning tickets. With that, Mohan started to question whether he could figure out which tickets were winners. He wanted to crack the code.
After a long day at work, Mohan had figured out an algorithm that the little voice in his head wouldn’t let him forget. He knew he could likely prove a flaw in the lottery system, which could potentially be exploited by players persistent enough to win the lottery. He realised the tic-tac-toe lottery game made certain numbers visible that would be the ultimate clue in determining which tickets were winners. He referred to it as a “secret code,” though he deemed it to be incredibly simple.
Essentially, Mohan would categorise numbers based on how many times it appeared on a card and determine whether a ticket was a winner based on the way numbers were repeated. He placed a special focus on “singletons,” or numbers that only appeared once on a tic-tac-toe board. With singletons typically being repeated under the latex coating that disguises the winning code, Mohan was able to figure out that singletons appearing in a row on one of the boards typically indicated it was a winning ticket. He figured out that his method worked about 90% of the time.
Instead of taking advantage of the flaw, Mohan reported it to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. From there, he was put in contact with Rob Zufelt, who worked as a member of the security team for the corporation. When he didn’t receive word back, Mohan followed up by sending Zufelt a package, which came with 20 unscratched tickets that he sorted by what he determined to be winners and losers. When Rob reached out, he confirmed Mohan’s suspicions—he’d accurately predicted 19 of the 20 tickets sent, effectively proving that his method worked. This eventually led to the tic-tac-toe game being pulled.
Mohan soon learned that his trick would work beyond the tic-tac-toe game when his friend from Colorado sent him some lottery tickets. The singleton method worked on those tickets as well, though the accuracy was a bit lower—down from 90% to 70%. The same occurred with a Super Bingo game featured in Ontario despite not having the same flaw as the original game. When he revealed this to the Ontario Lottery, they pulled that game as well.
During an interview in 2013 with the New York Times, Mohan Srivastava said he believed that this method could still be utilised to determine winning tickets, though it may be more restricted with tickets being mass-produced in the millions and the ten top prize winners being spread throughout the country. He also noted that an app designed to detect winners could be effective if properly and methodically written. He suspects that there are still effective ways to crack tickets, even newer ones, though he’s a committed career man and doesn’t have much time to continue figuring them out anymore.
Joan Ginther: Gaming the System?
Joan Ginther, a Las Vegas resident with a Ph.D. from Stanford, is among the winners who many believe may have scammed the system. Ginther seemed to know exactly what she needed to do to win big, to the point that she won the Texas Lottery four times over ten years. However, it was determined that she likely spent $3.3 million on tickets over time, which resulted in $20 million in winnings. Weirdly enough, each of her tickets was purchased from the same store in Texas, and each big win always amounted to the millions. Likewise, people suspected she had a hand in her friend Anna Morales’s 23 wins—seven of which won her between $1,000 to $10,000.
Despite her name becoming popular in the media, Joan has refused to be featured in any interviews, which has left the population to speculate how she did it. Writers at Philly started to investigate her many wins, and after analysing Texas Lottery records with experts, they found that Joan likely just followed basic gambling principles. It wasn’t the answer the public was looking for, but it serves as a great reminder to play smart.
So, Is There a Way to Tell if a Lottery Scratcher Is a Winner?
Just as Mohan Srivastava stated above, there may still be ways that the code behind scratch tickets even nowadays can be cracked. However, for the most part this will be much harder to do than it was before the types of faults that Srivastava pointed out were fixed—at least in North America. However, it’s entirely possible that other countries’ scratchers still have undiscovered faults in them that, to an extremely analytical eye, could still be taken advantage of.
Realistically though, it’s incredibly unlikely that most lottery players have the time or knowhow to play methodically. However, playing smart and assessing numbers may very well increase your likelihood of winning big, even if there’s no 100% guarantee that you’ll buy a winning ticket.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer assessed, there’s no true randomness in the lottery, especially with pre-printed scratch cards. When it comes to certain games, the Texas Lottery is specific about the number of winners in each pack of tickets. This allows players to pay attention to where the winners come from and how many winners there have been, which is essential in figuring out whether to continue playing from a specific pack or switch to another one.
In terms of knowing whether a ticket is a winner before scratching, there is no tried and true guarantee. Mohan Srivastava’s method is useful and worth utilising if you have the time, but with how games have changed over time, it may not work as efficiently. The lottery isn’t always fair, so if you find that you never run into a big winning ticket, remember that many people are in the same boat with you. We’d all like to know how to crack the lottery, but unfortunately it’s just not that simple.
While there are tips and tricks when it comes to playing lottery games, it is impossible to guarantee that every scratch-off you buy is a winner. Lottery winners exist all over the world and have one very crucial thing in common: luck. After all, it’s merely luck of the draw once your cards are in. Instead of looking for a way to ensure your ticket is a winner without scratching it, take advantage of the different lotto strategies available to you—they could very well be your key to taking home millions.