April 01, 2007
Scratch-off ripoff revisited

In February, the Chron printed a story about how the Lottery would continue to sell scratch-off games long past the point where all of the top prizes had been claimed. After the predictable outrage, the Texas Lottery Commission has changed its policies to prevent such ripoffs in the future.

Texas Lottery officials announced Friday they will order all scratch-off tickets pulled as soon as the games' top-tier prizes have been claimed.

The move comes just a month after a Houston Chronicle story highlighted the fact that the agency continued to sell games long after players had virtually no chance of winning the significant prizes advertised.

Agency spokesman Bobby Heith said "public concern" about the games had prompted the decision.

"I don't know that the public has lost faith, but it goes to us wanting to reassure it that our games are the best in the land," Heith said.

Lottery watchdog Gerald Busald hailed the move.

"I'm thrilled. This is one of the things they were adamant about not doing," said Busald, a mathematics professor at San Antonio College who brought the issue to the attention of the agency's commissioners at a public hearing in January.

I agree with Professor Busald that this is a good thing. I only wish I could find a clear definition of the phrase "top-tier prizes" - it's not in the story, and it's not in the TLC news release (PDF). I mean, look back at the original story, which said the following:

[A]nyone spending $5 on a Deal or No Deal scratch-off Friday might entertain hopes of winning the $1 million top prize advertised on the ticket.

But it'd be pure fantasy.

All three of the top prizes have been claimed. So have all four of the $100,000 prizes. And all 10 of the $50,000 prizes. They've been gone since Dec. 9.

"It's an unfair game," said Dawn Nettles, an unofficial, unpaid watchdog of the lottery commission.

In fact, of the 52 $10,000 prizes that were offered for that game, only one remained unclaimed Friday. Taken as a whole, more than 96 percent of the prizes and 99 percent of the money for Deal or No Deal is no longer available -- yet the game continues to be sold statewide.

The point is, at the time of that story, there was still a $10,000 prize unclaimed. Would it be acceptable to keep selling those tickets till that last holdout was located? Or would there need to be an earlier cutoff point? If so, how is that determined? I presume that these details have not been worked out yet, but since I didn't see any clear statement of that, I don't know for certain. Point is, this is only the first step. How the TLC implements this matters as well.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said: "No longer is the public going to be spending money on a fixed game."

Well, that depends on how you define "fixed". The Lottery is still heavily rigged against the customer - it has to be. This makes it slightly less so, but that doesn't change the underlying dynamic.

Patrick said he met with agency officials a month ago and demanded they change their policy on pulling games, and he filed Senate Bill 1200 that would do as much to show them he meant business.


Patrick said despite Friday's development, he will continue to push his bill.

"I want to be sure it is law, just in case," he said.

I think that's appropriate, and I support the passage of Sen. Patrick's bill. There's no need to rely on the goodwill of the agency going forward. This also allows for a stricter definition of how a game gets pulled, if need be.

Side note:

The change comes just weeks before lottery officials plan to introduce a $50 scratch-off game.

A fifty dollar scratch-off game? Holy crap. That makes as much sense to me as a $50 slot machine, but apparently, there's a market for this. I am utterly dumbfounded.

Last but not least, some background info on Gerald Busald and the effect he and his students have had on the TLC. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 01, 2007 to Jackpot!