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Scratch-off ripoff

As someone once said, “Of course the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you–if you don’t play, you can’t win.” Except that with scratch-off games, you might not be able to win anyway.

anyone 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.

“It’s deceptive,” said Gerald Busald, a mathematics professor at San Antonio College who also monitors the commission’s practices. “Just because someone will buy it doesn’t mean it’s morally right for them to sell it.”

The lottery’s loophole comes in a one-sentence disclaimer printed on the back of each ticket that says: A scratch-off game may continue to be sold even when all the top prizes have been claimed.

“Our mission is to generate revenue for the state of Texas and if games are still profitable, they’ll continue to be sold. For a lot of the games, there are significant prizes, second- and third-tier prizes,” said agency spokesman Robert Heith.

Heith said the agency has no set formula for deciding when to close games. One rule of thumb is to close them when 80 to 90 percent of the prize money has been awarded.

But the Houston Chronicle found that upward of 90 percent of the prizes had been claimed in nine of the 75 or so scratch-off games on sale Friday.

I suppose it had never occurred to me that the various scratch-off games were each a limited set of game pieces, with a fixed number of prizes. For some reason, when I bothered to pay attention to the ads, I’d always envisioned these games as being continuous, with the prizes being a proportion of the pieces produced rather than a fixed number. Good thing I never paid any money for them, I’d have been a top-notch sucker.

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  1. Charles Hixon says:

    …if you don’t play, you can’t win

    If I don’t play, you can’t win.
    If you don’t play, I can’t win.
    If I don’t play, I can’t lose.
    If I can’t play, I don’t lose.
    If I can’t win, I don’t play.

  2. Bill K says:

    I noticed this morning the local HEB had posted the remaining prizes for each scratch-off game on the machine vending them in the store. So at least you know your chances at this location.