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Ask Matt ... about lottery scratch-off tricks

Q. I keep seeing this funky TV ad with a guy in a calendar costume doing a jig for new scratch-off lottery tickets every first Tuesday of the month. What does he mean by that?

With good fortune, I located Kathleen Jacob, public affairs specialist with the North Carolina Education Lottery, who explained the First Tuesday promotional campaign. It works like this. At any given time the lottery has 50 scratch-off games with tickets priced from $1 to $30. “Just like McDonald’s promotes new menu items and Ingles advertises its weekly specials, the lottery does the same with new scratch-off games,” Jacob said. The life of any game can be a year or longer and each game has both big and small prizes just waiting to be won.
But what a casual player may not know is that there is an edge to be gotten because one can easily check how many top prizes are left for each game by going online ( Blackjack, for example, is a $1 scratch-off that offers a top prize of $5,000 and eight lucky players can win that much. Six have already hit it big. After the last two top prizes are claimed, they will replace Blackjack with another game. Lucky 7s, another $1 game launched in early 2014, has been around the longest but it still has 20 top prizes of $7,000 and many more lesser cash prizes. A savvy lottery player knows where the big money is. They know, for example, that Fat Wallet is a brand new scratch-off game with a $200,000 top prize — enough to put a shiny new car in your garage and a big dent in your mortgage. Those tickets cost $5 each but all four of the top prizes are still in play.
I have been asked about the amount of money returned by the N.C. Education Lottery to local schools. In FY 2015, lottery ticket sales in Henderson County totaled $17 million. Here’s where it went: lucky lottery winners got $11 million, local store owners got $1.2 million in commissions (7% of the ticket price), and the county schools got $5 million. The lottery system can only record point-of-sale and out-of-town ticket buyers and winners cannot be tracked. So looking at the big picture — what we spent here on all lottery tickets and what came back to our schools, businesses and of course, our lucky winners — we broke even. OK, let’s qualify that. Not everyone broke even but who’s going to admit they lost a bundle on Powerball or Lucky 7’s?

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