The history of scratch games

Scratch Games, where it all started!
In 1974 Massachusetts became the first state to offer an instant lottery game using scratch-off tickets. By 2008 games involving scratch tickets (or “scratchers,” as they are called in some states) were extremely popular. Lottery organizations offer many different scratch games with various themes.

Scratch games run for a specified period, usually for several months to a year. Many scratch tickets allow a player to win multiple times on each ticket. The top prize amounts are often hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, some of the games offer prizes besides money, including merchandise, trips, vehicles, and tickets to sporting events and concerts. For example, in 2006 a Missouri scratch game gave away a seat at a table at the World Poker Tour tournament. The total winnings for such prizes often include payment by the lottery commission of federal and state income taxes on the value of the prizes.

Many lotteries have teamed with sports franchises and other companies to provide popular products as prizes. For example, in June 2008 the New Jersey Lottery Commission announced a scratch game in which a Harley-Davidson motorcycle was the top prize. Many brand-name promotions feature famous celebrities, sports figures and teams, or cartoon characters. These merchandising deals benefit the companies through product exposure and advertising; the lotteries benefit because the companies share advertising costs.

In 2008 most states offered “high-profit point tickets”— scratch tickets priced as high as $30, which are often part of a holiday or themed promotion. (Traditional scratch tickets sell for $1 to $5.) The higher-priced tickets appeal to many scratch players because they offer more valuable prizes and payouts than regular-priced tickets. However, in “‘Zero’ Chance Lottery Tickets Stun Some Players” (, July 7, 2008), Jason Carroll and Susan Chun report that in 2008 state lotteries came under fire for continuing to sell the high-priced scratch-off tickets even after the top prize had been won. In fact, Scott Hoover of Washington and Lee University sued the state of Virginia for a breach of contract after he bought a scratch-off ticket called “Beginner’s Luck” and later learned the top prizes had already been won.

Most lotteries operate toll-free numbers or Web sites that provide information on scratch-game prizes. Patrons can find out which prizes have been awarded and which remain to be claimed.