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Pennsylvania Lottery Scratch Games Investigated

Pennsylvania LotteryPennsylvania Lottery: Pennsylvania Lottery Scratch Games Investigated

Lottery tickets -- even the instant kind -- don't last forever.


Not knowing about that expiration date could ruin your lucky day.


If you've ever played a scratch-off lottery game, you have plenty of company in western Pennsylvania.


Instant lottery ticket sales last year were $12 million in Beaver County, $14 million in Butler County, $36 million in Westmoreland County, $15 million in Washington County and $97 million -- the highest in Pennsylvania -- in Allegheny County.


Ed Mahlman, Pennsylvania Lottery director: "They're almost half our sales and they are easy to play. There's no drawing. There's a market for that."


That market is huge -- almost $1 billion in sales statewide, just for scratch-off games.


But the players who are plunking down the bucks have no idea that, in some cases, they have no chance of winning the big prize because the big prize has already been won.


Team 4 went shopping a few weeks ago for scratch-off games and took a hidden camera along. At store after store, we found a $5 Doughman Dollars game for sale -- the same game the Pennsylvania Lottery promoted heavily in December.


Doughman Dollars promises 10 top prizes of $50,000. By late January, when we found it still for sale in store after store, all 10 of those prizes had already been claimed, but players didn't know that.


It's not just this game. It happens all the time.


Mahlman: "When the top prize is won, we immediately take steps to set an end date for that product."


But while the lottery is taking those steps, unsuspecting players are still buying.


At Chow Chow's grocery in Plum, we found Doughman Dollars and three other instant games that were expired. Months earlier, the lottery division had terminated Lucky Loot, Supercash and 3 Times Lucky. By law, these tickets weren't allowed to be sold any more. But here they were.


Parsons: "I was just in here and I purchased some lottery tickets. Three of these games are expired."


Anwar Durrani, lottery retailer: "Expired?"


Parsons: "These games are terminated. It's illegal to sell these games after the termination date. Did you know that?"


Durrani: "I really don't know about that."


He said he also didn't know that Doughman Dollars was out of top prizes, even though it was still a valid game.


Durrani: "There must be lower prizes if the major prizes are gone."


Parsons: "Yes. The big prizes are all gone, though."


Durrani: "Even if the big prizes are gone, they have to finish those tickets, which we have. They do have some prizes on that."


Parsons: "But do you think people would buy Doughman Dollars if they knew that all the big prizes were gone?"


Durrani: "I don't think so, but still, we are selling. Believe me."


He says he keeps selling instant tickets until they're all gone because the lottery doesn't tell him when the top prizes are claimed or when the games are terminated.


Other retailers we spoke with, including a beer distributor in Elizabeth, agreed.


Parsons: "Does the lottery ever notify you when a game has been terminated? Do they let you know that?"


Karen Rischitelli, lottery retailer: "They let us know when they're sending the lottery tickets out. As far as being terminated, no."


The lottery director disputes that, and he claims that his agency notifies retailers when the last top prize has been claimed. But why doesn't the lottery immediately suspend ticket sales when that happens?


Mahlman: "There can be an audience for the product among some of their customers."


Parsons: "What kind of an audience would there be?"


Mahlman: "Maybe for lower-tier prizes."


Parsons: "Do you think that customers would want to buy a ticket?"


Mahlman: "No, from our point of view, we want to get the word out quickly that the top prizes are gone."


Here's how we figured out that these four tickets we purchased were sure-fire losers:



  • We got our information by going to the Pennsylvania Lottery Web site, www.palottery.com, where there's a listing of all instant games.


  • We checked out all four games and found that, while most games have links to give you more information about that game, the four that we purchased had no links. There's no more information.


  • After checking with the lottery, we confirmed that if their Web site has no more links on a game, it means there are no more top prizes remaining. But you have to figure that out on your own.

Kathy Bush, of Uniontown, figured out how to use the lottery's Web site. She especially likes the feature that tells her how many prizes remain for each instant game. She has won the top prize four different times.


Bush: "What I do is I go on there and see what is left. If there's a lot left, then you know there is a good possibility of winning something. If there's not a lot left, you just move to another game."


Bush is not the typical lottery player. Most players won't check the Internet before making a purchase. They want to know they have a fair shot at winning the big prize.


Ben Gross, lottery player: "I think that's a bait and switch. They're offering you a prize that's not available."


Desiree Jefferson, lottery player: "I'm going to stop playing. I shouldn't be playing anyway. You're not supposed to gamble. But I guess I'm going to stop for sure now that I know I'm not going to win the jackpot."


Something extraordinary has happened since we interviewed the director of the Pennsylvania Lottery about 10 days ago for this story. The lottery has contacted all 7,700 retailers in Pennsylvania to tell them to pull all expired games off their shelves. Also, the lottery has improved its Web site so you can now find out when all the top prizes for a game are gone.


The lottery admits it wasn't doing a good enough job of communicating with its retailers. They think they have that problem fixed now.

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22 comments. Last comment 9 years ago by DoctorEw220.
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Litebets27's avatar - power
Maryland
United States
Member #10465
January 14, 2005
5398 Posts
Offline
Posted: February 15, 2005, 10:58 am - IP Logged

 

  Sounds fishy.     

    Todd's avatar - Cylon 2.gif
    Chief Bottle Washer
    New Jersey
    United States
    Member #1
    May 31, 2000
    21231 Posts
    Online
    Posted: February 15, 2005, 11:11 am - IP Logged

    The Real Media video does not appear to be working, but I'd recommend people check out the Windows Media video.  It's a good report.

     

    Check the State Lottery Report Card
    What grade did your lottery earn?

     

    Sign the Petition for True Lottery Drawings
    Help eliminate computerized drawings!

      lazyjim's avatar - redhead
      White Mountains AZ
      United States
      Member #11140
      February 6, 2005
      114 Posts
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      Posted: February 15, 2005, 11:56 am - IP Logged

      I contacted the Arizona lottery about the very same thing. 

      They said they send people out to collect the tickets remaining from the vendors after the last top prize is gone but that sometimes it takes a while, especially in remote areas like where I live.  Yeah, right.

      I guess it's impossible to notify the vendors to stop selling them by any way but car.  Very high-tech operation.

        Avatar
        Pa
        United States
        Member #2485
        October 9, 2003
        316 Posts
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        Posted: February 15, 2005, 9:11 pm - IP Logged

         I always check the prizes still remaining because I said it before they keep the tickets out there when the large prizes are won and it is wrong. I know from working at a store where I ran the machine. It does not tell your remaining winners.

          MADDOG10's avatar - smoke
          North Jersey
          United States
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          July 18, 2004
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          Posted: February 15, 2005, 9:47 pm - IP Logged

           IMG alt=Gas src= http://smileys.smileycentral.com/cat/36/36_11_12.gif"> 

                                                                      Your Best Teacher, is Your First Mistake.

            GoArmy's avatar - redcross
            Waukegan, IL
            United States
            Member #8043
            October 22, 2004
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            Posted: February 15, 2005, 11:14 pm - IP Logged

            Grammy,

            Love the nick by the way. The store where I go to posts the data for all of their scratch off tickets. I never buy them hardly, cant get that garbage all over the vette.

              Todd's avatar - Cylon 2.gif
              Chief Bottle Washer
              New Jersey
              United States
              Member #1
              May 31, 2000
              21231 Posts
              Online
              Posted: February 16, 2005, 12:21 am - IP Logged

              What kind of vette do you have?

               

              Check the State Lottery Report Card
              What grade did your lottery earn?

               

              Sign the Petition for True Lottery Drawings
              Help eliminate computerized drawings!

                Avatar

                United States
                Member #1826
                July 11, 2003
                2645 Posts
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                Posted: February 16, 2005, 12:58 am - IP Logged
                Quote: Originally posted by lazyjim on February 15, 2005

                I contacted the Arizona lottery about the very same thing.

                They said they send people out to collect the tickets remaining from the vendors after the last top prize is gone but that sometimes it takes a while, especially in remote areas like where I live. Yeah, right.

                I guess it's impossible to notify the vendors to stop selling them by any way but car. Very high-tech operation.








                Seems like the Auto Manufacturers have even got the AZ Lottery under their cult. Is there any gov't branch that isn't a lackey for GM? <stopping punditry>

                (insert signature here)

                  DoctorEw220's avatar - alien helmet.jpg
                  Yinzer Country, PA
                  United States
                  Member #4067
                  March 18, 2004
                  2732 Posts
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                  Posted: February 16, 2005, 2:40 am - IP Logged

                  WTG Jim Parsons. He, as well as WTAE TV in Pittsburgh, always go above and beyind with their stories. I almos always watch the 11:00 News on WTAE when I'm home.



                  Anyway...



                  I can vouch for the lottery when they say that they do notify the retailers about ending games. I have seen the psheets of paper the retailers get every month. It says of any promotions, the new insant games, which games they reccommend the retailers stock in the vending machines, and end dates for instant games. Also, the lottery did issue a report on the terminals concerning the end of doughman dollars since too many retailers were still selling it.

                  I've redone my website.  Go to www.dr-ew.com.  I kept a lot of the old stuff, and I've added some new stuff.  Look for more new stuff in the coming weeks.

                    dvdiva's avatar - 8ball

                    United States
                    Member #2338
                    September 17, 2003
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                    Posted: February 16, 2005, 2:48 am - IP Logged

                    The only solution is to make them not expire at all. Same as gift certificates (in WA state anyways).

                      DoctorEw220's avatar - alien helmet.jpg
                      Yinzer Country, PA
                      United States
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                      March 18, 2004
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                      Posted: February 16, 2005, 2:59 am - IP Logged

                      here are a few possinle problems with that.



                      1. There are games that are centered around an dvent or holiday that are only intended to be sold around that time.



                      2. Eventually you are going to run out of prizes altogether.



                      An easier solution would be what PA does with the popular games. They constantly re-introduce them. Think of how many Win For Life games they've offered.

                      I've redone my website.  Go to www.dr-ew.com.  I kept a lot of the old stuff, and I've added some new stuff.  Look for more new stuff in the coming weeks.

                        dvdiva's avatar - 8ball

                        United States
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                        Posted: February 16, 2005, 3:14 am - IP Logged

                        Well they could have the same expiration date as lotto tickets. Say a one year exiration date. Tickets not sold in one year probably belong to a game that didn't sell well anyways.

                          four4me's avatar - gate1
                          MD
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                          June 18, 2003
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                          Posted: February 16, 2005, 3:17 am - IP Logged

                          There is no easy solution to this. If the pa lottery orders 10 million dollars worth of scratch off tickets and distributes them throught PA. Do the retailers pay for the tickets then sell them for the lottery. Does the lottery reimburse the retailers for any unsold tickets. What if i buy a winning top teir ticket and hold onto it until 3 weeks before the games ends. Who would know it was sold except me. I know the books are scanned in but unless i redeem it how do they know it's sold until it's validated at lottery headquarters.

                          If they in fact sell the 10 million dollars worth of tickets to the distributors then in effect they have allready sold the winning tickets of every payout structure. Even before they are scratched. What about the remaining prizes after the top teir tickets are sold. Does the lottery get rembursed for the remainding prizes. If the lottery is to profit from the scratchers how do they accomplish this unless they sell every ticket in the pool of tickets.

                            dvdiva's avatar - 8ball

                            United States
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                            Posted: February 16, 2005, 3:27 am - IP Logged

                            I'm sure that unsold tickets are sent back to the state like unsold newspapers. If retailers had to pay for unsold tickets than the lottery could kiss the retail sector of distribution goodbye.