Most players know the odds of getting rich from the Georgia Lottery are slim, but a recent investigation found you have no chance of winning the top cash prize when you play some scratch-off games.
One of those games is 5 Karat Gold, a $1 instant game. Records from the Georgia Lottery show the game has no top prizes left because they were all claimed by mid-November.
If I already knew that, then there's no way I'd buy this ticket, said player Brian Wright. That would be a false investment."
Additional records from October show a $100,000 game called Cash In and a $10,000 game called Groovy Bucks with no top prizes, either.
Yet in all three cases, the Georgia Lottery kept selling the games.
It's not unusual.
11Alive News found 11 states also sell instant games after the top prizes are gone. But 11 others, including Tennessee and Virginia, stop games when someone claims the last top prize.
"If the Georgia Lottery wishes to continue to sell the game, I think the information that there are no longer top prizes in existence should be forthcoming," said former player Tim Schabel. He criticized the way the Georgia Lottery runs instant games in an editorial he wrote last fall after he called the lottery hotline to get information about top prizes.
"I got the runaround, he said. They initially said, `Well, we don't have that information. I said, `Of course, you have that information. They said, `Well, we really can't give it to you.
But a few weeks ago, the Georgia Lottery began posting top prize numbers on its Web site.
It shows all of the scratch-off games currently on sale have some top prizes remaining. Yet 25 percent of the games have only one top prize left.
You know a lot of players play our games not only to win the top prize, but keep in mind 80 percent to 90 percent of prizes available may be in that second- or third-tier level of prizes," said J.B. Landroche, communications director of the Georgia Lottery.
11Alive News talked with the head of the mathematics department at Georgia Tech who told us you can improve your odds of winning a top prize by choosing games that have more top prizes left.
All of Georgia's instant games include the following disclaimer on the back: prizes are subject to prior sales.
Some stores may still be selling 5 Karat Gold, but the lottery is now in the process of ending the game. Cash In and Groovy Bucks have already ended.
States That Stop Instant Games
The Arizona Lottery has a policy to end the games after all top prizes are claimed.
The Idaho Lottery ends instant games once all top prizes have been claimed.
The Hoosier Lottery commences the process for ending scratch-off games once all of the top prizes have been claimed. However, players are warned on the back of each scratch-off ticket that tickets may remain on sale after the last top prize is claimed during the game closing process.
The Iowa Lottery does not continue to sell an instant-scratch game after all of the top prizes in that particular game have been claimed. When a lottery prize is claimed, that information is recorded in electronic databases used to track our games. When the final top prize in one of our games is claimed, it triggers an automatic notification to the Iowa Lottery's sales and validation terminals that are installed in all of our retail locations. That electronic message goes to all of our retailers nearly simultaneously, alerting them that the final top prize in the game has been claimed, and they should immediately remove the game from sale and hold any remaining tickets for their lottery sales representative to pick up at his/her next visit. The lottery provides information about remaining prizes in games on its website, in the news releases sent to the media about the winners of large prizes and via "top prize" flyers distributed to retailers.
When the last top prize in an instant scratch game has been validated and claimed, the sales director sends out a notice to staff, and Lottery retailers are notified as well. At that time, the game is ended and remaining packs are picked up from selling locations. Players have 180 days from the game's end date, which is also announced by the Lottery Executive Director in a letter to retailers, to claim remaining prizes in that game.
The Massachusetts State Lottery removes instant games from retailer locations when all the grand prizes of any instant game have been claimed. Retailers are immediately notified, via the Lottery terminal, when an instant game is to be removed from inventory. The Massachusetts State Lottery provides its 7,500 retailers with a "Special Report " every day. When the retailer first engages the terminal, a report of all unclaimed prizes in our instant game inventory is automatically generated. The report can also be manually retrieved at anytime.
The process of closing a game begins when notice is received that the game's last top prize has been claimed, tickets can remain on sale until the process is completed. However, the claiming of the last top prize is usually an indication that (or coincides with) a game's inventory has been depleted.
The game is pulled after the last top prize is claimed.
As soon as all top prizes are won for an instant scratch game, the Virginia Lottery stops selling tickets for that game.
When all top prizes have been claimed in an instant game, the game closure process begins. The game closure process establishes a specific timeline to bring a game to a complete close. Retailers have up to 60 days to continue selling tickets after the official "end of game." That is defined as the time when retailers may no longer begin selling new packs of tickets. Tickets may continue to be sold for an instant game while the game closure process is underway. Each ticket clearly states on the back that "Some prizes, including the top prize, may have already been claimed."
States That Allow Instant Games
It is the intent of the Lottery that Instant (Scratch) ticket games will remain available for sale to the public so long as one or more of the following provisions are met: there are tickets left in retailer inventory, it's economically beneficial to the Lottery to continue selling the game, there are sufficient prizes remaining in the game.
The Florida Lottery continues selling games after the top prizes have been claimed because there are other valuable lower-tier prizes left.
If there are significant secondary prizes remaining, a game will remain on the market after all the top prizes have been won.
Instant games are available for their full run because hundreds and hundreds of mid-tier prizes are available throughout.
Normally, this is not an issue because many games mature or sell out before all top prizes are sold. On a few ocassions, the Missouri Lottery has continued to sell a game after the top prizes have been won. Most games include other significant prize levels.
The Montana Lottery continues to sell games even after all the top prizes are claimed because the they represent a small part of the total prize fund. Lottery officials say players buy the games not only for grand prizes but for mid-tier prizes, as well.
The games continue and are evaluated based on remaining prizes.
Because the length of a game is market driven and based on operational decisions, the New Mexico Lottery does not have a written policy regarding the end time for instant games. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. However in all cases, remaining prize information is available to retailers and players. The internet link on our website is updated daily. If the top prize is gone but the game is still active, the largest prize(s) available will still be posted. Additionally, the same information is available via every lottery retailer's ticket computer terminal.
Every game is analyzed separately. There is no set rule regarding when to close the game. If the game is selling well and runs out of top prizes, lottery officials considering re-ordering the game to add additional top prizes to the pot.
The Texas Lottery does continue selling games after the top prizes are gone. A game normally ends after 90 percent of the inventory is sold. Some games include second-chance drawings that are held after the game ends.
The Vermont Lottery continues to sell instant games after the top prizes are claimed. Once the game is 98% sold and if there are no longer high tier prizes, the lottery considers pulling the game. The decision depends on how much money is still available in other prizes and individual game sales.
The Ohio Lottery has a unique way of dealing with the issue of instant ticket top prizes being claimed before the end of a game. In June 2002, the Lottery debuted its first game with the so-called "TPD" (top prize drawing) feature to extend top prizes throughout the life of a game.
The top prize drawing feature is placed on most instant games that sell for $5 and above. These types of games are often seeded with a few, large top prizes. If a player scratches off a winning combination with a TPD symbol listed as the prize, the person wins a set amount, based on the price of the instant ticket.
These "TPD winners" are entered into the game's top prize drawing for a chance to win the top prize after the game has been closed. On average, 25 winners are spread throughout the game inventory -- extending the likelihood that the top prize will in fact be available during the life of the game.
Thanks to Konane for the tip