What started out as a stocking stuffer for Fred Heckman's grandchildren turned into a profitable tradition for the family.
One year when he was searching for small extras to give his two grandchildren on Christmas, the Endicott, N.Y., man discovered a New York Lottery promotion that offered $10 worth of scratch-off tickets packaged in a festive envelope. He hasn't found them since that year, but every year since, he has purchased $10 worth of tickets as a present — whichever games feel lucky.
"It's a little tradition in our family now," said Heckman, 80. "Christmas morning they'd be scratching them off like mad."
Lottery tickets aren't just for the individual buyer looking to score the big jackpot. More and more people are trying to get creative by using tickets as raffle prizes or buying in bulk with co-workers to improve their odds for big winnings.
Jackie Babuka and several of her co-workers at Sheltered Workshop for the Disabled in Binghamton filled a basket with $100 worth of scratch-offs, complete with crumpled play money as bedding, for a United Way raffle fundraiser a few years ago.
Their basket stood out among the other themed baskets and raised several hundred dollars for the charity.
"We appealed to people's greed and sense of fun," Babuka said jokingly. "Obviously you're going to win something from that basket."
Babuka herself rarely plays the lottery, mostly because it's hard to keep track of the numerous drawings. "I never buy regular lottery tickets," she said. "I think scratch-offs are better because it's an immediate reward."
Unlike Heckman and Babuka, Gail Smith of Endicott rarely gives away lottery tickets as presents. But when she does, she is looking for a special type of person.
"I only give them to people I think will share with me," she said. "If I know I can borrow a quick 10 grand."
Smith is one of millions of New Yorkers who loyally subscribe to the "a dollar and a dream" philosophy. It's encouraging when she hears stories about manufacturing workers who pooled their cash and came out multimillionaires.
Mega Millions is Smith's game of choice. She puts down a few dollars on the regular lottery if the jackpot gets over $10 million, but nothing less than that. But scratch-offs are pretty much out of play for her.
"I don't seem to be a winner on those," she said. "I'll stick to waiting for those little balls to drop."