Ypsilanti's Pollard Banknote instant ticket factory might not make the most scratch-offs in the world.
But Michiganders could still be in luck.
"We have made a lot of winners here," said Doug Pollard, co-CEO of Pollard Banknote. "This is probably the luckiest plant for winners in Michigan."
The Ypsilanti factory prints about 600 million instant lottery tickets a month for 23 states, the District of Columbia and many countries around the world, including France and Australia. Pollard said he expects to push that to about 750 million tickets.
Pollard said instant lottery tickets are continuing to gain in popularity, mainly because they're designed to catch a consumer's eye and be an impulse buy.
"We aren't very good at waiting for things these days," he said. "It's a visual stimulus but also, if you win, you get your money right there."
A worldwide audience
The factory, which is the second-largest producer of scratch-off tickets in the world, prints up to 30 different "games," or ticket designs, a month.
About 15 percent of the tickets printed at Ypsilanti's factory are for the Michigan Lottery. Jake Harris, public information specialist for the Michigan Lottery, said sales were $1.3 billion in 2017, which allowed it to give a record $924.1 million to the School Aid Fund. In 2016, sales were $1.1 billion.
"That's the overall goal, of course, so we're glad that lottery ticket sales definitely are trending up," he said.
Harris also said Michigan players won a total of $960 million in 2017.
The other 85 percent of the tickets printed in Ypsilanti go to lotteries around the world. On Thursday, a game for France's national lottery was going through the press.
Paper enters the factory on 4-foot wide rolls and starts immediately at the press, a 100-yard long, three-story high machine.
"This is closer to a computer than a mechanical press," Pollard said.
The sensitive information, like whether you have a winning ticket, is sandwiched between 12 layers of white and black paper. Then, another 10 layers of colors and images get put on top to grab consumers' eyes.
"You've got to have beautiful tickets," Pollard said simply. "Every game has a (different) recipe. The more white you have the better the graphics are later on."
After the press, the tickets are rolled back up to be cut into slabs, and later, individual ticket books. They're then wrapped in plastic and packaged to be sent to each lottery.
Right now, the factory employs about 150 people, but Pollard expects that to rise soon to 170 employees.
Okeithe Butler is a lab technician at the factory, which means he puts each new set of tickets through countless tests to inspect the quality of the tickets. Humidity, light and the quality of scratch are just a few Butler has tested each day for the last three years.
The Goldilocks test
One of his favorites is the Goldilocks scratch test, which is what they nicknamed the "scratchability" test for each ticket.
"It can't be too hard or too soft," he said with a laugh.
If it's too hard to scratch, then players become frustrated. If it's too soft, then it might get damaged in transportation or it might be easier to tamper with.
Sue Johnson works near the end of the process as a packing line feeder. She's part of the team that loads the tickets from the press and cuts each ticket slab down to individual books. She also makes sure every ticket is where it's supposed to be.
She has worked at the factory for a total of 13 years, coming back from a six-year hiatus in 2016. She said the reason she came back was because she loves the Pollard company.
"Everyone is so friendly and everybody gets along," she said. "The company has been really good to me."