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Distribution of Winners in Instant Ticket Packs - How is it done?

Topic closed. 1 reply. Last post 9 months ago by KY Floyd.

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Wyomissing, PA
United States
Member #161050
November 15, 2014
301 Posts
Posted: April 20, 2016, 10:02 pm - IP Logged

How are winners distributed in instant ticket packs?

Some lotteries guarantee a minimum dollar amount of winners in an instant pack. In those instances, obviously, the distribution isn't fully random. However, I suspect most, if not all, instant ticket packs aren't random; deterministic with the winners seeded using some method...

That's what I'm seeking some details about - how do instant ticket vendors seed winners?

While I doubt any lottery vendor insiders will reply (be great if any do!), surely, many here, who regularly play instants, have some worthwhile details to shed some light on this topic.

I ask out of curiosity, and to play smarter. But also because I'd like to see more discussion of this issue, because I strongly suspect some lotteries are deceiving, if not outright cheating, instant ticket players by how they seed winners. Lottery vendors will presumably know the pack in which every winner is located, plus the vendor and/or lottery will know the physical location of each pack.

A related topic is the process lotteries use to determine when to pull instant tickets. I'd suspect some lotteries will abruptly pull games when the odds of a player finding top prize winner becomes too favorable for players. In some instances, it's possible a lottery won't pull the entire game, but rather specific pack(s) to avoid paying out some top prizes...

Digressing somewhat, but adds some credibility to the strategy many players use - focusing on playing newer games, and avoid older ones with few top prizes remaining. However, some players have success doing the opposite, but assumes the lottery is being honest and not pulling packs early.

With all that said, my guess of one, of various, possible methods is:

1. The prizes are categorized into tiers (ie. for a $1 ticket with $5000 top prize ... low-tier: $100 and under; mid-tier: $101-$500; top: $5000).

2. Then the lower prize tiers are seeded semi-random with limit on total number of winning tickets permitted in a pack (ie. for pack of 300 with average of 1 in 5 being a winner, 60 tickets with bounds of 50 to 70).

3. After seeding of lower prizes, at random, some packs are seeded with mid tier prizes with bounds on number in any given pack (more than one may be allowed).

4. Top prizes / highest tiers are seeded very selectively ensuring they're distributed widely across the entire batch of all packs (no more than one per pack, let alone a group of packs).

This is a layman's guess of one possible method of how lottery vendors do it.

In Pennsylvania, I've noticed full packs tend to pay out about half minimum, which is in line with that of many other lotteries, including foreign ones, in particular, UK. However, like most, PA doesn't guarantee minimum payout.

Furthermore, many who do packs have observed the total number of winners tend to be balanced out. For example, if a pack has a lot of winners in the beginning, expect a long drought at the end. Just did a 100 pack of $3 PA Crosswords ($300), and here's the distribution:

First 50:

$3: 9 ... $27

$5: 1 ... $5

$10: 3 ... $30

$20: 1 ... $20

$30: 1 ... $30

$50: 0

$100: 1 ... $100

$1000: 0

$50,000: 0

Total: (16 winners) $212

Last 50:

$3: 6 ... $18

$5: 2 ... $10

$10: 2 ... $20

$20: 0

$30: 0

$50: 0

$100: 0

$1000: 0

$50,000: 0

Total: (10 winners) $48

Grand total: $260 with 26 winning tickets. I suspect the $100 prize is considered a mid tier and added in after lower prizes; subtract the $100 and the total would be $160, which would be around a typical payout for a $300 full pack.

To reiterate, my question is what possible methods do lottery vendors use to seed instant lottery packs?

    United States
    Member #23835
    October 16, 2005
    3502 Posts
    Posted: April 21, 2016, 2:00 am - IP Logged

    For scratchers the necessary number of winning tickets have to be deliberately printed, so they're clearly not random in the same way winning tickets are for PB. As for minimum guarantees in each pack, they can easily do that while still making the position of winning tickets within each pack random. I'm also sure that it's a safe bet that the minimum guarantee is significantly below the average value of winners per pack. The purpose would just be to ensure that no pack is 100% losers even though random probability makes that possible.

    Once those minimums are satisfied the remaining tickets can be distributed randomly through the entire lot, so that some packs will have only the minimum and some will be worth far more than the average value. I'd guess that the location of winners is done by software, and that would mean that in a sense scratch off games are RNG games.

    "Lottery vendors will presumably know the pack in which every winner is located, plus the vendor and/or lottery will know the physical location of each pack."

    If the winners are all randomly distributed by software that software can also do all of the initial record keeping. There would be a database that lists each ticket and tells what pack the ticket is in. I don't see any reason that serial numbers need to be sequential, so there may be no reason for the database to indicate where in the pack the winners are, assuming you trust the original distribution. The individual packs would be packaged in a separate and independent operation, with a database keeping records of what shipping pack each individual pack is in. There could then be a third separate and independent operation that would ship the bundled packs, creating a database record of where each bundle is sent. That would result in 3 independent records that have all the necessary information, but all 3 would be required to track winning tickets. Those 3 separate records should be  kept on 3 independent computers that aren't networked, and nobody should have access to more than one of those computers. Having one security person access the 3 records from 3 people (one retrieving the necessary record from each computer would mean 4 people are required in order to get the necessary information, so it would require a conspiracy with a minimum of 4 people to access the records without authorization. Since the people accessing the records could be selected from a larger group of people it could be extremely unlikely for the necessary conspiracy to come about.

    Of course I have no idea how any given lottery actually does things.

    Some time ago a security employee (in Indiana, IIRC) was able to access all of the necessary information and told friends who tried to buy all tickets in that game from the location where a big winner had been sent. I forget the details but they were caught. You might think the procedures would be changed to make it more difficult, and hopefully impossible, for a single person to locate the necessary records. I'd say that the recent incidents involving Eddie Tipton make it clear that the people in charge aren't very bright and, at least as of a year or two ago, hadn't figured out how to eliminate vulnerabilities that can be exploited by a single person.