Mass Lottery Instant Ticket Ripoff

The Massachusetts State Lottery has introduced a new instant ticket called "World Class Millions" and this $30 ticket is a world-class ripoff. Players would probably get more pleasure, do more good, and get the same return on investment if they walked down the street and handed out their money to strangers.

I first heard about this game a couple of months ago while waiting in line at the West Acton Mobil. A customer in front of me purchased about $200 worth of these tickets, which was a real eye-opener. I had no idea that "instant tickets" had turned into high-stakes gambling. But $10, $20 and now $30 instant tickets are available at every local convenience store and gas station.

It's not just that these tickets are a poor gambling value. I also believe the Lottery is intentionally misleading the public about these instant games in order to boost their revenue. They can get away with this probably because most people assume that "the state" would not willingly and knowingly rip off its citizens. If you feel that way, you might want to think again.

People who purchase Mass Lottery instant tickets are wasting their money. The goal of this article is to explain what a poor investment these tickets are and to suggest that gamblers indulge their desires in more productive and entertaining gambling alternatives. I hope that anyone who ever regularly purchases Mass Lottery Instant Tickets will carefully read this article and change their behavior immediately.

A few caveats before I begin. First, I have no philosophical objection to gambling or state-sponsored gambling. But I believe in real disclosure. Anyone who participates should do so knowing the odds and risks, and fully understand how the state manipulates players and feeds off their ignorance. That being said, adults should be free to spend their money as they wish. In this case, they are wasting their money through state-sponsored deception.

If you like to gamble and want to gamble, I would recommend an occasional trip to one of the Connecticut casinos which offer far better gambling options, both based on gameplay as well as odds of winning and payout percentages. More on that below.

My second caveat: the state very cleverly calls its gambling "gaming." Purchasing a scratch ticket is not a game. There is no skill or strategy involved. Winning is entirely dependent on luck (very, very good luck in fact.) And I believe that if most gamblers knew what they were really purchasing when they spent $30 for one of these tickets, they would probably call it a scam, not a game.

I also object to the term "player." But because "playing a game" is so ingrained in our vocabulary when it comes to the Mass Lottery, I will reluctantly use these terms interchangeably with "purchasing a ticket" or as you will learn, "losing all your wagers."

THE LOTTERY AND INSTANT TICKETS

I'm a game-player (backgammon, chess, and bridge), take the occasional trip to a casino, and have been following the Mass State Lottery on-and-off for about 30 years ever since I published a newspaper for Bingo players back in the 1980s and 1990s. This was when the Lottery first introduced "scratch tickets" in which you scratched off windows to reveal codes or prize amounts. Thirty years ago, instant tickets cost $1 and you could win $20,000 or $50,000. Since then, the cost and prizes have grown enormously and the "gambling value" has gone from bad to worse. The Lottery has perfected this money-making machine and keeps figuring out ways to extract more and more money from Massachusetts residents.

The "World Class Millions" instant ticket figures to sell 250 million tickets at $30 each for total revenues of three-quarters of a billion dollars. The entire state budget is around $35 billion.

The Lottery pitches how much money it raises for cities and towns, and how we are "all winners" because of the Lottery, but when you understand how they mislead and manipulate their patrons, you might think differently about this method of raising revenues. And that's not even getting into who tends to participate, which generally are those who can least afford to lose their money.

In this expose', I will explain a bit about gambling theory and why state-sponsored games have any participants at all given their terrible returns, and then look at the "World Class Millions" scratch ticket and show why it is such a bad value. In fact, it is a ripoff. I have included an Excel spreadsheet showing the odds and payouts, which you can download here: http://actonforum.com/sites/default/files/World_Class_Millions.xls

INTRODUCTION

I have to assume that most people who participate in Lottery instant games are mostly unfamiliar with odds, payouts, and "return on investment" in evaluating the fairness and value of gambling opportunities, otherwise they wouldn't play. So I'm going to start with a brief overview of this so one can interpret the odds and payouts that are published by the Mass Lottery. You can see the posted Lottery odds on their website at http://www.masslottery.com/. (Click on the "World Class Millions" ticket). This is the same as my spreadsheet above, but I have included some additional calculations necessary to analyze the game. On the Lottery site, the payoff dollars per level of prize are not shown. Also note that the "bottom line" odds of an average of one winner in 2.81 tickets sold is misleading, which we will get into below.

I am also going to confine this article to pure gambling games and not consider games which mix skill and luck or where players compete against each other (like poker).

There are three basic elements to gambling: the amount you wager, the odds of winning, and the payout. In an honest game (and not all games are honest, even Lottery-sponsored games), a gambler expects the house to win a little more often than it loses. That is fair and to be expected, because of the overhead of running the game, paying for the building and heat, the dealer's time, making enough to cover losses, etc., all must be factored in. In my view, a house advantage of 5% is about what you should expect. 10% may also be reasonable depending on the game.

No one would willingly gamble in a game where the house gets 80% or 90%, would they?

But I believe that the "World Class Millions" game has an effective house advantage of 85%, 90%, or even 95%, depending on the assumptions you want to make. Most players have no idea how unlikely they are to win a valuable prize (one in which they will have earned enough to stop playing, ending up an overall winner.)

THE SINGLE DIE GAME EXAMPLE

Here's a simple example as an introduction. Let's say you wager $1 on a game in which you roll a die and you get back $5 if you guess the number. That 5-1 payout on a $1 bet would earn you $5 in an even-money game. How can you verify that this is an even-money game? You place your $1 bet on all 6 numbers. You lose $5 but then win back $5 (plus your original wager) so you break even.

But the "house" has to make something to pay for its oversight and management. A fair house take is 5% or 10%, in my view. 20% or 25% is too much.

So if you played the die game and the payout for guessing correctly was 4-to-1, the house take would be 20%. On each roll of the die, you could cover all 6 numbers for $6, lose $5, and gain $4. Your loss would be $1 over $5 wagered or 20%.

Rolling a die will give you a one-out-of-six chance of any number. But other parameters can be manipulated like the cost to play and the payout. Knowing these other factors is key to understanding if the game is fair and a good value, and if the house percentage is fair.

There is one other factor I want to mention and that is how many times you play before you walk away. Obviously, if you run out of money, you are done. You can also win and then decide to leave. If you are lucky, you leave before you give all your winnings back to the house, but most gamblers do just that. However, if the winning prize were sufficiently high, you could and probably would walk away if you won it.

The Lottery would have you believe that its "house" overhead was 16% on World Class Millions, or that it returned on average of 84% of the monies wagered. (We can calculate that figure by taking the total in prize payouts divided by the total wagered, or $637 million divided by $750 million). But that doesn't account for what people actually do who play the game, which is generally to reinvest their winnings to buy more tickets.

THE SCAM, PART ONE

When someone spends $1 and wins $2, are they going to head to the bank to deposit their winnings, or go out to dinner on them? Of course not. In all likelihood, they will be encouraged by their win and play again. Winning, the Mass Lottery has found out, encourages further play.

Most gamblers are looking for a return of several multiples of their investment before they stop. In my view, 50x is a number that would cause most gamblers to bank their winnings and stop. If they don't get that big hit, they keep playing until they run out of money. (Then they wait for their next check to begin again.)

In this World Class Millions game, the cost per ticket is $30. So let's say we set a "walk-away" winning ratio at 50x the cost to play, or $1,500. So for this analysis, we assume that most gamblers who invest $30 are looking to score a couple thousand or more in winnings.

This game has 1,265 winning tickets of $4,000 or more (out of 25 million for sale) which would enable this typical gambler to walk away as a winner. There are an additional 55 prizes in a "second chance" drawing which we will also include, although many gamblers probably don't bother to enter that because of the additional hassle. This translates into an odds of winning of 1 in 19,091. You'd have to spend $30 times 19,091 or $572,730 in order to win a "large prize" of $4,000 or more!

On average, a large-prize winning is $83,863, so the average return-on-investment for most players would be $83,863 divided by $572,730 or 14.64%. That is a house advantage of over 85%. Just the opposite of what the Lottery would have you believe, by the way.

Now let's say an extremely lucky player wins a big prize. The state and federal government will take about 1/3rd in taxes, and losses are generally not tax-deductible. So if one takes the average winnings and deducts 35% in taxes, that leaves a 9.85% average return for big winners, or a house advantage of almost 90%.

To see these numbers on a spreadsheet, click here: http://actonforum.com/sites/default/files/World_Class_Millions.xls

Now let's talk about how the state misleads consumers with its small-prize "winnings."

SCAM PART TWO

Of course, most players never win the big prize. So they lose all of their investment, even though the state will give them frequent rewards of around 20-40% of their money wagered in small prizes to encourage them to keep playing.

This behavior of frequently winning prizes is one of the allures of gambling. If these instant games only gave out high prizes, many players would never get hooked. After a few negative experiences, they would stop playing.

But when it seems like you are winning fairly often, the psychology changes. Maybe you think the next ticket will be the big winner. Or perhaps you figure someone has to win, and you can't win if you don't play.

So the state uses this psychology against their own citizens by making lots of tickets "winners," even if the winners are just replacing what you spent to play in the first place.

There are 2.5 million "winning" tickets that get you $30. But remember, that is what the gambler paid to "play." So there is no actual winnings involved, that is what is called a "push." In blackjack, if you tie with the dealer, no one wins. But the lottery counts all pushes as "winnings."

These pushes are also counted on the odds of "winning" which is misleading because these tickets are not actually winning anything.

Then you have wins of $60 or less, including many tickets with $40 or $50 prizes, which means winnings of less than the money wagered. A $60 win is an even-money bet, or doubling the wager. None of these players are looking to turn $30 into $60.

7.5 million out of 9 million "winning tickets" are $60 or less. That is 83% of the winning tickets.

By advertising a 2.81 to 1 winning ticket ratio, the state is being purposely misleading.

Now let's take a closer look at that 20-year payout promise.

SCAM PART THREE

The Lottery likes to fool players into thinking that the amount of the prize paid today is equal to the prize paid out over 20 years. That, of course, is false and misleading.

This is most obvious in the large multi-state games that advertise a jackpot of say $50 million with a "lump sum" payment of $30 million. Shouldn't they be advertising a prize of $30 million to not be misleading?

This same deception is used in this instant ticket. This game advertises a $15 million prize paid out at $750,000 over 20 years, which is only worth $10 million in today's dollars (estimating an interest rate of 4%.) You can perform this calculation with an online calculator, like the one available at http://www.investopedia.com/calculator/annuitypv.aspx.

In this game, there is $100 million in top-prize payouts over 20 years. That means the actual worth today is around $65 million. And that is before taxes.

There are $110 million in top-prize payouts. This means 90% of the top prize money is paid out over 20 years, which is purposefully misleading to patrons. Most of the high-dollar prizes should be discounted by about 35%.

If we recalculate the total payouts with this information, we get $110 million minus the 20-year payout discount ($100m x 65%) or 75 million. Then remove 35% for taxes ($26.25m) for a net payout of $49 million. $49 million out of $750 million wagered is an average return on investment of 6.5%, or a 94% advantage to "the House."

Who would ever gamble with such long odds of success? Only those who didn't realize it and trusted the state to be honest in running their gambling opportunities. That trust has obviously been misplaced.

Now let me conclude this analysis by admitting that there will be some players who pay $30, win $60, and never play again. But the Lottery's games are geared for the habitual gamblers who play multiple tickets per week. And there may be players who don't mind being able to purchase more and more tickets until they run out of money, knowing full well that the odds of success are slim to none. If it is worth thousands of dollars a year to them to do that, more power to them. I just want to make sure that these gamblers fully realize the extremely long odds of what most would consider success and whether the state is in fact properly informing its customers or if it is turning a blind eye in order to keep the gravy train flowing.

WHY DO PEOPLE PLAY MASS STATE LOTTERY GAMES?

Convenience, low cost, guaranteed payouts to winners, and a perception that the games are honest.

Also, most people who win say a million dollars are so happy about winning, they don't care that the prize is paid out over 20 years and that after taxes they will get about $30,000 a year. Who would be unhappy to earn $30,000 a year on a $1 bet? So there is an inherent inability for most players to understand that while a winner will be happy no matter what, the state games produce so many losers, way out of proportion to what should be happening based on the amount of money wagered, that the game is a bad value and no one should bother to participate.

A QUICK LOOK AT THE ALTERNATIVES

This article is long enough without going into more topics, but let me quickly say that if you want the convenience and trust of the Mass Lottery, I would urge you to play the 3-digit daily numbers game. This game is totally transparent, the odds of winning are not posted in advance (because it depends on how many tickets are sold, it is a parimutual system), and the 3-digit payouts are higher than the 1, 2, or 4 digit payouts. Here is the Mass Lottery page with the payout chart: http://www.masslottery.com/games/lottery/numbers-game.html

There are two numbers drawings per day and you can see that the "exact 3" offers the best payout percentage, what looks like around 52% - 87%, depending on the drawing.

The reason this is the best value (among bad values) is that it directly competes with organized crime which tends to have 3-digit lottery numbers. This is to encourage gamblers to play against the state and not with a bookie at the corner bar.

We can do a quick comparison of this game versus "World Class Millions."

We know that in WCM you would have to spend $600,000 to earn $85,000, on average. Here, you'd spend $600,000 and earn around $400,000, on average. It is a five-times better value. Also, each $1 invested would return around $650, or a 650-to-1 payout ratio, well beyond our estimated 50-to-1 in the instant game.

Casino games are much better values. If you play roulette, for example, you can wager $20 on a single number and if it hits, you get paid 35 times 20 or $700. There are 38 possible numbers (1 to 36 plus 0 and 00) so the house's take on average is 2/38 or around 5%. If you gambled $600,000, your average return would be 95% or $570,000.

Another way to see the roulette odds is to spend $38 to cover every number. One is guaranteed to win $36 back (35 to 1 plus your bet returned.)

If an even-money bet is placed, like black or red, the payout is 2-1 and the house advantage is still around 5%. So a $600,000 wager would earn back around $570,000 on average.

SINGLE DIE GAME FINALE

For fun, let's take my invented "Single Die Game" and imagine how the Mass State Lottery would run it.

A player can pick any two numbers, one through six. The wager is $30, or $15 per number. Imagine that the player picks numbers one and two.

Number one comes up! We have a winner! The house takes your wager from number two, and places it next to your wager on number one. You've just "won" $30! Congratulations!

Had numbers three through six come up, you would have lost your entire bet. So you play again and you lose. You play again and you lose. Then you play again and you "win" $30! Congratulations!

So one-third of the time, you break even. Two-thirds of the time you lose your entire investment.

But there is a jackpot available. If you place a winning bet nine consecutive times in a row, you would win the jackpot of $80,000. The odds of that happening are 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 or 1 in 19,000. You would have to invest about $530,000 (19,000 x $30) in order to win the jackpot once, on average.

Good luck!

NOTE TO READERS: The Boston Globe plagiarized one of the central ideas in this story, taking it without attribution from Acton Forum. To read what the Globe did, including a link to their story, see http://www.actonforum.com/story/boston-globe-plagiarizes-acton-forum.

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Comments

From a reader...

Has anyone looked into the legality of machines selling lottery tickets which are out of date?

I am told Rhode Island periodically removes outdated tickets from machines/stores because they basically mislead consumers who purchase them believing all "winning tickets" have not been sold/found; nor are they outdated.

I just received a gift ticket dated 2014. If it were a winner, I believe the opportunity to cash it in ended by 2015. Also it offered 5 chances to win pending Bruins games scoring/win/loss. It's 2016, I would think 2014 Bruins game scores are obsolete now.???

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and is an Associate Publisher of Acton Forum.

Mass Lottery Ripoff

I'm having trouble understanding this paragraph (About betting on a single die.) near the beginning of the article:

*********

So if you played the die game and the payout for guessing correctly was 4-to-1, the house take would be 20%. On each roll of the die, you could cover all 6 numbers for $6, lose $5, and gain $4. Your loss would be $1 over $5 wagered or 20%.

*********

Why isn't the amount wagered $6 rather than 5$? Didn't you play $1 on each of 6 numbers? I think the loss should be $1 over $6 wagered or 16.7%.

Wizz

Wizz

Odds on die game

Hi Wizz,

When you place your bet on a winning number, they don't take your bet away. That stays on the table.

So if you bet $6 and the payout was 5-1, you would get back $6. Let's say you bet on Number One. You would keep that dollar, plus get $5 (5-1 payout) and you'd lose $5 (the bets on numbers 2-6), so you'd break even. That would be perfectly fair.

If the payout were 4-1, you'd keep your $1 on Number One, win $4 (4-1), but lose $5. So you'd lose 1/6 or 16.7%. So you are correct, sir!

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and is an Associate Publisher of Acton Forum.

Patch comment - ML1

Samantha Kelley • 7 hours ago
How many scratch off players do you know? I would call 2X my initial investment a win to cash out on. 50X would be a small miracle.

============

Hi Samantha,

The question is whether you win once and don't play again all year. If you play later on, then you are reinvesting your "winnings" into buying more tickets. And that behavior is what the Lottery is counting on, in fact, is why they designed the game with so many small prizes. They realize that players will become "addicted" to the small wins and continue playing until they run out of money, never hitting the big prize that would be large enough where some might say "I'll stop now that I'm way ahead."

Allen

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and is an Associate Publisher of Acton Forum.

Scratch Ticket Scam

I and 3 others recently purchased a whole pack with the help of the store owner to ensure we were the only ones, and our theory was correct. Out of an entire pack, we found ONE $4 WINNER!!!!I emailed the lottery to inform them that they are running a scam, more so than normal. There are supposed to be a certain amount of winners per pack regardless of the winner amounts, and there was only one winner in the whole pack for a while $4!?
Djh