During the last few decades, lottery tickets have become an increasingly popular form of legal gambling in the United States. One popular game is the instant win, or scratch off lottery which features tickets that have the winning (or losing) numbers concealed on the game card itself. The winning numbers are typically hidden by a coating, which is removed by rubbing. By removing this coating, the owner of the ticket can instantly determine the ticket's winning status instead of waiting for a matching number to be drawn. Since the cash value of the ticket is determined at the time of printing, the tickets must be designed and manufactured with extraordinary security precautions to avoid ticket fraud.
The design of instant lottery tickets varies from game to game. To entice potential purchasers, games may be thematically linked to popular interests such as sporting events, television shows, or even other gambling games like poker card or horse racing. Some states have even allowed customers to participate in the design process. For example, in 1993, the Oregon State Lottery held a "Designer Scratch-it Contest" for the general public. Winners were judged based on theme, style of play, graphics, and originality. Regardless of the design type, instant lottery tickets are designed to be played by scratching off a concealing coating to reveal numbers, letters, or symbols that will (hopefully) match the designated winning symbol located somewhere on the ticket. These games are all designed with multiple security features to prevent tickets from being counterfeited or tampered with.
There are several techniques used to breach game security, which must be taken into consideration during the design process. One method of defrauding the lottery is to decode the relationship between the serial number on the ticket and the ticket's lottery number. Each ticket contains an individual serial number composed of a series of digits or alphanumeric characters. This number is used by the game operator to track the distribution of tickets from the operator to the selling agents and for accounting of sold and unsold tickets. It may also include information that shows the ticket is only valid for certain games or dates. These numbers are especially helpful in case tickets are lost or stolen and can be used to track tickets to make sure they are not inappropriately claimed.
By understanding the relationship between the serial number and the lottery number, one could try to locate lots or batches of tickets that are more likely to be winners. Other methods to breach ticket security attempt to directly view the lottery number without scratching off the ticket covering. One way this is done is by candling, which involves shining a bright light on the ticket in an effort to read the lottery number through either the front or back covering. Another technique, known as delamination, involves separating the different layers of the ticket to make the numbers visible. This technique can even be used after the owner has uncovered a winning number and turned in the ticket for redemption. In this scenario, individuals with access to winning tickets could separate the front layer of the ticket that contains the winning number and glue it onto a new back layer that has a different name and address for the winner. Still another way of circumventing lottery security, called wicking, uses solvents (e.g., alcohols, ketones, acetate, or esters) to force the lottery number to bleed through the concealing coating.
The design features employed to prevent these security breaches vary from game to game. In general, these features involve the serial number and the concealing coating. One key to controlling game security is to select serial numbers, which do not reveal any information about the winning status of the ticket. This is done by randomly encoding tickets with a series of computer-generated numbers or symbols. Each lottery game uses a specific algorithm, or mathematical process, to randomize the relationship between the serial and lottery numbers. This prevents anyone from discovering the connection between the two numbers. When properly encoded, the serial number cannot be deciphered by the ticket purchaser but still provides useful information to the ticket agent. Printing matching, coded numbers on the front and back of each ticket can help ensure winning tickets have not been tampered with. The security features used to prevent candling, delamination, and wicking involve the coating used to conceal the lottery number. A heavy foil coating can be used over the numbers to prevent light from passing through the ticket and illuminating the numbers. However, this foil is expensive to add and it does not prevent delamination. A better way to prevent the numbers from being read through the coating is to use an opaque covering in conjunction with confusion patterns imprinted on the back and front of the ticket. These confusion patterns are random designs used to obscure the image when light is shined through the ticket. This method can also be used to prevent wicking by utilizing dyes in the coating which are responsive to solvents. If anyone attempts to dissolve the concealing coating, the ink bleeds and obscures the lottery numbers.
The basic materials required for ticket manufacture are the same as those employed for any similar ticket or card printing. The main component is paper stock of appropriate stiffness, but aluminum foil is also used as a component of some multilayer tickets. Other important raw materials include the suitable inks, adhesives to laminate multi-part tickets, and the scratch-off coating materials used to conceal the number. These coatings are most often made using acrylic resins.
Printing technology is continually evolving and this evolution is likely to lead to new methods for lottery ticket production. For example, improved encryption technology could result in the creation of more secure lottery numbers. Likewise, newly developed chemical methods of concealing lottery numbers could produce less expensive tickets than those currently used. Perhaps of more interest for the future are alternate ways in which games may be played. One method under consideration by the lottery commission involves a video terminal instead of a paper ticket. It is conceivable that at some time in the future, an instant lottery game could even be played over the Internet on a personal computer.
Johnson, Ben E. Getting Lucky-Answers to Nearly Every Lottery Question You Can Ask. Chicago: Bonus Books, 1994.
The Lottery Collectors' Society. 1007 Lutrell St., Knoxville, TN 37917.
— Randy Schueller