How to Tell if a Lottery Ticket Is a Winner Without Scratching It

Anyone who has ever played the lottery has wished they could tell a winner ticket from all the duds before they even touched any.

Some people have even adopted some rituals to give themselves what is – they believe – a higher chance of success, but what truly is just a peace of their own minds.

Of course, there are more than one Gambler’s fallacies out there.

From lucky charms to only buying your tickets at certain hours, there is a lot of mental gymnastics that can go in the choice of a lottery ticket once you start to indulge.

Yet, today we will ask and answer honestly how to tell if a lottery ticket is a winner without even scratching it.

As it turns out, one person was able to determine if a ticket was a winner in less than 45 seconds per ticket.

This is the short story of Mohan Srivastava.

Telling a Winner Lottery Ticket from the Rest

The common sense answer is absolutely not.

All lottery tickets are uniform to the point where you can’t spot a pattern even if you wanted to.

However, for one geological statistician living in Toronto, this wasn’t the case back in 2003.  Mohan Srivastava was bored.

So, he decided to play a few lottery tickets he had bought beforehand.

The first one immediately turned a loser, which confirmed his deep-rooted mistrust of the lottery games in the first place.

In fact, you didn’t have to do any scratching off whatsoever. The ticket could be cracked if one was privy to the secret code, the professor believed.

However, the second one won him $3. In his own words, he felt “a king of the world.”

In his daily job, Srivastava has to examine samples from a variety of gold mines around the world and determine the makeup of the soil and potential gold deposits.

It looks fairly random, but it is not.

This is when realization dawned that he might as well use his knowledge and expertise to crack the seemingly random code of lotteries.

Walking by a gas station on the same day he won his paltry $3, Srivastava overheard a conversation with one person arguing that the game is flawed and if you crack its code, you can plunder what is a multi-billion business while still being on the straight and narrow.

Srivastava decided to give it a try. He mustered his tic-tac-toe lottery ticket and discovered it was flawed.

In fact, you didn’t have to do any scratching off whatsoever. The ticket could be cracked if one was privy to the secret code, the professor believed.

He estimated that he needs 45 seconds to crack each ticket and tell if it’s a winner.

Why Didn’t Srivastava Plunder All Winning Tickets?

As it turns, spotting a winning pattern isn’t that hard if you have the background knowledge.

Yet, Srivastava figured out that traveling to different gas stations would be a full-time job and fetch him around $600 per day.

Why didn’t he do it? As he figured out, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation would sooner or later catch up to what he was doing.

Instead, he drove to the lottery’s corporate office and let headquarters know that they have designed their game with a flaw.

Interestingly, the corporation didn’t take too much interest in Srivastava’s claim. He was referred to one Rob Zufelt head of security, but Zufelt failed to get in touch over the first few days.

A little irritated, Srivastava realized how he must have sounded to the lottery people – bursting in their corporate office and telling them that he could crack their games.

Realizing that he was being ignored, Srivastava sorted out 20 tickets in two envelopes, one with the presumed winners and the other with the losers. He got 19 out of 20 right.

Upon receiving the envelopes, Zufelt phoned in two hours later on the same day and the game of tic-tac-toe was quickly whisked away from retailers.

Now, if you are wondering if what Srivastava did can be done again, the answer is yes. He actually taught his eight-year-old daughter how to spot if a lottery ticket is a winner without scratching it.

However, the far bigger challenge is to find that inherent weakness that Srivastava noticed almost half-joking and half-dismissingly.

If a game has a weakness, spotting that weakness would require good pattern recognition – but would it require a mathematical degree as well?

People Are Beating the Game and Cashing in Winner Tickets

While lottery games are designed and touted as unbeatable, there is some evidence to suggest that some individuals have been too lucky.

They have been lucky to the point where numbers don’t add up. For example, a 1999 audit revealed that a person had cashed in 149 tickets for the sum total of $237,000.  

On the other hand, the top ten prize winners had won on 842 occasions cashing out a total of $1.8 million.

During the audit, it was argued that only six out of 100,000 tickets yielded prizes in the range of $1,000 and $5,000 and that, in other words, the lucky winners must have bought millions of tickets to make this happen.

That or were they able to tell if a lottery ticket was a winner without the need to scratch it first.

In 1991, James “Whitey” Bulger, a notorious mobster from Boston, and three others cashed in a lottery ticket worth some $14.3 million.

Did Bulger have an advanced mathematical degree like Srivastava did? That is hardly the case.

As it turns out, telling winners from losers is possible in some cases. Of course, nobody is quite able to pinpoint when spotting a winning ticket is going to be the case.

And understandably, a person who has figured out the secret would probably not care much about sharing it away, unless he is much like Srivastava.

As Srivastava says, though, “there is nothing random in the lottery.” He believes that lottery games are designed to entice customers and exert some form of control.

Now, the problem with that is it can be reversed engineered and not everyone is the same do-gooder as is Srivastava.

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