How to use a spreadsheet to increase your odds of winning New Jersey scratch-off tickets
The New Jersey Lottery has offered scratch-off games, called “Instant Games”, with various price points, prizes, formats and themes since 1975.
You can currently choose to play from 62 different games and win up to $5 million if you match all the numbers on the $30 ticket, which happened to Lacey Katona who won the $5 million lottery prize in March, the largest prize offered on a New Jersey Lottery instant ticket.
Wouldn’t it be nice to win a cool $1 million? Of course even $100 would be nice.
Keep reading. This article will help you improve your odds – dramatically!
Think of it this way: The New Jersey Lottery – the draw game – is a game of pure chance.
You can’t do much to improve your odds of winning except buy more tickets.
However, NJ’s Instant Games are different. These games are not random.
That’s right: Lottery drawings are a game of chance because the numbers are drawn randomly – without a person getting involved. Instant tickets are not random because a lottery official must determine how many total tickets to print, how many will be winning tickets and for what amounts, and how the winning tickets are dispersed geographically. All of these decisions are carefully crafted to maximize excitement and to draw players in and keep them playing.
Even the number of winning tickets in a roll is often pre-determined to avoid long losing streaks.
The Instant tickets themselves are anything but random.
A conscious effort is made to produce “almost win” tickets where, for example, a card will have three out of four of the matching symbols needed, which will encourage players to purchase another card or come back sooner to play again.
In short, there is a formula to scratch-off games. The challenge is to figure it out.
A famous article in Wired Magazine details how Mohan Srivastava, a geological statistician living in Toronto, figured out one of the formulas.
“The tickets are clearly mass-produced, which means there must be some computer program that lays down the numbers,” Mr. Srivastava is quoted in Wired. “Of course, it would be really nice if the computer could just spit out random digits. But that’s not possible, since the lottery corporation needs to control the number of winning tickets [otherwise it could go bust]. The game can’t be truly random. Instead, it has to generate the illusion of randomness while actually being carefully determined.”
The article goes on to describe his approach. Although his particular method will no longer work on most (probably all) scratch-off tickets, the principle of “illusion of randomness” does still apply.
We can’t tell you the exact formula for your favorite scratch-off games, but we can offer strategies for dramatically improving your odds for winning money when playing instant cash games.
New Jersey Instant Games best strategies
If you really want to win more when playing instant lottery scratch-off games, start with the following:
1. Buy all your scratch-off tickets from the same roll at the same time.
You can assume there are at least a few winners in every roll of tickets. Every time you get a losing ticket, you reduce your chances of losing by one ticket.
Do not buy different games. If you buy a new ticket from a different roll, the pool of losing tickets is much larger and your chances of getting a winning ticket goes down.
2. Don’t play everyday. Rather buy in bulk.
Building on tip #1, the odds are better if instead of buying one ticket every day for a week, you spend the same amount and buy 7 tickets at one time. Better yet, purchase your monthly allotment of scratch offs during on visit. Buying 30 tickets at once is much better than buying one a day.
3. Let others buy the losing tickets.
If you’re able to and have the time, hang around and watch others play. If you see a prolonged losing streak from a specific roll, your chances of getting a winning ticket increase because scratch-off tickets are sold with a guaranteed number of winners and losers in each pack.
You could also make friends with the cashier who could keep track for you.
4. Have the retailer’s computer check your losing tickets.
This isn’t about improving your odds necessarily, except that after scratching off 10, 15, or 20 tickets, it’s easy to miss matching symbols or numbers.
Now the really big one:
5. Strategically plan your play using math and a spreadsheet
Most scratch-off games publish on their websites the odds for each instant cash game. Many will often post prizes that have already been won for each game.
If you do nothing else, at least be sure to check the appropriate website to see which games still have top prizes available.
Now to really improve your odds, let’s do a little math (there’s a spreadsheet at the end to make it easy).
We start with a simple concept: When tickets are sold and prizes won, the odds of winning change.
For example, if a game has sold many tickets, all or nearly all the top prizes could have already been won, so the odds of you winning that $1 million went from very small to virtually zero to perhaps zero if all the top prizes have been claimed.
However, sometimes the odds swing in your favor.
Again, simplifying the math for the example, let’s say 50% of the tickets have been sold but only 25% of the prizes have been claimed. Naturally, your odds of winning have gone up, or swung in your favor, by 50%. This would be a game you should play.
In reality, the odds never swing this much. In fact, most of the time, the odds vary only slightly. But a slight move in your direction can help and a few times, you’ll find significant swings that can make a worthwhile difference.
We’ve created a spreadsheet you can use to do the math for you. All you need to do is check the game’s website and fill in the numbers.
Here’s how the spreadsheet works for a single game:
To follow along, you may first want to view the spreadsheet at the end of this article.
We used the NJ Lottery $5,000,000 CASH EXTRAVAGANZA game as an example.
You can find the numbers for the game here:
$5,000,000 CASH EXTRAVAGANZA Rules and Odds
In column A, we filled in the available prizes.
In column C, we filled in total available prizes.
Since the New Jersey Lottery provides the number of printed tickets (8.64 million), we can plug in that number for all of column D.
For some scratch-off games, this number isn’t give, so the column can be set to automatically calculates the estimated number of tickets available. The formula to estimate number of tickets available is:
Odds X Available Prizes = Printed Tickets
Column B, will automatically filled in the odds based on columns C and D:
Odds = Printed Tickets / Available Prizes
Column E automatically calculates your chances of winning. Your chances of winning $5 million is .000035%. Your chances of winning $50 is 7.5%.
In column G we filled in the available prizes as published on the website.
Column F, automatically calculates the number of claimed prizes.
Now the spreadsheet needs to make some estimates based on the limited information available. In this case, it looks like about 50% of the prizes have been claimed for all three top prizes. Therefore, we can estimate 50% for the remaining prizes.
Column H is an important column. It estimates how many tickets have been sold. This is a number not provided by the website, but it’s critical in determining how the odds have changed. To generate a reasonable estimate, the spreadsheet uses the estimated tickets sold of the lowest prize amount because this gives us the largest sample size and will be more accurate than the numbers with fewer prizes.
Column I automatically takes the estimated tickets sold and subtracts from total tickets printed to get the estimated remaining tickets.
Column J automatically adjusts the odds based on the new numbers.
Column K automatically adjusts your chances of winning based on the new numbers.
Column L provides your answer. It automatically determines how much your chances of winning have changed. Sometimes in your favor, represented by a green bold number, and sometimes against you, represented by a red number.
What does all this mean?
Since the NJ Lottery only provides data for the top prizes, we can’t use the spreadsheet to its full capability. But we can see that the odds for the 2 top prizes have moved slightly in your favor. So if you were going to play this scratch-off game, now is the time to play it.
But don’t stop with just this game. Use this spreadsheet to compare games. Is the New Jersey lottery $5,000,000 CASH EXTRAVAGANZA game better or worse than the $2 Million Mega Cash game? Currently, the CASH EXTRAVAGANZA game is better, but this could change.
Bottom line, don’t just walk into a store and purchase a few random tickets, unless you really don’t care and just want to have fun. But if you want to improve your odds, these strategies do help.
Download instant lottery scratch-off games spreadsheet
To download the spreadsheet to your computer, click the menu File, then Download As.
Note, this is a Google Doc so you won’t risk getting viruses or other crap you get if you download strange files or those ending in .exe.