How Scratch Cards Work, Online Scratchcards & Biggest Jackpots

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How Scratch Cards Work, Online Scratchcards & Biggest Jackpots

Scratchcards are one of the most popular gambling games around the world, thanks to their low cost, instant results, and widespread availability. They are cards covered in scratchable foil, which you scratch away to see if you have won a prize.

You can find scratch cards (or scratch offs if you're in the US) in most off-licenses, supermarkets, and convenience stores. In some countries, you can even buy scratch cards at the Post Office. And today, scratchies can also be played online!

Depending on where in the world you are, these games are known under a lot of different names, with scratch-offs, scratch tickets, scratchers, scratch and win, scratchies, and more all being common terms. In this guide, we will go through everything you need to know about this fun game.


Table of contents

How do scratch cards work?

As we briefly mentioned above, scratch cards are cardboard sheets covered in scratchable foil. Beneath this foil are symbols or numbers that equate to prizes. Similar to matching symbols at the reel of slot machines, the aim of the game is to match varying numbers of symbols according to the rules of the card to win a prize. Due to this simple gameplay, the games have also made their way online with a very similar design and feel as the offline cards.

Scratch cards were officially patented in 1987 by Astro-Med Inc. However, the patent office noted that "instant game tickets comprising of a card having game playing indicia imprinted on a window thereon and a removable opaque layer covering the window" had been around for several years. This suggests that the history of scratch cards goes back a lot further than the 1980s.

The original scratch cards had very basic rules, requiring you to match 3 of a certain symbol for you to win the corresponding prize. But nowadays, scratch cards have become much more elaborate, with multiple ways to win. While rules may vary from one scratch-off to another, the general way you win remains the same. All you need to do is match the number of symbols required for each game.

You won't need to worry about knowing how many you need to match to win as you'll always find the rules printed next to the game or on the back of the card. And online, prizes will be paid out instantly. If you purchase more expensive scratch card variants, you'll often get multiple games within one card, each giving you a chance to win.

Wolf Gold online scratch card from Pragmatic Play

More on online scratchers

Online versions of scratchers started appearing around 2010 as online casinos were looking to expand their gaming list. They quickly proved to be a very popular product as all of the appeals of regular scratchcards were preserved in the online version - except for the satisfaction of scratching the foil.

Nowadays, you can find online scratch card games at many online gambling sites. This can be unique online games or online versions of scratch card you can buy in person. At some sites, you can even access scratchies that aren't available in your location.

The grand selection online gives players the chance to freely pick and choose to get the games of their choice. The average payout rates for online scratch cards are the same as physical scratch off tickets, but the increased choice allows you to choose whether you want high RTP rates or the chance for a bigger jackpot.

How often should you find a winning scratch off ticket?

When looking at scratch card win rates, you need to consider two things: how often you'll win a prize and the RTP rate. The first one is simple, as it relates to how often you'll find a prize when you play.

The average win rate you can expect to find with most scratch cards is somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 cards. However, some will have a win rate as high as 1 in 2 or as low as 1 in 5. It is important to note that these are wins in general, which could mean wins of the same amount or less than the cost of the game.

The next thing you should look at is therefore the game's RTP. Scratch cards are similar to other gambling games in that the RTP (Return to Player) rate will vary depending on your location and the type of card you're playing. Some cards will have a higher RTP rate than others, meaning that you're more likely to recoup more of your investment than the cards with a low RTP rate.

The average RTP rate you can expect from a scratch card is around 92%, with some going as low as 80% and some as high as 95%. Now, it is important to note that this doesn't mean that if you buy a scratch card with a high RTP rate, you're guaranteed to win a prize. All it means is that over the long run, you're more likely to get back more of your investment with one card over another.

Let's look at an example.

  • Scratch card A – 85% RTP
  • Scratch card B – 95% RTP

Here, we have two different scratch cards with two different RTP rates, scratch card B having the higher of the two.

This means that if you were to buy $100's worth of each scratch card, you could theoretically expect to get back $85 with scratch card A and $95 with scratch card B. However, you may get particularly lucky with scratch card A and get back $97, or you could get particularly unlucky with scratch card B and only get back $80. There is no guarantee.

The "long term" in gambling can sometimes take a very long time to even out. So, even with high RTP scratchcards, you can go on a long losing streak. That being said, high RTP scratch cards will always be your best chance of losing less in the long run.

The math behind scratchcards

We've already covered the math behind RTP rates in scratch cards, but how do scratch card companies distribute their prize pools? How do they control the winning tickets? Let's take a closer look at this.

First, the scratch card companies will start with their total prize pool, what they want their jackpot to be, and how many cards they want to print. They can decide whether they want their prize pool to be top-heavy, with more big prizes and a lower win rate, or if they want it to be flat, with more small prizes and a higher win rate. They may also offer "Freeplay" prizes to entice players to keep playing.

Let's look at an example of a flat payout structure for a game with a $4,000,000 prize pool, $100,000 top prize, and 10 million tickets:

Available PrizesAmountTotal Tier Prizes

As you can see, the majority of the prizes are at the bottom of the structure, with only 31 prizes of $1,000 or above.

Next, they feed this payout information into their printing algorithm to ensure that the exact number of each winning card is printed. This ensures that the scratch card company does not have to pay more than its budgeted prize pool.

These algorithms are a closely guarded secret by scratch card companies and would require a lot of work to reverse engineer. In the end, scratch cards are games of luck and there is no way of knowing which card will land a big win or not.

Biggest scratch card jackpots

Scratch cards have become a huge market in the lottery industry, increasing at a great rate both offline and online. Players' "instant win" gratification keeps them coming back for more, potentially even returning multiple times on the same day if they keep finding winning tickets. This offers a much quicker return for both the players and the lottery companies compared to for example Lotto, where players have to wait for the numbers to be drawn to see if they win a prize.

The one area in which scratchers have always been inferior to lotto is in the prizes they can offer. This might come as a surprise to some, as lotteries can have jackpots into the hundreds of millions, whereas scratch cards historically "only" have a jackpot of around £/$100,000.

However, that imbalance is starting to be addressed, as scratch cards are offering bigger and bigger jackpots. Let's take a look at some of the biggest scratch card jackpots ever seen.

  • 20 Million – The aptly named scratch card 20 Million offers players a chance to instantly win a £20,000,000 jackpot! This is the largest scratch card prize that is available in the world, and a ticket can be bought for £20.
  • Set for Life! Millionaire Edition – The California State Lottery has come up with an attractive scratch card that gives players an opportunity to get set for life with its $20,000,000 jackpot. Coming with 25 yearly instalments of $800,000 (before tax), you can try your luck for as little as $30.
  • $15,000,000 Money Maker – With the overall odds of winning at 1 in 3.09, $30 also gives you a chance to win The Massachusetts State Lottery's $15 million jackpot. The estimated payout sits at 80.71%.


Scratch cards are a simple, low-cost way to gamble that gives you instant gratification. This, coupled with the undeniable satisfaction that comes from scratching off the removable foil, makes for a fun way to kill a couple of minutes of your time and potentially win a huge jackpot. Today, scratch off tickets are available both online and offline and can therefore be played whenever you wish. Just remember that they are games of chance, no matter the RTP or payout table.

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