When people ask "What are the Best Lottery Scratch off Odds?", they usually are referring to the overall game odds. These are the printed odds on the back of instant scratch games. You might see something like "Overall Odds of Winning are 1 in 4.05".
These are the the odds of winning any prize, including prizes that are equal to the price of the ticket.
One of our most popular scratcher strategies is our ranking of the best Overall Odds (available free to all our members) where players can instantly compare the overall odds for each game.
However, we are here to caution you that overall odds may not be the same as the best odds of winning. How so?
State lotteries can manipulate the overall odds to make them appear among the best when in reality, the individual prize odds might be among the worst.
Let’s dive in and see an example firsthand.
How is Overall Odds Calculated?
We need to take a step back and first see how does a state lottery calculate the overall odds of winning.
For every scratch game, the state lottery will determine the prize levels (e.g. $5, $10, $100, etc.) and the total number of prizes that will be made available. For our example, I’ve pulled an actual prize chart from a state lottery website.
As we can see, there are 12 different prize levels with a total of 2,395,512 prizes available. The lottery already tells us the overall odds of winning this game are 1 in 4.12, as show below.
The lottery calculated the "1 in 4.12" overall odds by dividing the total number of tickets printed by the total number of prizes available (2,395,512).
But we don't know how many tickets were printed.
That's right. The number of tickets printed isn’t disclosed, BUT we can figure it out by multiplying our total number of prizes (2,395,512) by the overall odds (4.12).
The result is approximately 9,900,000 tickets printed. Note we rounded the ticket count as it’s a rough estimate but close enough.
How about Prize Odds?
Now that we have the overall odds calculation out of the way, let’s dive a little deeper and see how the odds of each prize is calculated.
In our same game example, we see that the $500 prize will have 1,247 prizes available at the start of the game. Remember, the lottery has determined they are going to print 9,900,000 tickets so among all those tickets, there will 1,247 $500 winners.
To calculate the odds for our $500 prize, we simply divide the 9,900,000 printed tickets by the 1,247 prizes and learn the odds of winning the $500 prize are 1 in 7,915.
Pretty easy, right? Here’s what all the original prize odds look like.
Now that we know how the lottery calculates the odds, why shouldn’t we use the overall odds to figure out the best scratch off odds? Can’t we just see which game has the best overall odds and play that one?
Unfortunately not. Keep reading and let me show you a couple reasons why you shouldn’t rely only on the overall odds.
Is Winning Really Winning?
First, most players would agree that just getting their money back on a scratch ticket isn’t actually winning. “Winning” the price of the ticket back gives the illusion of winning and keep players coming back but it's really just breaking even.
Let’s take a look at our same example from above and recalculate the odds of winning a prize more than the ticket price. You know, actually “winning”.
In this example, we want to know what are the real odds of winning any prize GREATER than $5, the price of our example ticket.
To do that, we’ll sum up the total number of prizes again but this time exclude all those breakeven $5 prizes.
With the $5 prizes removed, we now see there are really 1,407,930 actual winning prizes.
Using our math skills from above, we find that the actual winning odds, or as we call them Adjusted Odds, is really 1 in 7.01 tickets is a winner. That is 9,900,000 tickets divided by 1,407,930 total prizes.
The overall odds just change by OVER 70%!
Now some players may not care as getting their money back is winning in their mind. But let’s dive just a little deeper.
The Best Odds Illusion
I've just shown you that all those breakeven prizes aren't really winning prizes but are there to make the overall odds seem better. Let’s go a step further and say a lottery wanted to really manipulate a scratch game to look better than it really is.
Below is our original prize table from the example above, but I made 2 simple changes. I lowered the $250,000 top prize from 5 prizes down to just 1 and I lowered the second top prize, $10,000, from 24 prizes down to 2.
The change looks simple enough, the total prize count change is barely, if at all noticeable. The total number of prizes only went down by 26 prizes. However, let’s check out our prize odds.
We now see a HUGE change as the top prize odds went from 1 in 1,973,902 to now 1 in 9,869,509. A whopping 5x increase in odds!
The same thing for the $10,000 second place prize. We altered the count down to 2 prizes, which changed the odds from 1 in 411,230 to 1 in 4,934,755. This was a 12x increase in odds!
But here is the very sneaky part. Did you notice the overall odds?
The 1 in 4.12 overall odds never changed.
In both cases the lottery has two tickets with the same overall odds. If you had a choice though, which one would you choose?
For the curious, where did that extra prize money go? Remember, we took away 4 prizes of $250,000 and another 22 prizes of $10,000. You guessed it, pure lottery profit.
See, in our first example the total prize pool at the start of the game was $34,077,430, which represented an overall payout to players of 69.06%.
However, in our revised numbers, the prize pool dropped $1,230,000 to a total prize pool of $32,847,430, which is now only a payout of 66.58%.
The overall odds stayed the same but the lottery is keeping an extra $1,230,000 in profit instead of paying it to players.
Bringing it All Together
Let me show you one last example that brings both our points together. Let’s start with our original prize table again.
Now I’m going to reduce those top 2 prizes again like above BUT I’m also going to add some $5 prizes back. Let’s add 100,000 of the $5 prizes.
The lottery is still keeping a nice bonus profit by removing most of the top prizes but did shift a small piece of that money back to $5 prizes.
Here’s what our new prize table looks like
After taking out the top prizes and adding 100,000 small $5 prizes, we have a total prize count of 2,495,486. And now the magic.
Let’s divide the same ticket count by the new prize count. For those keeping track, that is 9,900,000 tickets divided by 2,495,486 total prizes. Our new overall odds of winning are 1 in 3.95!
Just like that I gave you a ticket with the best odds of winning, yet I took away most of the top prizes AND I’ve kept a bunch of extra ticket sales as pure profit!
Relying solely on the overall odds of scratchers as a way to determine the best odds of winning is a recipe for disaster.
The real "best odds of winning" will vary by the player and their own strategy.
Make sure to get a FREE account here at Lotto Edge. We offer lots of free tools to help you find the games with the best odds of winning for the strategies and prizes you want.