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The utter futility of scratch card games online with the UK National Lottery (jgc.org)
72 points by jgrahamc 2505 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments

Pretty much the case in any online gambling game, as soon as you part with your money the server decides whether you've won, and then the game interface can decide how you find out.

For example, Roulette on paddypower.com:

  <?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?>
  <!DOCTYPE GameResponse SYSTEM "http://www.orbisuk.com/igf/dtd/GameResponse.dtd">
		<GameId id="1155" ver="1" channel="I" />
			<Account balance="1525.00" held_funds="0.00" ccy_code="GBP" adjusted_free_balance="No" ccy_decimal_separator="." ccy_thousand_separator="," />
	<Close />
	<Play stake="600.00" win="1200.00" id="0" >
		<BetState drawn="15" total_bets="1">
			<Bet name="Outside_Black" stake="600.00" winnings="1200.00" seln=""/>
As others have pointed out, it doesn't make it any less fair. It does mean you're wasting some time scratching to see numbers, or waiting for a roulette ball to land, or waiting for cards to be dealt... but that's a choice the user makes to make it more entertaining.

Personally, I love playing roulette/blackjack in a real (offline) casino - if i just walked to the front desk, handed over the amount of money I was willing to part with and asked them to randomly generate my winnings/losses, I wouldn't ever bother.

And the same applies for online - I'd be far more likely to play an online casino game as time-killing entertainment than as a way to make money.

I guess it depends what you mean by "waste." It doesn't seem like it's any more wasteful than the paper card.

You're wasting time in that the server could just as easily say "win" or "lose" rather than making you spend that time pretending to scratch numbers. It's no more wasteful than a paper scratch card, except that with the paper scratch card the waiting is a necessity, whereas online it is not.

That said, my use of the word "waste" is not meant to be negative - they've left that feature in the online version of scratch cards for a reason, because they feel people prefer to have that time wasted - and, as I said, if playing online roulette, I would rather waste time seeing a ball roll around than just being told if I had won or lost.

The paper card could just say "win" or "lose" too.

And those cards are available - but there will always be an element of time wasting due to the fact that paper cards need to make you scratch away, whereas online versions do not.

In playing this Game, Players acknowledge that it is a game of chance, that the outcome of a Play in the Game is pre-determined by the Interactive System at the point of purchase, and that the winning of a Prize in the Game does not involve the exercise of any skill or judgement by a Player.

It does say this fairly clearly - although the author is correct in that by determining the outcome on the server side means that even if the game isn't completed, you can still be credited for the win.

There is even an option to bypass scratch card play and get the prize immediately (Reveal Instant Wins outcome automatically.)

There isn't really much skill involved offline (compared to none online). That being said, I wonder how many people don't spot winning prizes when they buy a ticket in the store - if I find a ticket, I might check!

In playing this Game, Players acknowledge that it is a game of chance, that the outcome of a Play in the Game is pre-determined by the Interactive System at the point of purchase, and that the winning of a Prize in the Game does not involve the exercise of any skill or judgement by a Player.

That part is almost certainly to comply with gambling licencing laws. There are different laws if it's a game of chance or luck. That's why many raffles (a game of chance) have a really simple question at the end, to turn it into a game of skill, legally.

It was often said when the National Lottery was first introduced that it's a "tax on the stupid". It's easy to see how it preys on the poor, and I've seen this first hand. When you're poor life is mostly an unhappy slog from one highly precarious situation to the next, and an infinitesimally small chance of winning even modest amounts of money seems attractive because it would mean at least temporary respite from life under a low upper bound.

...a "tax on the stupid". It's easy to see how it preys on the poor...

This is a sentiment I hear often. Yet whenever one suggests that "stupid" might apply to more than just the lottery and might even be a cause of "poor", one is treated as an evil and unsympathetic person. It's a dichotomy I can't wrap my head around.

A question: do the poor actually live in a precarious situation in the UK? I was under the impression that the UK has extremely generous handouts which made working more or less optional for many people. (This is a genuine question, I don't know how the welfare state works in the UK beyond vague American stereotypes.)

The UK post-Thatcher doesn't have hugely generous social welfare, though it has some benefits, and health-care is covered.

The main benefit you can receive indefinitely if you're poor is a housing allowance, which is equivalent to your full rent (if you have low enough income/assets), capped at the 30th-percentile rate for rents in your area, for an accomodation suitable for your family size. For a single person, that maxes out at $400-600/mo, depending on what part of the UK you live in.

For cash benefits, there is a jobseeker's allowance, which you can receive if you show you're actively seeking work, participate in some mandatory programs to do so, and have a mandatory progress meeting every two weeks (and meet some other miscellaneous requirements that keep getting added). That has a max of about $100/wk for a single person.

The UK post-Thatcher doesn't have hugely generous social welfare

Are you serious? Welfare + healthcare + pensions = 7.6 * defence in 2012[1]. People say cut Trident, well Trident is a rounding error. You could pay for it out of the NHS IT budget alone!

[1] http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk

Wow, Christopher Chantrill is a powerhouse:





Any politician truly interested in transparent government will pay this guy a salary (job description: "same thing you always did, but more"), and maybe even give him a few hacker underlings and a web designer. His sites are ugly but awesome.

From your description, it sounds as if non-workers in the UK live a reasonably stable lifestyle. Their basic needs (shelter, food and healthcare) are met. Is food sufficiently expensive that $100/week is not enough for one person? Or is there a significant danger that one will lose access to the benefits you describe and actually lose access to food, shelter or medicine?

From your description, it sounds as if motters' description of "one highly precarious situation to the next" was incorrect.

There is a correlation between child rearing and benefits-seeking (at least in the UK). Your costs appear to go up exponentially in this instance, however the benefits don't always follow.

Also, some parts of the UK are significantly cheaper than others -- i'd argue that you might be successful keeping yourself stable in the north or middle of england, but you'd struggle in london or it's outer reaches.

One more thing- people don't 'opt' to be in this situation usually, so they are quite likely to enter into it with a reasonable chunk of unsecured loans and such that'll suck up the money.

So, sure. You can be a college grad who's not yet got anything but student loans, and happily enter in to benefits to support you whilst you build something interesting... But as soon as you need to go anywhere or spend any money to further your goals, you might find yourself pretty stuck.

I had a one bedroom rented flat and claimed Housing + Council Tax + Job Seekers' benefits for 4 months. There was little pressure and it was quite relaxing.

Well I could give anecdotal accounts about the precarious nature of life on "sink estates". Precarious means that you have no savings, if you're working there is perpetual job uncertainty but in most cases in these areas there is what's known as "generational unemployment". The chances of becoming the victim of crime are high and loan sharks/black marketeers/organised crime is endemic with little or no effective policing.

Of course there are many areas of the UK which are not poor and have a very high standard of living by international standards, so it's certainly not true that everyone lives like this.

Precarious means that you have no savings, if you're working there is perpetual job uncertainty but in most cases in these areas there is what's known as "generational unemployment".

Ok, I think I understand what you mean by "precarious". It sounds as if the poor have a stable level of consumption (or at least a stable minimum level of consumption), but the specific manner in which that consumption is paid for can vary significantly - one week benefits, the next week employment. Also a high risk of crime, due to inadequate police protection. Is that a fair assessment of what you mean by "precarious"?

Now for some reason, the weekly variability of income and the risk of crime causes the poor to value an infinitesimal chance at large sums of money a more strongly than immediate and certain consumption. Assuming the poor are being rational here (rather than simply innumerate), this suggests that the poor assign a very low value to additional consumption, or perhaps a very high value to purely psychological benefits.

I have a suggestion for improving the lot of the poor in the UK: your government should sell more lottery tickets and use the profits to pay for additional policing. Perhaps you should also try to encourage microfinance - in the US, nonviolent microfinance outfits offering "payday loans" have pretty much pushed loansharks out of the market.

>I have a suggestion for improving the lot of the poor in the UK: your government should sell more lottery tickets and use the profits to pay for additional policing.

The government were given the chance to have the lottery run for free by a group headed by Richard Branson - they chose instead to maintain the current incumbent who take 5% of gross takings ... that could have paid off some tax bills ...

I've seen life in a fair amount of detail in some of the poorest areas of cities in the north of England. In these areas life is very precarious indeed, crime and vandalism are a daily phenomena and educational opportunities are minimal. Looking at how kids in these areas are raised its very easy to see how they have a systematic disadvantage when they become adults and compete with the rest of society.

The idea of a "tax on the stupid" comes from the point of view of people living comfortably. If most of your basic needs are met then gambling money on the lottery seems like irrational behavior (throwing your money away when you only have a small income to begin with).

If most of your basic needs are met then...

From _delirium's comment, it sounds as the poor do have most/all of their basic needs met, though he doesn't address policing. Piecing together your comment and his, it sounds as if the only basic need the poor have which is not met is adequate police protection. Is this correct?

Your sentence ending in "comes from the point of view of people living comfortably" implies that from the point of view of someone else (presumably a person living in a crime-ridden neighborhood), the lottery is not irrational. Could you explain why, if that is indeed what you meant?

(Note: I actually do live in a crime-ridden neighborhood. But I'm also a 6'6" man who looks like he has nothing worth stealing, and I've only been the victim of a single, unsuccessful, attempt at robbery. So my point of view might be atypical.)

There are other things unmet: for example, support in career progression, clothing, etc. Again, this is fine for a short period (as it was designed for) but imagine living for a year on benefits, where there simply isn't any budget for new shoes, or any kind of enrichment opportunities.

some benefits for disability and other things are moderately generous by European standards, which is pretty generous by US standards. They are being cut though. The normal unemployment benefit is about £63 a week. Bear in mind that the UK is a very expensive place to live. Housing is in short supply. VAT is 20% on almost everything and petrol/gas is £1.30 a litre or nearly $10 a gallon.

Most people are not "precarious" unless they have a lot of debt or a small debt with a loanshark. Crime makes things bad, not money as such. By the standards of the 50's or even the 70's, basics and luxuries are affordable as long as you don't waste it.

Bear in mind that the UK is a very expensive place to live

It's all relative. Coming from Ireland (and the Euro) the UK seems cheap. That's mostly the sterling/euro conversion rates in my favour. For example a pint of drink costs about €5 (about £4.50). The difference is so noticable that many people drive to Northern Ireland to do large shopping trips to get cheaper goods.

do the poor actually live in a precarious situation in the UK?

Ummm yes. If you have no money or no job, you will not be living well. The steryotype is that you'll be living in a grimey 1960s style concrete block of flats with not a lot of money.

Compared the USA, "free healthcare" would be seen as generous, however not in the EU.

... If you consider "not living well" to be a house, Sky TV, 40 fags a day, as much lager as you can drink and as many takeaways as you can eat. Admittedly their designer clothes will be fakes and their gold jewellery will be 9-carat.

No-one in the UK is actually poor.

It's also a tax on the busy.

I go to a petrol station, to buy petrol. Then have to wait in line for 10 minutes while some idiots buy scratch cards and lottery tickets.

That's not a tax.

Well ok, it's an added detrimental socio-economic impact.

This is the same as any online gaming site.

I used to work for Victor Chandler [1] and there's basically a small number of companies who supply the games to all the different gaming sites. NetEnt [2] and Playtech [3] are the two which I can remember.

There are hundreds of games available, but they are all basically the same with different skins. The spike in traffic when a new game comes out always surprised me, people wanted to play the new SpiderMan game (or whatever) even though it's exactly the same as all the others, just with a different colour-scheme!

At the point where you start the game, the outcome is already determined, it's just a case of going through the motions until it informs the player. Whether that's scratching numbers off, watching a virtual horse-race etc...

It's heavily regulated though, much like fruit-machines/one-arm-bandits there is a percentage payout which needs to be satisfied, so it's no more a scam in that sense than buying physical scratch cards which they have to ensure a certain percent win each of the prize levels.

[1] - http://www.victorchandler.com/

[2] - http://www.netent.com/

[3] - http://playtech.com/

I'm always surprised people put up with the lottery given how it's easy to verify who is buying tickets. If you care about the poor why give them such an easy outlet for spending their money? If you care about morals why let people gamble so easily?

I routinely see people in my neighborhood spend more than I could imagine spending on any one food item in a month on lottery tickets. It's never the upper middle class people around here that do it but rather it's always the poor. The government even sells $20 cards just to let them part with their money faster and more efficiently.

I don't really have a problem with gambling but given how what I'm describing isn't really new analysis I wonder how those who claim to want to use government to help the poor allow this. It just seems like a naked grab for tax money on the part of the politicians.

I had a discussion with a colleague of mine recently regarding this exact point. It all comes down to hope and the chance to change things.

If for example, you have a steady job and you earn enough money to pay all your bills and save / spend an amount of money per month, then you will be content to the fact if you save for a few months you can afford that 'thing' you desire.

If however, you are technically poor or your job barely covers the cost of living, then you know that things will not change as they currently are and you will not be able to afford that 'thing' you desire however long you work.

In the second situation, the opportunity or hope that comes from gambling seems an adequate risk to achieve the money they want to buy the 'thing'. After all, occasionally their gamble will actually pay off and solve their problem temporarily.

Unfortunately, the downside / reality is that often is the case, the poor get poorer by wasting money on things like scratch cards.

Your threshold theory of utility is interesting. In mathematical terms, it suggests [1] poor people have a utility function which is flat up to some critical value (and this critical value is considerably higher than their possible expected income).

For example, U(I) = sqrt(I/$15k), i < $15k, U(I) = 1, $15k < I < $100k, and then U(I) = 2, $100k < I. (I is income. The discontinuity at $100k is not necessary, but the flatness on [$15k, $BIGNUM] is.)

I.e., consider a poor person making $15k/year. If they spend $100/year on lotto (assume 1 in 1 million chance of winning), with virtually no chance of success, that suggests that 1e6 x Utility(big 'thing') > Utility($100 worth of goods/services). In particular, this suggests that the poor person assigns a very low value to an extra $100 worth of goods and services. If this is the case, then the lottery is actually a very efficient tax! It only deprives people of something they barely care about at all.

If correct, this theory would also explain why poor in the US work so little - they don't value the things that the extra money could buy.

[1] Like PaulJoslin, I am implicitly assuming that lottery ticket buyers are rational and inferring their utility function from their choices. It's also possible that lotto buyers simply don't understand probability, in which case all this speculation is irrelevant.

It doesn't necessarily need to be flat up to some critical value, but it does need to be very shallow in comparison. Consider the function:

  U(i)=i, i<100k
  U(i)=100k+2^(i-100k), i>=100k
Say you have a game that costs 10 to play and pays out 100k one time in one million with no other prizes. This is obviously a very unfair game. The expected income change of this game is -9.9.

Now say i=20,010 before playing. Expected utility without playing the game is trivially 20,010. Expected utility with playing is [(20k)*(10^6-1)+(100k+2^20k)]/10^6. This is a stupidly high number, in the 4x10^6020 neighborhood.

It should be possible to produce a more natural form that does this, without going piecewise.

I spend a tiny amount on lottery every week (almost minimum). The reasoning is like this:

  - If I never win, there is no practical loss (total spent sum too low)
  - If I win the jackpot, it's life changing
  - If I never play, life never changes (or at least there is not such a chance).
  - Most of the spent money goes to charity anyway
Why not play then? :)

Because the probability of winning is so overwhelmingly low that even though the total sum you spend is small, it's a net negative for almost anyone. If you have a rare disease and need $1M in a month to cure you and die otherwise, then it might be a good deal.

But if it's a net negative that you don't notice...

I never buy lottery tickets or scratch cards (though I love sports betting and casinos), however my father does buy a lottery ticket every week.

He's retired, and has enough money to live fine - he owns the flat he lives in, he has enough money to pay for his £100/month TV/internet package, to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, and to buy whatever food he fancies without thinking about what's cheaper to eat.

He has a choice of living like that and accepting that's how the rest of his life will remain, or spending a tiny amount each week and having a dream of becomming a millionaire. He's not an idiot, he knows the odds are against him, but his buying lottery tickets doesn't have any impact on his lifestyle, and it lets him imagine that one day he might win big.

He wouldn't notice any difference in his financial situation if he stopped buying the tickets, so really the only downside is that, if he keeps buying them over a twenty year period, the inheritance that comes to myself and my two siblings when he dies will be a bit less. But if you think that way, his quitting the lottery would make a far smaller difference than if he didn't subscribe to extremely expensive sports channels, if he didnt spend £40/week on cigarettes, and so on. I'd far rather see him enjoy his money than save it for my sake - I'll get by fine either way.

Sure, for some people the amount they spend on lottery tickets does take away from money they could spend on other stuff, but there are people who are well off enough to be able to afford the cost, without being so well off that winning the lottery isn't a dream they enjoy having.

And that's the point of it. But like any other similar thing, it can be an addiction, and when you consider choosing between the lottery or a meal this week, there's a problem needing addressing.

The point being made by the parent and grandparent though is that whilst the expected value in monetary terms is negative, when people have a non-linear utility function, the expected value in utility can be positive.

I understand that. I'm just saying that people generally don't have that kind of utility function unless there are special circumstances (such as a disease). In fact most people's utility functions are sub-linear.

My point is that I do not consider the net sum negative. It is so small that it is inconsequential to my life. It does not affect my finances whatsoever. Only hitting the jackpot would, and that would be a definite positive effect to me. Like I said life-changing.

I consider that the Pascal's Wager :) Everything to gain, nothing to lose. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager

Could you wire me $5? Maybe I will give you $1000000 back.

Nothing to lose, man.

I could, if I considered the chance of receiving the big money positive. Or if you would be in such a need that it'd be charity :)

There is no such thing as negative chance.

There is a difference between playing the lottery, and playing regularly.

If a reputable organisation held a one-off lottery, in which you stand a very slim chance of winning £5M, for a £1 stake, then (morals and poverty notwithstanding) then the default position is to enter. £1 doesn't really buy you anything much.

If, on the other hand, the stake were £52, then you'd think twice. £52 is a fairly significant sum it could buy a decent meal out for two, or the latest game with enough change for a couple of beers on the way home.

Playing every week for a year is the same as that second scenario.

  If you care about morals why let people gamble so easily?
Because gambling isn't immoral? Some people may think it is, but... some people think drinking is immoral, some think eating pork is immoral, some think being gay is immoral.

I have no issue with any of the above, and wouldn't want to live in a country where any of them are illegal.

> If you care about the poor why give them such an easy outlet for spending their money? If you care about morals why let people gamble so easily?

If you care why do you let people drink, smoke and eat fatty foods so easily? Many people don't want nor need a nursing state because the government has a habit of getting it wrong. I live in a country where online gambling is illegal and I'm not even allowed to play a friendly game of poker online.

I discovered this myself a year or so back when I had some money left in my lottery account from a small win. It soon became clear that 'wherever' you scratched would cause the same result and to test my theory, I scratched the 4 of the 5 panels off - then refreshed the game (which reset the grid, but loaded against the same unique game ID) and I scratched off a completely different set of 4 panels to reveal the same 4 numbers in the same order.

The laughable thing with this is that they have a whole array of games, which each require the user to do different meaningless activities, which serve no purpose other than waste time.

I guess the 'average Joe' may feel cheated, if they paid £1 and instantly got a message saying 'You lose' - with no form of 'entertainment' or interaction.

Either way, it appeared to me as quite a horrendous scam and scandalous for such a reputable company as Camelot. What would be interesting, is to know how many times it pays out the jackpot amount of that card (if ever).

From the National Lottery site:

  There is a 1 in 4.49 overall chance of winning a Prize on each Play of the Game. The Expected Prize Payout Percentage for this game is 64.08%.
They are required to publish the odds and they are correct. There is no scam.

The question of 'a scam' wasn't relevant to the chance of a win.

It was questioning how often it would pay out the jackpot of the challenge.

A pub fruit machine for instance has stamped on it, 'this machine will pay out 78% of all money taken' - that is the reality, it will return a proportion back in winnings and take 22% as profit. However, it does not disclose how this will be returned to the user or over what time frame.

In the scenario with these online scratch cards, if you play them for a while you will end up down on your money (as you would expect for a 1 in 4.49 chance) - but occasionally get a small win which regains a proportion of the money you have spent.

- The question is, how often and what are the chances that if I play the game long enough I will win that advertised £100,000 prize? - That information afaik is not disclosed.

1 in 2,880,000 for the top prize of £77,777, this is again clearly printed on the site. I still don't see how you can regard this as a scam, unless you want to classify all gambling as such.

For a given level of intelligence for a given person, it is possible to write a set of rules that make it appear that you have a reasonable chance of winning when in fact you don't. This is not a slam against the poor or the stupid, it is true across all levels of intelligence. The lotto gets a certain set of these people. Penny auctions step it up to the next level. Bernie Madoff caught another even higher level. (Yes, he committed fraud, but there was actually enough information for anybody paying close attention to figure it out with high confidence; his payout schedule was far too consistent, especially as the market started to drop yet his fund appeared to be immune.) No amount of intelligence will render you immune, though, there's always another layer of trick that would catch you, too, so let me emphasize again this isn't disguised elitism, everyone's vulnerable.

To the extent that the lottery appears to be disproportionately played by those who seem to be below the lottery's intelligence line, it is arguably a scam. And I do mean arguably, not that I have a proof. But I would say that if your response is that people know what they are getting into, I would submit that A: no, they don't necessarily really get it and B: would you be so blase if you were scammed by something a bit more sophisticated? It's easy to be unempathetic and be unable to imagine being fooled by the lottery's statistical games, but clearly it does in fact happen.

Is this proof of immorality or proof it should be shut down or anything else? No, I'm deliberately constraining myself to just the point above. Drawing it out further would take more logic and would itself be controversial. I just want to make the point that there is a plausible way to look at this situation and call it a scam without too much damage to the term.

> "for such a reputable company as Camelot"

Um excuse me? Reputable? Given the way they conned the public out of a non-profit lottery, I don't agree they're reputable.

> require the user to do different meaningless activities, which serve no purpose other than waste time.

Isn't that the real purpose of gambling (besides dreaming about what to do with the money if you win)?

The same could be said about watching TV series or any other form of entertainment.

Indeed, I often enjoy the 'fun' of playing online poker, betting on sports events, even putting money into 'fruit machines' in a pub.

However, the sole entertainment value that comes from these on line scratch games is so limited, that you would have to have a seriously dull life to find them enjoyable.

At least in most forms of gambling you feel you have an element of control (despite the odds). Whether it's choosing to bluff in poker, choose a team in sports or 'collect' early on a fruit machine.

The difference with the online scratch card is that it shows a fake level of interaction to the user, which makes them believe they could have effected the result by scratching a different panel.

Combining this with the 'near miss' psychological effect, it will probably leave the typical demographic playing it coming back for more.

Presumably these scratch-offs are a pseudo form of entertainment, otherwise people would just buy a ticket with one giant scratch off that tells how much money they either won or didn't.

Isn't that a "Schrödinger's cat" kind of situation? As long as you don't look into the box (or in this case, into the TCP packets) the fact that the outcome is predetermined or not doesn't make any difference. Anyway, disregarding that, these games are always futile statistically-wise.

Exactly, it doesn't make a difference to your chances whether the game picks your numbers before you scratch them or after. If they did it the way the author would like it would just mean server requests for every revealed square and session tracking etc in case of lost connections.

What's kind of interesting is games like Pachinko, which in real life rely on the random fall of steel balls over metal pins. A game like at http://games.ladbrokes.com/en/games/arcade/pachinko actually sends you the number of wins and losses when you place your bet, then you get to watch all the balls fall into their predetermined slots at the bottom of the board. You even get to pick the power of the shot for each ball so it's very deceptive.

Ironically, I noticed this about two years ago but concluded it wasn't actually a big deal. They are pretty clear that it's a game of chance - not a game of skill. And analogous to actual scratch cards.

It's almost analogous to actual scratch cards: while on actual scratch cards the printed numbers are given, online the order in which the ('printed') numbers appear is given.

Yes. In any case, it's not a big deal. If it was any other way, we all would have hacked it by now.

As long as the server is playing it fair and sending over the expected amount of winners, I don't think there is a material difference.

It's actually pretty analogous to actual scratch cards, as mwg66 pointed out here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2174506

I'm interested in how they handle failed communications - presumably they don't charge you if the page doesn't get sent to you?

Could you have a purpose built browser that receives the packets up to

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8' ?> <ticket> <outcome prizeTier="14" amount="0

and buffers them all, possibly while returning a fail code, and then only returns the acknowledgements that the packets are received if that last figure is positive?

Presumably they handle this sort of thing, curious how they do it? Is it simply that if they can't send the page you still have to pay - could they then be successfully sued if your connection is down or theirs doesn't actually deliver the packets but you're still charged?

This last scenario would appear to fit into the sale of goods act in that you've paid for a service (a scratchcard game) but the game wasn't delivered ...


Clearly if I was a black-hatter I'd just try it out ...

This video sums up my attitude to the national lottery:


A tax on poor maths skills.

EDIT: To expand, there is a cognitive dissonance here: although this is still fair, you still have a chance at winning, we feel instinctively that playing the game is futile.

This raises deep questions of philosophy. What if this same thinking is applied to everyday life? If you believe that we live in a deterministic universe, then we are all just futile scratchcard junkies, forever diligently scratching the silver stuff off the face of the universe, innocent of our predetermined (and probably crappy) destinies... If you believe in determinism and don't want to kill yourself, you have nothing to say to scratchcard/online gamblers :)

And don't get me started on Deal or No Deal.

It would be utterly futile, if you'll _never_ see a winning scratch card.

However, the fact that the 'randomness' has already taken place when you receive your card (vs. happening while you scratch), makes no difference concerning your chances to win or loose.

It's an interesting psychological issue that comes up in AI sometimes. There's a certain cachet to something being "online", in the sense that it's literally generating something on the spot, even if it's with a fairly simple process. But consider this transformation: take a generative art piece, pre-generate 100 billion output instances, throw them in a big database, and then the online code is: randomly select a piece of art to show the viewer. No actual practical difference, as long as you've pre-sampled so many instances that the user could never reasonably see any repeats. The space of variation is the same; in terms of what you get out it's just as generative as before, just with a different choice on the typical algorithmic time/space, online/offline tradeoffs. But the rhetoric is a much harder sell.

Is this different from actual physical scratchcards? Are they even allowed to be games of skill? I thought the scratching was just a distraction to allow you to reveal whether you had a "lucky" ticket or not?

Nope – in the US at least, you don't even need to scratch the cards. Some stores have scanners that can tell whether the card is a winner or not and pay out if it is.

This is generally true of offline scratch games, too. As soon as you purchase the ticket, the outcome is determined. There is no way for you to manipulate the ticket itself and turn a loss into a win.

If you can get information from the ticket, you might be able to identify which tickets are winners, but this won't turn a loser into a winner.

I've read an article about the physical fruit machines doing a similar thing. The outcome of the "guess whether the next number will be bigger or smaller than current one" is pre-determined. The game knows how many positive guesses it allows and adjusts the numbers accordingly.

It's like a movie: instead of sitting down for two hours in front of the screen, after buying your ticket the seller could just tell you what happens at the end. There, you just saved yourself two hours of time you could spend productively.

I was under the impression that this is actually a legal requirement. That's why roulette fixed-odds betting terminals in bookies spin before you gamble.

What's worse, these kind of things sometimes don't even generate the numbers randomly. They first generate the outcome they want (e.g. win $0.00), and then they generate the numbers that produce that outcome. They sometimes don't even generate the outcome randomly, but instead generate it in such a way that it's impossible for the site to lose money.

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