Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The utter futility of scratch card games online with the UK National Lottery

With an idle moment late last night I wondered how the National Lottery's online scratch card games work. So I decided to poke around and intercept the network connections and have a look. Doing so revealed the utter futility of spending any time on these.

It's not even like the regular lottery where the result is random. In the "Instant Win" games the outcome is entirely known the moment you click Buy and your interaction with the game makes no difference at all. As you interact with the game you are literally wasting your time (and money).

Here, for example, is the game Winning 7's which involves being presented with a board with 25 squares on it from which you choose 16. The more 7's you uncover the higher your prize.

The thing is, it doesn't matter what squares you uncover, the order in which you will uncover numbers is predetermined. You are not influencing the game at all. Here's why. In Firebug you can see the game downloading its state at the start:

And if you pretty print that XML you can see the amount that will be won, and the order in which the numbers will be revealed:
<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8' ?>
  <outcome prizeTier="14" amount="0.00"/>
  <params wT="0" />
  <turn n="8" wP="0" />
  <turn n="7" wP="0" />
  <turn n="5" wP="0" />
  <turn n="1" wP="0" />
  <turn n="3" wP="0" />
  <turn n="5" wP="0" />
  <turn n="2" wP="0" />
  <turn n="7" wP="0" />
  <turn n="5" wP="0" />
  <turn n="7" wP="0" />
  <turn n="9" wP="0" />
  <turn n="4" wP="0" />
  <turn n="5" wP="0" />
  <turn n="6" wP="0" />
  <turn n="7" wP="0" />
  <turn n="3" wP="0" />
On that go I was destined to receive £0.00 and have the numbers 8, 7, 5, 1, 3, 5, 2, 7, 5, 7, 9, 4, 5, 6, 7 revealed in that order no matter where I clicked. Imagine my surprise on my first click:

And a few clicks later:

The great advantage of this scheme is that it makes the game very secure. It doesn't matter what you do to hack the Flash applet or even modify that XML, the web site knows the correct outcome. When each game ends you end up going back to the same URL (there's no need for the Flash game to tell the web site what you won).

The same is true of every other game I looked at. And some take a long time to "play". Some even emulating shuffling or randomization.

In the end, it was soul destroying to think that people play these games. It's all a cruel trick. At least the lottery is clear: the chance of your numbers coming up is really, really, really small. Here there's the illusion that you are participating in some way.


mrclay said...

The scheme just saves HTTP requests. It could still be secure and be participatory if they kept the board server-side and checked each "scratch" with XHR. But yeah, it's a nasty trick to play on folks who are already just giving away their money on these things.

Robeam said...

This is no different to buying a scratch card over the counter. The result is always predetermined and the hope is that you will be dealt a winning card.

Playing the game is merely an obstacle to revealing the prize.

There has never been any amount of chance with scratch cards, you have winning cards and losing cards.

James said...

I'd be more surprised if it wasn't predetermined.

A scratch ticket is predetermined when you buy it offline too. The numbers don't appear as you scratch them, why would it work any other way online?

James said...

I'd be more surprised if it wasn't predetermined.

A scratch ticket is predetermined when you buy it offline too. The numbers don't appear as you scratch them, why would it work any other way online?

James said...

I'd be more surprised if it wasn't predetermined.

A scratch ticket is predetermined when you buy it offline too. The numbers don't appear as you scratch them, why would it work any other way online?

John H said...

@Robeam Surely with an over-the-counter card, you can buy a potential winning card, and lose.

For example, if there are 9 panels, you may scratch off 3, and you win if the ones you uncover are identical.

Clearly with a game like this, you could construct unwinnable cards, cards which are guaranteed wins, and cards which can be won or lost depending on the player's choice of panels.

I don't play scratch cards myself, so if the games they do don't fit with my description, feel free to correct me.

John H said...

Followup: After a discussion with my colleague, we've decided that probably over-the-counter scratch cards all have a predetermined outcome, as @Robeam says.

Rationale: otherwise, it wouldn't be that hard to cheat. You probably don't need to resort to an X-ray to peek; or you could scratch off all the panels then re-apply a metallic covering as needed.

dsf said...

Er, no, nothing is ever left unscratched/covered on a physical National Lottery scratchcard. You scratch everything off and discover whether you bought a winner or a loser; there is no game to it at all.

jason said...

A somewhat related (and very interesting) article on the security of scratch lotteries in North America:

NickFitz said...

They don't make any secret of the fact that the Instant Win outcome is determined at the point of purchase; it's even stated in their FAQs.

Kriek Jooste said...

Online bingo and a couple of other online gambling games like virtual horse racing, also works like this. The animations are just a bit of entertainment really. In the case of bingo it's still quite dull, hence why they run chat rooms to keep players engaged.

freeapplemac said...

A physical national lottery scratchcard is just as predetermined as an online scratchcard. There is zero chance involved once you have bought your scratchcard, except for the fact of it being a winning card or not. The actual GAME the scratchcard is based upon is totally meaningless in both, virtual and physical scratchcards, and they're only there to add a level of anticipation for the player. It would be exactly the same if both online and offline players flipped a coin to determine if their card was a winner or not.

Also, I want to point out that you have to scratch off every panel on EVERY scratchcard so there is absolutely zero difference in the outcome of the card depending on what you choose to scratch off.

I'm pretty sure that the ONLINE VIRTUAL scratchcards are a con all the same. Yes, you can win with them but I'd bet that all winnings are based upon a carefully constructed algorithm that makes sure that every player ALWAYS loses a percentage over a certain period or money spent playing.

With PHYSICAL real life scratchcards this doesn't happen. Theoretically, anyone could spontaneously spend £1 on a scratchcard and win a large cash prize. However unlikely this may be in reality, this scenario is still possible with physical scratchcards because the lottery have regulators who oversee the games and make sure that the winning cards are distributed randomly without anybody knowing where the jackpot cards will end up. Because of this, ANYONE can win regardless of how much that person spends on scratchcards.

(Obviously your CHANCES of winning a jackpot will increase with the more scratchcards you buy but mathematically speaking EVERYONE technically has the same long shot odds every time you buy one.)

An algorithm is the ONLY way they can produce an online gambling game such as this and just like real world fruit machines and even computer generated casino's (roulette etc) the algorithm that controls the prizes will ALWAYS make sure that the national lottery's income exceeds any prizes given out. The odds on all national lottery scratchcards are 1 in 4.9 so this means the national lottery will MAKE approximately £3.90 for every £4.90 that's spent. (the £1 difference is the amount of prizes they give out for every £4.90p spent.) They're making a KILLING with this scam.

One day I played for about an hour or so after adding £20 to my account and as I was looking out for patterns it didn't take me long to SUCCESSFULLY predict on numerous occasions what prize I would get on the NEXT scratchcard believe it or not.

As an example, if I won £7 on one game, I knew I would ALWAYS win £2 on the following game, then I would lose a game, then win another game etc etc etc.

One other point...
I contacted the national lottery myself a while ago asking for some specific information. I wanted to know how many LARGE cash prizes had been won with their online scratchcards. (over £500)
Of course I didn't want the details of any winners, just the information on prizes such as how much, name of game and the date. Unsurprisingly, they wouldn't provide this IMPORTANT information which every player should have a right to know so they can judge the fairness of the game.

My biggest concern now is if the national lottery have merged their online and offline scratchcard games because this would probably mean they will use their online scam to avoid having to secretly distribute jackpot winning cards within physical batches.

I would be sceptical with any game that's based around an algorithm. I would love to see an independent investigation into these online Lottery instant win games because I'm convinced they're robbing the public blind with them.

Graeme said...

You dont have to "Play" the game. you can have it set that as soon as you click buy the amount won (if any !!!!) is automatically revealed to you. IT has always been that the games prizes are predetermined. If fact I have managed to play two games with the identical code and therefore the same outcome - £10 each time ! It was a dice game and I "predicted" each roll correctly.

shameshameknowyourname said...

try the snakes and ladders, I can guarantee you wont reach the final panel with the jackpot, the roll will take you to a snake head one tile before it and you miss by a hairs breadth to tempt you back, I tried it after the lottery draw was unavailable, I had two goes and both with identical outcomes one tile short each time and no money won along the way, random algorithms my arse.
Safe to say I wont bother with that again, a flutter on the draw every roll over perhaps

Alfonso said...

I had the same "issue". I played hangman and Firefox crashed in the middle of the game. I thought I was going to lose my money but fortunately Firefox restore my session and I could continue playing. At the end I lost so before clicking in the "finish the game" button I killed Firefox using Windows task manager, then reopened Firefox, restore my session and started playing again from the beginning. To my surprise, no matter what, I always revealed the same letters in the same order even though I clicked on different squares so I decided to repeat the process of killing the browser and restore my session.

After 10 times the result was exactly the same: same letters, same order of appearance, even with my eyes closed I got the same result.

In conclusion, John is totally right, the result is predetermined and you'll never going to win more than 10 or 5 pounds in a game, so please do yourself a favour and don't waste your money playing on instant wins from the UK National Lottery.

freeapplemac said...

What I'd be interested to know but the National lottery won't comment on is if their Online scratchcards have a PRE-DETERMIND number of jackpot and top-tier prizes randomly programmed into every online game at the launch of each scratchcard.
Let me explain, if you buy a physical scratchcard in the real world you can check on the National lottery website how many jackpots and top-tier prizes are still unclaimed - meaning these prizes are still available to win.
However, with online cards, they don't appear to have any pre-determind number of jackpots of top-tier prizes so this means they could advertise 100k jackpot but never actually give this prize to anyone.

If the national lottery had nothing to hide they would publish how many online jackpots and top-tier prizes are still left to be won for each game, just like they do with their physical cards. This would PROVE that people can win big prizes with their online cards and the jackpots are real. Until they publish this data and until they have had their online games inspected by someone impartial, I would stay well clear of their online scam.

I would bet that nobody has ever won a scratchcard jackpot online before. I doubt they exist. If anyone from the national lottery is reading this, prove me wrong.

Scratchcards Queen said...

I would also to know if anyone has actually wont the National Lottery Scratch cards and believe that sites like these should be more open to the public in publishing the winners that there are. I do believe there are winners and its impossible to say with certainty there are not from a few sample games. As in all gambling the chances you win big jackpots are not great but scratch cards do have better odds than almost every other game there is. and small wins are plenty .

jnnifer kennedy said...

How can they get away with this it's fraud isn't it?

whodunnit said...

yes it is bullshit I put £20 in to test and I maxed out the full 70 games limit and I was back to my original £20 so I ended with the same amount after 70 Games! don't waste your money with these rubbbish.

whodunnit said...

yes it is bullshit I put £20 in to test and I maxed out the full 70 games limit and I was back to my original £20 so I ended with the same amount after 70 Games! don't waste your money with these rubbbish.

whodunnit said...

Hello I put £20 to test the theory and yep it's utter futility I managed to play the Maximum 70 games with my £20 and ended up at £16! after 70 games you have no chance don't waste your money.

Mark Crummett said...

Are you people all idiots? It's online gambling. Of course you usually lose money. The whole reason people play is in the hope they win a large amount. That's the entire point. you seem annoyed that they aren't all winning games? Its the same as scratch cards in stores. You pay, you hope its a winner.

Mark Crummett said...

The best thing is, i just played a £3 game after posting here and won £10 lol

Mark Crummett said...

and a year ago I won £1000 so :)

Lee Watson said...

You dont even need to scratch them you just need the barcode and get the desk to scan it

Lee Watson said...

You dont even need to scratch them you just need the barcode and get the desk to scan it

Louisew said...

And I won £100000 a couple of weeks ago on an online £1 scratchcard, so proof that it is not a con.

Louisew said...

A week ago, I won £100000 on a £1 scratchcard, so it is not a con. And you can also look on the lotto website to see how many are left

jw35weeks said...

I won £1000 yesterday, after 2 goes of a £5 game... the money hasn't appeared in my account yet that takes 3-5 working days.

Eman said...

If thats the case then the vendor can then scan all the cards and scratch off winning ones? I suppose by scanning it means the card is bought?

Eman said...

If thats the case then the vendor can then scan all the cards and scratch off winning ones? I suppose by scanning it means the card is bought?

David Brown said...

Of course no-one thinks that these games are any more random than over-the-counter scratch cards - determined when you hand over your stake. What is more annoying is the lottery's adding the money-back 'prize' to the odds which of course is more bullshit. You didn't lose £2.00 is not the same as winning £2.00 is it. The regulators should force them to declare the odds, removing the money-back prizes - or make them include the return of your stake. As you'd expect of a bet on a horse race.

Blerger said...

@Robeam No, it's comepletely different to real scratch card, you obviously haven't understood the article. He is saying, NO MATTER WHAT ORDER YOU SCRATCH THE "CARD", THE NUMBERS WILL COME UP IN A PREDETERMINED ORDER. With a real scratch card, I will get a different number depending on the square I scratch off. If you still don't understand then I think you're beyond help.

John Farrell said...

I commented on this ages ago and I'm back as I kept getting notifications when anyone else posted. The point is, with a physical scratch card the result is certainly pre-determined - ita a winner or a loser. But with an online scratchcard it's flawed from the beginning. As its online, there is nothing hard-coded in so it would be fairly simple to program to say whichever options are selected (ie. any possible combination), the user will never win.

I could write my own scratchcard game script which would do just that and assuming their developers have a decent skillset level they can too.

It's a bit of a no-brainer to avoid online scratchcards like the plague.

no-one-special said...

"For example, the odds to win the £1,000,0000 jackpot in the Millionaire 777 instant win game is approximately 1 in 4,900,000. These odds will be the same each time it is played, and will not alter following a jackpot win. The odds for each tier are in the game rule.."

Blerger said...

No John Farrel, because in some real scratch cards you are only supposed to scratch say, three boxes, so you have a choice as to which boxes to scratch. The online game is predetermined because no matter where you scratch you will get the number which has already been decided.

FFS, this is really basic stuff. Worrying that some people aren't getting it.

John Farrell said...

@blerger - We're actually agreeing the same point yet you are disagreeing with me!

When I said, 'with a physical scratch card the result is certainly pre-determined', that's because it is. The cards that ask you to rub 3 panels from 9 for example (do these even exist anymore - most of them ask you to rub off all panels don't they?) are pre-determined in that behind those 9 panels are 9 numbers/images etc. They will never change, they are printed on the card so if the top 3 were winners for example and you rub off the bottom 3 then you've lost, if you rub off the top 3 then you've won. It's as simple as that. So buying a physical card you could win or lose, the point being you have a chance of winning at least (assuming all cards of this nature are winners)

Online the numbers are already pre-determined so as an example, assuming there are 9 panels to select, the series of numbers may be 8, 3, 9, 1, 3, 0, 4, 8, 7. If you select the top right panel it will reveal 8, likewise if you reveal the bottom right panel or indeed any of the panels it will also reveal 8 for your first number you reveal. Each card will probably have a different series of numbers but there's nothing to say that none of them ever win.

My main point being ok, people do win a pound here and there and we always hear of the lucky bugger who won £10,000 with an online scratchcard like the guy earlier in this thread (which I take with a pinch of salt as being a conspiracist, I'm not convinced anyone actually wins the lottery but that's another story..) but ultimately it wouldn't be difficult (in fact would be very easy) to ensure noone EVER won anything online over £10 for example.

The nature of it being online means all randomness is taken away (it has to be in order for it to work) so an online scratchcard is pointless really. At least with a physical one, the regulators ensure x number of cards are winners. Online there is no such regulator that I'm aware of so who's to say any of them are jackpot winners?

Unknown said...

I think folk are getting too fixated on the sequence that the numbers on an online scratchcard appear in. So what if the sequence is predetermined at point of purchase? It makes no difference to your chance of winning a prize. The only difference with physical cards is the sequence is printed. Physical cards are sold in batches with a predetermined number of big prizes. Scratchcard sellers (like the lottery) will rarely reveal if a physical card's top prize has been won and are not obligated to. Online scratchcards are not printed in batches so a random number generator or RNG is employed. These RNGs are strictly regulated and most online Scratchcard retailers will publish the odds of winning a prize alongside the card. You can look at the odds and take your chances. In fact this is more transparent than physical cards because with a physical card you can't easily tell how many are in the batch.

Chris said...

@blerger - You are the only one here that doesn't get it. You are are completely wrong. There are no National Lottery scratchcards where you are asked to only scratch a certain number of the boxes. ALL scratchcards in question here, whether online or not, have a predetermined outcome. If you buy a national Lottery scratchcard from a shop, you must scratch off the whole thing and you find out if it's a winning card or not. The same applies to the online games - you either win or not.

I presume that there are a limited number of virtual "scratchcards" each with their own id number and there are a predetermined number of prizes. I don't think an algorithm is used (like a fruit machine) to produce randomized results based on the odds. I think the odds are fixed based on the number of cards and number of prizes in the exact same way as the physical cards. This way, the online system can be correctly audited. The National Lottery is not in the business of cheating people out of their money and they are under scrutiny at all times, so they wouldn't realistically risk being caught out doing something illegal. Online gambling is very highly regulated and controlled.

Darren Edmonds said...

I play you lose acouple of times then you win it back then after that you lose it its the same on all of them you can never win over the ten pound you spend it looks that way anyway might suprise me and give me a big win