PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Tigard web developer has created a unique way to inform how Oregonians buy Oregon Lottery Scratch-its with his website, BestOregonScratchits.com.
Pierce Lamb said he routinely enjoyed the Jackpot lottery games, the kind with huge prizes associated with them. But he could never make a decision when it came to purchasing Scratch-its, another Oregon Lottery game with lesser prizes, as there are such a high number of them to choose from.
“If I walk into a store and see 20, I wouldn’t really know which one to pick, I never had a reason to pick one over the other,” Lamb said.
After doing some poking around on Oregon Lottery’s website, he discovered they release data on the various scratch-it games, such as percentage of games sold and remaining prizes yet to be claimed and wondered if he could use this information to somehow calculate an updated odds figure for the games.
“I thought, you know, I could probably scrape this data and do some basic calculations and recalculate how the odds change for different scratch-its over time,” Lamb said. “Because as top prizes are won and as more and more are bought, the odds do change over time.”
After building said “scraper,” for his own entertainment, in December, Lamb decided to put the information on a dedicated website for the public to peruse.
“So basically what the site does is it recalculates those odds every single day and then it sorts the Scratch-its based on either the odds of the top prize, like the best odds of the top prize, the best odds of the top three prizes and it also sorts it based on how many top prizes are left for different Scratch-its,” he said. In addition, the website has an email subscription service so users can get the latest updated odds right in their inbox.
Oregon Lottery doesn’t release information outright about how many tickets of a particular game are printed and distributed initially, a key piece of data for Lamb’s calculations.
In order to re-calculate the odds, Lamb has to estimate the total number of tickets that were first released based on the initial odds, a disclaimer he gives on his website.
“People should know that when I calculate the full run, like how many tickets went out when they were printed, that’s an approximation. I don’t know that exactly. It’s based on an educated guess,” he said.
Lamb added the website should be used for entertainment purposes only, not as investment advice, and that it is a third party site, unaffiliated from Oregon Lottery.
“If I want to go in and buy a scratch-it, I just prefer to buy one with better odds than another one. And I think that’s how people should think about it, not that they’ll instantly win if they’ll play,” he said.
Oregon Lottery Spokesperson Chuck Baumann told KOIN 6 News that the BestOregonScratchits.com site uses information that is posted to Oregon Lottery’s own website, essentially a re-contextualization of what is already publicly available information.
Baumann noted, however, that people often misinterpret the meaning of the odds posted on Oregon Lottery’s website to begin with and it’s important to get the message out there about what those odds really mean.
For example, if a Scratch-it has an overall odds of winning listed as “1 in 4,” that doesn’t necessarily mean you can go to your local gas station, buy four of those games, and be guaranteed to win, though people often make that mistake, he said.
“What the odds are saying is through that entire print run for that game, let’s just use a million as an example. If we print a million tickets for a game, which is a fairly common thing, that means that 250,000 of those tickets will be winners,” Baumann said.
The people who print the Scratch-its then randomly distribute those 250,000 winning tickets throughout that one million ticket run, he said.
In other words, places that sell the tickets do not necessarily get a 1-in-4 distribution of winners at an individual store–it’s all random throughout the totality of the tickets throughout the state.
“It’s conceivable that you could buy four tickets and get four winners. It’s also conceivable that you could buy 10 tickets and get zero winners. So again, it’s all about randomness. And like with any lottery game, it’s all about luck,” Baumann said.
He added that it’s just the nature of the lottery system that people who play are very likely to lose more often than they win.
“But it’s that risk/reward thing, you know. You can throw down a $1 bill and get yourself a Megabucks ticket and you never know,” Baumann said.
As perhaps a testament to the random nature of the Oregon Lottery, it was announced this week that a Vancouver man, Joshua Park, became a $1 million top prize winner for the Raffle game just a few months after winning a Scratch-it top prize of $150,000 in December.
But just what happens to the money you put in when you lose a game? The revenue helps fund projects across the state, such as public schools, job creation, state parks, natural resources and veteran services, according to Oregon Lottery’s website.