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How to spot a lottery winner

Melanie Payne: Tell Mel (Photo: news-press.com)

The Florida Lottery used to put a code on scratch-off lottery tickets. The three letter code was an indication of whether the scratch-off was a winner or not. An FTN for example, meant the ticket was a $15 winner. If the code was FHN, the ticket was a $500 winner.

A code such as KVX, or some other seemingly random and undecipherable group of letters, meant the card wasn’t a winner.

These codes are used by many states on their scratch-off tickets. And there is even a website and Facebook page devoted to the codes so that people can double-check their scratch-off tickets before discarding them. The codes weren’t visible until the latex above them was scratched off, just like when you scratch off other areas on the card.

The Florida Lottery is phasing out the scratch-off code system. It isn’t being used on any of the newer scratch-off ticket games.

John Szymonik contacted me, a bit upset about this. The Lehigh Acres man believes the lottery is removing the codes to increase their profit.

Many of the games are confusing, Szymonik said, making it easy to misinterpret a winning card. He gave me an example of once playing a “bingo” instant lottery ticket that called for 20 scratches for four games on each card. He thought it was a loser but when looking at the code saw it indicated the scratch-off was a winner.

Szymonik said he could never figure out where he had a “bingo” on the card, but because he saw the code he didn’t throw the ticket away. When he took it to a retailer, it was a $300 winner as the code showed.

Szymonik suspects the games are designed to be confusing so that people don’t realize they are winners. That way the lottery makes more money because people will buy the tickets but never claim the prize.

Some of the games do seem difficult to understand. As an example, here are the instructions for a $25 Florida Lottery scratch-off:

“Match any of your numbers to any of the winning numbers, win prize shown for that number. Get a (2X), (5X), (10X), (25X), (50X) OR (100X) symbol and multiply your prize shown for that symbol by that amount! Get a ($100) symbol, win $100 automatically. Get an (ALL) symbol, win all $25 prizes shown for that symbol!”

I guess if you aren’t reading carefully or don’t fully understand how to play, you might not know you’ve won. But if you are a novice player, you might not know about codes either.

The lottery said the codes were printed on scratch-off tickets so retailers could validate them. That information is now embedded in the bar code.

There are many ways to determine if a ticket is a winner without knowing the code. After you buy a ticket and scratch it off you can get the ticket validated by:

•Calling the lottery at 850-487-7787.

•Sending an email copy of the ticket to [email protected]

•Using a self-check scanner at a lottery retailer.

•Mailing the tickets to the lottery and waiting for a check.

•Taking the ticket to a retailer and asking them to run it through the machine.

And there is no need to worry about getting cheated out of your lottery winnings if you sign the back of the ticket and print your name, address and phone number. Also, when you go to a retailer and the ticket is a winner, the machine plays a tune heralding the win.

So here’s what I think the people who play scratch-offs should do. Sign the tickets and take them to a retailer and see if they are winners before you throw them out. It’s simple enough and doesn’t take any deciphering of codes or complicated instructions.

If you suspect any shenanigans involving Florida Lottery tickets or vendors, contact the Office of the Inspector General online, by email, or by writing Office of the Inspector General c/o Florida Lottery, 250 Marriott Drive, Tallahassee, FL 32301.

Scratch-off lottery tickets can be confusing – find the right way to recognize winners

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