How are instant lottery tickets designed?

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Instant lottery tickets have a significantly high need for security and fraud prevention in their design because the win/lose status and winning amount is an incorporated part of their design. In the instant win lottery game, the winning or losing numbers are concealed on the card itself and are revealed when a typical coating is removed by rubbing or scratching it off; the scratching off of the coating gives rise to the alternate name of scratch off lottery. The scratch-off design means the ticket holder knows instantly the winning status of the card; there is no waiting for a matching number to be drawn as in other lotteries.

Since the cash value of the ticket is determined at the time of printing, the tickets must be designed and manufactured with extraordinary security precautions to avoid ticket fraud. (Randy Schueller, "Instant Lottery Ticket," Gale Cengage)

While lottery ticket design varies from game to game, they all have in common a connecting tie to popular culture in some way. For example, some are themed to reflect sports events or television shows while others reflects gambling games like poker, blackjack or horse racing. This connection to popular culture is incorporated to inspire participation by association with daily cultural activities. Some states allow lottery participants to enter into the design process by holding competitions, such as the 1993 Oregon State Lottery "Designer Scratch-it Contest," where entries were judged on the integral components of instant lottery ticket design: theme, style of play, graphics, and originality. Though instant lottery tickets have varying design elements, all are designed to scratch off a concealing covering to reveal symbols that are numbers, letters or other symbols that may or may not (win versus lose) match the "designated winning symbol located somewhere on the ticket" (Schueller).

These games are all designed with multiple security features to prevent tickets from being counterfeited or tampered with. (Schueller)

Aside from theme, style, graphics and originality, instant lottery ticket design must take into account the prevalent techniques for breaching ticket security and committing fraud with tickets that have been tampered with. There are two general categories of ticket security breaching. The first category is breaching ticket security by decoding the serial number to disclose the relationship between the serial number and the ticket's lottery symbol. The second category involves tampering with the scratch-off covering. There are several prevalent ways to this: candling, delamination, and wicking.

Decoding Serial Number Ticket Symbol Relationship

Each ticket's individualized serial number, an arrangement of alphanumeric characters or a series of numeric digits (0-9), is used by lottery operators to track the progress of the ticket from the operator to the selling agent and to account for tickets sold and unsold and to indicate validity criteria, such as what games the ticket is valid for and what dates it is valid through. Serial numbers comprise one level of ticket security as they are useful for tickets that have been lost or stolen and for ticket tracking to guard against inappropriately claimed tickets. Those who wish to breach ticket security might track winning and losing ticket batch numbers encoded in the serial number, then buy lots or batches of tickets that indicate high win ratios.

Tampering With the Scratch-Off Covering

Tampering with the ticket covering is an "attempt to directly view the lottery number without scratching off the ticket covering" (Schueller).

  • candling: a bright light is shone upon the ticket, either the front or the back, in an attempt to read the covered symbol on the ticket without scratching off the covering.
  • delamination: removing the laminating covering of a ticket by separating the layers of the ticket in order to make the symbols visible without scratching off, though delaminating can even be used if the scratch-off has already been employed to reveal the symbols. Fraud can be committed with this technique of ticket tampering because the layer with a winning symbol can be glued to a losing ticket that has a different ticket holder name and address on the back designating a different winner from the original ticket holder.
  • wicking: using solvents, such as alcohols, ketones, acetate, or esters, to force a chemical reaction that causes the symbol under the cover to "bleed" through and be visible without destroying or breaching the security of the covering.

These three methods have the common factors of devising means by which to ascertain the numbers without scratching off or fraudulently claiming tickets that have been tampered with. Ticket design, aimed at serial numbers and the scratch-off covering, employs features to prevent these breaches of ticket security.

  • serial number: randomly encoding computer generated serial numbers that "do not reveal any information about the winning status of the ticket" (Schueller). Algorithms customized for each game provide computerized randomization of serial numbers so that, without the algorithm used, there is no discernible relationship between the serial number and the lottery symbol(s) (algorithm: mathematical formula for step by step instructions, as in instructions for randomization).
  • matching coded numbers: printing catching coded numbers can help prevent tampering, like delamination, because both front and back numbers would have to match.
  • heavy foil coating: an expensive heavy foil coating can be overlaid to prevent candling, i.e., attempting to read the covered symbols by candle light.
  • opaque covering in conjunction with confusion patterns: opaque coverings cannot be seen through even under the influence of candling; confusion patterns imprinted on front and back further obscure the lottery symbols with conflicting markings when candling is attempted while the inks in the confusion patterns leak and bleed over the lottery symbols when exposed to solvents thereby protecting against wicking.

Raw Materials for Instant Lottery Ticket Design


  • heavy card stock (paper)
  • aluminum foil for mulitlayer tickets
  • inks, adhesives, laminants, scratch-off coating materials including acrylic resin


  • single stage printing: all information printed at once
  • double stage printing: game information and secure lottery symbols are printed separately
  • information printed: ticket prices, gaming rules, validation dates, prize information, and graphics
  • continuous feed printing process: a strip of card/ticket stock is fed into a computer controlled printer resulting in a string of printed tickets
  • sheet press printing process: a sheet of card/ticket stock is imprinted by the sheet using engraved printing plates with duplicated engraved ticket images
  • strips and sheets are separated to individual tickets that are stacked and shuffled to break the consecutive order of the serial numbers (while tickets might be bought in batches or lots, the serial numbers, which are randomized are not in consecutive order as when being printed); winning tickets are randomized by the shuffle so distribution is maximized

Serial Number and Lottery Symbol Coding

  • continuous feed printing process number encoding: algorithmically randomized serial numbers and similarly algorithmically randomized lottery symbols, i.e., letters, numbers or other symbols (two algorithms are used, one for the serial number and one for the lottery symbol) are advanced by the mechanism of the computerized printer as each section of the strip of card/ticket stock is fed through the printer
  • sheet press printing process: after the tickets are printed and shuffled, they are fed into a top-bottom headed printer that prints both sides of the ticket with serial number and lottery symbol simultaneously (algorithmically randomized serial numbers and lottery symbols are generated using two algorithms, as above)

Lottery Number Concealment

A cover applicator machine treats tickets with one of several types of lottery symbol concealing covering: metal foil, opaque acrylic film, confusion pattern, opaque carbon black pigment, opaque aluminum paste, over-printing of additional graphics or instructions.

  • metal foil: the simplest, it is applied using pressure
  • paper pulltab: infrequently used today as it has a high security breach risk
  • opaque acrylic film: the currently preferred methods, it includes layers of several types of concealers
  • confusion patter: (used with acrylic film) random lines of symbols the same color ink as the lottery symbol; the lottery number is printed on top of the confusion pattern then covered over with highly opaque materials (opaque: can't be seen through)
  • carbon black pigment and aluminum paste: (used with acrylic film and confusion patterns) highly opaque materials that are mixed with acrylic resins and solvents like methyl ethyl ketone
  • additional graphics or instructions: (compatible with acrylic film, confusion patterns and highly opaque materials) this overlay layer may be added on top of the covered lottery symbol

The Future for Instant Lottery Ticket Security

Printing technology is continually evolving and this evolution is likely to lead to new methods for lottery ticket production. For example, improved encryption technology could result in the creation of more secure lottery numbers. ... One [alternate] method under consideration.... involves a video terminal instead of a paper ticket. ... an instant lottery game could even be played over the Internet .... (Schueller)

Source: Randy Schueller. "Instant Lottery Ticket." How Products are Made. Ed. Stacey L. Blachford. Vol. 4. Gale Cengage, 2002.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
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