My Second Chance Year

My wife and I started playing the California lottery on a regular basis shortly after we got married some seventeen years ago. No big prizes yet but we’re always hopeful. 🙂

I’m always the one who buys the tickets. We play the same numbers each time so I use the “advance play” option which means that I only have to deal with it once every month or so. When I bought my tickets at the grocery store in January, I noticed something new. The California Lottery added a new raffle called Second Chance.

The Second Chance is a little code that appears at the bottom of your ticket. To use it, you log into their website and register for an account. Once you’re in there’s a place where you enter the code. That enters you into a drawing for cash prizes. Weeks or months later, the drawing is made and the winners get from one thousand to ten thousand dollars. Nice!

For the first month or two I entered just the codes from my own tickets. Then one day, after checking my expired tickets at the lottery machine at the store, I went to throw them away in the trash can conveniently placed next to the machine. I noticed that there were other discarded lottery tickets laying there in the trash. I decided to scoop them up, take them home and enter those codes for myself. Why not?

Well, one thing rapidly lead to another. The lottery website has a thousand ticket per month limit. I wasn’t coming close to reaching that but I started going by the trash each time I was in the store and collecting as many tickets as I could. I was getting nearly a hundred entries a month.

Then another realization hit me. Besides SuperLotto tickets, there were also Scratcher game tickets in the trash too. They had Second Chance codes on them as well. Why wasn’t I collecting those? By this time August had rolled around. I was still doing around a hundred a month. What if I really tried to get as many Second Chance entries as I could – maybe go for that one thousand limit? Could it be done??

The California Lottery website has a lot of information posted on it about the Second Chance promotion. According to their documentation, they have imposed the monthly thousand entry limit as a means to protect players from themselves. It was supposedly a means to prevent players from compulsively playing too much by buying too many tickets. But I wasn’t playing any more than usual. Instead I was picking up discarded tickets from people who didn’t want to bother with the Second Chance drawing. Their loss was potentially my gain. I decided for the month of September I was all-in. I was going for the limit!

My plan was simple. While my local grocery store was a plentiful source of tickets, I had to expand my territory. I needed to find every outlet that I could where people would buy and discard their tickets. So I got in my car and did a little driving around. Gas stations and convenience stores sold SuperLotto and Scratchers tickets. But space was limited so they didn’t have dedicated space with lottery machines. No machines, no way to check and therefore no trash cans. So that cut out a lot of opportunities right away. That took me back to grocery stores. I found four stores that were local to me that had machines and a trash can that I could check. The game was on.

As I was making my rounds throughout the month, I started noticing some patterns. While I was collecting some SuperLotto tickets, most of my scoops were Scratchers tickets. And not all Scratchers were the same. In fact, there was quite a range of games, from $1 up to $20 a ticket. The $20 tickets are awesome – when the game is concluded, 180 days later they will hold a drawing for $5 million dollars in prizes. That’s a raffle I want to be in.

Another thing I noticed was the players. Sometimes when I went to check the trash, somebody was already in line buying tickets. Curious, I would stand in line or linger nearby pretending to be looking at merchandise but watching what they would do. There were many times when I would see somebody pull out one or two hundred dollars in twenties, feed them into the Scratcher vending machine and buy all $20 tickets. It got me wondering how much money was involved in all of it.

So I went to the California Lottery website and found the financial reports section. I had to do a little digging but I got some very interesting results. Slightly more than half of all the State lottery was generated by Scratcher sales. For 2013, that was three billion dollars! Of that total, sixty percent is paid back to players in prizes ($1.8 billion). No wonder I was seeing so many Scratcher tickets. The odds are a lot better: typically one ticket in four is some kind of winner. Compare that to the astronomical odds of the SuperLotto. Having said that, though, the odds of winning the grand prize is still very remote. Still, the Scratcher games are obviously the public’s favorite game.

So September ended and I managed a total for the month of 417 entries on the website. In many ways it was like an Easter Egg hunt. You never knew what you might find on a daily basis. Some days I would score tons of tickets. Others barely any. And throughout all of it I have yet to win anything. But that’s not unexpected. The Second Chance drawings are like an exercise in delayed gratification. You put in your entries today but it could be six months before all the drawings are completed.

As I write this I’m on track to hit that thousand entry mark; but for the entire year – not one month. I suppose that there are others out there that have gone completely all-in on it. Dumpster diving behind convenience stores and making rounds over great swaths of territory. I know that I have competitors out there. I’ve stood in line only to see the guy in front of me scoop up the trash before I had my turn. But I wish them well. It’s a numbers game and all I want is something, anything to show for my efforts. Doesn’t anyone?

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