CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Many of us are familiar with the feeling of breaking out the quarters to scratch away at a gas station ticket.
Last year, North Carolinians spent over $2.9 billion on the lottery, and approximately 68% of those sales were on scratch-offs.
They’re fun and shiny and meant to catch your eye -- to buy on a whim.
But it turns out you can rely on more than just pure luck.
"Right now, people when they buy tickets, they’re going out and they’re saying, 'Oh, that’s a pretty looking ticket,' or, 'This one feels lucky.' They have no idea what they’re really buying," said Jarred James, founder of Lotto Edge.
Lotto Edge is a site that crunches lottery data to predict your odds of winning any given scratch-off ticket.
“We go out and we analyze data that people didn’t even realize existed," James said. "We can’t guarantee you’re going to win, but we will improve your odds."
Some states like North Carolina are legally required to make public the data for each scratch-off game, like which prizes have already been claimed, and how many tickets remain.
James uses that to calculate the likelihood of winning each game then shares those odds on his site. Lotto Edge offers both free and premium paid memberships.
"Most of the people I talk to you are shocked to learn there is data out there," he said.
Other websites do the same thing – like scratchoffodds.com.
Site founder James Carmer crunches the numbers for all states that have available data.
"North Carolina has a couple games in particular that are listed as positive return on investment," Carmer said. "That usually happens when there’s just one or two big prizes left and maybe just a few thousand tickets left over."
To test it out, NBC Charlotte Defender Savannah Levins bought four tickets. Two that, according to Carmer’s site, had the highest chance of winning, and two that were listed as having the lowest chance.
Both tickets that had better odds of winning, according to the data, won -- a total of $30. Both tickets that had the lowest odds of winning -- lost.
But remember: This is gambling and should only be played for occasional fun.
"You should only be using disposable income. This isn’t investment; it’s not a 401(k). You should be playing for fun," James said.
"There’s a few disclaimers on the website that say, 'You know, you probably shouldn’t do this,'" Carmer said. "Which actually is a lot different than a few other websites like mine, they claim, like, 'beat the system, follow our strategy; you’ll win,' and that’s really dishonest."
The moral of the story is you probably won’t get rich on a scratch-off. But if you have a couple extra bucks and want to test your luck, why not use the odds…to get even?