REVEALED: Why scratch card near misses are so common

  • A study indicates that near misses are a common occurrence in scratch cards
  • Pairs of jackpot symbols appear much more often than any other individual symbol pair

The talk about near misses and close calls on slot machines is as old as slot machines itself. We’ve all had countless times where we’d almost get the best paying line, but one of the symbols was just one position above or below. Of course, from everything we know about slot games, the appearance of a near miss doesn’t really mean anything, as symbols are displayed only to make things more fun (and to encourage you to play more).

But, what about scratch cards?

A group of Canadian scholars took it upon themselves to examine the occurrences of near misses in Canadian scratch cards, and they came up with some interesting conclusions, indicating that the number of these close calls, all other things being equal, should be smaller. In other words, the jackpot symbol appears more often than other random symbols.

Lewis Gill celebrating his £100,000 Lottery scratch card win with Chris Vickers
Lewis Gill celebrating his £100,000 Lottery scratch card win with Chris Vickers

Cheap fun – not so much

Scratch cards are a fast and inexpensive way to experience a gambling thrill. Every individual scratch card can hide a big win, and for a small price, players have a chance to dream about the jackpot. However, as cheap as scratch cards may be, according to the study, people in Ontario alone spent over $1 billion on scratch cards.

All things considered, it isn’t hard to understand why scratchies are so popular with the people. However, the question that needs to be asked is if the game organizers do anything unsavory to make people buy more scratch cards than they had initially planned.

Near misses as a questionable tactics

Most scratch cards contain several hidden symbols, three of which need to be matched for the player to win the corresponding prize. The jackpot symbol is the one that we all want to see, as revealing three of those means you hit big money.

Revealing two jackpot symbols pays nothing, but it brings up your hopes that the third one will match as well. Of course, most often it doesn’t, and you are left with nothing but a bad taste in your mouth about such a close call – and an urge to buy some more cards.

With slot machines, according to the paper, near misses increase an arousal with players and activate reward-related brain areas, urging them to play more, spend more time gambling. These are all very negative influences, as they can lead to frustration and players spending much more money than they had initially planned.

Because of these negative effects, near misses in slots have been extensively researched, and it was discovered that often slot machine manufacturers include a higher number of these combinations than what would be standard. They do this by placing high paying symbols close to low paying or blank symbols on the reels, so to create the image of near misses when, in reality, there in nothing “near” about them.

Looking at these patterns, the Canadian scholars decided to take a closer look at scratch cards and look if there are similar strategies being employed by scratch card operators. Simply put, they wanted to see if the number of two jackpot symbols appearing on individual scratch cards is higher than it should be when compared to other two symbol occurrences.

Interesting findings

For the purposes of the paper, Cash for Life scratch cards were used. The jackpot prize in this game is a jackpot that amounts to $1,000 every week for the rest of the winner’s life. To win the jackpot, a player needs to uncover three special “LIFE” symbols on the same scratch card.

The research was conducted on the sample of 102 scratch cards from two different Cash for Life series, and it was clear even from this small sample that the “LIFE” symbol was overrepresented in the overall distribution of symbols. The pair of jackpot symbols appeared on the grid significantly more often than it should if everything was completely random.

These findings are indicative that scratch cards organizers purposefully over-stack jackpot symbols to create the feeling of near-misses with the players and incentivize them to play more. There is no doubt that these tactics are somewhat questionable, especially with regards to responsible gambling concerns. At the same time, though, it is the job of those organizing games of luck to create the feeling of excitement and thrill, as it is what makes their business grow.


All in all, the findings revealed in the paper are hardly shocking. It is more than clear that, as long as they are allowed by law, gambling operators will do whatever they can to entice people to play more. So, in the end, it is always important for the players themselves to stay cool-headed, whether playing slots or scratch cards and keep things in the perspective.

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