69. Scratchers

I’m not much of a gambler. I had a brief, bewildering fling with Thunder Valley Casino about a year ago that resulted in one beautiful victory and many depressing drives home. Gambling is inherently admitting that you didn’t like possessing money, anyway.

During my undergrad, I became obsessed with lottery tickets. I mean, you can’t win if you don’t play, right? So I’d dip into my tip money funds rather regularly, sometimes deliberately choosing my numbers, sometimes going for that fat-chance single quick pick fix. I just wanted a shot at the big money. Can you imagine? Millions, for nothing.

I never won a cent.

You can gamble any time of the day. You can bet on horse races. You can bet on Presidential election results (my money’s on Obama, this year). You can gamble online. You can find slot machines in gas stations in Reno.

These days, I’m more of a fan of the Scratcher.

You’ve seen them. They’re stored under convenience store counters or button-press machines with names like “Lucky 7″ and “Fast Cash” and “Scratch Bingo” and “Mystery Chest” and “Crazy Money” and “Golden Riches.” They’re colorful cards of cardboard with a surface that’s meant to be scratched off with a coin’s edge.

It’s hard to classify this as gambling. Yes, you’re throwing money at a ratio that’s not in your favor, but like randomly selecting numbers for the lottery, there’s no real risk, save for a coupla dollars. It’s simple.¬†All the Scratcher needs is a coin or an unclipped fingernail. You don’t even need to read the instructions. Just scratch off everything.

If you see any numerical repetition, you might have a winner.

What a marvelous concept. Scratchers bring out the child in us. The hide-and-go-seeker. The treasure-seeker. The mystery of the Scratcher is what draws us in. Each identical card could possess the secret combination. Will it be the one in your hand or was it the next one in the roll?

My dad told me the best (if only) strategy for Scratchers is to never buy less than three.

The last successful Scratcher I scratched rewarded me with fifty bucks. That sum pales in comparison to what I snagged on a lucky night at Thunder Valley, but it’s still a good victory. Fifty bucks for nothing. When it comes to winning money from a Scratcher, it feels less like luck and more like being chosen. That prize could’ve gone to anyone. Instead, it went to me.

I think that’s what made Scratchers so popular.

We like feeling noticed. What’s more special than when the Scratcher Gods pick us from the gambling crowd and decide that it’s our time to win? We feel so normal and insignificant most of the time. Then the day comes when we stop at a gas station on a mundane weekday afternoon and pick up a 600 dollar Scratcher. Suddenly we are special. We’re in the winners circle.

I suppose the bottom line here is that we like winning, and when victory comes from such minimal efforts in the face of such terrible odds, it feels like fate. It feels like we were selected, and that feels good.

The cash prize doesn’t hurt, either.

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2 thoughts on “69. Scratchers

  1. It happened to me…of all the gas stations in all the towns in all the US I had to pick this one (because a thunderstorm caused a highway to flood and forced me to take a detour through a dodgy neighborhood). Thank god for all the sad events that led to such a serendipitous one :)

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