Built-in bad luck: Evidence of near-miss outcomes by design in scratch cards

Abstract

Scratch cards are a pervasive form of gambling in the Canadian marketplace. Despite their widespread appeal, we are only beginning to understand the influence of their structural characteristics on the player. The most widely studied of these characteristics is the near-miss, a game outcome in which the player gets two of the three needed symbols to win a jackpot prize. Although other authors have noted the existence of these outcomes in scratch cards, no systematic investigation has been undertaken to understand their occurrence in these games. We present the results of an analysis to determine the frequency of these outcomes using two samples (sample A, n = 41; sample B, n = 61) of a popular scratch card game available in Ontario, Canada. Our results suggest that certain scratch card games may be designed to include more pairs of jackpot symbols (i.e., more near-miss outcomes) than any other symbol pair. In the game that we analyzed, the top prize symbol occurred more often than any other symbol and appeared to be manipulated to appear in clusters of two, creating many near-miss outcomes to the jackpot prize. This work has strong implications for the study of gambling behaviour, responsible gambling strategies, as well as for the scientific investigation of scratch card games.

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