The History of Scratchcards and Online Scratchies

The History of Scratchcards and Online Scratchies
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Physical scratchies and online scratch cards have been around for years. Many people buy them for a chance to win instantly or as a gift for loved ones. They’re a fun way to win prizes and are easily accessible to many New Zealanders.

But how exactly did this gambling phenomenon emerge? We’ll look at the history of scratch card games and the success level they achieved when they first launched. We’ll also review the rise of online scratchies and what’s in store for the future of instant lottery games.

Let’s start with how this popular form of instant lottery began…

History of Scratch Card Games

In the 1960s, it was common to see grocery stores in the U.S. hand out prize cards to customers while they shop. If you were lucky enough to get a winning card, a tiny sum of money was hidden inside the card protected by a waxy strip. Customers needed to scratch or peel the strip off to expose the prize.

This prize card was the inspiration behind the scratch cards we know and love today.

Invention of Scratch Games

The invention of the scratch game can be credited to John Koza, an American computer scientist. Koza came up with the idea for the scratch card while working alongside his colleague Dan Bower, a retail promotions specialist.

The duo worked together at J&H International, which supplied card prizes to American shoppers. John Koza had a PhD in computer science from the University of Michigan and was responsible for developing the algorithm behind the grocery Bingo-style tickets.

In 1972, he was fired from his part-time job at the company, giving him the time he needed to get his idea off the ground. He believed the same algorithm concept could be used and adapted to a lottery scratchcard game. This would eliminate the waiting period for customers when playing the traditional lottery, giving them an instant win.

Together with Bawer, the pair developed a computer-generated and randomised scratch card game system. Not only would prizes be spontaneous, but the results would be exciting and meet an unmet need of people who preferred not to wait for the lottery for weeks at a time.

Scientific Games Corporation

With Koza’s computer science skills and Bawer’s marketing experience, they formed Scientific Games Corporation in 1973. They pitched their concept of the new lottery tickets to eight different state lotteries. Initially, only one state showed any interest. The Massachusetts lottery ordered 25 million of their cards.

Koza and Bower had to navigate complicated federal and state laws to get their cards up and running. They also had to overcome concerns about counterfeit cards, which led them to develop a secret coating for the cards.

Today, Scientific Games is a global leader in digital and retail products and services that support government-sponsored lotteries and sports betting programs.

The Release of Scratch Cards

The new scratch tickets were an instant success when released in Boston in 1974. The lottery scratchcards combined fun matching numbers and symbols, excitement and the chance to win a big money prize.

The new tickets were launched as “The Instant Game”. After only seven days of promoting the tickets, they’d sold over $2.5 million worth of cards. Nearly tripling what the lottery typically made in a week.

The New York Times Magazine said that Koza marvelled at the lines that stretched down blocks, which is when the other states started to notice because the sales were spectacular.

Given the huge success, it wasn’t long before other state lotteries ordered the scratch-offs, sparking demand in other states across America.

Naturally, scratch card games eventually made their way overseas into the international market and became a worldwide sensation.

Physical Lottery Scratch Cards

In 1985, Cal Tigner, an inventor in the gaming industry, completely altered the business strategy and took scratch cards to the next level.

Previously, the scratch cards had been hidden away at retailers and customers needed to ask to buy them, just like regular lottery tickets. Tigner changed this by inventing a ticket dispenser that was attached to shop tills. This increased sales even more, with many people more inclined to buy scratchcards when they saw them at the till.

The first dispenser was put in place in the fall of 1985, and the first large order—1,000 units—was placed on Valentine’s Day in 1986.

Scratch Cards in Europe

Scratch cards didn’t emerge in Europe until 1995. This was the year the UK National Lottery Company started offering their lotto customers the first printed scratch card games.

Like in the US, scratch tickets were an instant hit in the UK. Other European national lottery companies soon followed, offering printed instant games to their customers.

The Rise of Online Scratchies

With the success of physical scratchies, it wasn’t long before digital versions emerged. The internet, and internet gambling, has helped bring scratch games and other instant games, to millions of players worldwide.

ScratchMania was one of the first sites that was dedicated to online scratch cards, launching the same concept as a physical scratchie as an interactive scratch-off game.

Some of the benefits of the online version over the original version include:

  • Greater spending options: Traditional tickets are typically locked into fewer pricing options than what’s available online.
  • Larger prizes: Typically the online versions offer bigger prize pools because more people are playing.
  • Faster payouts: While claiming small wins was usually instantaneous by visiting your local newsagent, larger prize pools could take a while to pay out. In contrast, playing online offers faster payouts no matter the size of the prize pool.
  • Play from wherever you are: No matter where you are or what time of day, you can log online from your phone or laptop to enjoy a quick game.
  • Innovative and interactive games: Along with a wide range of games to choose from, players can choose from a larger range of themes to play for and a more interactive experience than you get with a physical scratch card.

Scratch Cards Today and Beyond

Today, scratch card games can be found virtually everywhere, with chances to win lying within scratch tickets in every country, mobile, desktop, gas stations and corner shop.

An interesting period lies ahead for scratch cards, particularly for physical cards. Given how easy it is now to access online scratchies with a few clicks on a mobile, it puts into question what the future holds for physical scratch cards.

With the consistent expansion of the iGaming industry, and the number of users online, it looks like the odds are very much in favour that scratch cards online are here to stay.

Just like in 1974 when scratch cards were first invented, technology is leading changes in the lottery and gambling industry. Augmented reality could bring even further enhancements to scratch cards, making for an even more innovative and interactive gaming experience.

But for now, if you’re looking for a little fun with the chance to win instant prize money, an online or physical scratch game is a great choice!


  • The New York Times Magazine. “Who Made That Scratch off Lottery Ticket”,
  • Scientific Games Corporation.
  • Statista. Online Gambling. “Worldwide”,,US%24131.90bn%20by%202027.
  • Wikipedia. “John Koza”,


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Oliver Jones
Oliver Jones
News Reporter
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Oliver Jones is a seasoned journalist with a specialty in the iGaming sector. With a robust background that marries 11 years in mainstream journalism with 4 years dedicated to the online casino industry, Oliver provides a unique blend of relevant news and insightful analysis.

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