How many lottery tickets are thrown away?

I was scratching off one of those little instant lottery tickets the other day and was looking at odds on the little lottery display they have there. It got me wondering…I know what the odds are in winning, but how many of those winning tickets are lost out there? How much do the states save from people not cashing in on winning tickets?

This is yet another issue that depends on your jurisdiction, but in Germany, the state-owned lottery companies are legally prohibited from raking in uncollected winnings (as well as of the rounding differences that occur because winnings are rounded to multiples of ten cents in the case of totalizator lotteries, where a given prize pool is divided among all the winners in a given category). Instead, those uncollected winnings are used to sponsor additional prizes for special drawings, for example shortly before Christmas.

Of course, for many custimers those additional prizes increase the attractivity of the lottery, so more tickets are sold at those occasions, and the companies benefit indirectly from uncollected winnings.

I’d think with scratch offs it is probably a decent number. I don’t buy scratch offs often, but I’ve sometimes not cashed in one or two dollar winning tickets. Sometimes, I’ve gone to cash them in and there has been a long line at the customer service counter that wasn’t worth a dollar or two to stand in for 30 minutes.

This sounds like a good idea, that would benefit both the consumer and the jurisdiction running the lottery.

And you don’t hang onto it to cash in another time?

Then again, here I can cash it in at any grocery store or pharmacy that has a lottery terminal, so I usually do that when I’ve got shopping to do anyway.

Just for your interest, I googled around a bit and the best thing I found was this annual report of a Swiss lottery company that seems to offer both instant winning lotteries such as you scratch off tickets and lotteries where you pick numbers (Two warnings: It’s pdf, and in German).

Among a plethora of other data, it mentions that in 2005, it had a total gross gambling profit (defined as the difference between revenues from ticket sales and winnings paid to their customers - they explicitly reject the notion of viewing ticket sales as the relevant figure) of about 525.7 million Swiss francs (about 419 million) and a total of 11.7 million francs ( 9.3 million) in uncollected winnings.

Many people, when they play the scratch games, only reveal the code beside the symbols to find out if or how much they won. For instance, FVE means you won five bucks. My Aunt was walking to a convenience store one day and noticed a ticket that was lying on the ground, one that usually costs $10 to buy. The code was revealed, “MIL”. She scratched off the symbols and returned it to the lottery commission for her one million dollar prize

Has anyone found a discarded lottery ticket that won a bunch of money?

According to you, your Auntie did.

To answer the OP “How many lottery tickets are thrown away?”
Most of the losers and a few of the winners!