One of those three-panel "Win a Million" scratchcards fell out of my newspaper this morning.
Not a major or in anyway newsworthy event in itself, but I must admit my surprise. I didn't think anyone bothered with them anymore, or, to be a little more technical, I didn't think anyone was taken in by them anymore.
Firstly, it actually is printed on the bottom of each panel that "Every card has a set of 3 matching symbols, 2 matching symbols and no matching symbols".
Right, so you are going to 'win', half-win and not win respectively.
Then, while the prize list is somewhat impressive with 1x£1m, 1x£100k, 2x£20k, 3x£10k and other things like holidays, tablet PC's city breaks all the way down to 1000 "faux" fashion watches, 1000 salon makeovers and 1000xVIP Thames cruises.
Now should I be stupid enough to spend the £1.53 a minute for the 6 minute phone call to claim my prize (that's almost a tenner, for those of you without calculators), I know that I would be in for either a salon makeover (I presume this means I have to go to a beauty salon and decorate it for the owner), a VIP trip on the Thames (eminently practical for someone living, say, in Inverness). Even more likely, I would win the 'fashion' watch, the type that comes in a wonderful presentation case (worth at least twice the value of the watch), complete with its £69.95 price tag printed on, you know, the type of watch you can buy on any city market stall for £3.99.
So how do these competitions survive? The gaming laws mean that should you actually read the prominently displayed terms and conditions, you are in essence on a hiding to nothing. They tell you that! Yes, someone, somewhere has to win the big prizes, but it's all done rather surreptitiously by phone or text, so you never really know.
Now the National Lottery claim that 5 people win every second on their scratchcards. Personally, I don't know how these 5 people can keep up with such a pace! Seriously though, 5 people per second, and also, I believe they say 2 billion winners to date.
Now does this include the people who buy a scratchcard for, say £2, and then just have their £2 returned as a 'win', because they are not winners in the sense of the word that the Lottery Chief Executive is a winner with her £1m-plus salary, plus bonus, plus pension, all at the expense of the hapless souls who think their next £5 spent on Lotto tickets will see them being able to put a deposit on Clarke Gable's old house in Hollywood at the weekend!
What I'm wondering is if a healthy proportion of all these winners have just simply received their money back, because then they are not really winners per se.