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Why are there so many dead lotto scratchers on the sidewalk?

California Lottery Scratchers tickets

Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

Three California Lottery Scratchers tickets, littered on the ground in Los Angeles.

I've seen them all over Los Angeles: in grocery stores, bodegas, liquor stores and, annoyingly, on the street. They're scratchers, the cheap little tickets made by the California Lottery with names like "Lucky for Life," "Spicy Cash" and "$500 Frenzy." Try to walk a city block without finding one littered on the ground.

Recently, I walked down the block to get a sandwich and on my way picked up four scratchers. Then I got an idea.

Why not make a scratcher recycling program? For every, say, 25 used scratchers you turn in, you get one brand new scratcher in return. Would-be litterers might be encouraged to hold on to their spent-up tickets. And in the event a scratcher ends up on the street anyway: pick up 24 more, and that's a free chance to get free money. Everybody wins. 

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I pitched my idea to Elias Dominguez, a spokesperson for the California Lottery. He was interested in hearing the idea. But ultimately, he said, he doesn't think it'd work. "It sounds like a great idea, to kind of curb littering and get rid of these tickets," said Dominguez. "But I'm not even sure we could do that."

Why not? Dominguez said the California Lottery would have to get the old tickets sent back to the organization, and that could mean hundreds of thousands of tickets to sort through and recycle. "Just from a logistics standpoint, I don't even think it would be possible for us to take all these tickets if we actually did that for all our scratcher games."

Plus, Dominguez said, the Lottery already has a program designed to keep dead scratchers off the street. It's called Second Chance.

"If you have a Super Lotto Plus or scratchers ticket that did not win, you can actually go on our website and enter a code that's on your ticket," said Dominguez. "And that enters you into a draw. You can actually win a cash prize."

Dominguez went on to say that while it depends on which scratcher you're using and when, Second Chance drawings can go for as much as $5 million.  "I mean, hey, you told me there's a bunch of tickets on the ground. If I were you, I'd pick them up, enter them online and you have a chance to win, basically for free," said Dominguez.

That means the four tickets I found on the street could make me a millionaire.  Why would anyone leave their tickets on the ground?

So I gave it a shot. I went to the Second Chance website, registered for an account, clicked the link in the verification email. Entering my tickets into the drawing proved more difficult than I predicted. I needed to enter two different codes for each ticket: the first is 13 digits and the second is seven.  Oof.

My first ticket — called Electric 8's — went in no problem. But somehow I entered in the wrong number for the next three. And the more I tried to fix it, the worse it got. Eventually I'd apparently put in so many bad codes, the California Lottery website locked me out for a half hour.

I gave up and threw  the other three tickets in my recycling bin. That was enough. If we can't recycle scratchers at the store and get free tickets, I can at least recycle them at home and feel better about myself at the end of the day.

Correction: A quote was fixed for typos.


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