What is a scratch card? A card that you scratch. OK, probably a tad facetious, but that’s what they are – literally. A scratch card is a paper-based or plastic card with layers of coating hiding symbols underneath. Playing a scratch card is simplicity itself. Just scratch or peel off the coating to reveal the hidden symbols. Matching a certain number of symbols wins you a jackpot prize. And surprisingly, the core mechanics haven’t changed much in the decades since. Nor has their popularity diminished in the transition to the online space. Scratch cards are popular whether playing a traditional or online version.

The History of Traditional Scratch Cards

Scratch cards began life in the early to mid-1970s as an alternative to playing the traditional lottery, the results of which could take days or even weeks. What if someone developed a lottery-based game that delivered instant gratification and needed no extra equipment? That’s the question that John Koza asked himself. He had worked at J&H International, a company that printed Bingo cards, developing the algorithms that kept these fair and balanced. The Bingo cards also had a special coating similar to what scratch cards would eventually use. John left the company in 1972. That’s when he began to really ponder his scratch card idea, teaming up with a fellow J&H International ex-employee, Dave Bowers. Together they would form Scientific Games (later known as SG Digital and now Light & Wonder). The first scratch card game they developed was called “The Instant Game” for the Massachusetts State Lottery in 1974. The manually randomised symbols were concealed using acrylic resin inks. The gamble paid off – literally. Sales went through the roof, the money started coming in, and how the good times rolled!

This was just the beginning for scratch cards. They gained popularity in the United States during the 1980s when state lotteries began using them as a new form of instant-win lottery game. Typically, the cards were paper or cardboard with a latex or acrylic coating covering the hidden numbers or symbols. Most cards featured simple designs and themes like fruits, numbers, and playing cards. But more was to come. Before the mid-80s, scratch cards were limited to official stockists and retailers (if not state lotteries). They were not on display on shop counters like they are today. If you wanted to buy a card, you had to ask the shopkeeper, who’d take a card from under the counter. That changed in 1985 with the clear plastic Take-a-Ticket scratch card dispensers. Now they were more visible to a public that might be more inclined to buy one. Two years later, the first patent was issued to Astro Med Inc. of Rhode Island for the instant scratch-off lottery ticket in the United States. The popularity of scratch cards exploded, and different variations emerged, including themed scratch cards for holidays, sports events, and other special occasions. Manufacturers also experimented with different materials and coatings to enhance the user experience.

Interestingly enough, although scratch cards were booming in the United States, the U.K. was slower on the uptake – it took until 1995 (a little over 20 years after the U.S. first got them) for them to arrive on Britain’s bonny shores. They now enjoy a place at the high table of offline and online iGaming. According to Camelot’s 2020/2021 financial report, the operator saw a profit over £3.68b in instants and scratch cards, despite a decline in sales.

The Rise of Online Scratch Cards

The rise of online scratch cards is a little harder to define and pinpoint which exactly was the first ever released. From our digging, however, the first-ever digital scratch card was an online version of a virtual scratch card that used Macromedia and Java to simulate scratching a card on a computer. That was in 2010. Determining the very first online scratch card has now become practically impossible. Rather, a progression of various gaming companies incorporated this concept into their online platforms. As the online gambling industry exploded in popularity, various companies have developed their own versions of online scratch cards over the years. Indeed, they continue to do so.

The core fundamentals of playing an online scratch card aren’t all that different from a physical card. Players still scratch off a coating layer to reveal the hidden symbols or numbers. Of course, with an online card, you scratch a virtual layer using a mouse or finger, depending on whether you’re playing on a desktop or mobile device. With a physical card, you have to scratch an actual surface using a coin, and some people prefer the tactile sense of holding and playing a physical scratch card. There are other similarities. Winning consists of matching 3 (but sometimes more) symbols. Results are almost instantaneous. Nor is there much difference in RTP.

Physical and online cards differ in various ways too. For example, physical cards tend to offer smaller jackpots. Second, online scratch cards offer more variety in themes, genres, jackpots, bonus features, and more. They’re more accessible, too, being available at a touch of a button rather than a high street shop or retailer. Online scratch cards tend to be cheaper priced as well. With all the above, it’s not hard to see why online scratch cards have overtaken their physical counterparts in popularity and sales.

Why are Online Scratch Cards So Popular?

We briefly touched on some of the benefits of online scratch cards in the previous section. Let’s talk about them in more detail here.

  • Accessibility = online scratch cards are more widely available than their physical counterparts, thanks to online casinos like Lottomart, where players can access a range of exclusive scratch cards encompassing different themes and genres. It’s also more convenient than buying cards from a shop.
  • Wider spending options = online scratch cards feature more pricing options than their physical counterparts. Starting prices tend to be cheaper, too.
  • Bigger Prize Pools = online scratch cards generally offer bigger payouts and jackpots than physical cards.
  • Greater variety = online scratch cards offer a much greater variety of themes of genres. This includes branded scratch cards based on legendary films like Rocky and King Kong and cards based on popular TV shows like Deal or No Deal.
  • Play anywhere = online scratch cards can be played anywhere at any time on desktops, smartphones, and tablets. Want to play a scratch card on your PC? No problem. On the bus or train and fancy playing a scratch card on your mobile device? You got it. All you need to do is register with an online casino like Lottomart.
  • Bonus features = online scratch cards can offer bonus features like special symbols, multipliers, side bets, minigames, free games (basically free spins), paylines, and even progressive jackpots! They can also have multiple scratch-off areas.

The above is applicable to Lottomart’s exclusive range of scratch cards. Our bespoke Alpine Escape scratch cards – set in the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps – start at just 50p. Our Egyptian-themed Cleoscratcha can payout a maximum £150,000 jackpot! We also have cards with themes like tropical paradise, folklore, and more. All are available at a finger’s touch when registered for a Lottomart account. These sit alongside a staggering 1,700+ online slots (again encompassing every conceivable theme and genre), plus a selection of worldwide lotto draws. If the design of the scratch cards is a key aspect to you, then you could potentially take a look at our list of the ‘Most Unique Online Scratch Card Themes‘.

How Modern Slot Machines Continue to Change

It’s safe to say that scratch cards have come a long way since the heady days of the 1970s. They now form the third part of a casino trifecta with lotto and slot games. From physical plastic and paper-based cards, their popularity has skyrocketed thanks to the move to the online space. No longer confined to the physical realm, developers continually push the envelope with scratch cards, including bonus features that were once only available in slot games. With technology ever evolving and growing, who knows what we might see from developers with regards to scratch cards in the future.

The consensus seems to be that scratch cards will transition to Virtual Reality (VR) soon. It would be surreal if we returned to scratching away the coating on a card like you would at a shop – but within VR! The technology exists that could push scratch cards into the virtual world. Oculus Quest for example, uses hand-based input for VR that allows players to use their hands without the need for controllers or other peripherals. Meanwhile, tech like Plexus’ VR Haptic gloves allow players to have tactile contact with objects within the virtual space. It could be a while before scratch cards enter the world of VR. For one, the tech is still a little cost prohibitive. There might also be wider compliance and safer gaming issues to consider before any casino product gets the VR go-ahead. Still, it will probably happen in the future. Until then, players will continue to play their favourite physical and online scratch cards.

If this piece has been useful, then you could potentially take a look at our article that breaks down ‘The Differences Between Scratch Cards and Slot Games‘.

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