From the moment that the National Lottery launched in 1994, it became something that people dreamt of winning. With each passing year, the company that won the tender for it, Camelot, came up with more and more ways of dangling the dream of riches in front of players. From the launch of EuroMillions through to the Set For Life game, punters have been given numerous chances of winning life-changing amounts of money. One such way of promising riches that may never be delivered is via the ever-growing world of scratch cards.
These pieces of card, which ask players to scratch off panels and reveal whether they’ve won a given amount of money or not, were first played in any meaningful sense in 1974. They’ve obviously grown and developed a huge amount since then, not least of all thanks to the development of the water-based coating that continues to be used on scratch cards, which came about in the late 1980s. Nowadays, you can buy countless numbers of different scratch cards as well and play them online, but how much time do you actually have to claim any winnings?
A Brief History of Scratch Cards
The idea of achieving an instant win isn’t something new. There is evidence that such methods of winning something quickly can be dated back to 200 B.C., with China’s Han Dynasty producing keno slips and ‘the drawing of wood’, which is likely to have been something similar to drawing the short straw. The Roman Empire also held instant lotteries during parties, seeing winners take home the likes of expensive fabric or tableware. Obviously these forms of winning prizes are different to what we think of as scratch cards, but it shows that the desire to win something immediately has always been around.
As for scratch cards themselves, they began to appear in a form slightly more recognisable to modern day players in the United States of America in the 1960s. Large grocery stores would give away cards with purchases, with the cards being covered with a waxy substance. When the substance was scratched off, prizes would be revealed that people could then claim from the store they were visiting. The prizes would often be quite small, but they proved to be extremely popular with customers, who kept returning to the stores to play.
At the same that this was happening, lotteries with much higher stakes were being introduced around the country, with the New Hampshire Sweepstakes first taking place in 1964. The game was played according to the results of horse racing events, but the idea of being able to win large sums of money appealed. Soon, two workers at the companies that produced the free scratch cards given away at grocery stores, John Koza and Dan Bower, decided to turn them into products that could be sold by the state lottery commission for cash.
Scratch Cards Are Improved Upon
The scratch cards that were given away for free by grocery stores used to present players with slight clues about what the prize inside was likely to be. Once John Koza and Dan Bower realised this, they knew that they had to get rid of said clues if they were going to be able to sell scratch cards for money. They began to print the new cards in large batches, which reduced the chance of clues giving things away. Soon, they flew to Boston in order to try to gain support for their new product, which proved to be immediately successful.
When the new scratch cards went on sale, customers queued around the block in order to be able to buy them. People would walk away with fistfuls of the new cards, believing that they could change their lives. The initial cards were as much about presenting players with something ‘beautiful’ as they were about what they contained, often featuring the likes of artwork or tourist attractions. In the late 1980s, Jerome Greenfield, a scientist, developed a non-toxic, water-based coating that began to replace the wax used on the cards.
Given that Koza and Bower, who had created a company called Scientific Games to promote their scratch cards, saw the product make around £2 million in its first seven days, it’s fair to say that the new product was a hit. The new coating made them much more accessible, which is why Camelot decided to introduce them to the United Kingdom in 1995. Their popularity grew as soon as they arrived on these shores, given the manner in which they presented people with the chance to win money quickly and easily.
In 2001, the Millionaire card was launched, giving people their first chance of winning £1 million via a scratch card. Later that same year, the 100th variation of a National Lottery scratch card, Monopoly, went on sale. Since then, of course, things have developed to the point that scratch cards and their cousin, the instant win game, have moved online. People were suddenly able to pay money and buy a game that could give them instant gratification or, more likely, immediately disappointment, increasing their popularity even further.
The Rules on Claiming Prizes
Now that we know a little bit more about the history of scratch cards and their popularity, it is worth exploring what the rules are when it comes to whether they can expire or not. The first thing to be aware of is the fact that Camelot, the organisation that runs the National Lottery at the time of writing, can announce a closing date for one of its games at any time. Tickets can still be sold for the game up until the closing date, at which point no further tickets can be sold. There are also other ways that games can be stopped.
Camelot has the discretion to suspend or withdraw any of the games that the company offers at any point. This applies for both the main National Lottery draws and the scratch card games that are played. In other words, the National Lottery might release a wealth of scratch cards for a particular game and find that all of the jackpots have been claimed within the first two days of them being on sale. With this having happened, the company won’t want to keep selling the cards when the main prize can’t be run, so they announce a closing date.
Why Scratch Cards Expire
There are a couple of main reasons why scratch cards can expire. They tend to be split into three categories by the National Lottery: Category A, Category B and Category C. Those with a jackpot of £121,000 or over fit into the final category, with games being closed once all of the jackpots available have been claimed. Category A games, meanwhile, tend to boast jackpots lower than £121,000 and will not be closed once all of the jackpots have been claimed because there will still be plenty of good prizes in circulation.
The other chief reason why scratch cards tend to expire is that they’ve all been sold by retailers. Once this happens, there is no reason for the cards to continue to be valid, so an expiration date will be introduced. The good news is that the date isn’t immediate, as we’ll talk about in more detail shortly. Instead, anyone that has bought a scratch card with a winning amount on it has plenty of time to get them into a shop or to the lottery itself in order to claim your winnings, though that doesn’t mean that you can afford to dawdle.
You Have 180 Days After the Expiration Date
Whilst expiry dates on the likes of ham, milk and chicken need to be taken seriously, the good news is that you don’t need to be too immediate in your desire to get your scratch cards to the retailer. Instead, it is handy to think of there being two dates: the closure date and the last date that you can claim winnings. In other words, the National Lottery will announce a date that the scratch card is going to close, after which point no further cards can be sold, but any prizes can still be claimed for another 180 days.
On the first of September 2021, for example, the National Lottery’s £100,000 a Month for a Year scratch card’s closure date came into play. Users then had until the 28th of February 2022 in order to claim any winning cards and receive the associated payout. Of course, the company doesn’t exactly take front page adverts out about the expiry of their scratch cards, so if you want to be kept on top of the situation then you’ll have to keep an eye out on the National Lottery provider’s website to see what cards are ending when.