In May 2018, promise became reality when the PA lotto introduced several instant win games on its www.pailottery.com website. The initial offering was very modest, only 11 games to start, but that number has been increasing as the online games grow in popularity. Currently 36 games are available.
Instant games represent a middle ground between traditional lottery scratch-off cards and online slot machines, relying on simple automatic gameplay and incorporating interactive elements such as animated graphics, vivid sound effects, and unlockable “bonus game” features.
The limited scope of the Keystone state’s inaugural collection of games allows us to take a very close look at the choices available to Pennsylvania gamblers and how they can take advantage of this new option.
Accessing Pennsylvania’s instant games
Signing up to participate in the online lottery is fairly simple. There are only a few basic requirements for players to be eligible:
- You must be physically located in Pennsylvania. Unlike some other states with online lottery games, such as Michigan, there is no residency requirement to participate. You only have to be within the state borders during real-money play, residents in other states that will be traveling to PA can even test the demo versions of instant games to see which they like best.
- You must be 18 years of age or older. This is a standard lottery requirement, but an advantage over Pennsylvania’s forthcoming online casinos which will have an minimum age of 21.
- You may not be closely related to any lottery official. This limitation will not affect many people, but it is necessary to protect the integrity of the system. Having a cousin that works for a lottery retailer is not disqualifying, just don’t live with an immediate family member that is a high level Pennsylvania Lottery employee or iLottery subcontractor.
Registration is a simple process, just sign up with basic contact information (name, address, date of birth, and gender), set up a few security questions, and provide the last four digits of your SSN. The latter is a security check designed to verify and protect the identity of patrons.
Currently new signups are eligible for $10 in bonus iLottery freeplay, as well as all the usual perks of the existing Pennsylvania lottery VIP Players Club, such as second-chance drawings on non-winning tickets and special offers.
Currently you can place money in your online lottery account via:
- ACH electronic check transfer
- Credit/Debit card transaction
- PA Lottery Play+ card
Currently withdrawals are only allowed via ACH/eCheck, PayPal, or PA Lottery Play+ card. Minimum amount allowed for withdrawing is $10. Maximums vary by method.
iLottery’s advantages over scratch-offs
While many instant win games appear designed to exactly mimic standard scratch-off tickets digitally, there are several key differences to set them apart.
For one, even the most basic online instant win games have improved quality-of-life features that make them more satisfying than retail tickets, such as dopamine-triggering celebratory sounds and visual effects. This is a clear example of where the instant game designers learned from what worked best for online slots.
Similarly, even the only slightly more advanced games incorporate bonus gameplay for certain types of wins, essentially embedding a different more complex type of game inside a simpler one. In some cases even a standard reveal game may unlock a spinning prize wheel or a one-time choice from a group of prize boxes, engaging the player in ways that a piece of cardstock with some scratchable ink coating cannot.
These interactive elements are also necessary to counteract what would otherwise be a mixed strength and weakness of instant games: the ease of completion. Many games feature a button to instantly finish the entire ticket within a few seconds of beginning. This makes the instant games far more convenient that retail tickets: not only do you not have to travel out to the store to purchase them, you also don’t need to spend extra time with a penny scraping out every hidden number (and you cannot mistake a winning ticket for a losing one and accidentally throw it away).
However without the effects to slightly slow the process down (and occasionally require a response) it would be too easy for a person to quickly run through their entire deposit without paying attention.
Another nice advantage of the iLottery over traditional games is the demo feature, which allows players to sample the games with play-money and decide on which gameplay suits them best.
Current games available
While 36 games is not a huge selection, half that of Michigan, it is a massive improvement over the 11 games the iLottery launched with. The range of gameplay available is enough to offer a variety of playstyles and get a sense of future expanded options.
The initial game selection can be broken into three categories:
- Reveal games
- Line games
- Collect-style games
This is the most traditional expected form of instant game, where symbols in a grid are hidden from view until play begins, and matching enough of certain symbols results in a prize. Reveal games are the dominant form of scratch-offs in Pennsylvania.
Featured game: Foxin’ Wins Reveal
The Foxin’ Wins brand should be familiar to fans of online slots, particularly associated with Resorts Casino in the neighboring state of New Jersey. This instant game – which features the same visual branding and character – is a standard simple 3×3 grid with 8 possible symbols to reveal. Matching three of any symbol results in a predetermined prize. One of the symbols results in bonus plays with increased prize values. Ticket cost is variable between $0.01 and $5.
Other reveal games
- Volcano Eruption is the same game as Foxin’ Wins with different graphics. Bigfoot has the same gameplay as Foxin’ Wins and Volcano Eruption, only you get 4 separate 3×3 grids on each ticket. This allows you multiple chances (although there is no chance to win bonus plays, so there are only 7 winning symbols). Still this results in better odds of a winning ticket.
- Robing Hood is a 4×4 grid game with 10 winning symbols, and offering different prize values resulting from matching either 3 or 4 of a given symbol. Ticket values are available from $0.01 to $5. Monster Wins is the same as Robin Hood, only with ticket values from $0.01 to $20 essentially making it the “high-roller” reveal game.
Slightly more complex winning mechanics than in reveal games, these tickets require the player to connect enough symbols, numbers, or letters along a line to unlock the prize.
Featured game: Big Money Slingo
Another property from a popular online casino brand, this instant win variation of Slingo features different graphic background based on the ticket value (from $0.50 to $5). This game essentially allows you six draws of numbers to try to complete a traditional bingo card. Fill up a row, column, or diagonal to win a prize.
Other line games
- Crossword Cash is a typical crossword-style instant game where you receive 18 random letters to try to complete as many possible generated words on a crossword puzzle. Increasing prizes are awarded for the number of words completed, ticket values are from $0.10 to $10.
- Cash in the Lamp is a cross between a line game and a reveal game, where wins are awarded for matching three symbols in a row in any direction on a 5×5 grid. Also, uncovering three magic lamp symbols regardless of position or a red carpet unlocks a bonus game feature. Ticket values $0.10 to $10.
- Ballroom Bingo is an extremely traditional bingo game, even down to a voice calling out numbers when played at low speeds. Tickets are $0.10 to $10.
Collect-style games are significantly more complicated than the other instant games, and as a result they are no longer comparable to traditional scratch-offs. These games require multiple rounds of collecting values of symbols or colors to fill a required number to win a prize. As these games are more interactive they can be more satisfying to play, but also frustrating in how difficult they are to win (and usually much slower than reveal games).
Features game: Super Ca$hbuster
Super Cashbuster simulates the visual feel of a puzzle video game, with a grid of falling blocks that must be destroyed to collect colors.
On each of seven rounds you roll a colored die to determine which colored blocks on the bottom row (and any matching blocks that are touching them) get destroyed, dropping the blocks above to remake the grid for the next round.
All the destroyed blocks fill an inventory to try to generate a prize, and certain blocks unlock a mini-game or earn you a bonus roll of the die. Tickets cost $1 to $10.
Other collect games
- Super Gems also appears designed as a falling-block puzzle game, only there is a single chance to win since the entire board is replaced with each ticket. With each new grid, gems are destroyed if they are grouped together in clusters of five or more, with different prize values based on the size and color of the cluster. After the clusters are destroyed the gems drop changing the board, generating another chance for additional prizes. There are also two very satisfying bonus mini-games. Super Gems is the fastest and also most approachable collect-style game, with ticket costs ranging from $0.10 to $10.
- Ca$hbuster Towers is another game in the Cashbuster franchise, except using dice. The dice can reveal symbols that can be collected to trigger one of two mini-games or an instant win prize. Ticket values $0.50 to $10.
- Big Eats Little is a very unique collect game, where you must guide a fish around a 5×5 grid attempting to eat prize symbols and smaller fishes while avoiding being eaten by larger fishes. Three matching symbols wins a prize, and eating other fish allows you to grow and increase prize value. Tickets are $0.10 to $10.
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