ALPHARETTA, Ga. - It takes less than a minute to mindlessly scratch the surface of a lottery ticket and uncover a winning number combination, but creating just one simple ticket requires a sophisticated army of employees and technology.
In a quiet Atlanta suburb, a dizzying process occurs in a nondescript brick building that requires security similar to that of a military installation. At Scientific Games International, the employees aren't just creating tickets, they're printing money.
"It's a much bigger business than people think," said Jim Edwards, senior director of manufacturing for Scientific Games. "This is a very complex process. Basically what we sell here is integrity."
Of the 38 states with lottery games, Scientific Games creates scratch-off games for 27, including Florida and Georgia. Costing between $1 and $10, the cards take mere seconds to play and are
wildly popular, according to industry officials.
Since the Georgia lottery began seven years ago, the corporation has recorded $12.5 billion in sales. Of that total, $4.7 billion came from scratch-off games, also known as instant tickets. The quick games constitute about 40 percent of the state's total lottery sales, and two new scratch games are launched each week.
Florida's lottery has recorded $2.248 billion in sales already this year.
"This is a zero-tolerance (for) mistakes business," said Rebecca Paul, president of Georgia Lottery Corp. "Their ability to print secure tickets is the most important thing. There are only three or four companies in the country that even print these tickets."
Mr. Edwards oversees the production of 12.6 billion lottery tickets annually. The presses eat up a mile of paper every seven minutes. The fast-paced machinery that spits out 240,000 tickets every 10 minutes keeps employees manning presses and packing areas around the clock, every day of the week.
Once a state's lottery places an order, the well-organized chaos begins.
Programmers use advanced computer technology to create the games. Each programmer's work goes through three different audits, including one by an independent accounting firm, ensuring the winning combination has been shuffled randomly in the game.
"No one person ever knows where the winning ticket is," said Joe Bennett, who supervises the game programmers. "The games get shuffled like a deck of cards. The programmers only see test data. They don't ever see the real game."
Just to make sure no one tries to beat the system during programming or any other production phase, Scientific Games resembles a maze. At almost every door, there's a place to scan a security card.
The programmers aren't given access to the manufacturing and distribution areas in the plant, and press workers aren't allowed into the programming department. Managers don't even have access to areas of the building other than their own.
Try to gain access to an area without clearance, and a voice comes over a loud speaker with instructions to stop while a team of security guards rushes to the door.
"We've never had an issue where someone has tried to break a game or cheat it," Mr. Bennett said. "It is such a complex process that would involve so many people in order to even attempt to do it, there's just no way."
To be safe, the company mandates annual FBI background checks for every employee. Anyone who commits a felony is immediately fired.
After a game is created and the play card is designed by the company's own creative team, the game heads to production.
Every lottery ticket printed has at least four layers of ink, but the area players scratch is covered by 14 layers. While many of the layers create the play card's design, the majority of the ink serves as security.
"On the average, a player scratches through about seven layers of ink each time they play," Mr. Edwards said. "The rest keeps people from using special lights to see through the back and detect winning numbers without playing."
Because of the high demand for ink, the company makes 325,000 gallons of its own ink a month.
In three hours, plates that imprint the play card and design are made for the presses. Technicians then require four hours to prepare the 270-foot press for creating one lottery game. Once the presses begin rolling, computers place number combinations on the tickets faster than the human eye can read. Workers stand along the press to check for quality using strobe lights, which help them clearly see the tickets speeding down the press.
Through the entire process, hundreds of security cameras scan every nook and cranny of the plant. Even parking lots and driveways are monitored. All employees are subject to a search when entering and exiting the facility. While they work, every move is recorded.
It takes about 12 hours to print 10 million tickets, which often is an order for just one lottery game. When the print run is complete, a staff of 18 tries to cheat the games under a myriad of circumstances. The company wants to know everything is completely secure.
"We do have a good time around here," Mr. Edwards said, strolling through the 285,000-square-foot plant. "We get lots of our friends and family asking us to send them the winning ticket or tell them the lucky numbers. I guess it just comes with the territory."
Reach Shannon Womble at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.