Mary Willson pauses between scratch cards Thursday at the east Kum & Go in Craig while her dog, Bertha, looks on. Willson said she buys about $50 in scratch tickets weekly. Once, she said, she won $50,000 on a single ticket. On Thursday, she won $6 from five cards that cost $10 total.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Mary Willson pauses between scratch cards Thursday at the east Kum & Go in Craig while her dog, Bertha, looks on. Willson said she buys about $50 in scratch tickets weekly. Once, she said, she won $50,000 on a single ticket. On Thursday, she won $6 from five cards that cost $10 total.

An itching to scratch

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The prospect of winning big money at little risk appeals to numerous convenience store customers in the area. Scratch tickets ,like the one shown here, can range in price from $1 to $20 at the Loaf 'N Jug in Craig. On average, the store sells between 650 and 700 scratch tickets daily.

They shine from beneath the glass, bearing the bright color of green and the possibility for big money.

Scratch tickets can range in price from $1 to $20.

But the multicolored cards can pay out in hundreds, thousands or even $1 million.

It just depends how lucky you are.

Craig resident Mary Willson thinks she's got what it takes to make buying scratch tickets worth her while. She estimates she spends about $50 a week on average buying the tickets.

There's no rational method Willson uses when picking out what cards she buys. Instead, she lets her gut instinct be her guide.

"I just look at them," she said. "It's kind of feeling like, 'That's the one to buy.'"

Apparently, her intuition knows something that the rational side of the brain doesn't, because she's won money more than once. Willson said she's won sums ranging into the hundreds and thousands of dollars by buying scratch cards.

In August 2006, she said, she won $50,000 from a scratch ticket that cost $5.

"To be honest, I think I'm very lucky," she said.

Other people seem to think so, too. Some of her acquaintances ask Willson to pick out tickets for them.

Scratch ticket titles, including "Mining for Money" and "Taxes Paid Cash Spectacular," hint at the possibility of striking it rich on a few dollars' investment.

Still, not everyone is destined to get lucky. The odds of winning the top $35,000 prize in the Colorado Lottery's "Gold of Atlantis" scratch game is 1 in 320,000.

Chances of winning $1 million from a $20 Colorado Millionaire ticket are 1 in 720,000.

Still, numbers suggest the odds don't deter customers set on trying their luck.

On average, Loaf 'N Jug sells between 650 and 700 scratch tickets daily, manager Cindy Jones said.

Some customers have gotten hooked on the recently released $20 tickets, which can yield up to $1 million.

Others spend between $10 and $20 at a time buying less-expensive versions.

And then there are the customers that Jones calls the "extremists," who spend $40 to $60 at a time on scratch tickets.

There's about a dozen such customers at the store who come in once a day or more to buy the alluring cards.

Les Self, general manager of Craig's north Kum & Go, has seen evidence to prove that scratch cards have found a local following.

When ticket buyers scratch the cards in the store, they leave behind telltale shavings to mark where they've been. Self has found them all around the store, including in bathrooms and on the Blue Bunny ice cream freezer.

"There's no limit to where they'll scratch," he said.

He's also seen customers buy the tickets by the bulk, purchasing 300 at a time.

Craig resident Diana Vesely takes a more moderate approach, buying a few scratch tickets every three or four months.

Although some tickets could bring her $100,000, she doubts that she'll ever win that much. Instead, she said, she's happy if she manages to win enough money to pay for the ticket.

But then, scratch tickets aren't just about winning money.

"It's a gamble," she said. "It's kind of a thrill. It's cheaper than going to Las Vegas."

Willson was ready to taste that thrill again Thursday afternoon. Her instinct had guided her to a $2 scratch ticket called "Deuces Wild."

She bought five of the tickets then returned to her vehicle parked outside of Craig's east Kum & Go.

"I scratch them usually in the car," Willson said, "in case I win big."

Willson scratched each card one at a time with her fingernail. Then, as she finished each one, she tucked it behind a band on the driver's side visor. The cards will stay there until she's ready to cash them in.

Like Vesely, Willson finds the exercise exciting.

"It's kind of like a thrill, in a way - a rush," she said.

Willson scratched. The shavings fell.

And, in the end, her luck didn't pan out. After spending $10 on five scratch tickets, she only won $6 back.

Still, she didn't appear to be upset by her $4 loss.

"That ain't bad," she said.

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