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American Dream: It’s A Scratching Nation


ALTHOUGH SCRATCH cards is a way of life in America that facilitates the quick path to the American dream, it is not always easy and the dream is not often valid.

Yet like an itch in the intimate parts of the body that demands to be scratched, the urge to be rich and lucky sends the itch into people’s wallet until it becomes addictive. Who does not want to be rich?

Scratch cards come in attractive designs and colors. Pigs Fly, Whole Lotta 20s, Double Frenzy, sometimes, Double Jeopardy. Photos by Omwa Ombara

“Watching my disappointed hands throw $100 worth of cash into the trash is no mean feat, ” says Carter Max, 61 an old resident of North Philly. Carter says he has been playing scratch card most of his life, “some days you win, some days you lose,” he says.

Carter just bought a packet of 100 cards from the kiosk down 13th and Market street. The stall owner urged me to buy in bulk and promised me I stood a better chance,” he narrates to Tujipange Africa Media.

It is possible to buy an EZ card for $1 and win $5000 without sweating.

When he got home, he slid into his quiet study and started scratching. As he scratched, he dreamt of a big car, perhaps a new home. Carter has always wanted to own a German shepherd dog. ‘They are very intelligent and would be very supportive to me when I retire. You see, German shepherds be like real children. You send them to the fridge for water, medicine, they’ll get it for you!” He says. That is Carter’s American scratch dream.

Tonight, Carter is not so lucky. He has EZ scratch cards and none is winning anything. He finishes the scratches, throws his scratching nickel on the table and walks slowly towards the trash can. He dumps the useless cards, worth $100. He is not giving up though. He says he once won $1000 from a $10 note. Only problem is that he drunk it all.

Down another block in South Philly, there is a whisky party going on. A neighbor just won $250 from a $10 scratch card from the corner store. He called his friends for drinks to celebrate his American dream.

“The dream does not have to come in millions of dollars,” says Alex Green, 53 a resident of Gray’s Ferry, South Philly. “Having a little extra and sharing the joy with my friends is a dream,” he chuckles.

Scratched cards are not unique to Carter or Green. It is a way of life. Americans send scratch cards in Birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter cards or as gifts. It is wishing a friend or family good luck as they pursue the American dream. It is a source of hope to the poor and rich, real estate owners as well as the homeless. The price comes with tax.

Not everybody does scratch cards, “I would never touch it!’ Says Bertha Mtunamwezi from Tanzania. “My Mum warned me not to do freebies. In the end you are the loser. Better work hard and slowly make money you are sure of. This is an American thing of get rich quick. It s not for us immigrants,” she quips.

Scratching for the three symbols that smell money

Anne Mawati, 27, a Diaspora Kenyan says she spares at least $50 every month to try her luck on the cards. “There must be something real about it,” she says. “Look at all the people lining up to buy the cards, They all can’t be fools. I will keep trying until I taste the American Dream. “Baki nyuma uchekwe (Stay behind and get mocked),” she adds in Swahili, the second official language spoken in Kenya.

Till then, it is scratch, scratch until lady luck smiles at one’s door.

As I finish my interview, I pass by a kiosk near the Subway at Broad Street and Walnut Street opposite the Wawa. The short Chinese owner pushes his head out of the small window and flashes out a smile. My eyes catch thousands of cards displayed on the shelf in rolls like clothes on a peg in a washing lane. I dip my hand in my rucksack and draw out a dollar. I screen the cards and ask for an Icy Hot.

The kiosk owner grabs the dollar at top speed as if I may change my mind and in a split second drops the card on my palm. I step aside, scratch the card and yearn to see $5000. I see nothing. I painfully throw my $1 card in the trash. Regret overwhelms me. This dollar could have fed a family in Kenya tonight.

Meanwhile the game continues. Scratch cards is a money minting industry in America.

Meanwhile the game continues. It is scratch, scratch, scratch-itchy scratch until riches or poverty do us part.

Tips To Improve Your Chances Of Winning Scratch Cards

  1. Intelligent Buying. The number of scratch cards available these days is mind-boggling and it can be a bit of a mine field for those that are not familiar with them. …
  2. Check the Small Print. …
  3. Buy in Bulk. …
  4. Play Them Like Slots. …
  5. Keep Old Tickets. …
  6. Submit All Losing Tickets. …
  7. Study the Scratch Cards. …
  8. Set a Budget and Keep That Budget.
  9. When you win a ticket no matter how little, fill your name and address at the back to be automatically entered into a bigger draw.