At first, Doug Delk of Cross couldn’t believe his good fortune.

“I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me,” he said.

But they weren’t. Delk really had won $200,000 playing a “scratch-off game” offered by the South Carolina Education Lottery.

After taxes, he got a check for $136,000, more than enough for a new home and truck.

His cash windfall happened on April 20, 2011, when Delk purchased a $10 “Emerald Green 7s” card at Wildwood Convenience Store on South Live Oak Drive in Moncks Corner.

That particular contest has since been retired but the “instant games” continue to thrive as the most popular offerings by the Education Lottery. The instant prizes fall short of the multi-million dollar jackpots of Powerball and Megamillions but they offer immediate gratification — or disappointment — and they can lead to winning plenty of lifestyle-changing cash.

In April, the Education Lottery averaged about $22 million in sales per week. Scratch-off tickets were the biggest sellers, bringing in $15 million weekly. Because of his lottery winnings, Delk has gone from riding a bike to work to a more comfortable lifestyle in which he feels financially secure. The construction worker and commercial truck driver now looks forward to retirement.

With his big prize, Delk said he bought an 11-year-old 1,954-square-foot residence on three acres, an F-150 Ford Lariat truck and another three acres of land. His brother and sister each got $5,000. And he’s still got $30,000 from his winnings in the bank.

His story is an example of how winning a smaller prize can change a lottery player’s life, said South Carolina Education Lottery officials. Delk continues to play scratch-off games regularly, and spends about $50 daily on them. He recently won $285 on a $10 “Cash Celebration” ticket. He said that he has won $500 some 16 times.

The odds

The Education Lottery offers more than 40 “scratch-off” games ranging in price from the $1 “Three Times Lucky” to the $10 “Triple Wild Winner.”

“Our $10 tickets are our most popular followed by $5 tickets,” said Holli Armstrong of the Education Lottery.

The most popular game right now is the $10 “Diamond Millionaire 10th Anniversary,” which offers a top prize of $1 million. This game also offers a second-chance component where players can enter non-winning tickets for a chance to win $1 million, she said.

The chances of winning something in a scratch-off game are more favorable than the big jackpot games Powerball or Megamillions. Powerball odds of snagging a top prize are 1 in 175 million and the overall odds of winning any prize are 1 in 31.

In contrast, the “Triple Wild Winner” offers 992,431 prizes with a total value of $22.7 million.

The average odds of winning a prize are 1 in 3. The odds of winning nothing are 1 in 1.5. The figures are based on 3 million tickets sold, according to the Education Lottery.

Like Delk, Louis Hymowitz won big playing a scratch-off game — a prize of $75,000 for “Red, White and Blue No. 7.” He purchased the winning ticket at Pappy’s in Hanahan in August of 2010.

“I saw all the zeros and then my hand started shaking,” he said.

He was with his wife Mary.“We looked at it and we both started screaming,” he said.

He paid $24,000 in taxes on his winnings. With the proceeds, he bought a 1995 Mustang, paid off all his bills and gave each of his four children $2,000. He set up a $30,000 IRA.

“I’m really glad that we didn’t spend that money,” he said.

After quitting his job at Hanahan Parks and Recreation, Hymowitz, 55, and his wife moved to McDonough, Ga., to be near kids and grandkids, he said.

Wheel of fortune

Although many of the games offer cash prizes, some of them include a unique celebrity experience as a reward.

Thomas Laprise, a waiter in the Goose Creek area, recently won a trip to Hollywood through the lottery’s Wheel of Fortune second-chance promotion. He played Wheel of Fortune with hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White.

In 2009, Laprise won $155,555 when he purchased a $10 “Fantastic 5’s” ticket. He has paid off student loans and given money to friends. His new goal is to win a Mustang.

“I’m much more lucky than other people but I also constantly play,” he said.

Summerville resident Dee Martin, 64, hit the $100,000 jackpot on a $5 scratch-off lottery ticket purchased at the Kangaroo Express on Central Avenue. It was her first time playing “Triple The Money.”

At first, she didn’t believe her eyes.

“I figured I’m not reading it correctly. It was just too good to be true,” she said.

She and her husband Steve have since paid-off the mortgage. They took a cruise on which Dee Martin won $1,200 playing slot machines.

“I’m changing her name to lucky,” Steve Martin said.

Winning the big one

In 2005, Francis Hope Stephenson of Chester was the first in-state Powerball million-dollar winner. After taxes, he received a lump sum of $750,000. Stephenson said he continued to work at his maintenance manager job for two years and then took a medical leave. He bought a new pickup truck.

“We still have money in savings and we live off of our income,” he said.

Some players such as Dell Golanski of Charleston employ a systematic approach to the biggest jackpots. Golanski said he won $10,000 playing Powerball using the same numbers for six years. After taxes, he took home $6,800 which he put in a savings account three years ago and still has today.

Golanski, a safety manager for a defense contractor, said it was his first big win playing Powerball. He said that playing Powerball with the same numbers for six years cost him $600 but noted that the return on his investment was worth it. He now plays $1 Megamillions tickets with a new number combination because Powerball doubled its price to $2.

All of the successful lottery players started out as hopefuls like Frank Mottola of Daniel Island, who so far has won a top prize of $60. Last week, Mottola purchased five $1 Megamillions tickets with a grand prize of $15 million. It’s a twice-weekly ritual for him.

Mottola bought his tickets at the Exxon station at U.S. Highway 17 and Interstate 526 in Mount Pleasant, where a sign says the store sold a $100,000 Cash 5 ticket.

Mottola said his wife is a pharmaceutical sales rep. At age 53, he is a retired stay-at-home dad.

“We’re fortunate. We’re blessed,” he said.

Still, a new boat, car or a trip would be nice.

“You never know. Someone wins,” he said with a grin.