It’s no secret that lotteries are an extremely popular way to gamble. In fact, the lottery (or the lotto) is currently the most popular form of gambling in the United States. And it’s not even a recent invention!
Ancient Romans were playing the lottery long before mega-jackpots came into existence. Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but to rebuild the city, Rome held a lottery for the citizens.
This gave birth to the idea of using lotteries to fund public programs. Even today, almost all 50 states fund projects with some form of lottery.
On the surface, the lottery seems like a breeze: Numbers are randomly selected from a large pool, and all you have to do is pick the right combination to match the draw. The size of the pool determines what odds you’re playing against. Lotteries don’t depend on the number of players at all.
You’ll have greater odds stacked against you the larger number pool gets. The common motto of the lottery is, “You have to play to win,” and because it’s true, states often run several different lottery games. You can find the perfect game to fit your playing style by learning about every game available in your state.
The biggest game in the state usually has the simplest name: lotto. “Instant” millionaires are easily made with this progressive jackpot game, where the ultimate prize keeps growing until someone wins. Some supermarkets provide self-service terminals allowing you to select your numbers and print the ticket yourself.
If you can’t find one, just head the to customer service counter and ask the employee there to print out a ticket with your desired numbers. If you can’t decide which numbers to choose, then just ask for an automated choice known as a “quick pick.” The computer will choose the numbers for you.
If you’re looking to score a win, then try playing lottery games in which you pick fewer numbers and have a smaller total pool of numbers. Your odds of winning money are better in these circumstances.
Depending on the state, lottery tickets will cost 50 cents or $1. Usually one drawing is made a week. If no one matches all the numbers, the jackpot is rolled over to next week’s drawing.
Playing for Big Payoffs
Like payoff systems at horse races, big lotto payoffs are pari-mutuel systems. This means the full jackpot amount isn’t fixed until the game is closed and all tickets have been purchased.
The more players that buy tickets, the higher the jackpot grows. When the game is finally closed in preparation for the drawing, all money from ticket sales is collected. Then the funds earmarked for public funding and those necessary to run the game itself are deducted from the total ticket sales. The remaining money is the jackpot for the upcoming lotto drawing, which will be paid out to any winning ticket holders.
For an example, let’s take a look at the California lottery. In that lottery, players must pick six numbers that will hopefully match the drawn numbers. If they do, that ticket holder wins the multimillion-dollar jackpot!
A substantially lower prize, though still in the range of hundreds of thousands dollars, is paid out to people that match five out of six numbers. Four out of six matching numbers will yield a prize around a thousand dollars. There’s only one prize amount that’s determined before the drawing even occurs—the $5 you’d stand to win for three matching numbers out of six.
More than one player can win the top prizes, too. The total prize amounts are split evenly if that happens, meaning if four people match six numbers on an $8 million jackpot, each winner would receive a total of $2 million.
Sharing a Payout
Because of this pari-mutuel payout system, lots of those “instant” millionaires have discovered that they must share their big payoffs with complete strangers.
Destiny or fate doesn’t cause this to happen, though. It occurs because some numbers are much more popular than others. Many people like to pick special dates as their numbers, like a birthday or anniversary. This makes the numbers 1 through 31 popular choices for many players. A couple more extremely popular numbers are 7 and 11—most people consider them lucky! Sequence numbers are often picked, such as 1-2-3-4-5-6.
With this trend in mind, you should make sure at least a few of your favorite numbers fall outside the range of 1 to 31. Or even pick numbers randomly! Logical sequences just might force you to share your big winner with other players. Randomly selected numbers can help you keep the jackpot all to yourself!
Should you win the big payoff, it’s almost always a good idea to take the lump-sum payout. It may be less than your winnings total would be if you opted for the 20-year annual payment, but with inflation and the way money devalues over time, lump sum means more real dollars in your bank account.
Play the Bonus Round
Every once in a while, big lotto games will offer players an inexpensive chance to increase their non-jackpot winnings. If the option is there, jump on it! That extra little bit for a bonus round could make your payout even bigger! Let’s take a look at the California lotto.
Players that purchase five SuperLotto tickets at once will often receive a bonus ticket free of charge. Hang on to that ticket, because it will have seven numbers, rather than the usual six, and if any six of those number match the drawn numbers, you win an extra cool $200,000!
Another example is Oregon’s Power Play option. It doubles the price of your ticket, but if you match three, four or five numbers out the six that are drawn, your payout is quadrupled. The extra cost is well worth it.
Keep your eyes peeled for these free tickets and bonus options, because states are always trying to new ways to entice lottery players to spend just a little bit more money for the chance at big bucks!
A word of caution: Don’t get a friend or relative to buy a lottery ticket in their state and send it to you through the mail. That’s against federal law, and could get you both an unpleasant vacation in a federal penitentiary courtesy of Uncle Sam.
Not All Lotteries Are the Same Value
Look around, because you may find a real lottery bargain in a neighboring state. Every state’s lottery is different.
For instance, Oregon’s lottery requires players to choose 6 numbers out of a pool of 54, while California’s SuperLotto has a pool of only 51. It may not seem like much, but that’s 26 million to 1 odds versus 18 million to 1, respectively.
You may think this means California is a better bet for your lottery dollar, but not so fast! The Oregon lottery only costs 50 cents per ticket, against the $1 for a ticket to California’s drawing. So for the same price it costs to buy a ticket in California, Oregonians can purchase two tickets, lowering their odds to only 13 million to 1 for every dollar spent. Keeping this mind, which lottery is the better bet now?
Do Your Math – Compare Odds
Check out each state’s lottery marketing material for the odds to their games. With this information and ticket cost in your arsenal you can compare the odds for the lotteries closest to you and find the best bang for your buck. The lowest odds will increase your chances of winning, so a little drive may just be worth the trip!
You’ll want to keep track of games on a regular basis, because states will change rules and number pool sizes every once in a while. Twice a year is about as often as you’ll need to check. States certainly won’t rotate rules every week.
Subscription services are becoming available in more and more states, too. These services allow players to buy tickets for the entire year. Living outside the state doesn’t disqualify you from winning, either. All you have to do is buy the ticket within the states’ borders.
The newest lottery variation is the multi-state lotto. These games pool jackpots from every participating state in offer some truly astounding potential winnings. Tickets are available in any state that takes part in the lottery.
America’s biggest lottery is run by the District of Columbia and 20 states in a joint venture. This game, called the Powerball, requires that players choose 5 numbers from 49, and a bonus ball known as the Powerball from a pool of 42. The game is set up this way to increase the odds against the player; the Powerball has odds of more than 80 million to 1!
A Powerball jackpot of $298 million was won on August 25, 2001 by four separate players in four different states. The pari-mutuel system required they split the jackpot evenly, which came out to either a lump sum of $41.4 million, or an annuity payment of $73.7 million over the next 25 years. It’s not a bad choice, because that’s $2.9 million every year!
The Big Game Mega Millions lottery is one such multi-state lottery. It stands out among the rest, though, for offering the largest jackpot in U.S. history. In 2000, the states of Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, New York and Virginia created a collective jackpot of $363 million.
Weekly games aren’t the only lotteries in operation. Many states also run “daily cash” drawings, though they don’t provide the massive jackpots of their bigger siblings. However, they do give players a greater chance at winning a bit of cash, because they draw fewer numbers from smaller pools.
How to Play “Pick” Games
Daily cash drawings usually appear in most states in the form of “pick” games, which all have the same odds of winning. Players are essentially choosing a single number in Pick 3 games, from 000 to 999.
For example, a selected number of 5-2-9 is really a pick of 529, and has 1 in 1,000 odds of being drawn. A Pick 4 game is a little more difficult, offering 1 in 10,000 odds for a number selected between 0000 and 9,999.
It usually costs just 50 cents or $1 to play a pick game. Sometimes you have the option of boxing your bet, which increases your chances of winning for no extra charge. A boxed bet separates your selected number into individual digits, making your choice 5-2-9 rather than 529. Boxed bets win if all the digits are drawn, regardless of order.
This means a 5-2-9 boxed bet can still win if the drawing is 295. There’s one drawback, though. Boxed bets increase your chances of winning to six instead of one, so the winnings available are one-sixth the full jackpot. Your chances increase to 24 with a boxed bet on a Pick 4, but the prize is only 1/24 as big.
Scratch-offs are aptly named. These tickets have a latex coating that players scratch off with a coin to find out if they’ve won … or lost. It’s possible to get scratch away at 30 tickets and not win a penny! That may make a scratch-off seem like a waste of money, but they do provide the best odds of winning, some even as low 1 in 3.
Sometimes you can even win a chance at a bigger lottery from a lucky scratch-off. They’re well worth the occasional expense.
Be careful when you scratch off, though. If you happen to scratch through the little box that says “Void if Removed,” you’ve just disqualified your ticket, even if it’s a winner.
What’s at Stake?
The odds on lotteries may seem daunting to most people, but they’re really not so bad. They especially don’t seem as scary when you consider all the different versions of games and the variety of winning possibilities available. The only games with truly substantial odds are the big state lottos, but even then the jackpot is enough to make it worth the price of a ticket.
Some states have pools as small as 35 numbers, so it can pay off to look around! Your odds of winning are the same as those of your neighbors, so what’s the occasional dollar measured against a multimillion dollar jackpot?
How to Claim Your Prize
You’re watching the drawing and, your first number matches! Your excitement only builds as you see number after drawn number match what’s printed on your ticket. You’ve won! But now what? Don’t sit around waiting for the lottery office to call. You have to go out and claim that money for yourself, because otherwise that money will just sit around in the office, unclaimed and gathering dust!
Those people with a lottery subscription are usually the only ones that get contacted by the lottery office, instead of having to call themselves. It’s your job to check if your ticket’s a winner, because no one else is going to do it for you. Daily news shows and newspapers usually show the latest drawing results.
If all else fails, head back to that gas station where you bought the ticket and ask them to check if it’s a winner. Most places that sell tickets also provide sheets listing results from the previous few drawings. Toll-free numbers also are operated by lottery offices in some states, allowing players to check the most recent numbers drawn.
Also be aware of deadlines when you buy your lottery ticket. Most states give you between 30 and 360 days to claim your prize, but time limits vary greatly depending on both the game and the state. Always know the rules before you play.
You can usually claim a prize of $600 or less at the same place you bought your ticket. You may have to send your ticket through the mail to the state lottery agency if you’ve won more. Ask the retailer from whom you bought the ticket if you’re not sure how to claim a prize.
You’ll want to protect your winnings, so make a copy of your ticket and keep it in a safe place if you do have to mail it. You might even consider sending it through registered mail so you have a return receipt to keep in your records.
If you happen to win one of those amazing mega-jackpots, you may want to think about talking with an accountant or lawyer before claiming your prize. You don’t want to be overwhelmed when people start soliciting you for a chunk of your massive winnings!
Don’t Toss Those Losers!
You should hang on to your losing tickets for two reasons. First and foremost, it allows you to verify your gambling losses at the end of the tax year if you happen to win it big and forced to report your good fortune to the IRS.
The second reason could get you a little extra cash; “last chance” drawings are available in some states for those people holding on to losing tickets. They exist, even if they’re hard to find because states don’t make any extra revenue off them.
All it takes is sending your losing ticket in to the last chance drawing, and you could a few thousand bucks or even a car! Fewer people enter these second drawings, so your chances of winning are even higher!
Smart Ways to Play and Win
An important aspect of your lottery strategy should be diversity. With so many games available to you, it’s important to take advantage! Spread your chosen lottery bankroll among several different games. Getting a few Pick 3s or scratch-off every now and again can help keep your spirits up when the big jackpot doesn’t land in your lap. Here are a few tips to help with lottery playing:
* Keep it simple. You don’t have to buy 20,000 lottery tickets for a single drawing. It doesn’t improve your odds that much, because you’ve only got 20,000 chances to win against millions of chances to lose. Buying 10 tickets should be plenty for that massive jackpot, because what you really need is luck!
* Be sure to mix up your numbers on multiple tickets. With different numbers, each ticket has a distinct chance of being a winner!
* Remember, the more random the numbers, the more likely the jackpot will belong to you alone! Multiple winners means splitting up that big win. Quick pick is a viable option, as it decreases the chance of number duplication.
* Always read the rules for the game you’re playing! There are different time limits and requirements for claiming prize with every lottery game. Bigger wins might require you to mail your ticket in, or even visit a lottery office. Smaller wins can usually be claimed at the place you brought your ticket.
Many people decide to pool their money together to buy more tickets than they can manage on their own. In Oregon, thirteen co-workers won $295.7 million by pooling their money together, so it can definitely pay off!
If you win the chance at a mega-jackpot through a scratch-off ticket, take it. It doesn’t cost you anything, so there’s nothing to lose!