When people mention 'the lottery', it can often sound like there's only one type of lottery game out there. In fact, players can pick from a wide range of lottery titles that includes everything from scratch cards to small draws such as Lotto HotPicks. Most of the available variants fall under one of just two categories, 'instant win' and number drawing', but it can still be hard to know which option to go for.
'Number drawing' games rely on a format that is most commonly associated with the idea of 'the lottery'. Players typically buy a ticket for a fixed price and pick a set of numbers that lie within a predetermined range (the UK's National Lottery uses balls numbered up to 59, for instance). Some providers such as the Health Lottery also allow punters to participate using 'quick draw' digits that are selected by a computer.
The defining characteristic of 'number drawing' games is that players must wait to find out if they've won. Winning numbers are picked in a random selection process (a 'draw') that usually takes place at the same time every week. Not all 'number drawing' games have the same payout structure, but it's generally true that punters will win something if they've picked three or more numbers that match those revealed on the big night.
Given the huge selection of possible number combinations, there are weeks in which no player wins the jackpot; this usually results in a 'rollover', which means that all or most of the possible win money for a no-win week is added to the next prize pot.
Unlike 'number drawing' games, 'instant win' variants don't require punters to wait around. This category mainly consists of scratch cards and interactive online games, both of which base payouts on results that are pre-determined when the product in question is purchased. Prize amounts for 'instant win' games can vary greatly according to provider and format, but usually don't change with time as there's no jackpot rollover to build the pot.
'Number drawing' games are attractive because they offer gamblers the chance to win extraordinary multi-rollover sums. The pan-European lottery EuroMillions has previously featured jackpots worth over £90m, and the National Lottery alone has created more than 4,000 millionaires or multi-millionaires since 1994.
While number draws can theoretically result in punters walking away with life-changing sums, the structure of these games means that odds of actually winning can be extremely low. Players have around a 1 in 45 million chance of scooping the jackpot in the National Lottery, though it should be remembered that there's more than the just the jackpot up for grabs – gamblers have a better chance, around 1 in 93, of matching three or more balls.
'Instant win' games usually come with better odds of winning than their number drawing counterparts. The National Lottery's 'Red Game' scratch cards, for example, offer punters a 1 in 11 chance of winning a prize. While some people like the thrill of the televised build-up to large number draws, many busy players prefer pre-determined games because these products offer the thrill of a win without the need to monitor results.
On the flipside, instant online games and scratch cards generally entail a lower-value selection of prizes than number draws. Likewise, not all wins are of the same value and high value payouts are quite uncommon. 'Red game' offers a 13 to one chance of taking home a lower prize sum of £2, but those favourable odds lengthen to 1 in 4,816,172 when it comes to finding a jackpot card worth £100,000.
It is still possible to take home huge sums from 'instant win' games despite these lower jackpots, as Grace Walker from Hamilton discovered when she won £1m from a scratch card in September 2015. Another Scot, Michael Innes, also became rich in seconds when he won big on the National Lottery's MONOPOLY Millionaire game online.