Playing the lottery used to require a trip to the local newsagent or supermarket, but no more – punters can now snap up virtual tickets without leaving the house. Even better, smartphones and tablets mean that busy players can participate in big draws while sitting on the train or heading to a meeting. There's lots of ways to get involved online, but how does the whole process fit together? More importantly, how do winners convert their lines to cash?
Buying lottery tickets and claiming prizes is usually straightforward if players enter draws based in their home country. Most major lotteries such as the EuroMillions give punters the option of buying tickets via their official websites. All online buyers must be over 18 in order to comply with UK licensing rules, and must be physically located within Britain's gambling jurisdiction (the UK or the Isle of Man).
If the above criteria are met, most providers let gamblers choose their numbers by simply clicking on virtual tickets or typing their picks. Payments can then be submitted via bank cards or e-wallets like any other online purchase. Avid players who don’t want to miss a draw can also set up a Direct Debit to enter automatically on a weekly basis.
Licensing rules mean that buying a ticket for a foreign lottery is more complicated, and the process of claiming a prize is likely to be a bit different too. Thankfully, these difficulties can be bypassed by enlisting the help of a third party. A group of companies variously known as online 'lottery agents', 'concierge services' or 'independent ticket purchasing services' act as middlemen for gamblers who want to try their luck on draws abroad.
Though there are slight variations in the way middleman firms operate, sites such as TheLotter buy lines on behalf of players who aren't authorised to purchase tickets in foreign jurisdictions. Following these purchases, companies usually share scanned tickets with buyers via an online account. Lottery agents make their money by charging a handling fee for their services, so players should factor in this cost when deciding between local or foreign draws.
A second type of middleman service usually falls under the 'concierge' label. This group of companies includes sites such as LottoLand that aren't actually involved in buying lottery tickets at all. Rather, these firms take out insurance to protect themselves against the possibility that a player will match the jackpot numbers of a foreign draw, then allow punters to bet on the outcome of large national lotteries. There's little difference between using a concierge and playing the lottery 'for real' from a user perspective, but players shouldn't expect to find evidence of a scanned ticket in their online account.
Payout periods for both state lotteries and concierge firms vary depending on the quantities of cash being moved. Prizes of £500 or less are typically paid directly into players' online accounts, while sums in the tens of thousands aren't released until claimants contact operators to request a cheque. Punters who are lucky enough to scoop the jackpot will almost certainly have to make an in-person trip to verify their ID before receiving cash. When the necessary steps have been taken, many operators promise that winnings will enter a designated bank account within 24-48 hours, but there have been a number of isolated cases in which cash-strapped US lottery bodies have delayed payouts by sending IOUs.
Given that 'real' lotteries and concierge services are underpinned by markedly different business models, it's no surprise that their sources of finance are different too. National lotteries set aside ticket revenue to build a prize fund that is paid to winners, while many middlemen simply pass on cash from their insurance plans. Punters who are successful via either route must request their winnings within a set time frame in order to qualify; although this claim period can be rather generous (180 days for the UK National Lottery), it pays to read all terms and conditions to avoid disappointment. Unclaimed prizes are often directed to other charities or funds and cannot be re-claimed once they're gone.
Contrary to popular belief, not all lotteries pay out their jackpots in a lump sum. In the US, for example, it is common for winners to receive their cash via a much smaller annual payment. It's also worth noting that lotteries who advertise lump sums sometimes offer this option at a cost to punters: bulk prizes can be worth substantially less than amounts received by winners who opt for annuities.