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Powerball is the flagship game of the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL), a non-profit organisation made up of 36 member lotteries across the US. The game is played in 44 states, as well as Washington DC, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, with draws held twice weekly on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. The game has been running since 1992, when it replaced MUSL's first lottery game Lotto*America.
US Powerball was the first lottery game in the world to use two drums in its draws. This design means that the game offers a greater chance of winning; the newly adjusted odds of taking home a prize - after a big change in 2015 - stand at approximately 1 in 25 as opposed to the previous 1 in 32. The adjusted rules also accounted for the record $1.6 billion jackpot awarded to three Americans in early 2015.
A Powerball ticket costs $2. At each Powerball draw, five white balls are extracted from a drum containing 69 balls, and one red ball (the Powerball) is drawn from a drum of 26 balls. The jackpot is won by matching all five white ball numbers (in any order) and the Powerball.
Players also have the chance to claim the substantial second prize of $1 million by matching just the five white balls. There are plenty of smaller prizes available too – any tickets that match at least three white ball numbers will receive a prize, as will any that match the red Powerball.
There are a total of nine different ways to win on Powerball. The smallest prize of $4 can be claimed by matching just the Powerball or one white ball plus the Powerball. Matching four white balls, or three plus the Powerball, results in a prize of $100.
One intriguing addition to Powerball is the Power Play option, which can be added to your ticket for $1 extra. Those who buy in can effectively multiply their cash winnings (except the jackpot) if they successfully match their numbers. The prizes are multiplied by a number that is drawn as part of the Powerball draw, this can be 2x, 3x, 4x or 5x.
Powerball players who win the jackpot have the option to choose how they want to receive their money. The prize is given either as an annuity delivered over 29 years, or as a cash lump sum.
Winners who choose the annuity receive an annual payment that increases by 5% each year to account for the rising cost of living. The money is invested pre-tax, minus an immediate first payment. With the cash option, all tax due on the jackpot must be paid immediately and winners then receive what's left.
The estimated jackpot that is advertised before each Powerball draw represents the total amount that would be paid to the winner if they accepted the annuity option. The approximate cash value of the prize is also announced on the Powerball website.
Records show that Powerball winners almost always opt for the cash option, even though it effectively carries a significantly lower value. Recent cash jackpot winners have included Michigan’s Julie Leach, who claimed a windfall of $197.4 million in September 2015 (a total jackpot amount of $310.5 million), and Anthony Perosi of New York, who won $88.5 million in cash (total amount $136 million) in March.
There is no annuity option with the $1 million Powerball second prize – winnings are always paid as cash.
Powerball tickets can be purchased online or at a local retailer. However, a state lottery can only legally sell tickets to residents of its own state, even when trading online. That means you cannot play Powerball if you live outside of the US.
To enter, you simply choose five numbers between one and 69 (the white balls) and one number from one to 26 (the Powerball). If you want to take up the Power Play option, you must select this when you buy your ticket.
Ticket sales always finish at least 59 minutes before the Powerball draw, which takes place at 22:59 Eastern Time every Wednesday and Saturday. Certain state lotteries may cut off sales earlier, so players are advised to check first to avoid disappointment.
The draw is televised all over the US and information about which channel to watch in your local area can be found on the Powerball website, where the winning numbers of recent draws are also displayed.
Small prizes – generally under $600 – can be claimed at the retailer where the ticket was purchased. Winning tickets do not necessarily have to be cashed at the same store, but they must be cashed in the state they were bought. Larger prizes can be claimed at the state lottery headquarters or by mail.