State lotteries are the most popular form of gambling in the US. Tens of millions of people play every week. And now you can play the lottery online, so long as you live in the right state.
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In 2011, the New York and Illinois lotteries successfully challenged the Department of Justice over the meaning of the Wire Act. Their action means that individual states can now decide whether to offer lottery online. More and more states are seeing the benefits and passing legislation to put their lotteries on the internet.
You can now play lottery online in the US in 11 states. You can buy lottery tickets online in another eight. For just a few dollars you have the chance to win enormous prizes. Here is everything you need to know, from how to buy online lottery tickets to how to cash out your winnings.
State lotteries are state monopolies. This is one area where free markets definitely do not apply. As a result, each state lottery is different and that means some are better than others. The biggest difference between them is that only 11 states allow players to buy and play lottery online. Some other states allow online purchases through a third-party service that buys the physical ticket on your behalf. Here we focus on the top lottery sites for US players.
Lotteries are gambling games based on the random draw of numbers from a larger set of numbers. Typically, you choose six numbers, and if your choice matches the random draw, you win. You don't have to match all your numbers to win, as lotteries offer smaller prizes for tickets that match only some of the numbers drawn.
From the price you pay for your lottery ticket, a large percentage goes to fund the prizes. Some go in state taxes and operating expenses, and the income usually pays for state spending priorities such as education and other worthy causes.
As an example, the New Hampshire lottery gives 25% of each ticket to fund schools. The prize fund gets 63% while ticket sellers get 6%. Another 6% goes in administrative expenses and cost of sales. The NH lottery boasts that it has provided over $2 billion to schools since it launched in 1964.
There are 44 states and 3 US territories that operate lotteries. In all states with lottery offerings, you must be at least 18 to play online; in some states, the minimum age is 21. The most popular lottery games are generally those offering the biggest prizes. The Mega Millions and Powerball games are available in so many states that the games are virtually nationwide. If you want to play the lottery online these two are top choices, though there are other options as well.
For just $2 you can buy a ticket in the Mega Millions, where prizes run into hundreds of millions of dollars. You pick five numbers between 1 and 70 and one gold Mega Ball number between 1 and 25. There are nine different ways to win but the grand prize comes if you get all six numbers correct. The biggest payout was an astounding $1.53 billion.
One ticket in every 24 should win a prize. One ticket in every 12,607,306 should pay out $1 million. Available in 45 states, the Mega Millions is one of the most popular ways to play the US lottery online.
Powerball works the same way as the Mega Millions. Pick your five favorite numbers plus one for the red Powerball. Again, there are nine ways to win, with the odds set so that one $2 ticket in 24 wins a prize. Your odds of winning a million are slightly better at 1 in 11,688,053.52! The biggest payout in lottery history went to a Powerball jackpot winner who took home $1.58 billion.
Of all the lottery types in USA legal gambling, the Powerball and Mega Millions offer the biggest payouts. Powerball is the oldest; it first ran in 1992 and is now available in 45 states.
In 23 of the 44 states with the lottery, you can play Lucky for Life. The game offers two top prizes. The first is $1,000 a day for life, while the second place pays $25,000 a year for life. There are smaller prizes for matching fewer numbers, including just picking the Lucky Ball which pays out $4. Tickets cost $2.
Cash4Life is run by New Jersey for a group of 10 states. It offers top prizes of $1,000 a day for life (or $7 million cash) and $1,000 a week for life. The odds of winning something are as low as 1 in 8, and tickets are $2 each.
Daily lotteries mean you don't have to wait long to find out if you've won. Dailies usually use fewer numbers, so to win the highest prizes you only need to get four numbers right. Prizes top out at up to $200,000 rather than millions. Ticket prices for Dailies can be as low as $0.50.
The original Little Lotto was an Illinois Lottery game now called Lucky Day Lotto. Little Lotto games offer lower ticket prices and fewer numbers to pick. In some states, they run seven days a week. Jackpots are comparatively small but you have a higher chance of winning.
If you can't wait to find out if you've won, Instant Win games are for you. As the name suggests, as soon as you've chosen your numbers you find out if you've won. They work just like the scratch cards you buy in stores.
Some states have deals in place with their near neighbors to offer combined lottery games. The TriState Megabucks Plus is an example. Run by Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, the game offers $1 million jackpots. The relatively low jackpot means there are more mid-size prizes, and odds of winning any prize are a low 5.8 to 1.
Online lottery ticket sales began in 2012 when Illinois first allowed its citizens to buy lotto tickets online. The Land of Lincoln is now one of the 11 states that have entered the internet age. Unfortunately, you can't just search online lottery websites and play the lottery. To play online you need to sign up with your own state lottery. Very few lotteries allow non-residents to buy online lottery tickets.
The Mega Millions is run by the Georgia lottery but players in 45 states/US territories can take part. All 11 states that offer lottery tickets online support the Mega Millions. That includes the Megaplier feature that multiplies your winnings from the smaller prizes. Some states also offer the "Just the Jackpot" option in which you get two plays for $3 but can only win the jackpot prize. Normal tickets are $2 a play. The Mega Millions draw takes place every Tuesday and Friday. The top jackpot can reach over $1.5 billion.
Powerball tickets cost $2 each and draw takes place every Wednesday and Saturday evening. As long as you live in a state where online ticket sales are legal you can buy tickets online any day of the week. For an extra $1 you can opt for the Power Play tickets that multiply prizes by from two to 10 times. Power Play excludes the jackpot and the 10x multiplier only applies when the jackpot is under $150 million.
Powerball is responsible for the largest jackpot in lottery history. In January 2016, three couples (one each from Tennessee, Florida and California) shared a jackpot of $1.58 billion.
One of the first states to take its lottery online, launched online lottery ticket sales in 2012. You must be a Georgia resident over 18 years old to buy online lotto tickets.
Top lottery games on offer include Mega Millions, Powerball, Cash4Life, Monopoly for Life, Fantasy5 and Keno. The online Players Club offers second chance drawings for free prizes and exclusive online-only games. Apps are available for mobiles using iOS or Android operating systems.
Learn More About Gambling in Georgia
Alongside the Powerball and Mega Millions the Illinois Lottery runs the Lotto Extra Shot game. For $2 you get three draws where the top prize is $1 million. The original Lotto and Lucky Day Lotto offer more games with six- and seven-figure prizes.
Pick 3 and Pick 4 games run twice a day and each has a Fireball option. You pay an extra $0.50 or $1 and get an extra ball to increase your chances of winning the smaller prizes. Illinois has apps for Apple iOS and Google Android devices so you can play on your mobile.
Learn More About Gambling in Illinois
The Kentucky Lottery went online in 2016. Lucky for Life, Keno and Cash Ball 225 are the next most popular games after the Mega Millions and Powerball. Cash Ball costs $1 per ticket and offers odds of winning a prize of 10.7 to 1. Lucky for Life gives an even higher chance of winning with any prize odds of 7.8 to 1. The top prize is $1,000 a day for the rest of your life.
Mobile players can download apps for Android and iOS devices. The Fun Club for online players offers players second-chance prizes and other promotions. Prizes include cash, tickets and Kentucky Lottery-themed merchandise.
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The Michigan Lottery runs one of the best online lotto sites with a total of 266 games on offer. The big games, Powerball and Mega Millions are there, together with Lucky for Life and Lotto 47. As the name suggests, Lotto 47 offers a 47-to-1 chance of winning any prize with tickets priced at $1. The jackpot always starts at $1 million and rolls over every week it is unclaimed.
Slightly smaller prizes are on offer with the multi-state Fantasy5 game. Tickets are a dollar each but the chance of having a win is high at just 9 to 1. Take the EZmatch option for an extra $1 and your odds increase to 5 to 1.
If you like to spread your luck across many games, the Michigan online lottery offers games from as low as $0.05. For that price you get the chance to win as much as $60,000. Double your stake to $0.10 and you can enter games like the Michigan Cash Club, which has a top prize of $100,000.
Michigan launched online ticket sales in 2016 and is now one of the top lottery websites. To play you must be a US citizen, resident in Michigan and over 18. New players can try out free Keno and Instant games before playing for real money.
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Even if you're just visiting New Hampshire, you can buy online lotto tickets. It is one of the few states that don't demand that players are officially a resident in the state.
The New Hampshire iLottery lets you purchase tickets from desktop or mobile device. Most attention is on the $2 buy-in Mega Millions and Powerball games, but there are a lot of other games on offer.
Lower-priced online lottery games include Shamrock Winnings at $1 a ticket with a $200,000 top prize; Lakes Region Luck, where a $0.10 ticket gives a shot at a $100,000 first prize; and Cash Avenue, a game that offers a $50,000 jackpot for just $0.05 a ticket.
Learn More About Gambling in New Hampshire
North Carolina and Illinois lottery websites share the same design and offer a similar selection of online lottery games. Neither qualifies as the best online lottery, but they are functional and easy to use. North Carolina is one of the youngest state lotteries, first launched in 2005.
The North Carolina Education Lottery offers Mega Millions, Lucky for Life, Cash 5, Pick 3, Pick 4, Keno and the Powerball lotteries. Fast-Play games and Scratch-Offs complete the product lineup. The cheapest games start from $1, but there are two scratch-off games that offer $1 million and $10 million jackpots at $30 per ticket.
Learn More About Gambling in North Carolina
Online ticket sales at the North Dakota Lottery are only available for multi-state games. Game selection is limited to Powerball, Lucky for Life, Mega Millions, Lotto America and 2BY2. You can purchase tickets to these games using the Pick & Click service. This works from the website but is also available for Apple iOS and Google Android mobile devices.
Lotto America is operated by 13 states. You can buy Lotto tickets for $1, and the game comes with a minimum jackpot of $2 million. 2BY2 is a game operated by North Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. The game only offers a jackpot of $22,000 from a $1 ticket. However, the odds of winning a prize are very high at 3.59 to 1.
Learn More About Gambling in North Dakota
In 2017, Pennsylvania embraced online gaming with new laws that legalized online casino, poker, sports betting and online lotteries. Pennsylvanians can play online, buy online lotto tickets and access a full suite of online gaming products. In fact the Pennsylvania lottery has such a large variety of games that the local casinos are suing the lottery because some of the games are too much like online slots.
The PA lottery website offers the obvious big money jackpot games such as Powerball, Mega Millions and Cash4Life. It also provides another 90 or so games with a wide range of ticket prices and jackpot sizes. Scratch-Offs, Fast-Play games and Keno are all available and you can even play Xpress sports. These games simulate car racing and horse races with events starting every four minutes.
There is a VIP Club that offers benefits such as giveaways, coupons and exclusive offers. All-in-all Pennsylvania has one of the best online lotto sites.
Learn More About Gambling in Pennsylvania
Online lotteries offer something different in every state. Rhode Island's online lottery has three in-house games only available to its own players: The Numbers, Bingo and Wild Money.
Wild Money is the biggest of these. The largest Jackpot it ever paid out was $601,206. The odds of hitting the top prize are a comparatively low 501,942 to 1. Entry costs $1 and draws are held every day. If you are looking for bigger prizes, you can also purchase tickets to the Mega Millions, Cash4Life and Powerball.
Learn More About Gambling in Rhode Island
The Virginia Lottery sold its first online lottery ticket in 2018. Now it has one of the widest selections of online lottery games in the US. You can buy online lottery tickets using your mobile device or through the lottery website.
Virginia offers all the big multi-state games such as the Mega Millions, Powerball, Cash4Life and Cash 5. It also has its own in-house games like Raffle. There are only half a million Raffle tickets and the lottery sells them at the end of the year. Four tickets will win $1 million, six win $100,000 and 500 win $500. A great way to celebrate the New Year.
There are Instants and Scratchers if you want to know whether you are a winner straight away. Games cost from as little as $0.05 and offer jackpots up to as much as $500,000.
Learn More About Gambling in Virginia
Online lottery began with Illinois, which offered the first online lottery tickets in 2012. Now 11 states allow you to play US lottery online and others permit online sales through licensed third-party vendors such as Jackpot.
Here are the states where you can buy lottery tickets online legally and/or use the online Jackpocket app:
|State||Online (Yes or Jackpocket)|
|New Hampshire||Yes & Jackpocket|
|Washington, DC||Yes & Jackpocket|
|Virginia||Yes & Jackpocket|
You may not buy online lottery tickets unless you are over 18. Each state has its own regulations, but generally you must be resident in a state before you are allowed to set up an online lottery account. When it comes time to buy tickets online, you must be within the state borders.
All online lottery sites will explain how to play the lottery online and how to buy lottery tickets. There are many types of lottery tickets and many different games available. But all online lotteries follow a similar process; you should find it easy if you follow these steps:
Variations on these steps include picking numbers from two number sets for the big lotteries such as Powerball. Instant Win tickets let you know if you are a winner immediately - no need to check back. In states where permitted, you can use a subscription to pay for many lottery entries at the same time.
There are now multiple options for playing the lottery on mobile devices. The basic steps are the same whether you use an Apple iOS device or Google Android, but you do have to download and install the app. Apple iOS apps are available from the App Store. Your state lottery site will display a link for you to follow. Android apps are more often hosted directly by the lottery so you can download them directly.
To install the app for Android you may have to change your security permissions in settings you allow installation from an unknown source. After that it’s just as easy as playing from your desktop.
If you stick to the online lotteries listed above, you can safely buy tickets online. All are licensed in their individual states and regulated by experts. Your money is safe in your online account, your deposits and withdrawals will be processed swiftly and securely. This is not the case with offshore sites. You never know if the games are fair at an offshore site or whether you will get your money if you do hit the jackpot.
While you are looking for an online lotto site you may come across a number of different sites that are not the official lottery provider in your state. Be careful as some of these are unsafe.
The sites you are looking for are the official lottery sites where you can buy lotto tickets online legally and safely. These are regulated under strict laws and offer player protections from problem gambling as well as legal protections for your money and your winnings. You know that the online lotteries offered at these sites run strictly according to the odds quoted on the site. In general, if you want to play lottery online, these sites are the most trusted.
Lottery agents promise to buy lottery tickets for you. They also promise to pay you any money you win from those tickets. That's a lot of trust to place in unknown online lottery websites. Of course, some are legitimate businesses, such as Jackpocket. However, in principle, it's best to steer clear unless you are sure the site is properly regulated. Go with the official sites instead.
Lottery betting sites offer a completely different approach to online lotteries. These allow you to wager on the outcome of state and national lotteries. There are some legitimate lottery betting sites, including one operated by William Hill. None of them are licensed to offer this form of betting in the US, so steer clear.
It is frustrating to see so many state lotteries with huge prizes if you live in a state that doesn't take part. Third-party websites tap into this frustration and offer to sell you online lottery tickets. These sites are not regulated by the states that run online lotteries. If you win a big prize, and you are not eligible to buy online lottery tickets, it is likely that the state will not pay you.
The Jackpocket lottery app enables you to buy lottery tickets online. It answers the question of how do you buy a lottery ticket online when your state lottery is retail sales only. Jackpot is currently licensed in 10 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Washington, DC.
Jackpocket buys the tickets on your behalf and secures them in a fireproof safe. If you have a big win, Jackpocket couriers the ticket to your home. It pays small wins directly.
There are a few states where you can take out a subscription to play lottery online games. You can pay to play for weeks, months or even a year. The subscription uses the same numbers every time and notifies you if you have won. Maine, Maryland, New York and Virginia currently allow online subscriptions.
Most state online lotteries restrict sales to people either present in the state or resident in the state. There are 44 US states with lotteries, 11 with online lotteries. If you can't legally buy an online ticket, then you should be able to buy one from a retail outlet. If your state prohibits lotteries, all you can do is lobby for new laws. There is no point in trying to buy tickets if you can't collect your winnings because your ticket is disqualified.
The thought of winning the lottery may have crossed your mind at some point! If that dream comes true, then know that there is a process for collecting large wins. Internet lotteries payout wins less than $600 direct to your online account. Wins below $10,000 are normally wired to your bank account. Jackpot wins in the millions of dollars usually come with the option to take a lump sum or an annuity.
If you win the Mega Millions or the Powerball, the annuity is paid annually for 30 years. Each year the amount increases by 5%. Alternatively, you can take your winnings as a single payment. Before you decide, you should take some financial advice. Lottery winnings are taxable, and an annuity can put off much of the tax to a future date.
Small wins are paid out in cash by lottery ticket retailers or direct to whatever method you use to withdraw from your online account. The limit on electronic withdrawals is normally $9,999 to comply with federal anti-money laundering laws. But the reason we play the lottery is the chance of a large win, an astronomical life-changing moment. If it does happen, then things are a little different.
Large wins are more complicated and you usually have to choose between two options: a lump sum or an annuity. Either way the cash will be paid directly into your bank account. Before making the decision you should take financial advice. Think about how important a secure future income stream is compared to the current value of the lump sum.
The lump sum provides pays a single payment of your entire winnings. As lottery winnings are taxable, you pay all the tax due in the tax year when you take the lump sum. There are many stories about lottery winners who spent all their money. It can be difficult to manage the sudden transition to great wealth; annuities remove some of that risk.
If you choose to take your winnings as an annuity, you will receive a proportion of your winnings each year over a number of years. For example, the Mega Millions annuity option pays out an immediate amount and then 29 annual payments. Each year the amount increases by 5%. You pay taxes only on what you receive each year. Annuities pay out more cash than lump sums, but the present day value of each should be the same. The present day value discounts future payments to account for inflation.
There's no escaping the taxman. Lottery winnings are subject to federal taxes and state taxes in most states. Income taxes don't apply, but winnings over $5,000 are subject to withholding tax. This is charged at the rate of 24%, though the actual amount owed come tax time will depend on your tax bracket.
The IRS website explains the documentation:
“Regular gambling withholding is figured on the total amount of gross proceeds (the amount of winnings minus the amount wagered), not merely on the amount in excess of $5,000.
Report the amount you withheld in box 4 of Form W-2G. Also, file Form 945, Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax, to report all your gambling withholding.”
State taxes on lottery winnings vary from a high of 10.75% in New Jersey to 1% in Tennessee. Be aware that some states garnish lottery winnings if you have outstanding debts or fines.
You need a lot of luck to win one of the life-changing lottery prizes. However, there are a few ways to give yourself the best chance of winning while getting the most entertainment for your money.
Every state-regulated lottery lists the odds of winning for each prize in each game. Check these out and use the knowledge to decide which game you want to play. Lower odds numbers mean you will win prizes more often.
The prize distribution is important. Lotteries with lots of small prizes mean you are likely to win something more often. If all the prize money is concentrated in the top prizes, you will win smaller sums when you only match some of the winning numbers.
When jackpots go without a declared winner, they often roll over to the next draw. Your odds of winning don't change, but you can win more money for your stake. Rollovers offer the best value for money.
The only way to increase your chance of winning a big prize is to buy more tickets. Don't buy more tickets than you can afford. The easiest way to increase your win probability is to join a syndicate of friends or colleagues that buy multiple tickets together.
Pick the numbers you like. All numbers have an equal chance of winning, so choose the numbers that you feel are lucky for you. You won't increase your chances of winning, but it's more fun to win using numbers that mean something personally, such as children's birthdays.
All lotteries offer different odds for their games and the prizes within those games. The odds of winning the Powerball lottery main prize are 1 in 292,201,338. Fortunately, the odds of winning any prize are better at 1 in 24. All state lotteries must display the odds of winning for each game and each prize. They also list the odds of winning any prize. You can use these figures to compare games and lotteries.
The growth of online lottery and the collaboration between states have created some unbelievably large lottery wins. It is now possible to become not just a millionaire, but a billionaire if you buy the right types of lottery tickets.
|Lottery Game||Winning Amount||Location||Name of Winner(s)|
|Powerball||$1.58 billion||Tennessee, Florida, California||John and Lisa Robinson; Maureen Smith and David Kaltschmidt; Marvin and Mae Acosta|
|Mega Millions||$1.53 billion||South Carolina||Anonymous winner|
|Mega Millions||$1.05 billion||Michigan||Wolverine FLL Club|
|Powerball||$768.4 million||Wisconsin||Manuel Franco|
|Powerball||$758.7 million||Massachusetts||Mavis Wanczyk|
|Powerball||$687.8 million||New York||Robert Bailey; Lerynne West|
|Mega Millions||$656 million||Illinois, Maryland, Kansas||Merle and Patricia Butler, “The Three Amigos,” anonymous winner|
|Mega Millions||$648 million||Georgia, California||Ira Curry, Steve Tran|
|Powerball||$590.5 million||Florida||Gloria McKenzie|
|Mega Millions||$543 million||California||Group of co-workers|
Yes. You can buy lottery tickets online. You must open an account at your local state online lottery site. Choose which game you wish to play, select what will hopefully be winning numbers and buy your tickets. At most of the state lotteries, you can even buy tickets in advance. So, with a single payment, you are entered into a month's worth of games.
Each state-regulated lottery exists because the legislature passed laws to allow online lottery. So long as you buy tickets at your state lottery then it is legal to buy them online. Just as importantly, when you play lottery legally, you know your money is safe. Your deposits are held secure from fraud and your withdrawals are processed swiftly through the US banking system. If you buy lottery tickets from an offshore supplier, perhaps for an overseas lottery, it is not illegal to do so in most states. However, it is unwise. Should anything go wrong, you have no legal recourse whatsoever, and there is no regulator that can help you.
The best legal lottery site is the one that allows you to play. Most Americans can only play the lottery in the state where they reside. A few lotteries allow state visitors to play, but generally states set up lotteries for their own residents. That said, some state lotteries offer a much better experience than others. Michigan and Pennsylvania offer great online lottery websites with a superb spread of games. Each state with an online lottery tries to make itself special in some way or other. The Virginia Lottery Raffle game is a good example. It pays prizes to 1% of the tickets including four prizes of $1 million. The Raffle runs once a year with tickets going on sale in November.
To get the most out of playing the lottery, you should decide which games work best for you. When you play games with low ticket prices you can afford to buy more tickets increasing your chances of a win. Other games distribute the prizes so that there are few winners but the prizes are large. Some do the opposite so that a high percentage of players will win something even if it isn't a life-changing amount. Play the game that you can afford and that you will enjoy. Then you'll soon know that the best lottery ticket to buy is a winning ticket. If your ticket isn't the big one at least you will have fun playing.
A quick pick is a service offered by almost all lotteries. Instead of choosing numbers yourself, you let the lottery operator choose them for you. This is done totally randomly.
Most online lotteries offer scratch-off tickets. These let you know if you have won without having to wait for a lottery draw. Prices usually run from $1 to $30 with prizes often running into six figures. Some games have jackpot prizes of a million dollars or more.
Each lottery game is slightly different, but all work on the same principle. You choose a set of numbers and buy a ticket that lists those numbers. At a predetermined time and date, the operator draws the winning numbers. If the numbers on your ticket match the draw, then you win the jackpot prize. Even if only some of your numbers match you can still win a smaller prize.
If you want to play lottery online, you must first choose a site that allows you to play. This depends on which state you are in. First register with the site to open your account. Then you can explore the games on offer and decide which to play. When you are ready you simply choose your numbers, pay for the tickets and wait for the draw. Online sites notify you if you win a prize and transfer the money to your account.
"Over the last 10 years Joss has written about all aspects of online gambling for numerous sites. After a career as an Army officer, he spent time in business before taking up online poker. He lives in Peru with his family."