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Can anyone register for the US lottery?

Registering for the lottery in the United States varies by state, as each state government oversees its own lottery system. Generally speaking, to play the lottery in a particular state, you must be a resident of that state and physically located there when purchasing tickets. However, there are some exceptions that allow non-residents and tourists to participate as well.

The basic requirements to register for and play the lottery in any U.S. state are:

  • You must be at least 18 or 21 years old, depending on the state
  • You need to be physically located within the borders of that state when purchasing tickets
  • In some states, you must show valid photo ID proving your age and identity

Some key things to know:

  • There is no national lottery system in the U.S. Each state operates its own lottery independently.
  • Powerball and Mega Millions are multi-state lottery games that can be played in most states, but you still need to purchase tickets within the state while physically present there.
  • A handful of states do allow lottery ticket purchases by out-of-state residents if they meet certain conditions.
  • Tourists can purchase lottery tickets as long as they are within state borders at the time of purchase.

Below we’ll take a closer look at the rules and regulations around playing the lottery in the U.S. for residents versus non-residents.

Can U.S. residents play lottery in any state?

In general, U.S. residents can only legally purchase lottery tickets within the state where they reside. So if you live in New York, for example, you cannot cross the border into New Jersey or Connecticut to buy lottery tickets there. Some key rules:

  • You must be a resident of that state.
  • You need to purchase tickets while you are physically located within state borders.
  • State lottery agencies verify residency requirements when you claim any substantial prize.

There are only a handful of exceptions that allow you to play outside your home state:

  • New Hampshire and Vermont residents can cross between states to purchase tickets.
  • Delaware allows Maryland residents who work in Delaware to purchase tickets there.
  • In a few smaller border towns, adjoining state residents can cross over to play.

But in general, sticking to playing the lottery in your home state is the rule. Powerball and MegaMillions are the major multi-state games, but even then, you need to buy your tickets from an authorized retailer when physically present in the state. Every state lottery also has additional in-state draw games and scratchers that out-of-state residents cannot play.

Why can’t U.S. residents easily play in multiple states?

There are a few key reasons why U.S. lottery rules restrict players to purchasing tickets in their home state only:

  • State budgets – Lottery revenues go to supporting state budgets and programs. States want to keep that money within their own borders.
  • Regulatory issues – Each state lottery has their own rules, taxes, and regulations. Playing across states makes things complicated.
  • Technical limitations – Lottery systems are tied to retailer terminals within state borders. Tickets are not transferable across states.
  • Geopolitical factors – State lotteries are essentially competitors with each other for players. States have no incentive to make it easier for residents to play other lotteries.

So for most lottery players in the U.S., you’ll need to play the lottery within the state where you reside. The only option to legally play other U.S. state lotteries is to travel and purchase tickets while visiting those states.

Can non-residents and tourists play the lottery in the U.S.?

Tourists and other visitors to the U.S. can generally purchase lottery tickets in the state they are visiting, as long as they meet the age requirements. Some key pointers for tourists wanting to play the lottery:

  • You must be physically present within that state’s borders at the time of ticket purchase.
  • Provide valid photo ID proving your age (18+ or 21+ depending on the state).
  • Only certain states allow lottery ticket purchases by international tourists. Check state laws.
  • There are no restrictions on collecting smaller instant/scratcher prizes as a tourist.
  • You may need to fill out tax forms and claim winnings in person for larger jackpot prizes.

The ability for non-residents and foreign visitors to claim substantial lottery prizes does vary between states. Here are some state-by-state policies on prize collection:

State Non-resident Prize Claims
California Prizes up to $600 can be claimed by mail. Larger prizes must be collected in person in California.
Illinois Prizes over $250 must be collected in person. Lower prizes can be claimed by mail.
New York Prizes over $100 must be collected in person. Tax forms required for wins over $600.
Texas Prizes up to $5 million can be claimed by mail. Larger jackpots require in-person claim in Texas.
Florida All prizes must be collected in person at Florida Lottery offices.

So in summary, buying lottery tickets as a tourist in the U.S. is allowed in most states, but actually collecting substantial prizes may require travel back to the state. Be sure to check individual state lottery policies.

Can you purchase lottery tickets online?

There are currently no U.S. state lotteries that sell lottery tickets directly online or through mobile apps. All ticket purchases have to be made in-person at authorized retail locations. Here are some key reasons why online lottery sales are not allowed:

  • The federal Wire Act prohibits online lottery sales across state lines.
  • States argue online sales are difficult to regulate and could allow underage purchases.
  • Lottery retailers lobby against online sales which would impact their business.
  • States can promote in-person sales to boost activity at restaurants, stores, etc.

There are third-party courier services that will purchase tickets on your behalf within a state and deliver them to you. But the actual transaction has to take place at a physical retailer, not online.

However, a growing number of states do allow online registration for lottery loyalty programs and subscription plans:

  • Michigan – Play online provides registration for daily drawings, raffles, etc
  • New Hampshire – Subscription plans for Powerball/MegaMillions available online
  • North Carolina – Online subscriptions for picking “lucky numbers”
  • Virginia – Internet accounts for subscriptions and 2nd chance drawings

So while full online lottery ticket sales remain elusive in the U.S., states are expanding offerings to allow online management of lottery accounts and subscriptions. This provides some convenience for players while still requiring in-person purchases.

Are there ways to legally play other U.S. lotteries online?

While purchasing lottery tickets online across state lines is prohibited, there are a few limited ways to legally access other U.S. state lotteries remotely:

Third-Party Ticket Courier Services

Some private companies act as ticket couriers to purchase lottery tickets on your behalf:

  • You select and pay for the tickets online through the courier service.
  • They purchase tickets via authorized retailers within the state.
  • The tickets are scanned and delivered to you electronically.

This allows you to play lotteries in other states from home, but stays within the law since purchases happen in-person. However, terms and reliability can vary between services.

Secondary Ticket Marketplaces

There are secondary markets that allow players to re-sell lottery tickets:

  • Players can list unwanted tickets for resale to other individuals.
  • These are legitimate tickets legally purchased within the state.
  • Buyers pay the seller directly and tickets transfer electronically.

These marketplaces provide access to tickets from other states, but selection is limited and prices may be higher.

Commuter Purchases

For residents of communities along state borders, commuting to neighboring states to purchase tickets is allowable:

  • Players physically travel across state lines to lottery retailers.
  • Tickets must be purchased in-person while within that state’s borders.
  • Prizes can be claimed from either state following official procedures.

But such commuter purchases apply to a limited geographic area along state borders only.

What happens if you try to play the lottery illegally?

Attempting to purchase lottery tickets illegally across state lines or online could carry penalties:

  • Any winnings would be invalid and prizes confiscated.
  • Retailers and courier services enabling illegal purchases face loss of lottery licenses plus fines.
  • For individuals, possible charges for lottery fraud or gambling crimes depending on the state.
  • Potential federal charges for violating the Wire Act for online lottery sales.

While the odds of getting caught for small infractions are low, penalties can be severe for those enabling broader illicit lottery activities. State lottery agencies and law enforcement do monitor for illegal gambling operations.

Some recent cases of lottery-related crimes:

  • In 2021, federal prosecutors charged two men with conducting an illegal multi-million dollar online lottery business based in Georgia with ties to organized crime groups.
  • A retailer in Virginia was fined $25,000 in 2022 for allowing online lottery ticket sales via third-party apps.
  • In 2016, an Iraqi man in Syracuse, NY pleaded guilty to laundering over $1 million in lottery proceeds through illicit ticket purchases for an operation spanning 13 states.

While the odds of facing charges for personal infractions are extremely long, large-scale operations do carry real risks of substantial penalties. For the individual buyer, sticking to legally purchasing tickets within your home state avoids any issues.

Should the U.S. allow national online lottery play?

There is growing debate over whether U.S. lottery rules should be relaxed to allow online purchases and sales across state lines. Proponents argue:

  • Online lotteries operate successfully in many European countries already.
  • It provides convenience for consumers used to purchasing other goods and services online.
  • Strict age verification and responsible gambling controls could be implemented.
  • It allows states to expand revenues by accessing nationwide markets for jackpot games like Powerball/MegaMillions.

However, opponents counter that:

  • In-person sales provide tighter controls over age limits and problem gambling.
  • Online systems may be more vulnerable to rigging, hacking, and lottery crimes.
  • It will negatively impact thousands of small retailers who rely on lottery commissions.
  • Some states may gain advantage over others in competing for the same players.

There are also open legal questions around how interstate online lottery sales can be enabled while complying with the federal Wire Act ban on online gambling across borders.

Ultimately most state lottery agencies remain very cautious about online expansion due to regulatory concerns. Major change is unlikely in the short-term unless the Department of Justice provides guidance permitting online lottery sales under certain conditions. But the door remains open for states to explore modernizing lottery laws down the road to allow broader online participation.


U.S. lottery laws restrict play mainly to within state borders where you reside. But there are limited exceptions, as tourists can purchase tickets while visiting other states, and a small number of bordering states allow crossover purchases. While full online lottery play remains prohibited, states are slowly expanding options for online management of lottery memberships and subscriptions. Change may eventually come to allow regulated national online lottery play, but widespread state-level support does not yet exist. For now, lottery enthusiasts need to enjoy playing within their home state, take advantage of occasional travel opportunities, or utilize authorized third-party courier services if they want to legally access lotteries across the country. But attempted illicit lottery purchases do carry real penalties, so caution is warranted.