Skip to Content

How can I buy a US lottery ticket?

Playing the lottery is a popular pastime for many people across the United States. With giant jackpots up for grabs, it’s no wonder people love to try their luck. But if you’re not from the US, you may be wondering how you can get in on the action and buy a ticket for yourself.

Can non-US citizens play the US lottery?

The short answer is yes! While state lotteries have different rules, generally there are no citizenship or residency requirements to buy a ticket. As long as you are physically located in the US at the time of purchase, you can play.

That said, there are a few limitations to be aware of:

  • You must be physically present in the US to buy a ticket. Lottery tickets cannot be purchased online or by mail from outside the country.
  • If you win a prize, you may be subject to a tax withholding. Non-resident aliens pay a tax rate of 30% on gambling winnings.
  • Some states may require you to have a Social Security Number or Individual Tax Identification Number to collect substantial prizes.
  • The lottery ticket must be cashed in the state in which it was purchased. Winnings cannot be transported across state lines or international borders.

As long as you are aware of the rules, nothing prevents non-Americans from buying those lucky numbers!

Where can I buy lottery tickets in the US?

Lottery tickets are sold at thousands of licensed retailer locations across the United States. Here are some of the most common places you can buy lottery tickets:

  • Convenience stores – Small shops like 7-Eleven often sell lottery tickets at the checkout counter.
  • Gas stations – Many fuel stations, like Circle K and BP, offer lottery tickets next to the cash register.
  • Supermarkets – Major grocery store chains, like Albertsons and Kroger, have self-serve lottery machines near the exits.
  • Drug stores – Pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid typically carry lottery scratch-offs at the register.
  • Liquor stores – Many alcohol retailers, like BevMo!, sell lottery tickets in addition to booze.

Basically any shop, gas station, pharmacy, or market that sells lottery tickets will have a sign advertising that fact. Just look for ticket machines, point of purchase displays, or the familiar lottery logo.

What types of lottery games are available?

There are several major lottery games operated in the United States:

Multi-state jackpot games

These lottery games are offered in multiple states and linked to create enormous, multimillion dollar jackpots. The two biggest are:

  • Powerball – Played in 45 states. Jackpots start at $40 million and can grow to over $1 billion.
  • Mega Millions – Played in 45 states. Jackpots start at $40 million and have exceeded $1.5 billion.

For both Powerball and Mega Millions, players select 5 main numbers from 1-69, plus one Powerball number from 1-26. Other smaller prizes are also available for matching some numbers.

Statewide jackpot games

These lottery games are only available within an individual state. Popular examples include:

  • California SuperLotto Plus – Play 5 of 47 numbers plus a Mega number for a shot at a multimillion dollar jackpot.
  • Florida Lotto – Choose 6 numbers from 1 to 53 for a chance to win jackpots starting around $2 million.
  • New York Lotto – Also pick 6 of 59 numbers. Jackpots begin at $2 million and roll over if unclaimed.

State lottery jackpot games have smaller prizes and lower odds than massive multistate games, but jackpots can still grow into the tens of millions of dollars.

Scratch-off instant games

These lottery tickets come pre-printed with symbols that you scratch off to reveal prizes. They are fast, easy to play, and offer immediate gratification. Scratchers range in price from $1 to $50 per ticket. Prizes may be small free tickets or massive million dollar jackpots. They are available in single tickets or packs.

Daily draw games

Some lotteries hold a drawing once or twice per day. Players can purchase tickets and then watch or check numbers to see if they win smaller prizes ranging from free plays up to tens of thousands of dollars. Examples include:

  • Pick 3/Pick 4 – Match 3 or 4 numbers in the exact order drawn.
  • Cash 5 – Match 5 of 37 to 43 numbers.
  • Lucky for Life – Match 5 of 48 numbers plus a Lucky Ball for a lifelong annuity.

These “numbers games” have better odds but smaller prizes than the big jackpot games. Drawings are typically televised and winning numbers are widely published.

How do I actually buy a lottery ticket?

The process of purchasing a lottery ticket is straightforward. Just follow these steps:

  1. Find an authorized lottery retailer in the state you wish to play. Look for the lottery logo or point-of-sale materials.
  2. Wait in line if needed. Lottery ticket sales are busiest right before a large drawing.
  3. When it’s your turn, tell the cashier which lottery game and ticket you want or insert money into a self-serve machine.
  4. Specify your numbers. You can choose your own or ask for computer-generated Quick Picks.
  5. Pay for your ticket(s). Prices start as low as $1 and go up to $10 or $20 for multiple plays.
  6. The cashier will print out a receipt with your ticket information and numbers. Keep this secure!

Some key points:

  • You must pay cash for lottery tickets. Retailers do not accept checks, credit cards, or debit cards for lottery purchases.
  • Only individuals 18 years or older can purchase lottery tickets. Be prepared to show a valid government-issued ID.
  • Double check that your numbers and game choices are correct before leaving the counter.
  • Sign the back of the ticket for security purposes and store it in a safe place.

Buying lottery tickets takes just a minute or two once you’re familiar with the process!

Can I improve my chances of winning?

Winning the jackpot ultimately comes down to incredible luck. But there are some tips that may marginally improve your odds:

  • Buy multiple tickets – The more number combinations you play, the better your chances of matching the winning draw.
  • Join an office pool – Splitting bulk ticket purchases with others nets you more number coverage.
  • Mix up number selection strategies – Use birthdays, “lucky” numbers, Quick Picks, etc. to vary the numbers.
  • Take advantage of promotions – Some lotteries offer contests, bonuses, or 2nd chance drawings.
  • Check your ticket carefully – Make sure you don’t miss matching a winning number by accident.

However, the odds are still overwhelmingly against you. Even splitting a bulk ticket purchase can’t overcome the fact you’ve more chance of being struck by lightning!

What are the odds of winning?

The chances of hitting the jackpot are infinitesimally small for every major lottery game:

Lottery Game Jackpot Odds
Powerball 1 in 292,201,338
Mega Millions 1 in 302,575,350
California SuperLotto Plus 1 in 41,416,353
Florida Lotto 1 in 22,957,480
New York Lotto 1 in 45,057,474

The chances of winning smaller prizes are more reasonable, but still unlikely. For example, matching 3 numbers might have odds of 1 in 60. But overall, the lottery heavily favors the house.

Can I buy lottery tickets online?

Purchasing official state lottery tickets over the internet is not legal at this time. The only way to buy tickets is in person from licensed retailers. Some key reasons why online sales are prohibited:

  • Online sales would violate the federal Wire Act and state gaming laws.
  • Lack of rigorous age and ID verification online.
  • Security concerns with collecting winnings anonymously.
  • Online sales would compete with brick-and-mortar retailers.

While you cannot buy real lottery tickets on the internet, some regulated gambling sites do offer betting, pools, sweepstakes, or fantasy-style contests that pay out if you match numbers on real-world drawings. These can essentially simulate lottery play.

However, only physical lottery tickets purchased in-state can actually win the official jackpots and prizes promoted by the state. Buying tickets online or from unauthorized sellers is illegal and risky.

Are lottery winnings taxed?

Yes, lottery prizes are considered taxable income under US tax law. So if you are lucky enough to hit a jackpot, you will owe taxes. Here’s how it works:

  • For prizes over $5,000, the lottery withholds 24% in federal taxes immediately upon payout.
  • You’ll get a W2-G form reporting the full prize amount and withheld taxes.
  • When filing taxes, your winnings are reported as “Other Income” on Form 1040.
  • You may owe additional federal tax, plus applicable state taxes on net income.
  • For massive jackpots, the top tax rate is 37% federally and up to 13.3% in some states.

So a $1 billion Powerball jackpot would actually pay out around $380 million after all taxes! Still a massive fortune, but winnings do get hit hard at tax time.

Do I have to claim lottery prizes publicly?

State lotteries heavily publicize big winners to promote their games. However, you may be able to remain anonymous in certain cases:

  • For small prizes below $600, you can typically claim anonymously with just the ticket.
  • Some states allow you to claim larger prizes via a trust or LLC so the real winner is shielded.
  • A few states like Delaware and Kansas explicitly allow winners to stay anonymous.
  • Hiring a lawyer can help you navigate any anonymity options in the state you won.

Just know that for huge Powerball or Mega Millions jackpots, complete anonymity is very tough. Lotteries want the publicity, so expect your name and photo to be newsworthy!

Are there risks associated with winning?

Yes, winning a massive lottery prize comes with some downsides as well:

  • You’ll be hounded by long-lost friends, charities, scammers, and family asking for money.
  • Envy and resentment may damage relationships with friends who didn’t win.
  • Sudden wealth changes priorities and strains marriages.
  • You may be overwhelmed trying to manage your new fortune.
  • Bankruptcy or other losses affect about 1/3 of big jackpot winners.

It’s critical to assemble a team of financial planners, lawyers, and investment pros to help you adjust and protect your windfall. Take time to figure out your priorities before spending lavishly or giving money away.

Are lotteries ever rigged or fixed?

Fortunately, lottery games in the US operate via sophisticated systems that make cheating extremely difficult:

  • Lottery ball machines and drawing rooms are heavily secured and monitored.
  • Independent auditors witness all drawings and verify results.
  • Lottery computer systems utilize encryption and redundancy.
  • Retailers cannot validate winning tickets or payouts on their own.
  • Players can anonymously claim winnings through the mail.

While occasional retailer fraud has occurred, the drawings themselves are conducted securely. This ensures fair odds for all participants.


Playing the lottery as a non-US resident is surprisingly straightforward. As long as you are physically within state lines when you buy tickets in person, you can participate and claim potential prizes. With jackpots frequently exceeding nine figures, it’s no wonder foreigners flock to get in on the action!

Just be sure to play responsibly. The odds of winning are microscopically low, and randomly generated Quick Pick numbers are just as likely to succeed as any other “strategy.” Have fun dreaming about what you’d do with a windfall, but use good judgement with your actual lottery spending.