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How do you play Powerball for the first time?

Powerball is one of the most popular lottery games in the United States, offering jackpots that can grow to hundreds of millions of dollars. For first-time players, learning how to play Powerball can seem complicated at first. However, the basic concepts are actually quite simple. By following some key steps, even beginners can play Powerball and have a chance to win big prizes. This comprehensive guide will walk through everything you need to know to play Powerball for the first time.

What is Powerball?

Powerball is a multi-state lottery game operated by the Multi-State Lottery Association, along with the lotteries of 45 U.S. states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It holds the record for the largest lottery jackpot in history at $1.586 billion shared by three tickets in January 2016.

Powerball jackpots start at $40 million and continue growing until someone wins the jackpot. Tickets cost $2 per play. Players win prizes by matching some or all of the numbers drawn from two sets of numbers – a main set with 69 white balls and a Powerball set with 26 red Powerballs.

The game takes place every Wednesday and Saturday night at 10:59 p.m. ET, with the drawings airing live on many local TV stations. You do not have to watch the drawings to play or win; ticket sales cut off about an hour before the drawings take place.

How to Play Powerball

When you play Powerball, you have nine ways to win prizes. The jackpot is won by matching all 5 white balls in any order and the red Powerball. But you can also win smaller prizes for matching some of the numbers. Here is an overview of the nine Powerball prize levels:

Prize Level Match Average Odds (1 in X)
1 – Jackpot 5 white balls + 1 red Powerball 292,201,338
2 – $1,000,000 5 white balls 11,688,053
3 – $50,000 4 white balls + 1 red Powerball 913,129
4 – $100 4 white balls 36,525
5 – $100 3 white balls + 1 red Powerball 14,494
6 – $7 3 white balls 579
7 – $7 2 white balls + 1 red Powerball 701
8 – $4 1 white ball + 1 red Powerball 92
9 – $4 1 red Powerball 38

As you can see, the odds of winning the jackpot are very slim at 1 in 292 million. But the overall odds of winning any prize are 1 in 24.9. So you have a decent chance to win something.

Here are the step-by-step instructions for playing Powerball:

1. Pick 5 different white ball numbers

On a Powerball play slip, choose 5 numbers from 1 to 69. You can select your own numbers or do a “quick pick” and have the terminal randomly pick numbers for you. Each play costs $2.

2. Pick 1 red Powerball number

In the Powerball field on your play slip, pick one number from 1 to 26. This is your Powerball number.

3. Buy your ticket

Bring your completed play slip to a lottery retailer or give your selections to the cashier. You can buy tickets until around 10pm local time on the night of the drawing. Make sure you get a ticket as your receipt.

4. Check your ticket after the drawing

Wait for the Powerball drawings at 10:59pm ET on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Then check your ticket against the winning numbers which will be displayed at lottery retailers and published online. Match the numbers in any prize category to win.

5. Claim your prize

If you win a prize, sign the back of your ticket and keep it secure. Prizes up to $600 can sometimes be claimed at retailers. Larger prizes must be claimed at lottery offices – make sure you claim within the required timeframe, which varies by state.

Buying Your Powerball Ticket

When you go to purchase your Powerball ticket, you can choose a few different options for how you want to play.

Quick Pick vs Picking Your Own Numbers

The easiest way to play is to ask for a Powerball “quick pick” at the lottery terminal. This allows the computer to randomly select your 5 white ball numbers and your 1 Powerball number. This is the quickest method but you have no control over the numbers.

Alternatively, you can select your own numbers by filling out a Powerball play slip. This allows you to choose numbers that are meaningful to you. Many players use birthdays, anniversaries, addresses, phone numbers or other personal numbers. There is no advantage or disadvantage to picking your own numbers or using quick pick. Your odds of winning are the same either way.

Single Ticket vs Multiple Tickets

With each $2 Powerball ticket, you get one set of numbers to play. You can choose to buy just one ticket, or you can buy multiple tickets for the same drawing to increase your chances. The more tickets you buy, the better your odds are of winning.

Just know that buying 100 tickets does not guarantee you will win something. It simply increases the probability in your favor. For example, with one $2 ticket your odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 292 million. If you buy 100 tickets your odds improve to about 1 in 2.9 million.

Number of Drawings to Play

When purchasing your ticket, you also choose how many future drawings you want to play. You can play just the next drawing, or advance play up to 10 consecutive drawings (5 weeks worth).

Advance play allows you to buy tickets for future drawings so you don’t have to go back to the store each time. Just be aware that prizes expire after 1 year if unclaimed. So make sure to check your numbers after each drawing you play.

Ways to Win Prizes

Let’s look more closely at the nine Powerball prize levels and your chances of winning at each one.

Match 5 White Balls + Powerball to Win the Jackpot

The jackpot is won when you match all 5 white ball numbers in any order plus the red Powerball number. For example, if the drawing results were:

White balls: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Powerball: 6

And your ticket was:

White balls: 5, 3, 1, 2, 4
Powerball: 6

Then you win the jackpot! It doesn’t matter what order your white balls are drawn in. The odds of matching all 5 white balls plus the Powerball are 1 in 292,201,338.

Jackpot prizes can be paid out as either an annuity (30 payments over 29 years) or a lump sum cash option. Almost all jackpot winners take the cash payout which is lower than the advertised annuity amount.

Match Just the 5 White Balls to Win $1 Million

If you match all 5 white ball numbers but the Powerball number, you win the $1 million second prize. The odds of winning $1 million are much better than the jackpot at just 1 in 11,688,053.

Match 4 White Balls + Powerball to Win $50,000

Matching 4 of the white balls and the Powerball wins you the game’s third prize of $50,000. The odds are 1 in 913,129 of hitting 4 white balls and the Powerball.

Match 4 White Balls to Win $100

You win $100 if you match 4 out of the 5 white balls and no Powerball. There is a 1 in 36,525 chance of matching 4 white balls.

Match 3 White Balls + Powerball to Win $100

Matching 3 white balls and the Powerball combination wins the $100 fifth prize. Odds are 1 in 14,494.

Match 3 White Balls to Win $7

If you match 3 white balls and no Powerball number, you win the game’s smallest prize of $7. The odds of matching just 3 white balls are 1 in 579.

Match 1 or 2 White Balls + Powerball to Win $7 or $4

You can win small prizes of $7 or $4 for matching the Powerball and 1 or 2 white balls. Odds range from 1 in 701 to 1 in 38 of winning these small consolation prizes.

Important Tips for Playing Powerball

Here are some key tips to keep in mind when playing Powerball for the first time:

Look at the Odds, Not Just Jackpot Size

While it’s fun to dream about what you would do with a half billion dollar jackpot, your odds of winning it are beyond slim at 1 in 292 million. That can be hard to comprehend. Your overall chances of winning something are much better at 1 in 24.9. So go in with reasonable expectations.

Choose Both Personal and Random Numbers

Use a mix of favorite personal numbers and randomly generated numbers on your tickets. Some players only use birthdays, while others do only quick picks. Mixing it up adds more variety to your chances.

Give Unusual Number Combinations a Try

Many players go with predictable patterns on their play slips like 1,2,3,4,5 or 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 etc. Try scattering your numbers across the play board to mix it up. There are no “due” numbers.

Buy Tickets as a Group

Form a lottery pool or syndicate at your workplace, with friends or family members to buy more tickets together at a lower cost per person. Just be sure to create a binding legal agreement to divvy up any winnings later.

Use a Lottery App to Check Numbers

Use official state lottery apps to securely check the winning numbers after each drawing. This makes it easy to know if you have a winning ticket and saves you a trip to the store.

The Advantages of Playing Powerball

Why should you consider playing Powerball, besides just a chance to win a jackpot prize? Here are some of the key advantages:

Huge, Growing Jackpots

Powerball holds the world record jackpot of $1.586 billion from January 2016. And jackpots frequently grow to over $400 million before someone wins. Playing when the jackpot is especially large gets people excited.

Good Odds Versus Mega Millions

Your overall odds of winning a prize in Powerball (1 in 24.9) are better compared to Mega Millions (1 in 24). Powerball has better odds because the main ball pool is 69 vs just 70 balls in Mega Millions.

Lower Ticket Price Than Mega Millions

It costs $2 for a Powerball ticket versus $2 for a Mega Millions ticket now. Powerball used to be $1 until a few years ago. The $2 price point still makes it affordable entertainment.

Prize Payouts are Tax-Free

Winnings from the lottery are not considered taxable income by the IRS. So if you hit a Powerball jackpot you get to keep every penny (minus taxes withheld already).

Can Play Online in Some States

A growing number of states allow you to buy official lottery tickets online, including Powerball tickets. This makes playing more convenient than going to the store. Just ensure any online lottery site is approved by your state.

Contributes Funding to Good Causes

Money raised from Powerball ticket sales goes to fund public causes in each participating state. This includes education, environmental projects, services for the elderly and more.

The Potential Downsides of Powerball

While playing the lottery is fun entertainment for most people, there are some cautions to keep in mind so it doesn’t become problematic:

The Odds of Winning Are Extremely Low

Your chance of matching all six numbers to win the jackpot is 1 in 292 million. And even winning a $1 million second prize is 1 in 11.6 million. Understand the very slim odds of winning.

It’s Not a Good Return on Investment

For every $1 spent on Powerball tickets, the average return is just 50 cents. And for multimillion dollar jackpots, the return drops to 30 cents on the dollar. The lottery is entertainment, not a way to invest and build wealth.

Jackpots are Often Split

When Powerball jackpots reach huge amounts, it’s common for multiple players to win and share the top prize. The record $1.586 billion jackpot was split three ways. Lower tier prizes can also be split.

Taxes Eat Away at Winnings

Although lottery prizes aren’t taxed at the federal level, most states tax winnings above $5,000 or $10,000. And the top income tax rate of 37% applies. Up to 1/3 of a jackpot can go towards taxes.

Winners Often Make Mistakes

There are many stories of big lottery winners going broke in just a few years due to overspending. Without financial literacy, windfalls can be wasted. And winning can negatively impact relationships.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions people have about playing Powerball:

Is there a cutoff time to buy Powerball tickets?

Yes, ticket sales stop 1 to 2 hours before the 10:59 p.m. ET Wednesday and Saturday drawing, depending on your state. The deadline ranges from 9pm to 10:45pm local time. All tickets must be purchased by then.

Do all states participate in Powerball?

Currently 45 states plus Washington D.C, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands offer Powerball. The states without Powerball are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah. Mississippi joined Powerball in 2019.

Can you buy tickets in other states?

Yes, you can cross state lines to purchase Powerball tickets if you are visiting a participating lottery state. Tickets purchased out of state can still be won and claimed.

Can Powerball numbers be reused?

No, the 5 white balls are drawn from a pool of 69 balls and the Powerball is drawn from a separate pool of 26 red balls. Balls are never put back once drawn, ensuring no repeats.

How long do you have to claim your prize?

Claim deadlines vary by state but are generally between 90 days and 1 year after the drawing. Make sure to check with your state lottery on the required claiming timeframe.

What are the odds of winning something with a single ticket?

With one $2 Powerball ticket, your odds are 1 in 24.9 of winning a prize of any amount, based on the game’s prize odds. To win the jackpot is 1 in 292 million with a single ticket.


Playing Powerball for the first time follows some easy steps. First, pick whether to choose your own numbers or do quick pick. Decide how many tickets and drawings you want to play. Then, on a play slip, pick 5 different white ball numbers 1-69 and 1 red Powerball number 1-26. Give the completed slip to a lottery retailer to get your ticket.

After the Wednesday and Saturday drawings, check your ticket to see if your numbers match any of the nine prize levels, from matching just the red Powerball up to matching all 5 white balls plus the Powerball to win millions. Matching any numbers wins a prize.

Powerball offers huge jackpots, overall odds of 1 in 24 of winning a prize, and tickets costing just $2. Just go in with measured expectations about your chances and play responsibly. Matching those lucky numbers could just result in a major payday!