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Is it better to play smaller lotteries?

Many lottery players face the question of whether to play the big multi-state games with huge jackpots like Powerball and Mega Millions or to play smaller state-run lotteries. The choice involves tradeoffs between factors like jackpot size, odds of winning, and ticket price. This article examines the key considerations in deciding whether it’s better to play smaller lotteries.

Key Factors in Choosing Lotteries

Jackpot Size

The main allure of lotteries is the chance to win a huge jackpot prize. Powerball and Mega Millions are famous for their jackpots that can climb into the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. State lotteries have much smaller top prizes, usually in the range of a few million dollars. For many players, the excitement comes from dreaming about what they could do with a massive windfall, making the bigger games more appealing.

Odds of Winning

The odds of winning the jackpot are microscopic in any lottery, but they are significantly more favorable in smaller state games than for the big national lotteries. For example, the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292 million. A state pick-6 lottery might have odds of 1 in 10 million. So while the jackpots are smaller, a player’s chances are dramatically better in the state lotteries.

Other Prizes

While the jackpot gets all the attention, lottery players can win smaller prizes by matching some of the numbers. State lotteries typically have better odds for winning these smaller prizes. Powerball has fixed prizes of $4 for matching just the Powerball number and $7 for matching three numbers. State games offer a wider range of prize levels, keeping players engaged with more ways to win.

Ticket Price

Powerball and Mega Millions tickets cost $2 each. State lottery tickets are usually $1 or less. This difference adds up for frequent players who may purchase multiple tickets per draw. Lower priced state lottery tickets allow players to fit more drawings into their lottery budget.

Pros of Playing Smaller Lotteries

Better Odds

With fewer numbers to choose from, the odds of hitting the jackpot are significantly more favorable in state lotteries than for Powerball or Mega Millions. This makes winning feel more attainable. State games offer odds like 1 in 10 million, compared to over 292 million to 1 for Powerball.

More Affordable to Play

With cheaper $1 or $2 tickets, state lotteries allow players to enjoy the lottery experience without spending as much. Playing Powerball or Mega Millions can get expensive, especially for those who buy multiple tickets to increase their chances. State games offer better value.

Smaller Jackpots Still Life-Changing

While they seem small next to the inflated mega-jackpots, prizes in the single-digit millions can still provide life-changing winnings. Even a fraction of that amount would be an incredible windfall for most people. Smaller lotteries give players the chance to win big without having to beat astronomical odds.

More Ways to Win

In state lotteries, players can win smaller amounts by matching just some numbers. With more prize levels, there are more opportunities to win something. Powerball has fixed secondary prizes while state games offer a wider range of mid-tier prize amounts to keep players engaged.

Support State Programs

In nearly every state, lottery revenues fund educational or other state programs. So playing smaller state games helps support valuable initiatives close to home. Only half of Powerball sales go to prizes, with the other half going to retailer commissions and operating costs.

Cons of Playing Smaller Lotteries

Smaller Jackpots

The top prizes in state lotteries pale in comparison to the insane jackpots offered by Powerball and Mega Millions. While the odds are incredibly remote either way, many players are attracted to the drawings with hundreds of millions on the line. Smaller jackpots may fail to capture the imagination in the same way.

Fewer Jackpot Rollovers

With better odds, state lottery jackpots are won more frequently. This prevents the jackpot from rolling over and building up to astronomical levels like Powerball and Mega Millions. Some players are motivated by watching the top prize grow for months and anticipating someone finally winning an enormous windfall.

Less Participation

Powerball and Mega Millions are played nationwide, so their drawings generate more buzz and media coverage. State lottery results may fail to create the same level of excitement since participation is limited to in-state players. There’s less of a shared experience.

Taxes on Winnings

While federal taxes apply either way, state lottery winnings may also be subject to state tax. This isn’t an issue for Powerball and Mega Millions, where the jackpot is exempt from state tax withholding. But state lottery prizes can have state tax withheld, reducing the winner’s net payout.

Better Chances of Sharing Prize

The better odds of winning a state lottery jackpot also mean there’s a greater chance more than one player matches the winning numbers. Jackpot winners may have to share the top prize. With Powerball and Mega Millions, rollovers make it likely only one player winds up hitting the jackpot when it finally gets won.

Key Factors in Lottery Jackpot Size

Several factors account for Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots dwarfing those offered by state lotteries:

Number of Balls

– Powerball chooses 5 white balls (of 69) and 1 red Powerball (of 26).
– Mega Millions chooses 5 white balls (of 70) and 1 gold Mega Ball (of 25).
– State lotteries typically choose 6 numbers (of 40 to 59).

Having more total balls to choose from leads to higher odds and bigger potential jackpots.

Number of Tickets Sold

– Powerball and Mega Millions are played nationwide.
– State games only allow in-state ticket sales.
– More players equals more ticket sales, leading jackpots to climb higher.

Frequency of Winners

– Longer odds mean fewer jackpot winners over time in the big multi-state games.
– State games have better odds, so winners are more frequent.
– Less frequent winners allow the top prize to roll over and accumulate.

Prize Payout Percentages

– Powerball and Mega Millions payout 50% of sales in prizes.
– State games often payout 60-65% in prizes with better odds.
– Lower payout rates let jackpots grow higher before being won.

Combining these factors allows Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots to routinely reach record-breaking territory far surpassing state lottery top prizes.

Tax Differences Between State and National Lotteries

Taxes on lottery winnings can significantly impact how much a player takes home. Here are some key differences:

Federal Taxes

For both state and national lottery prizes, federal tax withholding is 24% for winnings over $5,000. This applies to the initial jackpot payment and any annuity payments.

State Taxes

Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots are exempt from state tax withholdings. State lottery winnings may be subject to state tax withholding depending on local laws.

Sample State Tax Withholding on $1 Million

State Tax Rate Withholding
California 10.3% $103,000
Maryland 8.95% $89,500
New York 8.82% $88,200
Texas No tax $0

For large jackpots, the state tax savings from winning Powerball or Mega Millions can be substantial compared to state lottery prizes.

Which Lotteries Have the Best Odds?

Every lottery has long odds, but some games are more favorable than others. Here are lottery games ranked by overall odds:

Lottery Overall Odds
Cash4Life 1 in 7.8 million
Florida Lotto 1 in 22.7 million
Hoosier Lotto 1 in 24.9 million
New Jersey Pick-6 1 in 25.9 million
Mega Millions 1 in 302.6 million
Powerball 1 in 292.2 million

The overall odds consider both the jackpot and other ways to win prizes. State-run pick-6 games offer the most favorable odds, while the national games are the biggest long shots.

Comparing Jackpot Odds

The chances of hitting the jackpot specifically illustrate the odds advantage of smaller lotteries:

Lottery Jackpot Odds
Cash4Life 1 in 21 million
Florida Lotto 1 in 22.7 million
Hoosier Lotto 1 in 24.9 million
NJ Pick-6 1 in 25.9 million
Mega Millions 1 in 302.6 million
Powerball 1 in 292.2 million

The jackpot odds for these state lotteries are over 10 times more favorable than for Powerball or Mega Millions.

Recommendations for Playing State vs. National Lotteries

There are good reasons to play both state and national lottery games. Here are some recommendations based on your preferences:

If you want the biggest jackpots:

Play Powerball and Mega Millions for a chance at hundreds of millions or more. Just know the odds are incredibly remote.

If you want better odds and more affordable tickets:

Play state pick-6 games where your chances are higher and tickets cost $1 or $2.

For frequent play:

State games allow you to play more often without breaking your budget.

For life-changing amounts:

Even smaller state jackpots can transform your life. And secondary prizes can still provide huge windfalls.

For better overall odds:

State games offer more ways to win not just the jackpot but also secondary prizes.

To support local programs:

State lottery revenues fund valuable initiatives so playing them gives back to your community.

The “best” lottery depends on what you hope to get out of playing. Evaluate whether jackpot size, odds, or other factors are most important to pick the games that fit your lottery playing goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most common state lottery games?

Most states offer a pick-3 or pick-4 game where players choose 3 or 4 numbers from 0 to 9. The daily number is drawn randomly. Some states also have rolling jackpot games where players pick 5 or 6 numbers from 1 to 35 to 59. Other states have their own variations like Cash4Life and Lucky for Life.

Which state lottery has the biggest jackpot?

State lottery jackpots pale in size compared to Powerball and Mega Millions. The California SuperLotto Plus holds the record for the largest state lottery jackpot at $193 million in 2002. More recently, a New Jersey Pick-6 player won a $202 million annuity jackpot in March 2019.

What are the best odds in Powerball?

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are incredibly low at 1 in 292 million. To put that in perspective, you are about 7 times more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime. The overall odds of winning any prize in Powerball are much better at 1 in 24.9.

What are the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot?

The chances are miniscule, at only 1 in 302.6 million. You are about 50 times more likely to get a hole-in-one in golf. But Mega Millions players still dream of joining the lucky few who beat the long odds and become instant millionaires.

Can you remain anonymous if you win the lottery?

Whether lottery winners can stay anonymous varies by state. States like Delaware, Kansas, and North Dakota allow anonymity. Others like California, Florida, and New Jersey require the winner’s name and city to be disclosed. A few states let you collect winnings through a trust to remain anonymous.


State-run lottery games offer significantly better odds of winning compared to national lotteries like Powerball and Mega Millions. With smaller jackpots, cheaper tickets, and more ways to win smaller prizes, state lotteries provide a fun lottery experience with greater chances of success for the average player. While the Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots capture more attention, state lottery games can still provide life-changing winnings. Players need to weigh factors like jackpot size, odds, ticket costs, and payout percentages in deciding which type of lottery best fits their playing style and budget. For frequent play with more reasonable odds, smaller state games tend to provide the best value. But for dreamers hoping to win a jackpot in the hundreds of millions, Powerball and Mega Millions allow you to play for a truly massive fortune, despite the slim chances.