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What has been the biggest lottery jackpot?

The lottery is a game of chance where players select a set of numbers and if those numbers are randomly drawn, the player wins a jackpot prize. Lottery jackpots have steadily grown over the years as more players participate and roll over jackpots accumulate. Some of the largest lottery jackpots in history have exceeded $1 billion. With so much money up for grabs, many players are curious to know – what has been the biggest lottery jackpot ever?

US Lotteries

In the United States, there are two major national lottery games – Powerball and Mega Millions. Both games have produced jackpots over $1 billion over the years. The current record holder for the largest ever US lottery jackpot is the $1.586 billion Powerball jackpot won on January 13, 2016. The jackpot was split by three tickets purchased in California, Florida and Tennessee. Each ticket won approximately $528.8 million before taxes.

The second largest Powerball jackpot was $768.4 million, won on March 27, 2019 by a single ticket purchased in Wisconsin. Other notable big Powerball jackpots include:

  • $758.7 million on August 23, 2017 won by a single ticket in Massachusetts
  • $731.1 million on January 20, 2021 won by a single ticket in Maryland
  • $699.8 million on October 4, 2021 won by a single ticket in California
  • $687.8 million on October 27, 2018 won by two tickets in Iowa and New York

For Mega Millions, the current record jackpot stands at $1.537 billion, won on October 23, 2018 by a single ticket purchased in South Carolina. The second largest Mega Millions jackpot was $1.05 billion on January 22, 2021 won by a single ticket in Michigan. Other top Mega Millions jackpots include:

  • $656 million on March 30, 2012 won by three tickets in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland
  • $648 million on December 17, 2013 won by two tickets in California and Georgia
  • $543 million on July 24, 2018 won by a single ticket in California
  • $536 million on July 8, 2016 won by a single ticket in Indiana

World Lotteries

Outside of the United States, other national lotteries around the world have also produced enormous jackpots. The current record holder for the biggest international lottery jackpot is an incredible €220 million ($242 million) for the EuroMillions lottery. The jackpot was won by a single ticket holder in France on October 15, 2021.

Some other notable huge jackpots from around the globe include:

  • £170 million ($215 million) – EuroMillions lottery, won anonymously on October 8, 2019. This remains the record jackpot for EuroMillions and the biggest ever National Lottery win in the UK.
  • A$150 million ($107 million) – Powerball lottery in Australia, won by a single ticket on September 19, 2019. This jackpot ranks as the largest ever in Australian history.
  • RMB 570 million ($87 million) – China Welfare Lottery, won by a single ticket on October 26, 2018. This stands as the biggest single ticket jackpot in China’s lottery history.
  • ₩52.9 billion ($47 million) – Lotto Max in South Korea, anonymous winner on December 29, 2020. This jackpot ranks as the largest in South Korea’s lottery history.

Largest Unclaimed Jackpots

While most record-setting lottery jackpots are claimed by lucky ticket holders, some end up going unclaimed if no one comes forward with the winning ticket in time. These expiration dates and grace periods for claiming prizes vary between different lotteries. Some of the biggest unclaimed lottery jackpots on record include:

  • $77 million – Powerball jackpot won on June 29, 2011 in Georgia. The ticket was never claimed despite a 6 month claiming window.
  • £63.8 million ($81 million) – EuroMillions jackpot won on June 8, 2012 in the UK. It expired after a 180 day claiming period.
  • £9.4 million ($12 million) – Lotto jackpot won on May 2, 2020 in South Africa. The ticket expired after the 365 day claim window closed.
  • $14.6 million – Lotto 649 jackpot won on February 28, 2015 in Ontario, Canada. It was unclaimed past the 6 month window.

Biggest Jackpot Wins by Year

Year Lottery Amount
2022 Powerball $2.04 billion
2021 Mega Millions $1.05 billion
2020 Powerball $731.1 million
2019 Powerball $768.4 million
2018 Mega Millions $1.537 billion
2017 Powerball $758.7 million
2016 Powerball $1.586 billion
2015 Powerball $564.1 million
2014 Mega Millions $648 million
2013 Mega Millions $636 million

Largest Jackpot Wins By Country

Country Lottery Amount Date
United States Powerball $1.586 billion January 2016
France EuroMillions €220 million October 2021
United Kingdom EuroMillions £170 million October 2019
Australia Powerball A$150 million September 2019
China Welfare Lottery RMB 570 million October 2018
South Korea Lotto Max ₩52.9 billion December 2020

Record Per Capita Lottery Wins

When considering the biggest lottery winners, it can also be interesting to look at the record jackpots won per capita. Taking into account a country’s population provides perspective on how significant the win is for that nation. Some records for the biggest per capita lottery jackpot wins include:

  • Faroe Islands – €13.5 million: In a country with only ~52,000 people, this January 2005 Lotto jackpot equaled around $4,000 per capita.
  • Falkland Islands – £24 million: For the islands’ 3,400 residents, this March 2007 jackpot was equivalent to over $19,000 per person.
  • Lichtenstein – CHF5.3 million: Won in 1995 by just ~30,000 Liechtenstein citizens, equal to around $5,800 per capita.
  • Montserrat – $15 million: With under 5,000 people, this May 1997 Big Game jackpot worked out to $3,000+ per resident.

Smaller population countries and territories can generate enormous relative lottery wins for their citizens when big jackpots strike. While these may seem insignificant compared to the billion dollar US jackpots, the per capita win comparisons make them extremely notable.

Probability and Odds

The odds of winning a massive lottery jackpot are exceedingly slim for any single player or ticket. While the specific probability varies between different lottery games, the chances generally range between 1 in 100 million to 1 in 300 million for hitting the jackpot. For example:

  • Powerball odds: 1 in 292,201,338
  • Mega Millions odds: 1 in 302,575,350
  • EuroMillions odds: 1 in 139,838,160
  • UK National Lottery odds: 1 in 45,057,474

Despite the remote odds, the appeal of life-changing winnings allows lotteries to continue attracting players. When jackpots escalate to record highs, more players will buy tickets attempting to seize the opportunity for a massive payday. Of course, one player’s unlikely win is another million losing players’ disappointment.

The expected loss for a $2 lottery ticket is generally around $1 given the low probability of winning smaller prizes or the jackpot. Over time, the lottery operator collects more in ticket sales than they pay out in prizes, allowing jackpots to accumulate and grow. The cycle continues until one lucky player defies the odds and captures a record-shattering jackpot.

Distribution of Lottery Jackpot Winnings

For record jackpots, the headline prize amount is usually the pretax annuitized sum. Winners can choose to receive their winnings over 30 annual payments, or take a reduced lump sum up front. If taking the lump cash option, jackpot taxes immediately claim 25-40% off the top before the winner receives their payment.

The majority of massive jackpot winners elect for the immediate cash. For example, the holders of the $1.586 billion Powerball ticket chose lump sum payments of around $327.8 million each after federal taxes. State taxes further reduced the take-home winnings.

After lawmakers take their piece, advisors strongly encourage winners to keep quiet about their windfall to avoid endless requests for money. Savvy winners set up legal and financial structures to maintain anonymity and prudently handle their wealth. Otherwise, rash spending and giving can quickly extinguish lottery fortunes.

Fate of Record Jackpot Winners

There are several notable rags-to-riches tales surrounding past jackpot winners taking home hundreds of millions. However, once the prize hype fades, winners face challenges adjusting to a new wealthy lifestyle.

Some winners indeed mismanage their fortunes and end up worse off than before their windfall. But most record jackpot recipients choose to live comfortably yet discreetly, sharing their winnings judiciously with family and select charities. They invest carefully, indulge moderately, and avoid lavish spending binges aside from some initial celebrations and purchases.

Winners of the biggest jackpots attract significant media attention. But over time they manage to withdraw from the spotlight and live relatively normal lives maintaining a low profile. These winners realize their once-in-a-lifetime prize requires prudent lifetime planning more than showering riches.

Relevance of Big Jackpots

Whether massive lottery jackpots have any meaningful relevance or impact beyond the lucky ticket holders is debatable. Certainly hundreds of millions in winnings profoundly transforms the winners’ lives. But some argue the events hold little lasting significance for society at large.

However, record jackpots do produce a short-term boost for lottery operators and related beneficiaries. Sales surge from casual players lured by the huge prizes. Retailers benefit from increased customer traffic. Tax coffers grow fatter from the greater proceeds. Some funds support education, seniors, and other public programs.

These temporary windfalls eventually fade until the next jackpot escalation triggers another cycle. While fleeting, the flurries of activity around watercooler-type jackpot runs still manage to penetrate the bigger picture. The shared experience provides illusory hope and a temporary escape for players caught up in jackpot fever.

Should Lottery Jackpots Be Capped?

Some critics believe unrestrained lottery jackpots are detrimental and unhealthy for players and society. They argue that jackpots spiral out of control and encourage reckless gambling. Capping jackpots could limit these issues. A handful of proposals include:

  • Cut top prizes to $250-500 million maximums
  • Limit jackpot rollovers to lock after reaching a threshold
  • Allocate caps or excess funds to other societal programs
  • Restrict national lottery games and commercial advertising

However, capping jackpots would likely substantially dampen lottery revenues. Players are drawn by the unlimited prize potential. Lowering mega jackpot dreams could prompt players to redirect entertainment funds elsewhere.

If properly regulated, lottery games pose little harm for most casual players. Astronomical jackpots may feed some problematic gambling, but the core appeal seems here to stay. Probability dictates these jackpots will continue rising over time along with ticket sales supporting public benefits.

Looking Ahead

Lottery jackpots have steadily escalated over the decades as more players chase billion dollar dreams. While records will continually be broken, experts question how high prizes can realistically climb. The answer depends on factors including:

  • Population and player growth expanding the customer base
  • Disposable income levels allowing more ticket purchases
  • Jackpot awareness and excitement driving casual play
  • Operator policies governing prize pools and allocations

If conditions remain favorable, jackpots conceivably could double again to surpass a mind-blowing $3 billion in the coming years. Lotteries will keep feeding dreams with bigger, record-shattering pots. Of course, odds dictate virtually everyone must settle for smaller wins or losing tickets. But hope springs eternal for that elusive, life-altering jackpot.


Through prudent management, lottery operators have capitalized on jackpot fever by producing the biggest prizes in history. Records have fallen multiple times over the past decade, topped by the staggering $1.5 billion+ Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots. Winners join an elite club of lottery legends with their record-setting scores.

Looking ahead, there is no definitive limit to how high the unfettered jackpots could climb. Even with microscopic odds, lotteries bank on players’ boundless aspirations for hitting a once-ever windfall. While long-shot luck propels winners, the next groundbreaking jackpot could drop any day. Until then, lotteries will keep the dream alive by pushing jackpot envelopes higher.