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Who Cannot play California Lottery?

The California lottery is a popular form of gambling for many California residents. However, not everyone is eligible to play the lottery in California. There are certain groups of people who are prohibited from purchasing lottery tickets or claiming lottery prizes based on California state law. In this article, we will explore who is ineligible to play the California lottery and the reasons why these restrictions exist.


One of the most basic restrictions around the California lottery is age. You must be at least 18 years old to play the lottery in California. It is illegal for minors under the age of 18 to purchase lottery tickets or redeem lottery prizes. California considers the lottery to be a form of gambling, and gambling is an activity reserved for adults. If a store clerk sells a lottery ticket to someone underage, both the clerk and minor could face legal consequences.

The age restriction helps prevent underage gambling and keeps the lottery within appropriate bounds. Parental consent does not override the law. Even if parents agree, those under 18 still cannot legally play the state lottery. IDs are checked thoroughly when redeeming high-value California lottery prizes to ensure underage individuals do not claim winnings. Overall, the age limit promotes responsible gambling practices.

Penalties for Underage Lottery Play

If a minor is caught purchasing a lottery ticket, they may face misdemeanor criminal charges punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine. Those who knowingly sell lottery tickets to minors can face similar or steeper penalties.

Minors who claim lottery prizes also face repercussions. Any winnings will be denied and the lottery ticket confiscated. The winnings will be redistributed within the California public education system. Fines between $500-$1,000 may also be issued to both the minor and any adults complicit in the prize claim attempt.

Out-of-State Individuals

California lottery tickets can only be purchased within the state of California. You must be a California resident to play. Non-residents who are visiting or traveling through California cannot legally buy lottery tickets. State law mandates that lottery players be California residents aged 18 or older.

The in-state requirement helps ensure lottery funds support services within California. Lottery revenue is designed to supplement the state budget, so limiting ticket sales to Californians keeps the benefits circulating locally. It also simplifies enforcement and oversight for the California Lottery Commission.

Out-of-state players sometimes try to skirt around residency requirements by asking California friends or relatives to purchase tickets on their behalf. This is still illegal. Lottery tickets are non-transferrable. If someone claims a prize based on a ticket they did not personally buy in-state, the lottery winnings can be denied.

Attempting to Play While Out-of-State

Those who try to illegally purchase California lottery tickets across state lines may be charged with a misdemeanor offense. If convicted, penalties include up to 1 year in county jail and/or fines up to $1,000. Knowingly cashing a winning lottery ticket in California that was bought out-of-state can lead to the same penalties.

Incarcerated Individuals

Individuals who are incarcerated within the California prison system cannot play the lottery. Prisons ban gambling and do not allow lottery ticket sales. Inmates have no pathway to legally participate in the California lottery while incarcerated.

Lottery play is considered incompatible with prisons’ aims of promoting rehabilitation and personal responsibility. Gambling is heavily regulated even in free society, so prisons exercise even tighter control. Likewise, lottery participation could enable negative behaviors like gambling addictions to persist.

The lottery ban for incarcerated individuals is not necessarily lifelong. Upon release, former inmates can legally play the California lottery as long as they meet age and residency requirements.

Attempting to Play While Incarcerated

Inmates cannot face additional criminal charges for attempting to play the lottery while incarcerated, as it is already prohibited by prison regulations. However, those who try to engage in unauthorized gambling may face internal disciplinary action. Prisons can issue citations, revoke privileges, or impose sanctions like time in solitary confinement.

Individuals Owing State Debt

California residents who owe certain outstanding debts to the state or have failed to comply with state tax law may be denied California lottery prizes. Examples of applicable debts include:

  • Unpaid taxes
  • Overdue child support
  • Overdue spousal support
  • Overdue student loans
  • Outstanding arrest warrants or court fines

When individuals try to claim lottery prizes over $600, several state agencies crosscheck to identify those with unsettled debts. The prize money is redirected to pay off the debt instead of going to the winner.

This policy ensures state debts are paid off before lottery windfalls. It provides enforcement leverage for the state to collect on overdue debts. The lottery acts as an intercept to shift funds back to the state before individuals receive their winnings.

Attempting to Claim Prizes with State Debt

There are no specific criminal penalties for trying to claim California lottery prizes while owing state debt. However, the winnings will still be seized and used to offset what is owed. Lottery players consent to debt checks and wage garnishment when playing the lottery in California.

Those who owe child support, taxes, or other government debts should get their finances in order before playing the lottery. Winning the lottery will not allow you to evade or outpace what you already owe to the state of California.

Some Individuals on Public Assistance

Californians receiving certain forms of means-tested public assistance cannot collect lottery prizes over $600 without incurring impacts to their benefits eligibility and amount. Specifically, lottery wins are treated as income for determining eligibility and grant size for:

  • CalWORKs (TANF) welfare program
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medi-Cal health insurance

By law, recipients have 10 days to report lottery winnings over $600 to their benefits caseworker. If they go over the reporting threshold without notifying the state, they may be charged with welfare fraud.

For SSI, lottery winnings can fully disqualify you from benefits depending on the size of the prize. For CalWORKs and Medi-Cal, the winnings will count towards your income which can reduce your grant amount or eligibility. Lottery prizes can complicate and undermine public assistance, so playing is discouraged for individuals who rely on these programs.

Lottery Wins and Public Assistance

Here is a summary of potential impacts from California lottery prizes on different public assistance programs:

Program Potential Impact of Lottery Wins
SSI Winnings over $60 per month can fully disqualify you from benefits
CalWORKs Winnings count as income which reduces your grant amount
Medi-Cal Winnings count as income which may affect eligibility and coverage

Those who illegally fail to report lottery prizes may need to repay grant overpayments. You can face perjury charges for intentionally omitting winnings.

California Lottery Retailers

Retailers who sell lottery tickets in California are prohibited from buying tickets or redeeming prizes for themselves. Employees of lottery retailers are banned as well. Retailers handle lottery transactions on behalf of the state as part of their business relationship.

This restriction aims to avoid conflicts of interest. Retailers should not be self-dealing or personally profiting off lottery activities beyond their negotiated sales commissions. Oversight aims to maintain integrity and prevent abuses of the system.

In most cases, retailers can sell tickets to and cash out tickets for family members or acquaintances. But they cannot perform transactions on behalf of themselves or their own household members. Doing so can jeopardize their lottery retail contract.

Attempting to Circumvent Retailer Restrictions

Lottery retailers who illegally buy tickets or claim prizes for themselves may face contract termination by the California Lottery Commission. They could also face civil fines and criminal fraud charges if attempts to circumvent retailer restrictions are sufficiently egregious.

Staff of the California Lottery

Employees who work directly for the California State Lottery are prohibited from participating in any way. This includes purchasing tickets, selling tickets, or claiming prizes. Lottery administrative staff cannot play the very lottery they oversee.

This internal ban avoids conflicts of interest just like the retail ban. Lottery staff should remain independent and impartial in how they administer the game. Financial motives could compromise their judgment if they also played.

The lottery staffer ban applies to both full-time staff as well as contractors who support administration like computer vendors or accounting firms. The standard applies across the board.

Attempting to Play as a Lottery Employee

Lottery staffers who illegally play the lottery can face termination or criminal charges depending on context. Intentionally leveraging insider knowledge for financial gain could result in criminal fraud or embezzlement charges.

Vendors to the California Lottery

Major vendors who contract directly with the California Lottery are generally prohibited from participating in state lottery games. This includes suppliers of key lottery materials like ticket printing and equipment maintenance.

The vendor ban helps avoid conflicts of interest just like the bans on retailers and lottery staff. Vendors should remain at arms length in their business relationship without any incentive to manipulate lottery operations for personal gain.

Some vendoring agreements do carve out exceptions allowing play under certain conditions, like vendors headquartered out-of-state. But in general, vendors who directly enable the lottery cannot double as players.

Attempting to Play as a Lottery Vendor

Vendors caught playing the California lottery could face contract termination and potential lawsuits for breach of contract. Self-dealing charges could also apply if a vendor intentionally tried to exploit their position to win prizes.

Spouses of Lottery Staff and Vendors

Spouses of California Lottery employees and major lottery vendors are also prohibited from playing state lottery games. Their relationship to a closely involved lottery insider is close enough that conflicts of interest may persist.

For example, a lottery employee could use their inside knowledge or access to tilt odds in favor of a spouse. Or a ticket vendor could divert premium scratchers to a spouse before general circulation. The spousal ban aims to prevent these scenarios.

However, spouses of lottery retailers can generally play. The separation is deemed sufficient there, as retailers have limited access compared to vendors and staff.

Attempting to Play as a Spouse

Spouses who illegally play the California lottery are subject to similar consequences as insiders who violate bans – termination, civil suits, fines, fraud charges, etc. Any winnings will be denied, and attempts may be prosecuted as embezzlement or conspiracy.


The California lottery has many restrictions on who can play in order to maintain integrity, avoid conflicts, and align with state policy interests. While most California adults are eligible, certain groups like minors, incarcerated individuals, and lottery staff are prohibited. Attempting to play in violation of these bans can result in penalties, fines, and prize invalidation.

Restrictions are designed to keep the peace, encourage responsible gambling, and prevent insiders from profiting unethically off the lottery system. The California Lottery Commission takes underage gambling, fraud, and circumvention seriously. By following the rules on eligibility, players can enjoy the lottery while supporting state revenues.