The Powerball — formerly known as Lotto America — is the closest thing the US has to a national lottery. Residents of or visitors to 45 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are able to buy tickets. Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah are the five states that currently don’t participate.
Last month’s $731 million Powerball jackpot-winning ticket was sold in Maryland, but as of Feb. 11, the winner had yet to come forward and still doesn’t appear to have claimed it.
Here’s what you need to know about how the lottery works if you’re thinking about trying it.
When are drawings for the Powerball?
Drawings are held every Wednesday and Saturday at 8 p.m. PT (11 p.m. ET).
How much is the pot?
The Powerball is sitting at $169 million as of March 11, or a cash value of $116.1 million. Each time it is not awarded, the pot grows by about $10 million.
How the Powerball game works
The player chooses five white balls numbered 1 through 69, and one red Powerball of any number between 1 and 26. These numbers are chosen with a play slip that you can buy at most convenience stores. Every Powerball play costs $2. You can also opt for Quick Pick, where a computer randomly selects your numbers.
During the drawing, the white balls are chosen from one spinning drum and the red balls from another. When Lotto America became the Powerball in 1992, the game started using two spinning raffle-style drums — before that, Lotto America used two separate machines for drawing.
Here are the ways one ticket could win and the odds of winning (according to the Multi-State Lottery Association’s Powerball site):
- Match all six numbers, win the entire pot (or the cash value)
Odds: 1 in 292,201,338
- Match all five white balls, win $1 million
Odds: 1 in 11,688,053.52
- Match four white balls and the red Powerball, win $50,000
Odds: 1 in 913,129.18
- Match only four white balls, win $100
Odds: 1 in 36,525.17
- Match three white balls and the red Powerball, win $100
Odds: 1 in 14,494.11
- Match three white balls, win $7
Odds: 1 in 579.76
- Match two white balls and the Powerball, win $7
Odds: 1 in 701.33
- Match one white ball and the Powerball, win $4
Odds: 1 in 91.98
- Match only the Powerball, win $4
Odds: 1 in 38.32
You have a one in 24.9 chance of winning anything at all. Why aren’t the odds of matching only the Powerball one in 26? Because you have to have matched no white balls as well. The Missouri Lottery website has an explainer here.
How is the pot paid out to the winner?
Winners can either receive the amount in installments over a number of years or take a one-time cash payout. For instance, if a winner chooses to take a lump sum of a $155 million jackpot, it won’t actually be that amount. According to Powerball’s website, it will be the amount of money required to be in the prize pool to fund the estimated annuity prize. It will still, however, be a lot of money. A woman who won a $188 million Powerball jackpot in 2015 reportedly took a lump sum of $126 million.
You can also choose to take the payout in 30 annual installments over 29 years, with those annuity payments increasing by 5%.
You’ll need to claim your lottery winnings on your taxes using the form 1099-MISC for miscellaneous winnings. Depending on where you live, state and local taxes could take an additional 13% of your winnings. In addition, when rolls around, you’ll likely be placed in a than before winning, so the top federal tax rate of 37% will come into play.
Powerball winners more often do opt for the one-time cash payment, though, according to the lottery’s website. Only about four winners have chosen to receive their winnings in annuity since 2003. Prior to 2020, two jackpots went unclaimed and two have been anonymous.
Seems like it’s nearly impossible to win serious money. What’s a better way to spend my hard-earned cash?
For comparison’s sake, you have a better chance of being struck by lightning (one chance in 500,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) than you have of winning $50,000 or more in the Powerball. From a statistical point of view, it’s not the wisest way to gamble.
There are plenty of games under $2 on Steam and movies you can watch online. Also, if you played twice a week every week of the year, that’s about $208 you’d be flushing away. If you instead set that money aside, you’ll have enough to buy, say, aat the end of the year.
Are there any qualifications to play the Powerball?
To play the Powerball, you must be at least 18 years old. You don’t have to be a US citizen or a US resident to play. You can also play if you’re not a resident of the state in which you bought the ticket.
Can you still play Lotto America?
Yes, but not the original game from 1992 that became the Powerball. You can play Lotto America — the revival of the game that replaced the fraud-ridden Hot Lotto game in 2017. Drawings take place every Wednesday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m. PT (11:15 p.m. ET). Players choose five numbers between 1 and 52 along with a Star Ball numbered 1 to 10. There are also nine ways to win Lotto America, but the odds of winning the jackpot (meaning all five numbers match plus the Star Ball) are 1 in almost 26 million.
Only 13 states still play Lotto America — Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Upcoming schedule of Powerball and other lottery events
Every Wednesday and Saturday at 8 p.m. PT (11 p.m. ET)
Tuesday and Friday at 8 p.m. PT (11 p.m. ET)
Wednesday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m. PT (11:15 p.m. ET)
Every night at 6 p.m. PT (9 p.m. ET)
Disclaimer: CNET is not affiliated with any organizations that conduct lotteries, nor do we endorse participation. Playing the lottery is a game, and your odds of winning are set according to the organization running it. CNET may take in affiliate revenue from commerce links; there are no similar agreements in place between CNET and organizations running the lottery. This story is for informational purposes only and is not financial advice.