Lotteries have very little in common with other forms of gambling, both in terms of player experience and legal status. While casino sites, poker rooms, and sportsbooks are operated by commercial companies under state-issued licenses, lotteries are usually run by the state itself. In many countries, the local government has taken steps to guarantee that the state will retain its monopoly on this form of gambling, outlawing lotteries operated by non-state agents.
This means that joining official lotteries is guaranteed to be legal and safe, but the lack of competition results in a lower quality of service. Unlike other gambling fans, lottery enthusiasts aren’t pampered with generous bonuses and promotions when they take their hobby online. They also can’t take their money elsewhere if they aren’t satisfied with the options offered by official operators.
How online lotteries work
Most official lotteries are 50/50 raffles. This means that 50% of the money collected via ticket sales goes to the government, while the remaining 50% contributes to the prize pool. In other words, in most lotteries, the house has at least a 50% edge. To put this in perspective, the house edge on online slots is usually between 3% and 8%, and the game is notorious for quickly reducing gamblers’ bankrolls to nothing.
All in all, if you’re a profit-oriented gambler and want to earn money through gambling, lotteries are the worst option available to you.
What’s the difference between buying lottery tickets online and in a land-based distribution point?
Functionally, official online lottery sites are no different from land-based distribution points, and ticket prices are the same. If you buy your ticket online, you still participate in the same game as everyone else. The process of purchasing the ticket isn’t standardized, and every official distributor is free to do it its own way.
For example, if you live in the United States and you decide to purchase a Powerball ticket online in Illinois, your first step is to choose your numbers (or let a random number generator do it for you). The next step is to add the tickets to your online cart and check out like you would in any other online store. On the other hand, the system in Georgia is completely different and requires you to pre-load your on-site account using a bank transfer before you’re allowed to buy tickets.
Lottery concierge services
Online lottery concierge services, also known as lottery agents, purchase tickets in your name. They allow you to participate in lotteries from all over the world, giving you the opportunity to play for the biggest jackpots.
Lottery concierge services aren’t government-endorsed and are operated by private companies. They earn their money by adding an extra fee on top of the standard ticket price, which may be a fair trade-off if your local jackpots are significantly lower than those available abroad.
If you decide to use the services of a lottery agent, stick exclusively to sites with a spotless track record, such as WinTrillions, TheLotter, or PlayHugeLottos. This is because, unlike online casinos or internet poker rooms, lottery agents are operating with no government oversight – there are no official regulatory bodies or gambling commissions that manage such services. As a result, you won’t be able to verify their trustworthiness by looking for a valid license.
You must judge those sites based on reputation. The world of online gambling is full of scam attempts and shady service operators, so if you have any doubts about a particular lottery service, the safest option is to avoid it altogether.
As mentioned above, the house edge in most lotteries is close to 50%. Many lottery aficionados argue that this doesn’t matter because lotteries give you a chance to win a life-changing payout. While the payout part is certainly true, the odds of winning a jackpot are so bad as to be virtually non-existent for any particular individual.
In-depth analysis: choosing 6 out of 49
Choosing 6 numbers out of 49 is the most popular lottery format. Here, the odds of winning the jackpot are 6/49 x 5/48 x 4/47 x 3/46 x 2/45 x 1/44, or 1 in 13,983,816. In order to have a 50% chance of winning at least once, you’d have to play the game 9,692,842 times. Even if you bought 100 tickets per day, it would take you 265.6 years to have a 50% chance of nailing the jackpot. Bumping up your chance of winning to 90% would take 882.2 years.
The probabilities of hitting fewer numbers are as follows (based on a hypergeometric distribution):
- 0: 43.6%
- 1: 41.3%
- 2: 13.2%
- 3: 1.77%
- 4: 0.0969%
- 5: 0.000000715%
Gambler’s fallacy is the false belief that one random event can impact the outcome of a different, causally unrelated random event. Many lottery enthusiasts fall for the gambler’s fallacy and believe that the outcome of past draws has some bearing on the outcome of future draws. This makes them look for hot or cold numbers and forces them to pick numbers that haven’t come up in a while.
Since every draw is logically guaranteed to be completely random, this belief is false.
An extreme form of gambler’s fallacy is the “53 frenzy” that occurred in Italy in 2005. The Italian lottery is based on a bi-weekly drawing of 50 numbers ranging from 1 to 90. The number 53 did not come up in roughly two years, an event with a probability of 1 in 1,707,460. A substantial number of players ended up including ’53’ on their tickets, believing it more likely to be drawn in the future.
The probability of any number not making an appearance on any particular Italian lottery draw is always 99.33%, irrespective of past results.
Choosing numbers by use of software is better
People who believe in the gambler’s fallacy pick their numbers manually. This does not decrease their chances of winning the jackpot because the odds always remain the same. However, it might have a negative impact on their payout if they end up winning.
This is because human beings are awful at choosing random numbers. Due to a multitude of psychological reasons, we are biased towards specific numbers. This has been extensively proven by numerous researchers, including W. A. Wagenaar (“Generation of random sequences by human subjects”, 1972) and P. Brugger (“Variables that influence the generation of random sequences”, 1997), to name a few.
This means that if you pick your numbers manually and win the jackpot, odds are high you’ll end up splitting it with another lottery participant with similar cognitive biases. All in all, it’s always better to choose your numbers automatically, whether by using a mechanism offered by the lottery provider, or a third-party lottery number generator.
Glossary of lottery terms
- Ball draw machine: a mechanical device that scrambles the numbered balls used in Lotto games and then draws a predetermined number of them to determine the outcome of the game.
- Bonus number: a number that is drawn in some Lotto games in addition to the main numbers.
- Gambler’s fallacy: the false belief that random events can influence the outcome of other, unrelated events.
- House edge: the ratio of the expected player loss to the total amount of money wagered.
- Lottery agent/concierge service: an online service that allows players to purchase lottery tickets from all over the world for a small fee. Usually unregulated.
- Lottery syndicate: a group of people who purchase lottery tickets together and share winnings among each other.
- Lotto: a lottery game in which the player is required to choose X numbers out of a field of Y numbers. The most popular Lotto format is 6 out of 49.
- Powerball: a $2 multi-jurisdictional American lotto game known for generating the largest jackpots in the industry. For an additional $1, players can activate the Powerplay option, which increases their lower-tier winnings.
- Force Majeure: a clause frequently found in lottery terms of service and which protects providers from liability in case a draw is interrupted by a natural disaster.
- Game Close: the time when lottery tickets for a given draw can no longer be purchased.
- Game matrix: the configuration of possible winning combinations and their payouts in a lottery.
- iLottery: buying lottery tickets over the internet.
- Jackpot: the biggest prize in a lottery. Grows with time and resets to a predetermined minimum once claimed.
- Jackpot fatigue: a phenomenon wherein people lose interest in playing a lottery due to frequent jackpot resets.
- Rollover: the continued increase in a jackpot’s size due to a lack of winners.
Tips for online lottery enthusiasts
The following tips will help you keep your online lottery experience safe and enjoyable. They will also slightly improve your odds of winning the largest payout.
Don’t spend more than you can afford to lose
Lottery games have a very high house edge. Combined with a low probability of winning anything, this means that any money spent on lottery tickets should be considered gone. Never spend more on lotteries than you’d spend on any other form of entertainment.
Remember that you’re doing this for fun
Purchasing lottery tickets is equivalent to spending money on entertainment, so try to focus on having fun. If failing to win the jackpot makes you angry or depressed, give yourself a break or stop playing altogether.
Don’t buy any “guaranteed” lottery strategies
Lottery strategies are based on gambler’s fallacy and can’t alter your odds of winning. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on a “surefire” systems. Aside from being completely useless, they require you to pick numbers manually, which can result in a split payout if you get lucky and win the jackpot.
Don’t pick your numbers manually
As explained in the “lottery odds” section, human beings are bad at choosing truly random numbers. If you always pick your numbers manually, somebody else is likely to have made the same choices, which would result in a split jackpot if you get lucky. Allow a machine to pick your numbers for you.
Wait for the biggest jackpots
Waiting for the biggest jackpots won’t increase your odds of winning, but it will increase your chances of winning big and improve your expected value. If you use a lottery concierge service, always play for the biggest jackpots available on your platform.
Stick to reputable concierge services
There are many lottery concierge services with a spotless track record. There’s no reason to deposit to relatively obscure sites and risk getting scammed. See our concierge recommendations for good examples.
Online Lottery FAQ
Q: Can you really win money playing lotteries online?
A: Yes, playing lotteries online is no different from buying tickets in a brick-and-mortar shop. The odds remain the same – in a standard lottery that requires you to choose 6 numbers out of 49, your odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 13,983,816. The house edge is also close to 50%, unless you use a lottery concierge service to buy your tickets, in which case it will be even higher due to third-party fees. If your primary goal is to win money, any other form of gambling, such as slots, keno, and Blackjack, is a better choice than lotteries.
Q: Can I play lotteries operated in other countries?
A: Yes, as long as you’re willing to use an online lottery concierge service. These services allow you to purchase lottery tickets from all over the world, for a reasonably modest fee. Read the “how online lotteries work” section to learn more about this topic.
Q: What’s the most money anyone has ever won in a lottery?
A: On August 23, 2017, a Powerball player from Massachusetts won $480,500,000 for the price of a single ticket. This wasn’t the biggest jackpot in history, as the January 23, 2016 main prize was close to one billion dollars. However, it was shared among three players, who won $327,800,000 each.
Q: How do I purchase lottery tickets online?
A: Every official lottery site has its own rules. Some function like any other online shop, while others require you to create an account and load it up with money beforehand. Available payment options are usually limited to standard bank transfers.
Private lottery concierge services, on the other hand, operate like any online gambling site. In order to use their platform, you must create an account and make a deposit. Most concierge services support several deposit methods, but the specifics depend on your area of residence. In most cases, an e-wallet payment is the most convenient option.
Q: If my ticket wins, how will I receive my money?
A: This depends on the lottery in question and the service used to purchase tickets. For example, if you’re an American and you live in Georgia, the lottery will transfer your winnings to the same bank account you used to buy them.
If you use a lottery concierge website, you’ll have to request a cash-out and indicate which banking method you’d like to use, which is typically some form of bank transfer.
Q: Has anyone ever won a lot of money using a lottery concierge service?
A: Yes. In fact, this isn’t all that uncommon. For example, in December 2015 an Iraqi man living in Baghdad won a $6,400,000 jackpot in Oregon by using TheLotter.
Q: Will joining a lottery syndicate improve my odds?
A: Yes and no. It will increase your odds of winning proportionately to the number of people who belong to your syndicate. However, any potential payouts will be divided among all members, so the house edge remains unchanged.
Q: Is Powerplay really the only way to go in Powerball?
A: The return on the Powerplay option is 49.28% and is significantly higher than the return from a standard Powerball ticket. From a mathematical standpoint, buying half as many tickets with the Powerplay option would still be preferable to buying a full batch without it. Powerplay costs only $1 per game.
Q: What about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies? Can I use those to purchase lottery tickets or to receive my winnings?
A: Generally, no. Official lottery sites don’t accept Bitcoin payments, and reliable lottery concierge services are slow to adopt this new form of banking.
There are exceptions, such as the British BitCoin Lotto, but as mentioned above, be extra careful about lottery sites that don’t have a stellar reputation and aren’t operated by the state.
History of lotteries
The first records of lottery games come from Ancient China and are dated between 205 and 187 BC. These games probably helped the Han Dynasty finance important government projects, such as the Great Wall of China. In the West, the first lotteries were organized during the Roman Empire, and served as entertainment at dinner parties. The first commercial lottery was organized by Emperor Augustus, and the profits it raised were meant to help repair the City of Rome.
Throughout the Middle Ages, lotteries were employed by various governments to improve fortifications, prepare for wars, and help the poor. This tradition was continued in the United States – George Washington himself organized numerous lotteries, and tickets from his 1768 Mountain Road Lottery became collector’s items, ultimately selling for around $15,000.
While lotteries are no longer used to finance wars and fund awe-inspiring projects, most modern governments recognize their value. America has its Powerball, the United Kingdom has EuroMillions, Brazil has Mega-Sena, Australia has OZ lotto, and China has its Welfare Lottery. Most countries have monopolized the lottery market, preventing private enterprises from competing against the state.
The first lottery concierge services to allow their customers to purchase lottery tickets from anywhere in the world appeared online in the early noughties. Unlike internet poker rooms or casinos, they failed to change the face of their market, but they continue to provide all kinds of lottery aficionados with an opportunity to aim for the biggest jackpots on the planet, regardless of their country of residence.