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How to Play Powerball

Want to buy a lottery ticket so you have a chance to win big in the next Powerball drawing? You can buy Powerball tickets in-person in 47 states, and you can even buy tickets online in some areas. Though any one ticket’s probability of winning the jackpot is low, as the old saying goes, “You’ve got to be in it to win it.” Ready to test your luck? We’ll teach you how to buy Powerball tickets (both in-person and online) and play the game.

Buying Powerball Tickets

Find Powerball tickets at a drugstore, gas station, or grocery store. You can buy tickets at a local store as long as the store is an authorized lottery retailer–just ask a cashier if they sell Powerball tickets. However, you can only buy Powerball tickets in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.[1] If you’re not a resident of one of those states or territories, you can still play if you purchase your ticket in a Powerball state. You don’t even have to be a U.S. citizen to play and win the Powerball.

  • However, if you are not a U.S. citizen and you win a substantial jackpot, the IRS deducts a flat rate of 30% from your winnings. U.S. citizens are subject to a 25% initial deduction, plus state taxation.[2]
  • Powerball tickets are not sold in Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, and Alabama. These states prohibit lotteries by law.
  • Anyone over the age of 18 can play the game.
  • If you’d like to play with the same numbers, you can purchase a multi-draw ticket (just ask the cashier) and pay to use the same numbers up to 26 times.

Look for drawings every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday night. Drawings happen at 10:59 PM Eastern Time, and you can check the results online. Powerball ticket sales cut off at least 59 minutes before each drawing, though they may occur earlier. When you buy a Powerball ticket at the store, unless you pay for multiple drawings, it is only valid for the next drawing. In other words, if your Powerball ticket doesn’t win, it’s not eligible to win in future drawings, unless you specifically pay for multiple drawings.

  • The more drawings that occur without a jackpot winner, the higher the jackpot gets. Jackpots start at a minimum of $20 million and increase each time a drawing occurs without a jackpot winner.
  • Current drawing results are posted to the top of the USA Mega Millions and Powerball website. Most places where Powerball tickets are sold will also post the most recent draws.

Purchase Powerball tickets online if it’s legal in your region. Type in your state’s name plus “Powerball” to find the official site for your specific state. There’s only one official site per state, and the site will either be run by the state lottery corporation (ex. Kentucky Lottery Corporation) or the government itself (ex. in North Dakota you can buy tickets from a .gov website run by the state). Avoid buying from third-party sites that resell official tickets! If you don’t buy from an official site, the lottery can refuse to pay out the money if you win. As of October, 2021, these states let you purchase Powerball tickets online:

  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • You must be a resident of that state or territory to purchase a Powerball ticket online.

Understand the goal and winning combos behind Powerball. Powerball is played by selecting six numbers – five numbers between 1-69 and one “Powerball” number between 1-26. Each number is on a special ball that is randomly selected by a machine during the drawing. Your ultimate goal is to match every number selected perfectly, which will win you the jackpot. However, there are other winning combinations of numbers that will win smaller prizes (which can be quite lucrative in their own right).

  • Your first five white ball numbers don’t have to be in the same order as the balls that are drawn. Winning numbers win regardless of the order they’re listed in–for all prizes! However, the media typically reports numbers from smallest to largest to make it easier to read.
  • However, the final Powerball number must match exactly, and none of the first five numbers can count in place of that final number.
  • Powerball may intentionally change the number of balls in play to tweak the odds. In the past, Powerball has reduced the white count from 69 to 59 and reduced the red count from 35 to 26.
  • Changing the number of balls decreased the odds of winning the jackpot, and this change likely created the $1.5 billion jackpot.

Add on “Power Play” for $1 extra for a shot at multiplying your winnings. A regular Powerball ticket costs $2. However, in every state except California, you also have the option to play “Power Play” for $1 more. Power Play increases your winnings for all non-jackpot prizes if you win. As of October 2021, prizes for winning tickets with the Power Play add-on are subject to a 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x, or 10x multiplier, selected at random before each drawing. For instance, a $4 prize would become either $8, $12, $16, or $20 with Power Play.

  • The Power Play option is unavailable in California because state laws require that lottery prizes be paid on a pari-mutuel basis. This means that lottery prizes can’t be set at absolute values, but must fluctuate based on the number of tickets sold and the amount of winning tickets.

Fill out your ticket. Though Powerball tickets will vary slightly from state to state, the basic method for filling a ticket out is the same everywhere. On your ticket, you’ll need to specify the numbers you want to bet on, the number of drawings you want, and whether or not you want the Power Play option. Follow the guidelines below for filling out a basic ticket:

  • Fill in the spaces for five numbers from 1-69 and one number from 1-26. Usually, Powerball tickets are divided into multiple sections called “boards” which have rows of multiple-choice style bubbles to fill in to choose your numbers. Each board essentially counts as one $2 ticket. In other words, for $2, you can fill out one board on the ticket and bet on a single set of numbers. Each subsequent board filled out costs $2 more but allows you to bet on an additional set of numbers.
  • Indicate for each board whether you’d like the “Power Play” option. Each board (except in California) should have a space that allows you to buy a Power Play for your set of numbers.
  • For random numbers, fill in the QP space instead of your numbers. “QP” stands for “Quick Pick” – this lets a computer randomly choose numbers for you.
  • Choose how many drawings you want. Most tickets have a “Multidraw” section that allows you to pay for multiple drawings. For instance, if you want to bet on your numbers for two back-to-back drawings, fill in the “2” space. Each subsequent drawing costs as much as an additional ticket.
  • If you make an error on any board, fill in the “VOID” space for that board. Don’t try to erase – instead, mark the board void and fill your numbers in on another board.
  • When you’re finished, pay for your ticket. The clerk will calculate the price of your ticket based on how many boards and Power Plays you’ve selected.
    • For example, if you play 5 draws on one board with a Power Play and 5 without, you would pay 5 × 3 + 5 × 2 = $25.

Alternatively, ask the clerk for a Quick Pick ticket. If you don’t want to fill out a lengthy Powerball ticket by hand or you don’t care which numbers you bet on, you can usually ask for a Quick Pick ticket instead of the normal Powerball ticket. In this case, a computer will randomly choose your numbers for you as if you had filled in the “QP” space for a board on the normal ticket.

Check your numbers for Powerball’s prize-winning combinations. If the numbers you picked match the numbers drawn in any one of nine combinations, you can collect your winnings. Note that the prize amounts below represent base values – Power Play prizes are subject to a 2x, 3x, 4x, or 5x multiplier, selected at random (except for Jackpots, which aren’t multiplied, and prizes for matching five white balls, which will only double). The winning combinations are:

  • Matching only the red ball: $4 winnings
  • Matching the red ball and one white ball: $4
  • Matching the red ball and two white balls: $7
  • Matching three white balls: $7
  • Matching the red ball and three white balls: $100
  • Matching four white balls: $100
  • Matching the red ball and four white balls: $50,000
  • Matching five white balls: $1,000,000
  • Matching the red ball and five white balls: Jackpot!
  • Note: prizes differ in California because state law requires lottery prizes to be awarded on a pari-mutuel basis (where the payout depends on the pool of bets, instead of a fixed payout).

Collect your winnings if your numbers match up. Small prizes can be claimed directly from the vendor you bought the ticket from, while larger prizes require official verification. If your winnings are less than $600, simply go to the lottery retailer with your ticket to claim your winnings. If your winnings are over $600, go to a lottery district office to present your ticket. The precise procedures for claiming large prizes differ from state to state – you may need to fill out a claim form, etc.

  • Powerball tickets do expire. The time window you have to claim a prize differs from state to state – from 90 days to a full year.
  • If you can’t make it to the vendor or lottery office for some reason (for instance, if you’ve left the state you bought the ticket in), it’s legal to mail your ticket to the state lottery office.
  • Powerball provides a map that links you to state lottery pages, which will have more specific information about claiming prizes in your state.
  • Powerball set a world record jackpot of $1.586 billion on January 13, 2016, and that record still holds in 2021.

Choose a payout option for jackpot prizes. Congratulations, you won the jackpot! The only question remaining before you retire is this: how would you like your money? Powerball jackpot winners have two options for receiving their cash–they can receive the entire prize at once in a lump sum, or they can receive it as an annuity–in other words, in yearly installments. Choosing which prize to take is a complicated decision that will differ based on your personal financial situation. Taking the cash as a lump sum will give you lots of money up front, so it may be a good idea if you have a dream purchase or investment you’d like to make immediately. The annuity option invests the cash winnings, gives you your first installment immediately, then gives subsequent payments each year for 29 years (plus interest), which is a better situation for long-term stability.

  • Note that Powerball winnings are subject to federal and/or state income taxes. Because of this, the annuity option will net you more money in the long term – not only will you receive interest on your winnings, but each year you’ll only have to pay taxes on about 1/30th of your total prize, meaning more of your prize will be taxed at a lower bracket. On the other hand, with a large lump sum payment, you can expect to pay up to about half of your winnings in taxes, depending on your state’s income tax rules.

Learn your Powerball odds. Like any lottery, Powerball’s jackpot odds are very slim. Many avid Powerball players consider the excitement of going against the odds to be part of the fun. To make an educated decision when buying Powerball tickets, consult the official odds listed below, which are for a single random $2 ticket:

  • Matching only the red ball: 1 in 38.32
  • Matching the red ball and one white ball: 1 in 91.98
  • Matching the red ball and two white balls: 1 in 701.33
  • Matching three white balls: 1 in 579.76
  • Matching the red ball and three white balls: 1 in 14,494.11
  • Matching four white balls: 1 in 36,525.17
  • Matching the red ball and four white balls: 1 in 913,129.18
  • Matching five white balls: 1 in 11,688,053.52
  • Matching the red ball and five white balls: 1 in 292,201,338.00
  • Overall odds of winning any prize at all: 1 in 24.87

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