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Frequently Asked Questions

Lottery Sales

How many lotteries are there?
In North America every Canadian province, 45 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands all offer government-operated lotteries. Elsewhere in the world government-operated lotteries exist in at least 100 countries on every inhabited continent. In some cases they are operated by national governments, in other cases by state or provincial governments, and in still others by cities.

What types of games do they offer?
Games vary by jurisdiction. Most offer instant or scratch-off tickets. Many offer lotto and/or numbers games. Some also offer keno or video lottery terminals. Raffles or passive games are less common. A few government lotteries also operate video lottery terminals, casinos and/or racinos in their jurisdictions. And a growing number offer various types of sports betting, iLottery and/or iGaming.

How much do North American lotteries sell?
During fiscal year 2023, U.S. lottery sales totaled over $113.3 billion. Canadian sales exceeded C$10.8 (this number includes GGR for all lottery products in Quebec).

What jurisdictions sold the most?
Florida led the U.S. (and North America) with traditional game sales of $9.8 billion in fiscal 2023, followed by California with sales of $9.2 billion. The Canadian leader was Ontario, with fiscal 2023 sales of C$4.6 billion.

Lottery Revenues

What do lottery revenues benefit?
Lottery proceeds benefit different programs in different jurisdictions. In many cases lottery profits are combined with tax and other revenues in a government's general fund. In other cases lottery proceeds are dedicated to a wide range of causes, including education, economic development, the environment, programs for senior citizens and veterans, health care, sports facilities, capital construction projects, cultural activities, tax relief, and others.

Who decides where the money goes?
The recipients of lottery proceeds are specified in a jurisdiction’s lottery legislation, the lottery’s rules and regulations, and the state or provincial constitutions.

How much money do lotteries raise?
Since the New Hampshire lottery was founded in 1964, lotteries have raised more than $614.0 billion for government programs in the United States, and more than C$83.8 billion in Canada. In fiscal year 2023 U.S. lotteries transferred almost $30.4 billion to their beneficiaries, while Canadian lotteries turned over C$3.6 billion to theirs.

Purchasing Lottery Tickets

Where are lottery tickets sold?
Lottery tickets are sold at approximately 223,000 locations throughout the U.S. Many of these locations are conventional retail outlets such as convenience stores, gas stations, and supermarkets. Traditional mom and pop stores are also a large part of the lottery retail network.

Who can sell lottery tickets?
State and provincial laws set standards to sell lottery tickets based on financial soundness and integrity of the retail agent. Generally, any retailer meeting these standards will be eligible to apply to their jurisdiction’s lottery to obtain the required licensing needed to sell lottery tickets.

How much do these retail outlets make for selling lottery products?
Retailers are paid a commission on every ticket they sell. These commissions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but typically range from 5% to 8% depending on the specific product being sold. Retailers may also be compensated for cashing winning tickets, awarded bonuses when they sell a ticket that wins a major prize, or rewarded for exceeding sales goals. Retailers typically pay a license fee and in some cases other costs relating to the sale of lottery tickets. These costs also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

If I don't live in a state with a lottery, how can I buy a ticket?
You must travel to a state or province with a lottery and buy the ticket there from a licensed lottery retailer. Lottery tickets cannot legally be sold by mail, telephone, or in any other type of interstate commerce.

Can lottery employees play the lottery?
Usually, no, though laws do vary from place to place. In most cases the employee's immediate family and employees of lottery suppliers are also not allowed to play. In practice, there is no way that employees could alter the outcome of a game in their favor, but lottery officials generally believe that public confidence would be damaged should an employee win a large prize.


Lottery Prizes

What was the biggest prize in history?
A single ticket sold in California won a Powerball jackpot worth $2.04 billion after matching all six numbers in the Nov. 7, 2022, drawing. The Powerball jackpot that had eluded players for three months was finally hit on the 41st draw of the run. Final ticket sales had pushed the jackpot beyond its earlier estimate, making it the world’s largest lottery prize ever won.

What will happen if I win a big prize?
Winners of large prizes must bring the winning ticket to lottery headquarters -- the amount for which you must show up in person varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The ticket will be examined by lottery security staff for authentication. The lottery usually offers some advice on seeking financial and legal guidance along with some practical advice like getting an unlisted phone number. Some jurisdictions have laws that require the lottery to announce the name and city of every winner (to assure the public that there are real winners). 

Can winners remain anonymous?
In some jurisdictions, no. State and provincial lawmakers want their residents to know that the lottery is honestly run and so require that at a minimum the name of the winner and their city of residence be made public. This way, all can be reassured that the prize really was paid out to a real person.

Some large lottery prizes pay out over a period of several years. What if the holder of this type of prize dies before collecting it all?
In this case the prize is considered to be part of the estate and is passed along to the winner's heirs. Contrary to popular belief, the prize does not revert to the government. The only exceptions are "win for life" games, where a prize is guaranteed for the rest of the winner's life. In this case the payments stop with the winner's death.

How long do I have to claim my prize?
The time to claim a prize varies from place to place, but typically it is between three months and one year.

What happens to prizes that aren't claimed?
The disposition of unclaimed prizes varies from lottery to lottery and is governed by the laws of that state or province. In some cases all unclaimed prizes reenter the prize pool and increase the payout on future games. In other cases the money goes to the government to benefit the causes the lottery supports.


Who Plays the Lottery

Who buys lottery tickets?
People from all walks of life and all income levels like to play lottery games. Across the United States, players bought more than $113.3 billion in lottery products in fiscal year 2023. Lotteries market games to society as a whole, just like any other business selling a product in a competitive marketplace. The result is that players come from across the income spectrum and reflect the demographics of the jurisdiction. 


Lotteries and Problem Gambling


What do lotteries do to prevent problem gambling?
According to National Council on Problem Gambling, research indicates that most adults who choose to gamble are able to do so responsibly. Approximately 85% of U.S. adults have gambled at least once in their lives; 60% in the past year. About 1% of U.S. adults meet the diagnostic criteria for severe gambling problems.

Nevertheless, NASPL has made responsible gambling a major priority in its day-to-day operations. In partnership with the National Council on Problem Gambling, the NASPL-NCPG Responsible Gambling Best Practices and Verification program marks the first time a segment of the U.S. gambling industry has adopted a responsible gaming framework and independent verification process for its members. As of February 2024, 28 U.S. lotteries have achieved verification. Additionally, 100% of eligible NASPL member lotteries regularly participate in Problem Gambling Awareness Month and the NCPG/McGill University Holiday Campaign to promote responsible gift giving of lottery games and products.


Lottery Regulation


Who regulates lotteries?
Lotteries are regulated by their state or provincial governments. Federal regulation in the U.S. is limited to interstate distribution of tickets and interstate advertising.


Lottery Odds


I bought six tickets for a game where the odds were one in four, and none of them were winners. Doesn't this show that the prizes aren't awarded randomly?
No. Consider tossing a coin. It is certainly possible for a coin to come up heads four, five, or more times in a row, even though the odds are one in two. Part of randomness is the concept that every ticket has the identical chance of winning and that the result of one ticket has no impact on the next. 

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