How to Play (and Win) the Powerball and Mega Millions Lottery

Americans have caught lottery fever as the combined jackpots for both the Mega Millions and the Powerball have hit $1 billion.

The Mega Millions jackpot is worth $667 million heading into the October 16 drawing. That’s the largest jackpot in Mega Millions history. Meanwhile, the Powerball jackpot is worth $345 million, with the next drawing set for October 17.

How to play the Mega Millions lottery

Mega Millions Lottery ticket

Powerball and Mega Millions lottery tickets | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

With sky-high jackpots, even non-gamblers are willing to try their luck. If you’ve never played the lottery before, here’s what you need to know.

Mega Millions tickets cost $2 each and can be purchased at lottery retailers in 44 states. (Six states don’t participate. Sorry, residents of Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, and Utah — you’re out of luck.)

You’ll pick six numbers for each ticket: five numbers between 1 and 70 and one number between 1 and 25 – the Mega Ball. If you don’t want to select your own numbers, you can go with the Quick Picks, and your numbers will be chosen for you.

In some states, like Texas and Wisconsin, you buy a “Just the Jackpot” ticket. This ticket costs $3, but gives you two plays. The catch is that you only win if you get all six winning numbers. That’s different from a standard Mega Millions ticket, where players who match some but not all of the numbers are entitled to smaller prizes.

There’s also the Megaplier option, which is available in most states. For an extra $1 per play, any non-jackpot winnings will be multiplied.

How to play the Powerball lottery

Playing the Powerball is very similar to playing the Mega Millions. Tickets cost $2 and are sold in the same 44 states that also have the Mega Millions drawing. Players choose five numbers between 1 and 69 and one number between 1 and 26 – the Powerball. You can select your own numbers or go with the Quick Picks.

Powerball doesn’t have a Just the Jackpot option, but you can get a Powerplay for an extra $1 per ticket, which multiplies non-jackpot prizes.

How to win the Mega Millions

The odds of winning any prize in the Mega Millions drawing are better than you think: 1 in 24. But your chances of winning big are much smaller.

Your odds of taking home the entire jackpot – which currently has a cash value of $380 million if you choose the lump-sum payout – are 1 in 302 million.

What about the smaller prizes? If you match five numbers but not the Mega Ball, you’ll win $1 million. The odds of that happening are 1 in 12.6 million. If you match four numbers and the Mega Ball, you’ll take home $10,000. The odds there are about 1 in 1 million. You can also win smaller payouts for other combinations of winning numbers.

You have a 1 in 37 chance of at least getting your $2 back by matching the Mega Ball number.

How to win the Powerball

The odds of winning any prize in the Powerball are similar to the Mega Millions: 1 in 25.

Your odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292 million. To win the $1 million jackpot, you need to match all five winning numbers, but not the Powerball. The odds of that happening are about 1 in 11.7 million. If you just match the Powerball, you’ll double your money, taking home a whopping $4 prize. Overall, there are nine ways to win the Powerball.

Can you increase your odds of winning the lottery?

Lottery Winner

Balbir Atwal, owner of the California 7-Eleven that sold a winning Powerball ticket in 2016, holds up a $1 million check he received from the California State Lottery | Ringo Chiu/Getty Images

Technically, you can increase your chances of winning the lottery if you buy more tickets. But because your odds of winning are already so small, shelling out for a big stack of tickets doesn’t increase your chances of taking home the grand prize by all that much.

Other people swear that you can give yourself an edge by picking your numbers strategically. LottoNumbers.com tracks the most and least common numbers, overdue numbers, and more for the Mega Millions, Powerball, and other jackpots.

If you really want to make money from the lottery, your best bet might be to get into the business of selling tickets. Stores that sell lotto tickets get a commission on each sale and rake in more cash whenever the jackpot gets big and people go on a buying frenzy. Plus, in many states they get a bonus if they sell the winning ticket. Then there’s the value of the publicity that comes with being known as a lucky store, which can lead to a spike in sales.

The next Mega Millions drawing will take place on Tuesday, October 16 at 11 p.m. ET. The next Powerball drawing is scheduled for Wednesday, October 17 at 10:59 ET.

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