Today, the Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are soaring to record highs: $620 million and $1.6 billion respectively. It seems like everyone is rushing to buy a ticket – or twenty. (Here's an explainer of how much you'd actually take home if you win.) Some claim there's a strategy, others say it's all luck, but what's important to remember is that not all lotteries are created equal.
What are the rules?
You don't have to be a United States citizen or resident in order to participate, but you do have to meet an age requirement which varies by state. If you win and are underage, your winnings will be considered void. Most states require that participants are 18-years-old; however, you have to be at least 19-years-old in Nebraska. Louisiana and Iowa require ticket holders are 21-years-old.
How do I buy tickets?
You can buy tickets at most convenience stores as long as they're a licensed distributor. Both Mega Millions and Powerball tickets cost $2 each. If you live in Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, or Michigan and can't get to the store, you're in luck. They're some of the few states that allow you to buy Powerball tickets online. The one catch is that you have to have a valid address in one of those states to buy tickets.
If you live in Nevada, Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Alaska, or Hawaii, you won't be able to buy Mega Millions tickets in your state. According to the Mega Millions website, If you are a resident of Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina or North Dakota, you can buy Mega Millions tickets online by registering with the lotteries of those states. That said, if you're passing through another state or feel like taking a road trip, there's nothing stopping you from buying them in any of the other 44 participating states. If you're from another country, purchase tickets while visiting, and win, you'll likely have to come claim the prize money in the state you won. You will also be subject to the state and federal taxes of the state you purchased the ticket in.
How do I choose numbers?
To choose numbers for the Powerball, each player selects five numbers between one and 69 and a number between one and 26 for the Powerball number. For Mega Millions, the process is similar. Each player chooses five numbers from one to 70 in addition to a Mega number from one to 25. According to an ABC News analysis of past winning numbers, 8, 54, 14, 39 and 13 are the most frequently drawn numbers. If you're not sure what numbers to pick and are tempted to pick a birthday or anniversary as your lottery numbers, you might want to let the computer decide for you. The Powerball website claims that 70% of past jackpot winners used Quick Picks, the computer system that generates a random combination of numbers.
What happens if two people pick the same number?
Given the already slim chances of winning the lottery, it is unlikely that you'd have to share your winnings with many people in the event that multiple people chose the winning numbers. According to the Powerball's FAQ section online, "If more than one person wins the jackpot, the prize is equally divided among the winners. All other prizes, from $1 million down to $4, are fixed prize amounts, and are paid in full to each winner." The same goes for Mega Millions. The jackpot will be divided equally among everyone who selected the winning number.
What is my chance of winning?
Your odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot is roughly 1 in 302.6 million. Your odds of winning the Powerball are slightly better at 1 in 292 million. For a reference, the total population of the U.S. is about 325 million. If you're buying tickets for both in the hopes that you'll be twice as lucky and win Mega Millions and the Powerball, buckle up for some crazy odds: According to CBS, your chances of winning Mega Millions and the Powerball are one in 88 quadrillion. That's 88 followed by 15 zeros.
When will we find out who won?
The next drawing for Mega Millions is October 23. For the Power Ball it's October 24. We could find out who wins on those days; however, if no one has the winning numbers, the total winnings will continue to grow until the next drawing. This continues until someone gets the winning numbers. Last year, the lottery officials who run Mega Millions altered the rules and odds so that jackpots pay out less frequently to make monstrously large jackpots a more frequent occurrence, reports CNBC.