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How to Play the Lottery

Types of Lottery Games

New types of lottery games are popping up more and more frequently. But the basics remain Lotto, Little Lottos, Dailies, Multi-State Games, and Instant Games. The Instant Games are scratch-off tickets, while the other lottery games are on-line games because they consist of computer-generated tickets.

Let's look at the various games lottery players love to play, beginning with Lotto, which has become the most popular of all lottery games.

In Lotto, six numbers are drawn from a range of numbers (such as 42, 46, 47, 49, 51, and 54). Michigan, for instance, has a 6-out-of-47 game (6/47), meaning that six numbers are drawn from a possible 47. Florida's Lotto is 6/53, meaning that six numbers are drawn from a possible 53.

To play Lotto, indicate your six chosen numbers by marking the numbered squares on a play slip. Then take the play slip to a lottery retailer (or agent). The retailer enters your selection in the on-line terminal, which produces your game ticket. The ticket, not the play slip, is the official receipt and must be presented and validated in the event of a win. Always check to make sure that the correct date and numbers are on the game ticket before you leave. Lottery agents are found in convenience stores, gas stations, and grocery stores.

The cost for one chance at Lotto is still $1 in many states. So for one chance, or play, at Lotto, you would pay $1. For five plays -- that is, to play five sets of numbers--you would pay $5. Illinois offers a bargain: two plays for $1.

Typically, Lotto drawings are held twice a week, usually on Wednesday and Saturday nights. However, this may not be true for every state.

What's New
in Lottery Games?
In a word -- more. More money (as in larger jackpots), more drawings, and more variety. As you've already learned, some states with large populations -- and large jackpots in their own state games--have joined Mega Millions.

The Dailies might well be called "The Twice Dailies." The Little Lotto drawing used to be a few times a week, but they now might be called "The Dailies." These games, generally speaking, have raised their stakes as well. For example, Minnesota's Gopher 5 changed from 5/39 to 5/47 and New Jersey's Cash 5 went from 5/38 to 5/40.

The trend toward larger jackpots means the odds of winning that jackpot are usually higher. However, the overall odds (of winning a smaller prize) are often lower. Winning the Powerball Jackpot, for example, has gone from nearly 55 million to one, up to 80 million to one, and now to 146 million to one. But it now has nine ways to win.
Even the instant games are getting into the act. Some Scratch-offs have more complexity and more playing areas (thus ways to win) on the same ticket. Of course, these come with a higher price. Instead of only $1 or $2 tickets, now you can choose from $1 to $10 -- and in some states, $20.

The popularity of Powerball-copycat games continues. And in an interesting twist, years ago, Lotto Texas changed from a 6/50 game to 6/54. This upped the previous jackpot odds of nearly 16 million to one to over 25 million to one. Later they changed again to a Bonus-ball-type game with higher odds and bigger jackpots. Due to player disapproval of the Bonus game, however, Texas is now returning to its 6/54 Lotto.

The lottery officials use special ball-drawing machines, and the balls are numbered. The machine randomly shoots out six selected balls; these balls display the winning numbers for that evening's lottery drawing. If all six of your numbers exactly match the numbers drawn, you win the jackpot. In Lotto, your numbers don't need to be listed in any particular order, as long as they match those drawn. If two or more persons correctly pick the six numbers, the winners split the prize money. If no one wins, the prize money rolls over and the jackpot becomes increasingly larger. Not surprisingly, when this occurs, more and more players take part, lured by the huge jackpot.

Now that you know how to play Lotto, you probably want to know how much you can win. The amount of the prize depends upon several factors. Lotto is a pari-mutuel game, meaning the amount of the prize is determined by the total sales for each drawing and the number of winners. Or, if there is no winner, the prize is rolled over, with an increased amount compared to the previous game. The more populous states, such as Texas, New York, and California, will usually have larger jackpots. Shortly after each drawing, your state lottery announces the estimated grand prize amount for the next drawing. Even if you don't match all six numbers, you can still win a prize by matching three, four, or five of the numbers. While the payoff for matching three out of six is small, the odds are better.

Little Lottos
Little Lotto games have better odds and are played more often. The method of play is similar to that of Lotto, but the number of balls drawn and the playing fields are usually lower. For example, in Florida's Fantasy 5 (5/36), the player tries to correctly pick the five numbers drawn from a field of 36. In the Georgia Fantasy 5 (5/39), you must correctly pick the five numbers drawn from a field of 39.

To play a Little Lotto game, select five numbers from your state's field of numbers and mark your play slip. Take the play slip to a lottery agent, who will then give you your game ticket. The game is played the same way as Lotto, with the machine shooting out five selected balls instead of six. If all of your numbers exactly match the numbers drawn, you win a Little Lotto jackpot. As in regular Lotto, your numbers do not have to be in the same order as the winning numbers.

In most states, the drawings are held more often with Little Lotto than Lotto. Generally, they are held six or seven days a week. The amount of the prize money for Little Lotto games works the same as Lotto. But since there are fewer "picks" (five) than in Lotto (six), your odds of winning these games are much better. You can also win smaller prize amounts if only three or four of your numbers match.

The Dailies
If you'd like to try your luck every day or are just looking for better odds, then the Pick 3 and Pick 4 might be the games for you. In most states, you can play them twice a day, six days a week, often once a day on Sundays. For Pick 3 (also called Cash 3), players choose any three-digit number from 000 to 999, and for Pick 4 (or Cash 4), any four-digit number from 0000 to 9999. These have their own special play slips, offering several types of plays. The basic plays in most states are: exact order (straight), any order (box), exact/any (straight/box), or combination. Typically, the cost is: exact order -- 50 cents; any order -- 50 cents; exact/any -- $1; and combination -- $3 (since you are actually buying six exact plays).

If you mark any order, you win if your three numbers are drawn -- no matter in what order. If you choose exact/any and your three digits are in the exact order drawn, you win the prize for exact plus the prize for any. Or if you choose the correct numbers, but not in the correct order, you still win the smaller payoff. If you mark combination, you are covering all bets. A combination play gives you all possible exact (straight) combinations of your three numbers on one ticket. Let's say for a Pick 3 game you chose the numbers 4-0-7, and the drawing results are 7-4-0. If you marked exact order, you win nothing.

If you marked any order or exact/any, you win the smaller payoff. If you marked combination, you win the same amount as if you'd bought an exact (straight) ticket. Or you may have chosen the numbers 5-1-6, and the numbers drawn are 5-1-6. If you had marked any order, you would win, but not as much as if you had marked exact order or combination. And if you had purchased an exact/any ticket, you'd win even more.

Unlike Lotto, the payout on most states' daily games is not determined by the pool of players. Pick 3 and Pick 4 usually have fixed prize amounts geared to the odds. In fact, these games are associated with a different set of mathematics than Lotto. The odds in the Dailies are much lower than in Lotto, and so is the payout in case of a win. The odds of picking three digits in exact order on one play are 1,000 to one; the odds of picking four digits in exact order on one play are 10,000 to one. In the Texas Pick 3 game, if you correctly picked the three digits in the right order, and had placed 50 cents on "exact order," you'd win $250. If you had placed a $1 bet, you'd win $500.

Multi-state Games
Originally, states with relatively small populations joined together to create games that have bigger jackpots. Games now include states with a wide range of populations. One such game is Mega Millions, formerly called The Big Game, which is now played in California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

Mega Millions has two separate drawings -- one of which is a "bonus" type ball, or the Megaball. Along with the "Mega" jackpots are, of course, mega odds. In 2000, while still called The Big Game, it made headlines when it offered the largest jackpot in North American history -- $363 million.

Another game with really big stakes is Powerball, offered by the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL). It's played in 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. To win, the player must correctly pick five numbers drawn from a field of 55 (5/55) and also correctly pick the Powerball number, which is one number drawn from a field of 42 (1/42). Two separate ball-drawing machines are used.

Powerball has formidable odds against winning. But the payoff is comparable to Mega Millions and has made it one of the most popular lotteries in America. As in Lotto, you can still win a smaller amount if you correctly pick some of the numbers. These drawings are held every Wednesday and Saturday night.

Instant Games
The Instant Games, also called "scratch-off" games, don't involve picking numbers and may be purchased at any time. The popularity of "scratch-offs" is due to several reasons. First, the games are colorful and fun to play. Second, a player doesn't need to pick numbers or fill out a play slip. And finally, there's no waiting -- just scratch off the spots.

Many states introduce new Instant Games every few weeks. (Michigan offers nearly one new game a week.) Some are more popular than others and are kept going for a longer period of time. Other games are soon discontinued, only to reappear months or years later. Still others are seasonally or holiday oriented, such as the various versions of Stocking Stuffer, Holiday Cash, Heat Wave, and Mother's Day. Different versions of the same game often crop up in several states, such as Arizona's Hold'Em Poker, Minnesota's Minnesota Hold'Em, and Texas's Hold'Em. Then there are the perennials, such as Monopoly, Bingo, and Win for Life.

With a few exceptions, the top prizes on instant tickets are much lower than Lotto jackpots. In addition to the top prizes in each game, the player has a chance to win smaller dollar amounts ranging from $1 to $50.

Here's how one of them is played: In Michigan's Ducks in a Row, players scratch off the spots, and if they find three duck symbols down, across, or diagonally, they'll win the amount shown in the prize box.

A scratch-off system? Technically speaking, there are no systems for beating these instant games. There are no numbers to pick, and the prizes are predetermined before you even buy your ticket. But "scratch" the surface of a lottery player and you'll find a system.

Some people keep tabs on the prizes already awarded in each game, and they buy only those games that have sev-eral of the larger prizes remaining. Most state lotteries have lists available that include the prize amounts of each game, how many of each there are, and how many remain.

Quick Picks
For the person who doesn't wish to take time to select his own numbers, Quick Picks (computer-generated random numbers) are an easy option. Instead of filling out a play slip, you simply tell the clerk you want a Quick Pick. The machine will then issue you a ticket with randomly generated numbers. Considering the convenience of Quick Picks, why do players bother to pick their own numbers? Many players believe their "system" -- whatever it may be -- gives them an edge. And who knows? Maybe they're right. Besides, picking your own numbers is part of the fun of lottery games. Read the next page to find out more about number-picking strategies.