The Most Popular Lotteries in the United States

There are a large number of different lotteries that run in the United States, and a big part of that is just how large and spread out the population is. However, there are six in particular that dominate all of the rest and that have turned tons of people into millionaires over the years.

An Introduction to the Top US Lotteries

Something that people don’t always understand, even people from the United States, is that the US is a very large place, and there are a whole lot of people there. The country is divided into 50 states and a number of other smaller territories and other areas, and those individual states are the governing bodies over which lotteries are allowed in each state.

More than 45 of the 50 states allow a lottery in some form, and the states that do not are among some of the least populated.

As a result of that, and considering how easy it is to drive across state lines to play if you are in a state without it, the vast majority of people in the United States have access to lottery games.

Like you might expect, certain companies offer their games in multiple states, and those are generally the ones that dominate in terms of overall popularity. We’re going to look at those, why they’re so popular and what they offer players.

Mega Millions

Mega Millions is one of the most popular lottery games in the United States (along with Powerball), and the actual top popularity in terms of ticket sales is usually determined by how much the top jackpot is at any given time.

The main idea behind the Mega Millions jackpot is that players start with a jackpot of $40 million that then increases in size by a static $5 million each drawing until the jackpot is eventually won. It doesn’t matter how many people buy tickets; it always increases by $5 million on a weekly basis.

Players choose five numbers from 1 to 70 along with an additional ball that runs from 1 to 25. The five numbers are known as the “white balls” and the additional as the “gold ball” or “Mega ball” because of the colors of the balls used for the physical drawing itself.

Along these lines, wins are determined by matching certain combinations of different numbers of balls.

  • Five Matches w/Mega Ball – Jackpot Payout
  • Five Matches – $1 million
  • Four Matches w/Mega Ball – $10,000
  • Four Matches – $500
  • Three Matches w/Mega Ball – $200
  • Three Matches – $10
  • Two Matches w/Mega Ball – $10
  • One Match w/Mega Ball – $4
  • No Matches w/Mega Ball – $2

Something really attractive about this game, that contributes to its popularity, is the fact that you can win by matching almost any combination of numbers other than just getting one or two matches with no Mega Ball.


Aside from the Mega Millions, the other most popular lottery game in the United States is Powerball. It’s easy to see why they’re both so popular because they play in similar ways with mostly minor differences.

You pick from two sets of numbers in this game as well. For example, you’ll pick five numbers from 1-69 for the main picks, and then you’ll choose a single number from 1 to 26 that’s called the Powerball, and that’s where the name of the game comes from.

Each ticket costs $2, but players also have the ability to add on extra chances to win bigger prizes with the Power Play, which increases the cost by $1 per ticket. However, the jackpot stays the same and is always worth at least $40 million.

For the regular Powerball drawing without the Power Play option, then the following payouts are available:

  • Five Matches w/Powerball – Jackpot Payout
  • Five Matches – $1 million
  • Four Matches w/Powerball – $50,000
  • Four Matches – $100
  • Three Matches w/Powerball – $100
  • Three Matches – $7
  • Two Matches w/Powerball – $7
  • One Match w/Powerball – $4
  • No Matches w/Powerball – $4

As you can see, the winning conditions are similar, but the is one main difference in the prize distribution. It’s a bit harder to get correct picks for the regular balls because there are more of them, and this is reflected in the game having a more top-heavy payout structure.

Megabucks Plus

Megabucks Plus is a part of the Tri-State lottery that runs in Main, New Hampshire and Vermont. Despite being only ran in three states, it’s still one of the few most popular games in the country, and thousands of people come from across states lines each year to play.

The top jackpot starts off at the $1 million level, and other prizes are available as well. You’ll pick five numbers from 1-41 along with a Megaball pick, and the layout of how the prizes work is similar to the other lotteries we’ve looked at here:

  • Five Matches w/Megaball – Jackpot Payout
  • Five Matches – $30,000
  • Four Matches w/Megaball – $1,300
  • Four Matches – $150
  • Three Matches w/Megaball – $25
  • Three Matches – $7
  • Two Matches w/Megaball – $5
  • Two Matches – $2
  • One Matche w/Megaball – $2

It’s worth noting that this game pays for two matches or more (including the Megaball) no matter how they come out, and that’s appealing for players who don’t like the fact that you can match two numbers in some other games and still not get paid.

Like many lotteries in the US, this game requires $2 costs per ticket, and many people buy tickets based on different sets of numbers for each drawing or the same set of numbers across several drawings.

Lucky 4 Life

The Lucky 4 Life lottery is operated in 26 different states, and it’s particularly popular int he Northeast and the East Coast states in general. Each play costs $2, which is the standardized industry amount in the United States. However, some of the top prizes are presented in different ways, which we’ll look at below.

Players pick five numbers from 1-48 and then a single number from 1-18 that’s the “Green Ball.” What’s worth noting is that this game does not give players a progressive jackpot that increases over time, but there’s a different gimmick for the top two wins.

If you win the top prize, which is for five matches with the Lucky Ball, then you get two options. You can be paid $1,000 per day for 20 years, or you can take a cash option of $5,750,000. Likewise, the second place prize (five matches without a Lucky Ball) has a similar arrangement where players can take $25,000 each year or $390,000 cash. If you happen to die before the 20 years is up, then that money will still be paid to your estate.

The other prizes are listed as follows:

  • Four Matches w/Lucky Ball – $5,000
  • Four Matches – $200
  • Three Matches w/Lucky Ball – $150
  • Two Matches w/Lucky Ball – $25
  • Three Matches – $20
  • One Match w/Lucky Ball – $6
  • No Matches w/Lucky Ball – $4
  • Two Matches – $3

Something worth noting about this game is that the bottom end of the pay table seems a bit unorganized, but it’s because the payouts are based on the actual chance of getting those specific winning combinations.

Lotto America

The original Lotto America was replaced by Powerball in the early-mid 1990s, but it was eventually brought back in the mid-2010s as its own game. It’s played in 13 states, mostly in the Mid West US, and it uses the typical $2 cost per ticket seen from these other games.

To play this game, you pick five numbers from 1-52, and then you pick a special “Star Ball” that can run from 1-10 that’s the standard secondary ball found in most games.

The payouts for this game are as follows:

  • Five Matches w/Star Ball – Jackpot Payout
  • Five Matches – $20,000
  • Four Matches w/Star Ball – $1,000
  • Four Matches – $100
  • Three Matches w/Star Ball – $20
  • Three Matches – $5
  • Two Matches w/Star Ball – $5
  • One Match w/Star Ball – $2
  • No Matches w/Star Ball – $2

There are a few key things to point out here. First, the $2 payout for matching just the star ball is very appealing to players who want to win back at least the amount they wagered. Additionally, the jackpot starts at the $2 million level but has been seen above the $10 million mark.

You also have the option with this game to play the All Star Bonus. This will multiply the non-jackpot wins by a random amount ranging from 2x to 5x (amount announced with the drawing), and it costs an extra $1 per ticket to play. There’s not an even chance of each of these multipliers being chosen, but it ranges from just under a 50 percent chance to be 2x to around a 10 percent chance to be 5x.


The Cash4Life lottery first got their foot in the door in New York and New Jersey. However, they’ve spread all up and down the East Coast of the United States and now operate from Florida and Georgia all the way up to Pennsylvania with games available in nine different states.

Cash4Life, as the name implies, is another one of these games where you get the option to pick up regular payments “for the rest of your life.” You also get immediate payout options, but the top prizes are always static and are not progressive jackpots like some games.

You’ll play at $2 per drawing, which is exactly the same as all of the other most popular drawing-based lotteries in the United States. You’ll pick five balls from 1-60 along with the “Cash Ball” that’s simply 1-4, which makes it much easier to hit than most other games. This also changes the odds quite a bit along similar lines.

The top payout for five matches with the cash back is $1,000 daily for “life” or a cash option worth $7 million. Likewise, you can pick up five matches without the cash ball for a $1 million cash option or $1,000 weekly. The remaining payouts are as follows:

  • Four Matches w/Cash Ball – $2,500
  • Four Matches – $500
  • Three Matches w/Cash Ball – $100
  • Three Matches – $25
  • Two Matches w/Cash Ball – $10
  • Two Matches – $4
  • One Match w/Cash Ball – $2

If you’re playing from New Jersey only, then you get an option to play the Doubler NJ add-on. This doubles all of the non-lifetime options (ie: everything but the top two prizes) in exchange for adding $1 to the price of the ticket to make it a total cost of $3.

Another key thing to understand about this lottery in particular is that there is a drawing every single night. For players who might have been familiar with this lottery in the past, the drawing used to be held twice each week (Mondays and Thursdays) instead, but this was changed in mid-2019.

Other State Lotteries

Each of the major lottery companies, corresponding to the major lotteries noted above, will have smaller games available as well. This includes a very wide range of scratch-off tickets in addition to other “pick” style games.

For really simple example, you have the Carolina Pick 3 in North Carolina. You pick three numbers 0-9 either in what they call a 3-Way (a set of numbers with two matching digits like 332 or 858) or a 6-Way (a set of numbers with no matching digits like 847 or 184). From there, you win based on if your numbers match up with the numbers that are drawn for static prizes.

You’ll find pick 3 and pick 4 style games that work more or less the same way in virtually every state, and the only real differences are usually the payout structures since those are determined by each individual state’s board.

The point in this is to see that there are always a lot of extra options available other than the most popular, “big name” lotteries that can still give you a lot of action, and the tickets usually cost less. In the Carolina Pick 3 example above, you can play for as little as $0.50 or $1 per ticket.


The lottery scene in the United States is very serious, and at the time of this writing, there are really only two states that have no form of lottery or lottery-like games available. The whole idea is that this money goes into local and state government funds for things like education and social programs, so the money is typically going to a good cause.

Something else worth noting is that there’s a lot of variety. While the big names we have listed out in the above are the most popular options available, they aren’t the only options available, and that means that players have a ton of other ways to try to play and enjoy themselves.

As a result, players can really pick out the types of games that speak to them as individuals.