How Powerball Works: What You Need to Know to Win

The Ultimate Guide to Playing and Winning the Powerball Lottery

Numbers on lottery ticket
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What Is the Powerball Lottery?

Powerball is a multi-state lottery run in all but eight of the US states, as well as the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. When it replaced the Lotto*America lottery in 1992, it became the first lottery game to use two drums to draw winners (one for the white balls and one for the red Powerball itself). Winners are drawn on Wednesday and Saturday nights at 10:59 PM Eastern Time through drawings conducted at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.

The winning numbers are announced on television, on the Powerball website, and in newspapers, among other locations.

The Powerball Lottery offers a Jackpot which starts at $40 million and grows by at least $10 million each time the Jackpot is not awarded. The jackpot can, and often does, reach values of hundreds of millions of dollars and more. As of late 2016, the largest lottery jackpot in the history of the world was a Powerball jackpot worth over $1.5 billion dollars.

But there's more to Powerball than just the jackpots. In every drawing, other cash prizes worth between $4 and $2,000,000 are also awarded. The value of the prizes winners receive depends on how many numbers they guess correctly, and the number of prizes awarded is limited only by how many people make correct guesses.

How Much Does It Cost to Play Powerball?

Basic Powerball cards cost $2 each. For an additional dollar, you can add the PowerPlay option, which increases the size of your prize if you correctly guess one to five qualifying numbers (note that PowerPlay doesn't affect the size of the jackpot.

There's no increasing that $1.5 billion payout!).

If you purchase the PowerPlay option, the value of any prize you win for matching fewer than five balls will be multiplied between 2 and 5 times. The multiplier will be drawn at random. If the jackpot is worth less than $150 million, there will also be the chance that a 10x multiplier will be drawn.

How Do You Play Powerball?

Powerball is a two-drum lottery game. One drum holds 69 white balls, while the other drum holds 26 red balls. Only one red ball will be drawn, and that red ball is called the Powerball.

When you buy your ticket, you'll select five numbers (these winning numbers will be drawn from the first drum with the white balls) and one Powerball number (the winning Powerball number will be drawn from the second drum with the red balls). You can choose your Powerball numbers or you can let the Powerball machine drawn your numbers randomly.

Do Powerball Numbers Have to Be In the Right Order to Win?

The order of your first five Powerball numbers doesn't affect your chances of winning. So if you pick the numbers 1 3 9 13 17 and the Powerball 6, and the winning numbers come up 17 9 1 3 13 (6), you'll still win the jackpot.

How Many Balls Do You Need to Win a Powerball Prize?

To win a Powerball prize, you only need to pick one single number correctly: the red Powerball. With a basic cost of $2, you have one in 26 odds of doubling your investment in buying a ticket (there are 26 red balls to choose among).

To win the Powerball Jackpot, you need to match all five white balls in any order, as well as the red Powerball.

Here are the Powerball payouts:

Basic Powerball Payouts:

  • 5 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: Jackpot
  • 5 Correct White Balls, but no Powerball: $1,000,000
  • 4 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: $10,000
  • 4 Correct White Balls, but no Powerball: $100
  • 3 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: $100
  • 3 Correct White Balls, but no Powerball: $7
  • 2 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: $7
  • 1 Correct White Ball and the Powerball: $4
  • No White Balls, Just the Powerball: $4

Powerball with PowerPlay Payouts:

No White Balls, Just the Powerball: $8 - $40*

  • 5 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: Jackpot
  • 5 Correct White Balls, but no Powerball: $2,000,000
  • 4 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: $20,000 - $100,000*
  • 4 Correct White Balls, but no Powerball: $200 - $1,000*
  • 3 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: $200 - $1,000*
  • 3 Correct White Balls, but no Powerball: $14 - $70*
  • 2 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: $14 - $70*
  • 1 Correct White Ball and the Powerball: $8 - $40*

*The exact payout will depend on whether a 2X, 3X, 4X, 5X, or 10X multiplier was drawn at random. The 10X multiplier is available only for jackpots worth less than $150 million.

What Are the Odds of Winning Powerball?

Powerball.com lists the odds of winning a Powerball prize. As of January 13, 2016, the odds were listed as follows:

  • 5 White Balls and Powerball (Jackpot): 1 in 292,201,338.00
  • 5 White Balls, but no Powerball: 1 in 11,688,053.52
  • 4 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: 1 in 913,129.18
  • 4 Correct White Balls, but no Powerball: 1 in 36,525.17
  • 3 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: 1 in 14,494.11
  • 3 Correct White Balls, but no Powerball: 1 in 579.76
  • 2 Correct White Balls and the Powerball: 1 in 701.33
  • 1 Correct White Ball and the Powerball: 1 in 91.98
  • No White Balls, Just the Powerball: 1 in 38.32
  • Overall Odds of Winning Any Prize: 1 in 24.87

Is There a Secret to Winning Powerball?

The Powerball.com FAQ Page points out that if you buy a Powerball card for every possible red ball, you'll be guaranteed to win at least the small prize. Of course, you'll have spent $52 to guarantee a $4 win, but if you match some of the white balls on those 39 cards as well, your total winnings could be higher.

Other than that, there's no secret to choosing winning numbers that will improve your odds. The number draw is totally random. However, you can read my lottery winning tips that really work to find no-nonsense tips to help you win lotteries.

If you have friends or coworkers who enjoy playing the lottery, you can also join together to increase your odds of winning without paying more money by using a lottery pool.

Is Playing Powerball Worthwhile?

Whenever the Powerball Jackpot gets really big, tons of people start entering for the chance of winning hundreds of millions of dollars. After all, about one in five people believe that the best way to get rich is to hit a lottery jackpot. But does it make sense to play Powerball?

There's no definitive answer to that question. But statisticians have devised a formula to help you determine whether the risk is worth the potential payoff. To find out what that formula is and how it works, read the entertaining and informative article, Is Powerball a Mug's Game? from Slate.

Which States Do Not Participate in the Powerball Lottery?

The Powerball Lottery is not available in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Mississippi, Alabama, Alaska, and Hawaii.

How Will You Know When You Win the Powerball Lottery?

To find out if you've won a Powerball prize, you need to check your numbers. If you are contacted by someone telling you you've won a jackpot, you're probably dealing with a lottery scam.

Many television stations broadcast the Powerball drawings live. You can also check your local newspaper or Google for the results online.

You can even bring your ticket to a gas station, convenience store, or other location which sells tickets, to let them check your winnings for you. Just be sure to sign your ticket first, to avoid being scammed out of a win. It's best to ask for the winning numbers and check yourself than to hand over your ticket and ask if you've won.

If you want to check the winning numbers online, see my list of winning lottery numbers by state for the right links.

Want to know more about winning the lottery? Check out How to Play the MegaMillions Lottery. Want to hear about some lottery winners you definitely won't envy? Read about these Lottery Curse Victims. And avoid becoming one yourself by reading How to Win the Lottery Without Losing Your Shirt.

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