Why Do Some States Win the Lottery More?

With the recent huge $530 million Mega Millions ticket sold in California and the $344.6 million Powerball win in North Carolina, attention has turned again to why some states seem to win the lottery more often than others. 

A video explaining why some states seem luckier than others.

Why Does the East Coast Always Seem to Win the Lottery?

It may feel like the East Coast always wins, and in fact they do account for a lot of jackpot hits. Three East Coast states (New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina) have accounted for half the Mega Millions and Powerball wins so far in 2019 (three out of six). 

Add California, and the East plus West Coast made up two-thirds of jackpot prizes this year (four out of six).

2019 Mega Millions Jackpot Wins

2019 Powerball Jackpot Wins

And of course, who could forget the amazing $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot won in another East Coast state, South Carolina, in October last year?

Lottery Games Are Random

“I don’t live on the coast. Will I ever win the lottery?”

If you’re asking yourself that question right about now, don’t give up hope! 

Lottery officials emphasize that the games are fair and every player has the same chance of winning as any other. 

“Lottery games are random, so by design there is no way to predict where the next winning ticket will be sold,” said Holli Armstrong, the spokesperson for the South Carolina Education Lottery.

“For terminal-generated games, like Powerball, players can either pick their own numbers or have the terminal randomly select numbers for them,” Armstrong explained. “A drawing is held and the winning numbers are randomly selected. After the drawing has taken place, the Lottery posts the number of winning tickets sold for that draw on our website ... there is no way to predict the number of winning tickets in a year that will result from the drawings held.” 

Factors That Influence Jackpot Wins

So the East Coast does seem more likely to win the jackpot than other parts of the country, but the lottery games are fair and random.

What gives?

There are a number of variables that impact how many wins a state has had. Let’s take a look at some of them …

Population

Population is a major factor in why some areas win more. Of the top 10 states with the highest population, five are in the East and only one (California) in the West. 

If you look at the top 15, over half - eight in total (Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts) - are in the East. Just two (California and Washington state) are in the West. 

Top 15 States With the Highest Population

  1. California
  2. Texas
  3. Florida
  4. New York
  5. Pennsylvania
  6. Illinois
  7. Ohio
  8. Georgia
  9. North Carolina
  10. Michigan
  11. New Jersey
  12. Virginia
  13. Washington (state)
  14. Arizona
  15. Massachusetts

The bottom line? There are just more players buying tickets in the East, and hence more jackpot wins in the Eastern states.

How Long A State Has Had the Lottery

The “best state” to play Powerball is actually in the Midwest: Indiana has scooped the top prize 39 times, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association.

But wait - luck may not have much to do with the jackpot total. 

How many jackpots a state has hit is partly explained by how long it’s taken part in the lottery, and Indiana was one of the original states to adopt Powerball when it started in 1992

Currently, 44 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands play Powerball. 

But when the game launched in April 1992, only 14 states (Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) plus Washington, D.C. took part.  

Of the top five states with the most Powerball jackpot wins, four out of five have been playing since 1992 (the exception is Pennsylvania):

States With the Most Powerball Jackpot Winners

  1. Indiana: 39
  2. Missouri: 31
  3. Minnesota: 22
  4. Kentucky: 18
  5. Pennsylvania: 18

Neighboring States Without the Lottery

Which states have the most Mega Millions winners? You may be surprised.

The top state with the most Mega Millions jackpot wins is New York, which has produced 36 top prize winners since 2002.

Second in line is California, which has had 31 jackpot winners since it joined the game in 2005.

Number three is none other than New Jersey. Despite having one-quarter of the population of California (and one-eighteenth its size), NJ has sold 21 jackpot-winning tickets since 2002. 

So why is Jersey punching so far above its weight? 

There are historical reasons why its success may not be that surprising. 

"In the beginning, Mega Millions was not adopted nationwide by all states," said Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross. 

"For roughly the first 20 years of the big multi-state lotteries, America actually had two separate lotteries - one, the Powerball, the other, Mega Millions, and the two were run by totally separate organizations and weren't allowed to sell tickets in the same states. And then there were some states that weren't part of either organization," Matheson explained.

In 2010, Mega Millions was only played in 12 states – but that changed when Mega Millions and Powerball agreed to let states sell tickets for both games and 23 more states started playing Mega Millions. 2010 was also when New Jersey began offering Powerball.

Another factor in New Jersey’s impressive jackpot tally was the fact that two of its neighbors, Delaware and Pennsylvania, didn’t join Mega Millions until January 2010. Before that time, residents often traveled across the border to New Jersey to buy their tickets. 

"New Jersey got a lot of wins back in the old days when you could only buy one type of multi-state lottery ticket in each state," said Matheson. "It was the place that huge numbers of people would come across the border and buy a Mega Millions ticket even if they couldn't buy that ticket in their own state."

Bearing this out, 15 of the 20 times New Jersey has produced a jackpot-winning ticket since 2002 date from before 2010. 

So to win a lot of jackpots, it helps if a state has neighbors that don’t take part in the lottery.

Urban Areas Sell More Tickets

States such as California, New York and New Jersey also stand out in how many tickets they sell compared to more rural states.

"We find people somewhat more likely to buy lottery tickets in places that are fairly urban," Matheson said. "And I imagine the reason for that is it's just more sales opportunities. If you're a farmer way out in rural Nebraska you may not have as many opportunities to go into the convenience store to buy tickets." 

Religious Beliefs Can Reduce Ticket Sales

Religion is another factor that can lower ticket sales. "Places that are particularly conservative religiously tend to not have lotteries and Utah is one example," Matheson explained. "It's probably the most conservative state in the United States in terms of religion. And they don't have a lottery at all." 

Currently, there are six states that don't take part in Mega Millions: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, and Utah.

However, Mississippi looks set to get its own lottery up and running by the end of 2019. There was also a failed attempt this year to start a lottery in Alabama. 

In Alabama, Mississippi, and Utah, religious values traditionally have played a large role in keeping the states from starting a lottery. 

These states’ neighbors also benefit from players crossing the border to buy tickets. For example, Alabamians can visit Florida and Nevadans may take a road trip to California, especially before a big jackpot.

Has Anyone Won in Washington?

The $530 million Mega Millions win in California has revived a common question in fellow West Coast state Washington.

Why not us? 

The answer illustrates a larger point about why some states just don’t seem to win the big prizes as often.

Yes, Washington has a lower population than California or New York. But there’s another reason too.

Washington has very low sales of lottery tickets, even for its population size. For example, state lottery spokesman Arlen Harris explained that Washingtonians buy about 1 to 1.5% of the total Powerball tickets in the nation in a given week – while a state like Florida or New Jersey buys about 17%. 

“They do have larger populations,” Harris said, “but their sales are almost triple ours.”

He believes the greater popularity of lotteries on the East Coast comes down to a different attitude. The West Coast’s philosophy about gaming may be more sceptical, and it could also be influenced by historical differences. 

On the East Coast, lotteries have been common since before the Revolutionary War, and many of the Founding Fathers even sponsored them. “So the idea of the lottery on the East Coast [is part of] the history of our nation,” Harris pointed out.

Sales are lower for Washington’s own games as well. “Our annual sales per capita [per year] in Washington state is about $28,” Harris said. “In New Jersey they spend about $298 per person [and] the number-one state in the nation as far as sales per capita is Massachusetts, which spends $670 per person per year on the lottery.”

However, Washington has won a number of top prizes! 

The state sold Mega Millions jackpot-winning tickets five times, most recently twice in one year, 2016: $157 million on March 8 and $25 million on July 19.

Washington has won Powerball once, a $90 million jackpot on November 29, 2014. 

Some States Win More – But Each Individual Has the Same Chances

So do the East Coast states and California win more?

In total number of jackpots, yes.

But that doesn’t mean the lotteries are rigged or unfair. Every player has as good a chance of winning as any other, no matter where you live. 

As we’ve seen, there are multiple reasons why some states have impressive jackpot tallies, while the totals in others are more modest. 

States with higher populations just have more folks buying tickets, and most of the high-population states are in the East.

How long a state has been participating in a lottery is also a factor. A state that joined Powerball or Mega Millions at the beginning has had more years to pile up the wins than a state that joined more recently.

Whether your neighbors have the lottery also counts. For example, Florida has a border with Alabama, which doesn’t have a lottery. Alabama residents who cross the border to buy their tickets can add to Florida’s jackpot totals.

People’s behavior is also important. Easterners, with a tradition of lotteries dating back to colonial times, buy more lottery tickets per person than Westerners. Other factors include religion, which can reduce ticket sales, and whether a state is more urban or rural – urban areas buy more tickets, perhaps because they have more nearby retailers. 

The good news for anyone wondering when their state will get a jackpot winner is that everyone who plays has the same chance of winning, no matter where they’re from!


Latest Articles