How many times have you fantasized about winning the lottery? With the odds of winning at about one in 300 million, there haven’t been too many lottery winners—at least those who won any sizable jackpots. But the lottery awards several prizes of different sizes with the odds considerably better to win.
There are lotteries of several sizes, with more people winning small amounts than those who win huge jackpots. As the windfalls get more abundant, fewer people win as the odds of winning are higher. Counting people who win small amounts is impossible, so those winners will not be part of the general count.
Keep reading to find out how many lotteries there are and how many people win the most substantial prizes.
Multiple Size Prizes
When people hear “lottery,” most think about the massive Powerball or Mega Millions jackpots. Rarely do they think about all the other games that fall under the lottery “umbrella”. Many games have better winning odds, which gives you a chance to recoup your money at some point.
Types of Lottery GamesSeveral lottery games pop up and expire daily, making it challenging to keep up with them all. The popular games are those that draw in much media attention due to the massive prize payouts. But there are a few others you may not have heard about.
With Lotto, a certain number of balls are drawn from a range of numbers, with the winning ball drawn from a separate machine. A 6/53 lotto system draws six numbers out of 53 possible numbers, making the odds slightly better than the national lotteries.
Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries fall into this category. But every state has similar lottery systems that play on this principle.
These games are based on the Lotto system but are smaller. Instead of more numbers to choose from, the winning numbers are selected from a smaller pool. 5/32 is one example. Five numbers are selected from 32 possible numbers, making the odds a little better of winning.
Pick 3, 4, Or 5 (Dailies)
These are games where you choose any 3, 4, or 5 digit number. When the drawing is held, if you match any of the winning numbers, you win a prize. But if you match the winning numbers in the correct order, you win even more money.
The drawings are held daily, so you have many chances of winning.
Instant games, or “scratch-offs,” don’t involve any number picking, but rather everything you need to win is already on the card. There are many themed games, such as those for Mother’s Day, Christmas, or sports-type themes.
Some games have special symbols that, if they appear once scratching off the cover, you win double the prize instantly.
Up to $100
Many scratch-off games have small prizes, such as the Wisconsin Winter Cash game, with the top prize being $100. That particular game pays out $1, $2, $5, $10, $25, $50, and $100, and the prizes are awarded if the scratched numbers match the numbers for each award. If you reveal a snowman, you win prizes automatically.
The odds of winning $1 are 1:8 while winning the top prize of $100 is 1:968. These are better odds than winning a giant jackpot lottery, but you have a better chance of at least recouping the money you paid for the ticket.
Up to $1,000
Larger scratch-off games go up to $1,000 or more, and winning the top prize is 1:540,000, which is still better than the Powerball or other mega jackpot games. But people play these lower games hoping to win the top prize, so they can afford to play for the big bucks.
More people win these games, but the payout is dismal and may not be worth the money that you spend trying to succeed in the first place.
Up to $100,000
More people play for bigger prizes, such as the South Dakota $100,000 fortune game. The lowest amount you can win is $10 with this game, which incidentally is the same price as the ticket. There are three ways to win:
- Match any of your symbols to the winning symbols, and you win the prize shown. Reveal a stack of cash and your prize doubles.
- Reveal two matching prize amounts, and you win that amount. If you find a coin alongside those, you double your money.
- Match your numbers to the winning numbers, and you win the prize shown below the winning numbers. The star symbol gives you the bonus shown, and a 10X awards you ten times the amount shown on the ticket.
Many people don’t even win the price of their ticket, but even fewer win the two grand prizes of $100,000.
Many instant games, or “scratch-offs,” don’t offer more than $1 million in any game. When people talk about winning multi-million dollar prizes, they most likely play big games, such as Powerball or Mega Millions.
Over $1 Million
Once you leave the scratch-off games, and the pick 3, 4, or 5 games, the prizes become significantly more substantial. While the smaller games are relegated to individual states, multiple states work together to regulate the Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries. With so much money at stake, and so many people playing these games, the odds of winning are astronomical—about 1 in 300 million.
Anyone who wins these jackpots becomes the subject of national attention and unwanted attention from scammers.
Winners of Small Prizes
Small prizes from instant games and pick 5 don’t usually garner national attention, because small prizes don’t change lives at all. Most people typically put their small winnings back into more tickets for bigger prizes. They “invest” the prize money into buying hundreds of tickets for the bigger games.
For this article, small prizes are valued at up to $100,000. It was a little challenging to track down the names of those who won less than $100,000, but here are a few who made the news.
South Carolina Man
An anonymous man in South Carolina almost didn’t win $100,000 in the Palmetto Cash 5 lottery. He threw away his ticket before the winning numbers were revealed. He checked the results for the previous day, and when he realized his mistake, he found that he indeed had won the jackpot.
Luckily for him, he found it in time and claimed his prize. He plans to give part of his money to charity, then set up a college fund for his grandchildren.
Since Mississippi opened up the lottery in the state, several have won various prizes, including $100,000. Winners may choose to remain anonymous.
One woman in Lee County won the big prize of $100,000. An Oxford man won $2,000; a Clinton man won $25,000; a Gulfport man won $2,000; a woman from Holly Springs won $3,000.
While it is not known what they did with their prize money, the chances are excellent that they put at least some of it back into buying more lottery tickets in the hopes of winning more money.
Texas Lottery Winners
The Texas Lottery Association posts pictures of anyone who wins any prize in their gallery. The images are of people holding fake checks as a representation of their real prizes. Some of the winners include:
- Kailyn Hinson who won $10,000
- Abel Velasquez Jr who won $1,000
- Alfonso Cruz Jr who won $660.00
- Blanca M. Hill who won $500.00
- Devid Benson who won $2,500.00
The list continues with many others who won other prizes besides money, such as a free trip or a stay in a beautiful lodge.
Small Prizes Are Nice, But…
While it’s great to win a little free money, it’s not the same as winning a huge prize that will change your life for good. And that’s what you want, right? Many people play the lottery, hoping they can put some of their winnings to good use to play the bigger games.
But winning the games that offer huge cash prizes is not likely for the average person. You would have better odds of getting struck by lightning. Most people, especially those from the lower-income bracket, play the lottery more often because they want to change their lives.
To make your odds of winning a massive jackpot, you would have to buy stacks and stacks of tickets just to get close to winning. And then you would still probably lose.
Still, some have won bigger prizes, including the almost $1.6 billion jackpot in 2016.
Winners of Medium Prizes
Medium prizes can be classified as over $100,000 up to $1 million. The odds of winning these prizes are not as good as the smaller prizes but are still better than winning multi-million dollar jackpots. Of course, you must be alive to collect your winnings. Let’s take a look at some of the medium prize winners.
New Jersey Paying Dead People?
A New Jersey audit found that lottery payouts totaling $900,000 were being paid to supposedly dead people. Whenever someone claims a payout of their prize money, and the amount is over $600, background checks on their social security numbers must be completed to see if they owe any back child support, tax payments, or other significant government debts. If they do, any amount owed is withheld from their prize money.
People who had these debts used social security numbers of those who passed away so they could claim their money. But lottery officials were not checking these numbers, and during the audit, they found 46 numbers belonging to dead people with different names.
The computer system is now getting an overhaul to address these errors quicker so that this doesn’t happen in the future.
Wexford County, Michigan Man Won $500,000
Michigan is one state that allows anonymity when winning the lottery of any amount.
A Wexford County man won $500,000 while playing the $500,000 pick 7 instant game, which could not have come at a better time. He just started a business, and now he has the money to put into that and make it a success. He also wants to buy a new home and set up a savings account for his daughter.
Earlier in the day, he won a smaller amount, but put that back into buying another ticket. He says that it paid off because that was the ticket that won him the larger amount.
In 2005, Steve Granger won $900,000 in the West Virginia lottery. After he paid taxes on his prize money, he put most of it away for retirement for himself and his wife. But people were not too kind to the couple.
Between people asking for investments and grabbing at him because he won, some people looked down on them because their wealth came from winning the lottery.
Robert LundstedtRobert Lundstedt bought nine lottery tickets and won $900,000 in 2018. He chose the same numbers for all the tickets and gave one ticket to his daughter and one to his son, but he didn’t buy them all at once. He bought four tickets in one spot, two at another, two more at yet another spot, and the final ticket at the last place he stopped.
The next, he checked the newspaper and was shocked to find all the tickets won—with the same numbers. He won a total of $900,000 before taxes.
He is a carpenter in Massachusetts and plans to pay off the mortgage on his home. The kids put their share toward their college tuition. Life has pretty much stayed the same for them, and as the son put it, “We’ll just have a little extra in savings.”
Winners of Large Prizes
Most of the lottery winners you see publicized are those who win $1 million or more, up to $20 million. They either lost it all through frivolous spending or used it to better their financial situations. Let’s see what these winners did with their prize money.
Peggy Dodson—Two Time WinnerPeggy Dodson, a 72-year-old grandmother, won a $1 million jackpot in 2019. But this wasn’t the first time she won the lottery. Two years prior, she won $100,000 in the Pennsylvania lottery. Ironically enough, she bought both winning tickets in the same convenience store. But purchasing lottery tickets is a habit that she won’t give up anytime soon.
As she told the press, “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. But I love to play the lottery.”
Peggy stated that she planned on paying off their mortgage and their truck loan, then traveling the United States.
The PhillipsKevin Phillips won a $1 million jackpot, not once, but twice over five years. Then in early 2019, his wife, Janet, won another $1 million prize to make the couple’s total winnings of $3 million. When you’re lucky, you’re lucky.
The couple had been playing the lottery for 20 years before either of them won anything. But they decided to take the lump sum payments, which left them with close to $700,000 per prize before taxes.
Janet decided to give some to animal rescue organizations before taking a vacation to Disney World. They also decided to help their family out with a bit of money.
Eugene MartellioEugene Martellio won $3 million in the $3 million CASH OUT game in New Jersey. He played lottery games for many years, and when he bought the winning card, he thought it would be another loser. Little did he realize it would be the top prize for that game.
But this was not his first big win. Two years prior, he won the Jersey Cash 5 jackpot worth over $700,000.
He put the first win in savings and figured to do the same with this win. But do you think he will stop playing? He has his eyes on the Mega Millions game and hopes to win big like those discussed in the next section.
Multi-Million Dollar Prizes
Not many people win more than a few million dollars if they win anything at all. But that thought didn’t stop the following people from buying tickets anyway. What would you do with several million dollars? Hopefully, you would fare better than these folks.
William “Bud” Post III
The media refers to William Post as a “real-life Beverly Hillbilly,” and with good reason. Before winning $16 million in the Pennsylvania lottery, he worked in carnivals and spent a good deal of time in jail. But when he won, he didn’t stop to think about what he should do with his good fortune. So he spent it. Within three months of winning, he was $500,000 in debt. So much for good fortune.
What did he spend all his cash on, and why?
He bought a twin-engine airplane for no reason whatsoever, as he had no pilot’s license. While the story doesn’t say what else he spent money on, he did frivolously spend his annual payments of $500,000 rather quickly after receiving the money.
Later, in the early 1990s, he declared bankruptcy. He died in 2006 from respiratory failure.
Billy Bob Harrell, Jr.Billy Harrell Jr. won $31 million in 1997, and for a while, things were good. He chose the annuity payments, as most people who have issues with spending all the time would. He received $1.2 million every year and used it to pay bills, buy new cars and homes for his family, and bought 500 turkeys for the poor during the holidays.
So why would he commit suicide two years later?
People were crawling out of the woodwork with their hands out, begging for money. Though he tried changing his phone number twice, people still found him, which took a toll on him mentally. He did not put privacy measures in place, and that is why people kept coming to him.
The stress drove a wedge between him and his wife, and they separated. Two years later, he killed himself.
And then…there’s Mavis Wanczyk. She won the $758.7 million Powerball jackpot and gave her lover of 15 years absolutely nothing. Of course, they were not together when she won either.
Mavis, or Mave as she liked to be called, worked in patient care at Mercy Medical center in Springfield, Massachusetts, before winning. Immediately after winning, she called her boss and said that she was done with the job and that she was not coming back in.
Then, she immediately claimed her prize amid a swirl of media attention—something experts warned her not to do. Her choices later led her to regret not taking some time to let everything calm down first.
Soon, the neighborhood filled with people looking for a handout. Eventually, police were called in to keep people away from her and keep order.
Before winning, Mavis was very active on social media. Many scammers put up fake profiles to impersonate her to exploit the media buzz and get unsuspecting people to give them money afterward.
Mavis is now working to stay out of the public eye and does not use social media as much as she did. Her net worth is unknown, but she is retired and living her dream of relaxing. Perhaps if she had stayed quieter about her big win, to begin with, she might not have had to be so quiet now.
Merle and Patricia Butler
The Illinois couple who won the Mega Millions in 2012 shared the jackpot with two other winners, each from Kansas and Maryland. Their take-home winnings amounted to $157.8 million. So what did they buy first once cashing in the jackpot? A new car and tickets to the Saint Louis Cardinals game. They love baseball.
At first, they only told a few close friends and family members but kept it to themselves until they assembled an out of town legal team. Once they had a team in place and a plan of what to do with the money, they stepped forward to claim their portion.
Since Illinois requires Mega Millions winners to identify themselves, they did so with a full team behind them. But that doesn’t mean they had to share their plans for the money, of which they didn’t share. The only thing they said was that they were not moving as they liked where they lived.
Billion Dollar Prizes
Very few people win $1 billion or more, and with good reason, winning that much money is more than 1 in 300 million. The largest jackpot ever won was close to $1.6 billion, and three winning tickets shared it. Let’s take a look.
$1.586 Billion Powerball JackpotJanuary 13, 2016, was the luckiest day for three couples, as they held winning tickets to the largest Powerball jackpot to date: $1.586 billion.
John and Lisa Robinson from Tennessee; Maureen Smith and David Kaltschmidt from Florida; and Marvin and Mae Acosta from California shared the prize. They each had a choice of $533 million in annuity payments or $327.8 million as a lump sum payment, before taxes. Still, not a bad haul.
While the couples from Tennessee and Florida chose the lump sum, the couple from California refused to comment on how they took their prize money. But they said they were grateful to have had a rare gift placed in their care.
Anonymous Winner of $1.54 Billion in South Carolina
Another state that allows anonymity when winning the lottery, South Carolina, finally discovered who won their $1.54 billion jackpot drawing in October 2018. The winner claimed the prize through their lawyer, Jason M. Kurland, branded as the “Lottery Lawyer.”
The winner chose to wait until the time to claim was almost up to set things up and hire a team to manage that much money. They went according to the lottery winner’s playbook to avoid straining any personal relationships.
The one thing that stands out in this story is the kindness of the winner. When waiting in line to buy a ticket, they allowed another customer ahead of them to buy a ticket as well. That small act of kindness paid off well.
Winning the lottery would be a dream come true for anyone, especially if the prize is substantial enough to change your life. After seeing the many people who have won and some that lost it all, it might inspire you to go out and get a ticket. You may win at least $100.
If you want to have better odds at winning a little money, you may want to start playing the smaller lotteries, such as the Pick 3. When you can begin winning consistently with that game, you can move up to bigger games. But remember, you will lose money no matter what game you decide to play.