Mega Millions vs. Scratch Off: Which Is Better?

Whether you have played the lottery before or it is your first time, you are probably wondering which game to play. The jackpot in Mega Millions can be huge, but the chances for winning are small. Scratch offs have smaller jackpots, but the odds of winning are higher.

So, between Mega Millions vs. Scratch Off, which one is better? Although Mega Millions has larger jackpots, your odds of winning a prize are much better with a Scratch-Off. If you plan to play more Scratch-Off games, several strategies will increase your chances of winning.

To help you decide if you want to take a chance on winning the big jackpot or see if you can scratch your way to some cash winnings, we will look at the odds of winning either type of contest and how you can increase your chances of coming away with a prize.

What Are the Odds of Winning Mega Millions?

What Are the Odds?

The odds of winning at Mega Millions are the same every game. This is because the same number of balls are used for each time. On a simple level, think of it as a coin toss. Every toss gives you a 1 in 2 chance of getting heads. If ten people are wagering it will be heads and another ten tails, the chances are the same.

However, the odds for you winning the Mega Million are much smaller. Regardless of how many people play, your odds of winning the big jackpot with one ticket are 1 in approximately 302 million. The Wall Street Journal created a graphic that shows what that looks like.

Why are your odds of winning so small? It has to do with the way odds are calculated. In the coin toss example, those odds are expressed as 1:1—one chance to win and one chance to lose. However, with Mega Millions, for every ball that rolls down, you have one chance that you can match, but 74 chances you won’t.

Multiply those odds by the number of rolls and then add the Mega Ball and multiply some more. When the number crunchers finish, they wind up with 1 out of 302 million. If you want to see how they arrived at those numbers, check out this Missouri Lottery page.

What Are the Odds of Winning a Scratch Off?

What Are the Odds?

Although the way of figuring out the odds for Mega Millions can be complicated, the odds themselves are always the same. However, the same is not true for Scratch-Offs. There are several reasons for this:

  • The number of games. Each state has numerous different games that it is impossible to keep up with them all. Not only that, but the games have different start and ending times. Also, the number of prizes available changes. Most websites, such as this one from the Kansas State Lottery, list their games, start and end times, and the number of prizes still available.
  • The rules of the games. The rules of the games vary so much that it is not possible to come up with one set of odds. You have to check out the Scratch-Off cards or, once again, your state’s lotto website for the odds.

Whatever the odds are for any Scratch-Off, they are always better than for a drawing like Mega Millions. About 70% of the money that Scratch-Offs take in are returned to the players. Mega Millions only returns about half of its earnings back to the players.

How Big Are the Winnings in Mega Millions?


Huge. And getting bigger. That size is not by accident. In 2017, the Mega Millions’ officials changed the rules to make it more difficult to win. Instead of having 15 Mega Number possibilities, they increased the possibilities to 25.

A more difficult lottery means fewer people will win, and this means a growing jackpot. As the jackpot mushrooms, interest in the game increases. Officials of lotteries such as the Mega Millions were worried that weekly jackpots of $100 million would create what they called “jackpot fatigue.”

The Jackpot Winnings Are Smaller Than the Headlines


When the headline says Mega Million Jackpot 350 Million, no one is going to win 350 million. Even if you have the only winning ticket, you will walk away with less than that. You have probably realized that Uncle Sam, and possibly your state, is going to want their cut.

However, that 350 million gets paid off over 30 years, and each year you will be paying taxes on those earnings. In addition, inflation means that 30 years from now, your final payout will be worth less than it would be today.

So why not take a cash payout upfront? The lottery will offer you that chance, but it won’t be 350 million. The “cash value” is the amount you would get if you claimed your winnings immediately. Those figures are not in the headlines, but somewhere in the fine print.

How Much Can I Win in a Scratch-Off?

Small prize

Again, the amount you will win in a Scratch-Off depends on what game you are playing. The winnings are much smaller, but there are also more of them. Each Scratch-Off game has a set number of prizes, with a typical prize in the 5-10-thousand-dollar range. Some games will go up to $100,000 or even $250,000, but those are rare.

Again, since each state has its own games, you should check out your state’s games through the lottery website. On the Oregon lottery site, for example, you can find out every game, including the top prize, how many are still remaining, and whether the game has a second chance.

Scratch-Offs Offer a Second Chance

Second chance

Before you toss your Scratch-Off tickets in the trash, check to see if your state offers second-chance drawings. Many of the 44 states that have a lottery have a second chance game. To participate, you will need to create an online account with your state lottery. You will then be able to add your losing ticket into another drawing.

The prizes in these drawings will typically be smaller, but the chances for winning something are increased. For example, in North Carolina, the chances of winning at least a break-even prize are around 1 out of 4.

Also, many lotteries have some kind of point system in which you can redeem your Scratch-Off cards and earn points for gift cards, small prizes, or discounts on purchases.

Are There Strategies to Help Improve My Odds of Winning?


Although these strategies will not guarantee that you win, they can improve your chances.

Buy Scratch-Off tickets at once. If you plan to spend $25 on Scratch-Off games, buy them all at once from one game only. Since every batch of tickets must have a certain number of winning tickets, buying a batch increases your chances that a winning ticket will be the batch.

Start small with lotto tickets. If you plan to play the lotto, don’t go for the big jackpot first. Build up to it by playing your state’s smaller games—the pick-3 and pick-4 games. Once you have some winnings from those, you can choose whether you want to invest them in a huge jackpot game.

Bottom Line

Whether you play the Mega Millions or Scratch-Off depends on whether you are playing the game for the fantasy of becoming a multi-millionaire or of taking a chance that you could win a smaller amount that could help you in your current financial situation. The experience of playing Mega Millions is different also. You buy your tickets and then wait.

With Scratch-Offs, you don’t have to wait. You can find out right then and there if you have won something. And there’s something satisfying about grabbing a coin and scratching away.