Powerball vs. Scratch-Offs: Which Should You Play?

Every once in a while, you’ve read about Powerball jackpots that reach hundreds of millions of dollars and people from different places winning big on Scratch-off cards. There is a certain allure for both games, but which one should you be playing?

If you want to win, then you should definitely play scratch-off instead of Powerball. The odds are better with these scratch cards with pre-printed winning games already out there. But this comes with a caveat: scratch-off cards can be more addictive than Powerball.

Read on as we explain what Powerball and Scratch-off are, their differences, and why you should not pay attention to the big jackpots that Powerball advertises.

What Is Powerball?

What Is Powerball?

Powerball is a rolling jackpot type of game that is currently played in 45 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

In Powerball, if nobody wins the jackpot, the money is carried over to the next drawing. As such, the largest prize becomes bigger and bigger until somebody wins.

Powerball is pretty easy to play: you buy a ticket for $2 and choose five main numbers from 1 to 69 and the Powerball number from 1 to 26.

Your main numbers and extra number are not related to each other, so you can pick a duplicate number for your extra, and it will still be a valid ticket. Alternatively, you can also have the machine pick the numbers for you.

You can also add Power Play, which will multiply the non-jackpot prizes that you have. Once you have your ticket, you will need to wait for the drawing.

This video will help explain how to play Powerball in detail:

Powerball draws are broadcast live on TV. To win the jackpot, your chosen numbers should all match the winning numbers. Aside from the jackpot, there are eight other prize levels that you can win.

Number of matchesPrize
5 + PowerballJackpot
5$1 million
4 + Powerball$50,000
3 + Powerball$100
2 + Powerball$7
1 + Powerball$4
Powerball only$4

Powerball Lets You Win Big

Powerball Lets You Win Big

It is easy to see the allure of Powerball. As the rolling jackpot gets increasingly bigger, people are more drawn to the huge windfall. The biggest jackpot ever won amounted to $1.58 billion. Three people shared that bounty for a cool $528.8 million each. In August 2017, a single winner won $758.7 million.

The biggest single win happened in March 2019, where the winner claimed his $768.4 million winnings. According to a variety of news reports from ABC7, CBS News,, NBC News, CNNMoney, and Journal & Carrier, other big jackpot winners include:

DateJackpot amount
October 2018$687.8 million
May 2013$590.5 million
November 2012$587.5 millio
February 2015$564.1 million
January 2018$559.7 million
August 2013$488.4 million
July 2016$487 million
June 2017$447.8 million
February 2017$435.3 million

What Are Scratch-Offs?

What Are Scratch-Offs?

Scratch-offs are tickets that contain previously printed games. The information is hidden from view using an opaque material such as latex. To reveal the symbols, numbers, or patterns, you will need to scratch the latex off.

Scratch-off games and its variations are played in most states in the United States. But there are five main types where you can win if you:

  • Match three symbols or amounts
  • Match two sets of preprinted numbers
  • Bingo type
  • Match your playing card to another set of pre-printed numbers, and win more when you get more matches
  • Find a number of winning symbols in your card

When you buy a Scratch-off, you can win instantly. Different states offer different Scratch-off games at different prices. For instance, in New Jersey, you can pay anywhere from $1 to $30 for one ticket, with more expensive games giving out instant cash of up to $5 million.

State lottery companies often publish information on the number of tickets sold, and how many winning tickets are allotted for each prize level.

For instance, New Jersey’s $200 Million Cash Bonanza prints out three tickets that win you $5 million. To entice buyers, they also provide daily updates on how many of the winning tickets are still available.

Powerball vs. Scratch-Offs: What’s the Difference?

Powerball vs. Scratch-Offs

If you are dreaming of quitting your job or just looking for some fun and excitement, which of these games should you be betting on?

The Psychology: Why Do People Play Powerball and Scratch-Offs?

Powerball allows you to choose your own numbers, while scratch-offs have the numbers preprinted. In a sense, you feel more involved when you choose numbers for a Powerball draw. Scratch-offs are more of an impulse buy, which is why they are shiny and look fun.

What’s more, people are more prudent when it comes to betting on Powerball games. More people are interested in Powerball when the jackpot is high. This fact is highlighted in a recent Pew Trusts report that showed that Powerball and Mega Millions players dropped significantly while Scratch-off sales increased significantly.

For instance, Oklahoma recorded $7.7 million in sales for all lottery games for the week ended April 25. However, scratch-off games accounted for $5.9 million for that.

Experts believe that people see Scratch-off as entertainment. And certainly, they are meant to be bought on a whim. According to business professor David Just at Cornell University, Scratch-off games give you a more immediate reward: you can win instantly, which can reinforce your inclination to buy another ticket when you do.

Responsible Gambling

Responsible Gambling

You pay $2 for a chance to win Powerball, while you shell out anywhere from $1 to as much as $50 for a Scratch-off ticket.

When it comes to these games, you should see them as a form of gambling, and one of the recommended ways to gamble responsibly is to ensure that you use only disposable income to buy your tickets.

As it is, Powerball is the better choice when it comes to affordable and responsible gambling. The significantly lower ticket prices allow you to join in the fun and still be able to pay your bills. You don’t have to spend that much money to get that chance to win big.

Scratch-off games can be affordable, with some states offering cards for as low as $1. However, these low-priced games often have smaller prize pools, while more expensive games have more tickets that win higher amounts.

What’s more, scratch-off can be more addictive because of the instant gratification, the thought of the next ticket being a winning one, and the way these games are structured. As such, you end up spending more money on these games than Powerball.

Scratch-off games are designed to make you buy tickets on impulse. They are also designed to make you keep on buying. On top of getting people to gamble by manipulating the location and heavy advertising, there are also ploys to keep them gambling.

Unlike Powerball, you can buy scratch-off cards as often as you like. And then there’s the element of near-misses, getting symbols or amounts that are close to winning, which makes it easier for you to get hooked. Some people are not even thinking about the low probability of winning the jackpot.

As such, people who get addicted to scratch-off cards may not think twice about the rent becoming due, or borrowing money. They can rack up losses and soon find themselves in debt.

Demographics: Who Plays Scratch-Offs?

A CNN Money report says that it is people who have below-average incomes who prefer Scratch-off games than Powerball. Financially better-off people are looking to win the big jackpots in Powerball games.

This might surprise you as most Scratch-off cards are more expensive than Powerball, but it relates more to motivation. People usually buy lottery tickets to experience a life-changing event when they win. The $5,000 jackpot in a Scratch-off game is easier to come by, and you don’t have to wait for the drawing. And that kind of money is a huge deal for somebody who is barely making ends meet.

People who make around $150,000 annually want the bigger prizes that come with winning the Powerball. They’d appreciate the free money, but it’s not exactly something that will change their lives.

Powerball vs. Scratch-Offs: What Are the Odds?

Powerball vs. Scratch-Offs: What Are the Odds?

Before we get into the odds of winning prizes in these lottery games, here is a fact: an instant game like Scratch-off pays out more in total than Powerball. According to CNN Money, Scratch-off games pay out around 70 percent of the ticket sales back to winners, while only around 50 percent of Powerball proceeds go to the prize pool. As such, scratch cards are close to casino slot machines, which pay out anywhere from 90 to 99 percent of the money you put in.

Further, the harsh reality of Powerball is that most people will not win the jackpot. The of winning in Powerball is approximately 1 in 292 million. You can check the exact odds for yourself with this lottery odds calculator tool.

At this rate, a Yahoo Finance article reports that rather than winning the lottery, you are more likely to:

  • Hit a hole in one when you play golf (1 in 12,000)
  • Celebrate your 100 birthday (1 in 3,777)
  • Experience a shark attack (1 in 11.5 million)
  • Be a genius (1 in 107.5 million)
  • Experience getting possessed by Satan himself (1 in 7,000)
  • Live life as a professional basketball player (1 in 11,771 for a high school athlete, 1 in 13,015 for female athletes)
  • Get struck by lightning (1 in 1 million)
  • Become the president of the United States (1 in 10 million)

With these odds, you might want to consider running for president before pinning your hopes on Powerball. University of Southern California mathematics professor Kenneth Alexander advises that if you are going to play Powerball, you should look at it as entertainment, much like going to the movies or eating ice cream and says that you are paying $2 for the feeling that you could win. He reiterates that that is all you would probably get because it is difficult and close to impossible to win.

Winning a Powerball jackpot is based on pure luck. The only thing that you can do to ensure a bigger payoff is to lessen the chances of having to share the jackpot with anybody else if you do win, such as choosing any number above 31, because it is nobody’s birthday.

You can learn more about winning Powerball and similar lottery games with guides such as the Lottery Master Guide, or try learning to be lucky. Alternatively, buying a rabbit’s foot, a four-leaf clover, horseshoe, and other lucky charms might help turn the odds to your favor.

Scratch-Off: Not Just Pure Luck

Scratch-Off: Not Just Pure Luck

So while winning Powerball jackpots is based on pure luck, there are ways to increase your chances of winning a Scratch-off jackpot. There are tools that can help you find the best Scratch-off tickets out there. It can be as simple as going to your state’s lottery website and looking at all the information that they have published on various games.

For instance, California’s publishes how many potential winners each Scratchers game has, and how many winning tickets are still available. Knowing this information will help you avoid buying Scratchers, where there are no more top prizes available.

The website also publishes the odds of winning a certain prize level in all of their active Scratchers games. You might want to brush up on your statistics and probability skills for this, and get new skills from books such as The Mathematics of Games and Gambling.

This video helps explain some scratch-off games and the basics of probability distribution:

If you do not have time to go through all those numbers and odds, you can use websites such as Scratch Off Odds. All you need to do is to choose your state, and the algorithms will show you both the best and worst games, complete with information on pricing, return on investment, and potential profits.

How to Increase Your Chances of Winning in a Scratch-Off Game?

Because of the way scratch-off games are structured, there are some things that you can do to increase your chances of winning something, even though the jackpot remains quite elusive.

  1. Check out the information on the odds and available prizes from the lottery company’s website. This exercise will show you just how many winning tickets are still out there. There is no sense in buying tickets with only 100 available prizes left. It just means that the bulk of the tickets that you can buy are duds.
  2. Check the back of the card to see the odds of winning a prize for that game. This information can help you choose games where you get better chances at a payoff.
  3. Buy in bulk. Scratch-offs are a numbers game, so the more cards you buy, the better the odds of winning something.
  4. Wait. If you have time, you can increase your odds of winning by buying scratch cards after several players fail to hit a winning card. You might need to hang around an outlet for quite some time to do this. Or you might want to ask the cashier if somebody has won lately.
Scratch-Off: Broken Games and Fraud

A article also explains that Scratch-offs are never random because the lottery company will need to control the number of winning tickets. And that is the reason why state lottery websites can publish information on how many tickets are available at every price level. It is also why fraudsters are able to game the system.

The trick is to figure out what algorithm was used. The Wired article mentioned the discovery of a Canadian geological statistician named Mohan Srivastava. Srivastava figured out that visible numbers on a tic-tac-toe type of scratch card can help you pick out winning numbers.

He guessed winning and losing cards with an eerie accuracy of 19 out of 20 tickets. That translates to being able to buy a winning ticket 95 percent of the time. There are also instances of one person cashing in multiple winning tickets:

  • 1,588 tickets over a two-year period amounting to $2.84 million
  • 149 tickets worth $237,000
  • 842 tickets for $1.8 million

When only six in every 100,000 tickets have prizes between $1,000 to $5,000, the Massachusetts state auditor commented that individuals as lucky as these would have to buy at least hundreds of thousands of tickets to get that much money.


The choice to play either Powerball or Scratch-off depends on what you want. If you want a life-changing jackpot and more control over the numbers that you play with, then go for Powerball. If you’re just trying to entertain yourself and feel the rush of winning something, then get a quarter out and buy a scratch-off card. Note, however, that when you do gamble, do so responsibly.

When it comes to winning and the odds, you have better chances of winning Scratch-off games. This is because Powerball is truly randomized, and each number has equal chances of being drawn. As such, you are relying on pure luck. Meanwhile, you have a variety of ways to increase your chances of winning lower prizes with Scratch-off.