Datablog

When Do People Start Caring About the Lottery?

Millions of lottery tickets are purchased every month by American hopefuls waiting for that golden ticket to finally cross their path. For players, a $2 ticket can be a small price to pay when it comes to keeping big dreams alive, and ticket sales show that dreams of winning it all are more common in some states than others.

Millions of lottery tickets are purchased every month by American hopefuls waiting for that golden ticket to finally cross their paths. However, with a 1 in 302 million chance of winning the Mega Millions jackpot, and a 1 in 292 million chance of winning the Powerball jackpot, the odds of finding that special ticket are severely low. Even so, the data show that ticket sales can skyrocket for certain jackpot ranges, despite unwavering odds. For players, a $2 ticket can be a small price to pay when it comes to keeping big dreams alive, and ticket sales show that dreams of winning it all are more common in some states than others.

Key Takeaways

  • Mega Millions jackpots can see a 30% to 294% increase in ticket sales for jackpots greater than $350M. Powerball jackpots can see a 10% to 200% increase in ticket sales exceeding $300M.
  • Small states are home to big players, with Rhode Island, Delaware, New Hampshire and New Jersey leading other lotto-playing states when it comes to ticket sales per capita.
  • The Garden State, New Jersey, is home to the highest number of jackpot winners (January 2012–July 2018), despite not leading in total ticket sales.

When Do People Start Caring About the Lottery?

The lottery attracted tremendous media attention back in January 2016 when the Powerball jackpot reached a record high of $1.5B. Jackpots rise with increasing ticket purchases and reset when someone wins, but is there a so-called “magic” number that a jackpot has to reach for ticket sales to start surging? We analyzed historical Mega Million and Powerball ticket sales between January 2012 and July 2018 to find an answer.

Average % Increase in Mega Millions Ticket Sales

Average percent increase in Mega Millions ticket sales.

Average % Increase in Powerball Ticket Sales

Average percent increase in Powerball ticket sales.

The above bar charts showcase the average percentage growth in Mega Millions and Powerball ticket sales for different jackpot ranges. The data clearly show that there’s a sweet spot when it comes to jackpots and ticket sales near the $300M to $350M mark. More specifically, for Mega Millions ticket sales, there’s an increase of 72% when the jackpot reaches $350M and a massive surge of 294% for jackpots greater than $550M. On the other hand, Powerball ticket sales exhibit a 52% increase when the jackpot reaches $300M and continually surge for jackpots greater than $400M.

A Look at State Spending on Powerball Tickets

Florida and California lead in total Powerball ticket sales between January 2012 and July 2018, but when it comes to ticket sales per capita, smaller states tend to outrank the rest.

Who Has the Biggest Powerball Players?

Powerball ticket sales per 100,000 state residents.

Lottery games are offered in 44 states, excluding Alaska, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah. For Powerball games, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Hampshire and New Jersey lead in per-capita ticket sales. Out of all states, Rhode Islanders spent the most on tickets between January 2012 and July 2018, at $27K per 100,000 state residents. It’s also interesting to note that Washington DC boasts an even higher ticket sales per capita value than Rhode Island, at $32.4K per 100,000 residents.

A Look at 'Jackpot Fever' Across All States

State Powerball ticket sales per capita for each jackpot range.

It was also worth taking a look at how ticket sales per capita changed across all states. The above table shows a gradient shading of ticket sales per capita according to each jackpot range. Right away, it’s clear that leading Powerball-playing states Rhode Island, Delaware, New Hampshire and New Jersey start seeing ticket sale upticks earlier than other states; around $300 million—but overall, significant growth in sales per capita tend to occur when the jackpot reaches $500 million. Pennsylvania appears to be an outlier in this case, since the state sees a massive spike in ticket sales per capita when the jackpot reaches $550 million, slowing down afterward.

Sure enough, larger jackpots appear to be stronger incentives for people to buy tickets. The reaction to the record high jackpot of over $1.5 billion in 2016 can be seen in the final column of the table. For this jackpot range, the visual shows that residents of New Jersey and Wyoming were the biggest players. On the opposite end of the playing field, Arkansas and Maine had the lowest ticket sales per capita.

Is Lady Luck Smiling On New Jersey?

Since January 2012, there have been 37 winning Mega Millions and Powerball jackpot tickets. Of these winning tickets, the majority, six, were won by residents of New Jersey. Statistically speaking, the odds of a state hosting a winning ticket should increase with the number of tickets sold in that state, but New Jersey didn’t sell the most tickets during the period we looked at, Florida did. Florida hosted four winning jackpot tickets, despite selling over 803 million more tickets than New Jersey.

Methodology

Mega Millions and Powerball ticket sales were analyzed between January 2012 and July 2018, a 79-month period. Since jackpot values vary significantly over time, jackpots were aggregated into bins. Ticket sales per capita were calculated using state population data acquired from the U.S. Census Bureau.

David Ascienzo

David Ascienzo, Ph.D., is a Data Scientist at ValuePenguin. He previously was a Doctoral Researcher in Physics at the City University of New York (CUNY). He holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the CUNY Graduate Center.