Lottery Jackpots Keep Increasing Despite Their Terrible Odds

Many people worldwide buy lottery tickets each week in hopes of getting rich. They’re certainly gambling on the right thing when considering that some lottery prizes hit nine or even 10 figures.

However, lotteries are also notorious for having the worst odds known to man. They typically only offer around 50% return to player (RTP).

By comparison, slot machines, which are nicknamed “one-armed bandits,” feature between 90% and 97% RTP.

Lottery players could easily research the games they play and see how badly they’re getting ripped off. But as you’ll see below, they continue playing despite the awful odds.

How Lottery Jackpots Have Increased in Recent Years

20 years ago, a $300 million jackpot was considered an anomaly. However, lottery prizes have reached epic proportions in recent years.

The world’s biggest lotteries, Mega Millions and Powerball, have paid out plenty of jackpots worth a half billion dollars or more. Both lotteries have also delivered a prize worth $1.5 billion.

Below, you can see the top five lottery payouts of all time along with their respective win date:

  1. $1,586.4 billion (Powerball) – Jan. 13, 2016
  2. $1,537 billion (Mega Millions) – Oct. 13, 2018
  3. $768.4 million (Powerball) – Mar. 27, 2019
  4. $758.7 million (Powerball) – Aug. 23, 2017
  5. $687.8 million (Mega Millions) – Oct. 27, 2018

All of these prizes have come within the past five years. A decade ago, few could’ve imagined a jackpot being worth $1.5 billion.

Of course, top lottery prizes have always increased along with inflation. But the increases over the past several years go far beyond just simple inflation rises.

Lottery jackpots create a snowball effect. Casual players see a prize approaching $500 million and suddenly join the frenzy.

This snowballing is exactly what led to the $1.586.4b and $1,537b payouts from Powerball and Mega Millions, respectively.

Lottery RTP & Odds Are Terrible

The huge lottery jackpots help mask the awful odds lying beneath them. I’m not even talking about the chances of winning a jackpot either.

Speaking of which, you have 1 in 302,575,350 odds of winning the Mega Millions top prize. Meanwhile, you stand 1 in 292,201,338 odds of hitting the Powerball jackpot.

You likely suspect such long odds of winning massive amounts of money in either lottery. But you probably don’t expect to win less than fifty cents for every dollar spent on tickets.

  • Mega Millions seeds jackpots at $40 million. This starting value is quite impressive even without the rollover growth. Unfortunately, the RTP sits at around 20% when the jackpot is first seeded. For every $10 you spend on tickets at this point, you only stand to win back $2 on average.
  • Powerball seeds its jackpots at $20 million. Although only half as big as Mega Millions’ beginning value, Powerball jackpots still draw many players.

The RTP when the jackpot is first seeded is almost as bad at 23%. For every $10 you risk in the beginning, you’ll be looking at $2.30 in winnings.

Both lotteries do see an uptick in payout percentages as the jackpots grow. Mega Millions and Powerball offer 55% and 60% RTP, respectively, when their top prizes hit $250 million.

The payout percentages only continue to increase from here. Nevertheless, you’re almost never getting great odds when playing these games—save for the rare times when their jackpots eclipse $600 million.

Many Gamblers Either Ignore or Don’t Care About Low RTP

Considering the terrible payback associated with lotteries, you’d figure that players are in the blind. Maybe RTP figures are arcane knowledge that only privileged gamblers know.

The latter actually isn’t true to any degree. Anybody can learn more about lottery RTP with five minutes or less of Google research.

Lottery payout percentages don’t pop up as quickly as those attached to online slots, for example, But you can easily find this information if you feel like doing so.

I found plenty of info on both Powerball and Mega Millions RTP after spending about three minutes on the matter. You could possibly do so in even quicker fashion.

However, the point isn’t about you and I racing to see who can learn about lottery payback the fastest. It’s about the fact that finding RTP figures doesn’t take that much effort.

Anyone can research this information and find out how much they stand to earn back on average from each ticket. They either don’t think about the matter or have done the research and ultimately don’t care.

In the end, jackpot sizes rule above all. Players see 9-figure prizes and just don’t care about the long odds and poor RTP they’re facing.

What Jackpot Games Offer Higher RTP?

Perhaps you’re in the minority that hates the prospect of only winning back between $0.20 and $0.60 per dollar spent on lottery tickets. If so, you might consider the following jackpot games—all of which have vastly better RTP than lotteries.

Slot Machines

Slot machines carry a reputation for being harsh on your gambling bankroll. If you’ve ever played these games inside of a casino, you may recall a time where your $20 vanished in minutes.

Such incidents can leave you feeling like slots have the worst odds in the gambling world. But as mentioned before, they actually offer much better payback than lotteries.

Slot machines in land-based casinos usually feature between 88% and 96% RTP. Online slots offer between 95% and 97% RTP.

In either case, you stand a much stronger chance of winning in the long run with slot machines. Furthermore, you can also play for some really large jackpots.

No slot jackpot has ever reached the massive proportions of the biggest Mega Millions and Powerball prizes. However, some have reached the eight-figure range.

  • In 2003, an anonymous gambler won $39.7 million at the Excalibur casino in Las Vegas. This amount still stands as the largest slots win in history.
  • In 2018, an online player won $21 million through the Mega Moolah jackpot. This payouts holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest online slots jackpot.

You can see that both slots jackpot sizes and RTP can be impressive. However, the major difference with slot machines is the play rate.

You could easily perform 500-600 spins per hour. Assuming you’re wagering a quarter per spin, you’d be betting between $125 and $150 each hour.

As a lottery player, you’ll probably only buy 2-3 tickets per week. This scenario amounts to gambling $4 to $6 every week.

Play rate is the major difference between slots and lottery losses. However, you should win far more money per dollar wagered on slots versus lotteries.

Caribbean Stud

Caribbean stud is an interesting poker game that’s gives you the chance to play for both side payouts and a progressive jackpot.

Every round begins with you making an ante wager. You can also place an optional $1 bet to qualify for the progressive jackpot.

You and the dealer receive five cards after the ante is placed. After reviewing your cards, you can decide whether or not to raise (2x the ante).

If you fold, then you lose both the ante and progressive wager (if made). Assuming you raise, then you and the dealer compare hands to see who wins the ante.

When beating the dealer, your raise payout hinges on the following pay table:

  • Royal flush – 100 to 1
  • Straight flush – 50 to 1
  • Four of a kind – 20 to 1
  • Full house – 7 to 1
  • Flush – 5 to 1
  • Straight – 4 to 1
  • Three of a kind – 3 to 1
  • Two pair – 2 to 1
  • Anything – 1 to 1

The most-exciting aspect is the progressive jackpot. You win the entire prize if you have a royal flush.

You can also win additional payouts based on the following pay table:

  • Royal flush = 100% of progressive jackpot
  • Straight flush = 10% of progressive jackpot
  • Four of a kind = $100
  • Full house = $75
  • Flush = $50

The jackpot wager doesn’t require you to beat the dealer. Instead, it solely depends upon your hand strength.

You have 1 in 649,740 odds of getting a royal flush and winning the jackpot. Some of these jackpots are worth between $250,000 and $500,000 (or more).

The maximum Caribbean stud RTP is 94.77% with perfect strategy. The jackpot bet offers an overlay (over 100% RTP) when reaching $250,000.

Three-Card Poker

Three-card poker also begins with an ante bet and optional $1 jackpot wager. You and the dealer both receive three cards once your ante is made.

After reviewing the cards, you can either fold or place the play bet (equal to ante). If you make the play wager, then you and the dealer compare cards.

The croupier needs at least a queen-high to qualify. Otherwise, you automatically win your ante bet and push on the play wager.

Three-card hand rankings are strange compared to other poker games:

  • Straight flush – Three consecutive suited cards.
  • Three of a kind – Three cards of the same rank.
  • Straight – Three consecutive non-suited cards.
  • Flush – Three suited cards.
  • Pair – Two cards of the same rank.
  • High card – Best card in the hand.

The jackpot wager solely depends upon your hand strength.

You have a chance at winning the following prizes based on your cards:

  • AKQ of spades = 100% of jackpot
  • AKQ of clubs/diamonds/hearts = 10% of jackpot
  • Straight flush = 70:1 payout
  • Three of a kind = 60:1 payout
  • Straight = 6:1 payout

The odds of you getting a spades mini royal flush are 1 in 22,100. The jackpot bet RTP begins around 30% and eventually offers an overlay at $11,000 (assuming jackpot begins at $5k).


The lottery is certainly a fine game that draws many players each week. The latter is evidenced by certain jackpots eclipsing $1.5 billion.

Furthermore, you probably won’t spend much on the lottery. The average player only buys a few $2 tickets every week.

The glaring downside, though, is that lotteries only offer around 50% RTP on average. Payout percentages are even much lower when jackpots are first seeded.

You may be fine with playing these games if you dream of winning big. However, you should reconsider if you’re also concerned with the lack of long-term payout potential.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for since early 2016.

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