how lottery drawings work
Tips & Tricks

Explainer: How Do Lottery Drawings Work?

Here's how the winners get made.

You’ve ordered your lottery ticket via Jackpocket, and now you’re excitedly waiting to find out if you’re a lucky winner. Whether you’re playing Win 4 or going for Mega Millions, you may wonder how the winners are selected and what exactly goes on behind the scenes. How are lottery numbers picked anyway? Good questions.

First Things First: Who Picks the Winners?

First of all, we should note that at Jackpocket, we offer a secure platform so you can order state lottery tickets, but game rules and drawings are administered by the state lotteries and out of our control. Drawings for New York Lottery games like Take 5 and New York Lotto, for example, are run by the New York Lottery. 

We don’t pick the winners—you have the same odds of winning on Jackpocket as you do at the store. 

Now that that's out of the way, let's dig in.

What happens at a lottery drawing?

A lottery drawing is the process of selecting the winning numbers for a particular game. Those winning numbers determine the number of winning tickets for each prize level. 

For example, Mega Millions live drawings are held Tuesdays and Fridays at 11:00 PM ET at WSB-TV in Atlanta, Georgia. Five white balls are drawn from a set of balls numbered one through 70. Then, one gold Mega Ball is drawn from a set of balls numbered one through 25. If the six numbers on your ticket match the numbers drawn, you've hit the jackpot!

You can watch live drawings for your state lottery on your local TV station or sometimes as webcasts on your state lottery's website.

So, how are lottery numbers picked? Let’s explore…

Mega Millions live drawings are held Tuesdays and Fridays at 11:00 p.m. ET at WSB-TV in Atlanta

How the winning lottery numbers are picked

No matter the type of lottery draw game you’re playing, winning numbers are always randomly selected and visible to the viewer—both during the "mixing" process and the numbers selection process. There are two main types of lottery draw machines: gravity pick and air mix. No matter what kind of machine is used, viewers can see the rubber balls at all times as they travel through a transparent tube, which gives viewers confidence that the drawing is not being tampered with or fixed. 

Gravity pick lottery machines are the most commonly used machine—for major drawings like Mega Millions and Powerball, you can usually count on seeing one. This machine, complete with spinning paddles that rotate in opposite directions, mixes the balls until they drop out of the bottom of the chamber one by one. 

Air mix lottery machines are usually used in games like Pick 3 or Pick 4. The machines have a chamber filled with numbered ping-pong balls that are moved by jets of air from a fan located at the bottom of the drum. The balls move up and out of the chamber through a tube and are pushed out onto a tray.

How do lottery payouts work?

Now that we understand how lottery numbers are picked, what happens if you win the grand prize? You will be given two choices for how to get your winnings. You can take a lump sum payment equal to the cash value of the jackpot, or you can take the annuity option, where payments will be distributed over a period of time. 

Choose the lump sum, and you’ll receive your after-tax payout immediately. It’s worth noting that while taxes were taken out (at 24% of the amount won), lottery winnings are considered income, so additional tax may be owed if you end up in a higher tax bracket. If you select the annuity option, payments will come in gradually increasing annual installments until the total payout has been received. Taxes will be due on this each year, but the tax burden may be less due to spreading out the payments. It is recommended to consult a tax attorney or financial planner to see what solution best meets your needs.

Where do lottery proceeds go?

Approximately 30% of each ticket sold goes to fund important programs such as education, veterans assistance, the environment and more. Want to learn more about what your lottery ticket contributes to? See our Where Lottery Money Goes: A State-by-State Guide.

Mega security for lotto draws

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of how lottery numbers are picked? How are lottery drawings kept fair and secure? Let’s use the Powerball as an example.

The entire process of the Powerball drawing takes a solid two hours! First, a minimum of three lottery officials open a vault where the drawing machines and balls are kept. Two machines and two sets of balls are randomly chosen. By 9:30 PM ET, the machines and balls are transported to the studio. Wearing gloves, ball handlers load the balls into the machines where the process is closely watched. 

The machines are then tested to ensure they are working properly. This is monitored by local lottery officials and multi-state lottery headquarters. Testing is completed by 10:30 PM ET, and the drawing is ready to get started! At 11:00 PM ET, the cameras start rolling for the live draw, which is closely supervised by lottery officials and independent certified public accountants. 

Now that you know how lottery drawings work, are you ready to test your luck? Get your ticket on Jackpocket today!

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