So you know those scam e-mails you get sometimes saying you won the Canadian lottery or the Irish lottery or the British lottery despite never entering them?
I figure it'd be a decent idea today to go over how some of these national lotteries actually operate. Let's go ahead and start with the United States- for the benefit of the international readers- and then we'll head overseas.
Although before we do that, there is one caveat: in order to win any of them, you have to actually buy a ticket first. So delete that e-mail.
UNITED STATES: There are two national lotteries, really: Powerball and Mega Millions. Each of the 50 states individually decides whether to join either of the two. Florida does not participate in Mega Millions; California does not participate in Powerball bul will beginning in April; Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming do not participate in either.
Powerball is held every Wednesday and Saturday, and asks you to pick five numbers from 1-59, and then a sixth number from 1-35; that last number is for the Powerball. (The number spreads have changed somewhat over the years.) In order to win money, you either need to get three of the main numbers, or you can match the Powerball for an automatic win. The prize goes up the more you match; you win the jackpot if you get everything right. A ticket is $2, though for an extra $1, the 'Power Play' can be activated; that doubles all non-jackpot prizes (except for the 0+Powerball and 1+Powerball prizes, which are tripled).
Mega Millions, which draws on Tuesday and Friday, works pretty much the same way, but with different number spreads (pick five numbers from 56, and then one out of 46 as the Mega Ball), and the optional multiplier can be 2, 3 or 4 (this is drawn as well, and changes with each drawing).
CANADA: Canada also has two national lotteries, Lotto 6/49 and Lotto Max. As the name suggests, Lotto 6/49, drawing on Wednesday and Saturday, asks for six balls out of 49. (In the lottery community, games of this type are commonly referred to in "6/49" terms, using the appropriate numbers, as a form of shorthand.) You need to hit three of them to win, and all six for the jackpot. A seventh 'bonus' ball is drawn, which the player doesn't have to pick. The bonus ball ups the prize if the player's already matched five of the first six numbers drawn, and allows someone who's only matched two of the main six numbers to finish in the money.
Lotto Max asks for seven balls from 49. You need three to win, with an eighth bonus number helping out those who've drawn three or six of the main seven. It's called 'Lotto Max' because the prize caps at $50 million dollars Canadian. When the jackpot grows past $50 million, the extra money is burned off in 'Maxmillions' drawings. Additional sets of seven are drawn, one set for each extra million in the pot. A precise 7-number match wins you $1 million, anything short of that wins you squat.
IRELAND: The main game in Ireland is Lotto. They draw on Wednesday and Saturday. You're asked to pick six numbers from 1-45. They'll draw seven. If you match three of the first six, you win. If you match all of the first six, you win the jackpot. The seventh number drawn is a 'bonus' number. The bonus number doesn't help you if you haven't already won in the first six numbers (and if you've already matched all six, you don't need it), but it ups the prize if you hit the bonus along with three, four or five of the main numbers. In addition to the rolling jackpot, the prizes for 3+bonus, 4, 4+bonus and 5 numbers are based on how much money is in the prize pool.
UNITED KINGDOM: The main game is also named Lotto, and they also draw on Wednesday and Saturday. The format ought to be pretty familiar by now. Pick six numbers out of 49. They draw seven: six plus a bonus, just like Ireland. You need three of the main six to finish in the money. The bonus ball only comes into play if you've matched exactly five of the main six. All the prizes are related to each other: first, the 10-pound winners who matched three balls are paid out. Then, 22% of the remaining money is used to pay the 4-ball winners. 10% of the rest is used to pay the 5-ball winners. Then, 16% of the money still there is used to pay the 5+bonus winners. When that's all done, the 6-ball winners get 52% of the remaining money; the rest goes to the lottery.
WESTERN EUROPE: Yes, there is a pan-European lottery (or, in practice, pan-Western-European), called EuroMillions. It's available currently in Andorra, Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Drawings are held on Tuesday and Friday; France handles the drawing. Because of the larger pool of entrants, things are a bit more difficult. You need to pick five main numbers from 1-50 and two bonus balls called 'lucky stars' from 1-11. Two main numbers are needed to cash, or one main number and both lucky stars. You need to nail all seven numbers for the jackpot.
CENTRAL EUROPE: Well, EuroMillions can't have all the transnational fun, can it? Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden are covered by Eurojackpot. Finland hosts the drawing every Friday. Like in EuroMillions, there are two bonus balls. You need to pick five numbers from 50, and then two from 8. Match them all for the jackpot, match any three of the seven to cash in.
NORTHERN EUROPE: More! More, I say! Viking Lotto, hosted by Norway on Wednesdays, is open to Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden. You ought to have this more or less down by now. Pick six from 48, match three for the money. A seventh and eighth bonus ball are drawn to up the lesser prizes; those are figured out locally.
AUSTRALIA: Powerball's the name of Australia's main game, held on Wednesday and Saturday, and it works much like America's, except in Australia, the Powerball is not an instant win. You need three of the main five numbers whether you hit the Powerball or not. You're picking five from 45, and then the Powerball from 45. Heck, they even have the same logo and the $1 Power Play option.
SOUTH AFRICA: Lotto 6/49. Wanna take a guess how this basically works? Yeah. 6 out of 49, and you need a bonus number which comes into play for the lesser prizes. Match three main numbers to win money.
CHINA: The China Welfare Lottery... six red balls from 1-33, one blue ball from 1-16, the blue ball's an instant-win Powerball, snore. Though we did talk back in May about how the winners disguise themselves at the photo-op to avoid becoming targets.
GERMANY: Okay, now we're getting into a little more unorthodox setups. There isn't a national German lottery; each region does their own local lotto on Wednesdays and Saturdays. But they're all the same, really, six numbers from 49. There's also a seventh bonus ball in play drawn from the main 49. In order to get the jackpot, though, unlike elsewhere, you have to call the bonus ball. It's not just a second chance for the lesser prizes.
ITALY: The game is SuperEnalotto, played on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and even by lottery standards the odds are terrible. You need to pick six numbers out of 90. Match three to finish in the money. (There's a bonus ball, but it only comes into play if you've hit exactly 5 of the main numbers.) Good freaking luck. The jackpot rolls over quite a lot. For an extra fee, you can play a single 'SuperStar' number, which will allow for instant wins.
BRAZIL: In Mega-Sena, drawing on Wednesday and Saturday, you're asked to pick six numbers from 60. There are two separate drums from which the balls are picked: the first drum determines the tens digit; the second drum determines the ones digit. (If 00 is drawn, that's called 60.) They'll go until six unique numbers are drawn. You need four numbers to cash in and, of course, six for the jackpot. But you don't have to pick just six numbers. For 2 Brazilian reals, you will get six numbers, but if you wish, you may pay extra to select extra numbers, up to a maximum of 15. Picking 15 numbers, though, will run you 10,010 reals. You're paying 2 reals per possible winning jackpot combination. Some of the money bet over the course of the year is set aside for a marquee New Year's Eve drawing.
FRANCE: The game of choice is La Française des Jeux, played on Wednesday and Saturday. It's six balls out of 49, they'll draw six and then a bonus seventh, with the bonus coming into play after you've matched three. You may also go Brazilian and play the Jeu Multiple option, allowing you to take up to four extra numbers.
SPAIN: Internationally, this is The Big One. The regular lottery is El Gordo de la Primitiva. This is a pretty standard-issue lottery, drawing on Sunday, asking for five numbers from 1-54 and one from 0-9. You can, like in Brazil, select extra numbers in the main set for a proportional fee, up to 11. Three numbers matched wins, or two matches plus the bonus ball.
But that's not the one that gets attention. The one that gets attention is the Spanish Christmas Lottery. And it works completely differently from everything we've mentioned so far.
100,000 tickets are printed up (as of 2012), ranging from 00000 to 99999. Well, 100,000 numbers are, anyway. Tickets are printed multiple times in different series. A ticket costs 200 Euros; however, if that's too rich for your blood, you can purchase tenths of a ticket for 20 Euros each, with the understanding that your jackpot will go down accordingly. Publicly, you can buy tenths; privately, tickets can get split up even further; those smaller portions are called 'participations'. Ticket numbers tend to all stay within the same area, so a big win for one person generally means big wins all over town.
On the day of the drawing, currently December 22nd, two hoppers are used. The first hopper contains 100,000 balls, one for each ticket number. The second contains 1,807 balls, for each of the 1,807 main prizes. A ticket number is drawn from Hopper 1, and then a ball is drawn from Hopper 2 to see how much it's worth.
*1,794 of the prizes are 'la Pedrea', which translates to the pebble avalanche. Those handed out 1,000 Euros apiece in the 2012 drawing.
*Eight of the tickets get Fifth Prize, worth 60,000 Euros.
*Two tickets are awarded Fourth Prize, worth 200,000 Euros. (The 198 tickets matching the first three numbers of a Fourth Prize winner take 1,000 Euros.)
So now we're down to three winning tickets left, and this is where the international media starts to go look for feel-good Christmas stories.
*Third Prize gets 500,000 Euros. The ticket numbers immediately before and after Third Prize- the 'approximations'- get 9,600 Euros. The 99 tickets matching the first three digits of Third Prize get 1,000 Euros, as do the 999 tickets that match the last two digits. (Prizes stack here, by the way, unlike most lotteries where you're only given the highest prize. Here, unless you win the jackpot, you win all the prizes your ticket gets you. So if you're one of the approximations, you not only get the approximation prize, but you also get the prize for matching the first three numbers.)
*Second Prize wins 1,250,000 Euros. The approximation numbers win 12,500 Euros. The 99 numbers matching the first three digits win 1,000 Euros, as do the 999 that match the last two.
*And then there's First Prize, aka "El Gordo". 4,000,000 Euros for the winning ticket- not that big by lottery standards, but that's probably good, because you're more likely to be able to comprehend the amount and not blow through it right away. 20,000 Euros to the approximations. 1,000 Euros to the 99 tickets matching the first three digits and the 999 tickets matching the last two. And just matching the last digit of El Gordo gets you 200 Euros, also known as 'your money back'. And remember, in 2012, 180 of each ticket was printed out, tickets can be split into 10 portions each- or more- and each ticket number is locally clustered. The town that hits El Gordo is a happy, happy town.
Children from the San Ildefonso school in Madrid are recruited every year to call out the numbers- or rather, sing the numbers. Winners traditionally gift a portion of the winnings back to the school.
JAPAN: The main lottery in Japan is the Takarakuji, considered the second-largest lottery after the Spanish Christmas Lottery. It works similar too, with a holiday drawing (winners are announced on New Year's Eve), people buying numbered tickets (six digits as opposed to Spain's five), tickets being split, and matches and partial matches cashing in. (The exact prize structure is in Japanese, somewhere on this site, and I'm not able to read Japanese or get it properly translated, so you're out of luck as far as that goes.) However, there are only so many tickets to go around, and they're all sold by one bank, Mizuho Bank. In Spain, everyone that wants a ticket is pretty much going to get a ticket, or a piece of one. In Japan, you're not so sure. So the second tickets go on sale, expect long lines to snap them up before they're gone. Being only the second-largest lottery, it gets a lot less press than Spain's and is largely unknown outside Japan; that's why the details are scarcer than I'd like them to be.
Doesn't it hurt to come up one number short like that?