How does Powerball play work?

Powerball is one of the most popular lottery games in the United States. It is played in 45 states, as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Powerball draws occur twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and jackpots start at $40 million. Here’s a look at how Powerball play works.

The Basics of Powerball

Powerball is a multi-state lottery game that features a jackpot that starts at $40 million and continues growing until someone wins it. To play, you select five main numbers between 1-69 and one Powerball number between 1-26. You win prizes by matching some or all of the numbers. The more numbers you match, the bigger the prize you win.

The Powerball jackpot is won by matching all five main numbers and the Powerball. Matching just the Powerball nets you $4, while matching one number plus the Powerball wins $4. Matching two numbers plus the Powerball wins $7. The prizes go up from there for matching more numbers.

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292 million. The overall odds of winning any prize are 1 in 24.9. Drawings are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10:59 p.m. ET.

How to Play Powerball

Here are the steps for playing Powerball:

  1. Select five numbers between 1-69. These are the white balls.
  2. Select one Powerball number between 1-26. This is the red ball.
  3. Choose whether to multiply your lower-tier winnings with the Power Play option for an extra $1 per play.
  4. Buy your Powerball ticket from an authorized retailer before the drawing.
  5. Check the winning numbers after the drawing to see if you have a winning ticket.

You can choose your own numbers or select the Quick Pick option to have the lottery terminal randomly select numbers for you. Each Powerball play costs $2, or $3 if you add the Power Play.

How the Powerball Drawing Works

During the Powerball drawing, five white balls are drawn from a drum containing 69 balls numbered 1-69. Next, one red Powerball is drawn from a separate drum containing 26 numbered balls.

The drawing is conducted under the supervision of lottery officials and independent auditors. The balls are mixed thoroughly before each drawing to ensure fair results.

To win the jackpot, you must match all five white balls in any order, plus the red Powerball. The order that the balls are drawn in does not matter. If there are multiple jackpot winners, the prize is divided equally among them.

Powerball Prize Levels and Odds

Here is a breakdown of the nine Powerball prize levels, the odds of winning each one, and the prizes at each level:

Prize Level Match Odds (1 in) Prize Amount
1 – Jackpot 5 white balls + Powerball 292,201,338 Starting jackpot of $40 million
2 5 white balls 11,688,053 $1 million
3 4 white balls + Powerball 913,129 $50,000
4 4 white balls 36,525 $100
5 3 white balls + Powerball 14,494 $100
6 3 white balls 579 $7
7 2 white balls + Powerball 701 $7
8 1 white ball + Powerball 91 $4
9 Powerball only 38 $4

As you can see, the odds of winning the jackpot are quite slim at 1 in 292 million. But the odds improve significantly for the lower prize tiers.

The Power Play Option

The Power Play is an optional feature that costs an extra $1 per play. It can increase the value of any non-jackpot prizes you win by 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x, or 10x the regular amount.

When you add Power Play, the Powerball drawings include a special wheel with a 10x spot. If the wheel lands on 10x, all non-jackpot prizes are multiplied by 10 times for that drawing. The other multipliers are set as follows:

  • 24.9% chance of 2x
  • 61.5% chance of 3x
  • 13.5% chance of 4x
  • 0.1% chance of 5x

So most of the time, Power Play will triple your lower-tier winnings. That $7 becomes $21, $100 becomes $300, and $1 million becomes $3 million. The exception is the second prize level, which is always $2 million with Power Play. The Power Play feature does not apply to the jackpot prize.

Claiming Powerball Prizes

For prizes up to $600, you can typically claim your winnings at any authorized Powerball retailer in the state where you purchased your ticket. Prizes over $600 must be claimed at a lottery office. Jackpot and second prize winners must claim their prize at the lottery headquarters of the state where the winning ticket was purchased.

You will need to complete a claim form and show a valid photo ID and your winning ticket. If playing as part of a group, each member must be present to complete the claim form.

Powerball prizes must be claimed within a specified time limit, which varies by state but is usually between 90 days and one year from the draw date. Unclaimed prizes are returned to the states where the tickets were purchased to be used for future prizes or lottery beneficiary programs.

Taxes on Powerball Winnings

Powerball winnings are considered taxable income, so you must pay applicable federal and state taxes. For jackpots, the lottery will withhold 24% for federal taxes before paying out the prize. Some states also withhold additional state taxes.

For lump sum payments, the entirety of your winnings is counted as income in the year you claim the prize. If you take the annuity option, you pay taxes annually on each installment payment.

It’s a good idea to consult a tax professional to develop a tax strategy before claiming a large lottery prize. Proper planning can help minimize the tax burden.

Is Powerball a Good Investment?

While Powerball offers the chance to win fortunes, statistically your chances of winning are extremely low. Spending money on Powerball tickets in the hopes of a big return is generally not a wise financial investment.

Think of Powerball purchases as entertainment rather than an investment strategy. Only spend what you can comfortably afford to lose. Playing with money needed for necessities like rent, bills or groceries is not recommended.

That said, Powerball can be fun to play occasionally for the excitement and chance to dream. Just keep a healthy perspective and play responsibly within a budget.

Powerball Game Variations

There are a few variations to the standard Powerball game available in some participating jurisdictions. These include:

Double Play

For an extra $1 per play, Double Play gives you a second chance to match your Powerball numbers in a separate drawing held after the main Powerball draw. The Double Play top prize is $10 million.

Just the Jackpot

Just the Jackpot allows you to buy two Powerball plays for $3. One of the plays can only win the jackpot. The other can win any non-jackpot prize. This effectively doubles your chances at the jackpot for a 50% price increase.

Powerball First Millionaire of the Year

This special drawing held on January 1 in participating states offers a $1 million prize, separate from the Powerball game, with better odds of 1 in 1,472,951.

Be sure to check if your lottery jurisdiction offers any of these Powerball variants to mix up your playing experience.

Notable Powerball Jackpots

Some of the largest Powerball jackpots awarded include:

  • $1.586 billion – January 13, 2016 – California, Florida, Tennessee
  • $768.4 million – March 27, 2019 – Wisconsin
  • $758.7 million – August 23, 2017 – Massachusetts
  • $731.1 million – January 20, 2021 – Maryland
  • $699.8 million – October 4, 2021 – California

The current record jackpot of $1.586 billion was shared among three ticket holders in 2016. The cash value option was $983.5 million (before taxes).

Giving Back with Powerball

In addition to creating big winners, U.S. lotteries like Powerball serve an important purpose – generating funds for good causes.

Each participating state lottery designates a portion of proceeds to educational programs, environmental needs, senior citizens, healthcare, infrastructure and more. Since 1988, U.S. lotteries have generated over $250 billion for these types of worthwhile public benefits.

So even if your own lottery ticket isn’t a winner, the money paid to play contributes to many positive programs.

Is Powerball Worth Playing?

Playing Powerball can be great entertainment and provide a fun fantasy escape, as long as you gamble responsibly. While the odds of hitting the jackpot aren’t favorable, lower tier prizes are more achievable.

Powerball also supports worthy public causes. Just be sure to play with discretionary income, not money needed for living expenses or savings goals. Having measured expectations can allow you to enjoy Powerball as a game, not a strategic investment.

Some final thoughts on Powerball:

  • Check your ticket carefully! Many prizes go unclaimed each year because people don’t realize they’ve won.
  • Consider playing in a lottery pool to improve your chances while sharing the fun.
  • Take time to understand the odds and probabilities involved before spending significant amounts.
  • Have fun dreaming about how you’d use a huge jackpot, but don’t spend more than you can afford.

Powerball provides entertainment value and the amazing chance to win big. Play it wisely within your budget and enjoy this popular American lottery game!


Hopefully this overview gave you a good understanding of how the Powerball game works. While hitting the jackpot is a long shot, matching even a few numbers can produce exciting winnings. Just be sure to keep Powerball fun and play responsibly.

Powerball offers a fascinating lottery experience for Americans across the country. With jackpots starting at $40 million and frequently climbing into the hundreds of millions, it’s no wonder so many people love trying their luck. Just remember – the more you play, the better your chances, so only spend what you can comfortably afford. That way win or lose, playing Powerball will provide simple entertainment as a nice break from the day.

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