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Personal Finance Reports

Did We Get Lucky? LendEDU’s Lottery Study & Report

We’ve all seen the commercials and the billboards. Stories that highlight how one lucky gambler struck gold and won a million dollars playing the lottery making you want to stop everything and buy some scratch-offs.

After all, you have to be in it to win it, or so the saying goes.

But, how realistic is it to actually uncover a fortune from a cheap piece of paper whose identity as either a winner or loser can be uncovered with some loose change?

LendEDU sought to find this answer, or at least discover some themes, by buying $1,000 worth of lottery scratch-offs and seeing how it all unfolded.

While it is not our goal to stop someone from chasing the figurative pot of gold, hopefully our results will provide some clarity into one’s chances of winning the lottery, while also offering some prudence before you decide to spend a small fortune on the chance to win a large fortune.

But first, LendEDU has some newly released lottery data on a state-by-state level. To jump to the results of our personal lottery experiment, click here

The Most Recent State-By-State Lottery Data

Of all the uncertainties that come with the lottery, one thing is for absolute certain: People love playing the lottery. In fact, each state in the U.S. has its own lottery with the exception of the following seven states: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada (weird, right?), Utah, and Wyoming. 

On May 15, 2017 the United State Census Bureau released its preliminary data for the 2015 Annual Survey of State Government Finances. Included in this dataset is the income and apportionment data of state-administered lottery funds. For each state that has its own lottery, the income generated from ticket sales (excluding commissions), and the apportionment of those sales is included. Funds generated from a state’s lottery are divvied up in one of  three ways: prizes for winning tickets, administrative bills, and leftover proceeds available.  ​

For starters, the United States as a whole ​made $66,788,035,000 in income generated from all of the states’ respective lotteries. $42,278,889,000 of this was used for prizes, $3,180,173,000 was expended on administration, and $21,352,759,000 was the total proceeds remaining. 

The U.S. Census Bureau’s population projection for the entire country in 2016 was 32​3,127,513. If we divide the total income generated from various lotteries by the total population of the U.S., then each American spends an average of $206.69 on lottery tickets per year.

LendEDU took the statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau a step further and found the average amount each resident spends in lottery tickets in their respective state. Residents of Massachusetts spend the most on lottery tickets per capita, and it is not even close. Massachusetts’ lottery expense per capita came in at $734.85. The next closest state was Rhode Island, where people spend an average of $513.75 per year on lottery tickets. These New England states were followed by Delaware ($420.82), New York ($398.77), and West Virginia ($359.78).

Americans who call North Dakota their home state spend the least on lottery tickets yearly ($34.09). North Dakota was followed by Oklahoma ($43.74), Montana ($53.19), New Mexico ($65.84), and Nebraska ($78.52).​

Not surprisingly, the biggest and most populous states saw the greatest yearly lottery revenues. New York’s yearly lottery revenue was the greatest at $7,783,768,000, followed by California ($5,524,851,000), Florida ($5,277,739,000), Massachusetts ($5,005,635,000), and Texas ($4,281,136,000). 

North Dakota generated the least yearly revenue from their lottery ($25,841,000), followed by Montana ($55,451,000), Vermont ($104,861,000), New Mexico ($137,017,000), and South Dakota ($147,933,000).​

Below, you will find two bar graphs, each representative of a different statistic. The first graph represents the lottery expense per capita in each state, while the second ​graph is indicative of the yearly lottery revenue in each state.

What Happened When LendEDU Bought $1,000 Worth of Scratch-Off Lottery Tickets?

LendEDU wanted to put the probability of hitting it huge with lottery tickets to the test. So, we did exactly that and bought $1,000 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets.


This is what it looks like when LendEDU purchases $1,000 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets.

We were able to manage our budget so that we could purchase a wide variety of tickets including two types of $1 scratch-offs, four types of $2 scratch-offs, seven types of $5 scratch-offs, four types of $10 scratch-offs, two types of $20 scratch-offs, and one $30 scratch-off.


Each type of scratch-off purchased by LendEDU, starting with $1 tickets and moving right towards the $30 ticket.

And then, we got to scratching. 


Results of the LendEDU Scratch-Off Experiment: 

Overall Performance from $1,000 Worth of Scratch-Offs:

As one can see from the first table, we tried the best we could to have equal values for each of the different types of scratch-off lottery tickets. The most amount of wins came from the $1 scratch-off tickets, but that is because $1 tickets were the most common type of lottery ticket by a wide margin. 

The $5 tickets proved to have the highest winning percentage, which was 36.36 percent. This was followed by the $10 ticket’s winning percentage of 23.53 percent, and the $20 scratch-off’s winning percentage of 22.22 percent. The $1 and $2 tickets each recorded a winning percentage of 20.00 percent, while no wins took place with the $30 tickets. Overall, our winning percentage was 21.66 percent. 

In terms of win value, the clear winner was the $20 tickets, but that was only because one $20 ticket won LendEDU $500, the highlight of the experiment. The $2 scratch-offs brought home $142, while the $5 tickets returned the third most value at $125. In total, LendEDU won $974. 

We also calculated return on investment (ROI) on each type of ticket, and only one ticket type, the $20 scratch-offs, gave LendEDU a positive return. The $20 tickets had an ROI of 188.89 percent, followed by the $2 tickets had a return of -16.47 percent. $5 tickets had an ROI of -24.24 percent, while $1 scratch-offs returned -38.18 percent on the investment. The ROI on $10 scratch-offs was -50.00 percent, and finally, the $30 scratchers had an ROI of -100 percent, the worst of the bunch. Our ROI from all tickets combined was -2.6 percent. 

Without the one $20 ticket that returned $500, LendEDU’s scratch-off experiment would have resulted in some seriously red numbers. 

Overall, it seems that LendEDU got really lucky. But, thats the premise of the lottery right? Had we not had the one $20 scratch-off that brought in $500, we would have lost $526, instead of only losing $26.

Our advice?

Playing the lottery is an extremely risky investment that, more times than not, drains your bank account and your dreams of retiring on a yacht in Saint-Tropez. Because we bought such a high volume of tickets, we were able to survive this experiment with minimal losses. However, considering the average American spends roughly $206.69 on lottery tickets per year, most people are simply throwing their money away. It would take the average American nearly five years to spend $1,000 on lottery tickets like we did, and then just maybe, they would uncover the winning lottery ticket that mitigates their past losses or makes them a winner. 

Below, you can find some more tables that depict how LendEDU fared with each individual ticket type.

Results From the $1 Scratch-Offs:

Results From $2 Scratch-Offs:

Results From the $5 Scratch-Offs:

Results From $10 Scratch-Offs:

Results From the $20 Scratch-Offs:

Results From the $30 Scratch-Offs:


All data used for the lottery analysis on a state level was pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau. First, we used the preliminary data for the 2015 Annual Survey of State Government Finances, which was just released on May 15, 2017. This data was further broken down for government finances for each state’s respective lottery, This data provided the revenue generated from that year from the lottery. The second data file that was used from the U.S. Census Bureau was the state population totals and the population projections from 2016. Each state’s lottery revenue was divided by that state’s population for 2016 to find the yearly lottery expense per capita, which was then used to create the various maps and tables. 

For LendEDU’s own lottery study, we went to various convenience stores around Hoboken, New Jersey and purchased $1,000 worth of scratch-offs. We bought a certain amount of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, and $30 scratch-off tickets so that their total values were as equal as possible. Winning percentage was calculated by dividing the number of winning tickets by the total number of tickets. Win value was calculated by adding up the totals from each winning ticket. Return on Investment was calculated by purchase value from the win value, and then dividing that number by the purchase value, and then multiplying by 100. 

See more of LendEDU’s Research