What’s the Best Lottery Ticket to Buy? (Guide to Buying Lottery Tickets)

Mega Millions Lottery Tickets, Power Ball Tickets

Variety is a big part of the appeal of instant-win scratch-off lottery tickets.

The biggest state lottery programs in America print dozens of different tickets in a seasonal format, with games entering and leaving the market depending on the time of year.

Figuring out which lottery ticket to buy is more complicated than it seems at first. You have to choose a denomination and a style of game from a long line of brightly-colored options, a set of choices that’s overwhelming even to experienced lottery players.

This post is all about picking the best lottery ticket – what that means, why some games may be better than others, and how to find the best among a sea of instant win lottery game choices.

What Makes a Lottery Ticket Good or Bad?

Last week, my wife showed me a TikTok account that’s dedicated entirely to instant win scratch-off lottery ticket play. I’m not much of a TikTok guy, but I know enough about it to be a little surprised that a lottery account was putting up strong numbers.

If you think about it, lottery tickets are kind of the perfect gamble for the extremely-online generation. They’re low-cost, with an Instagram-ready bright and flashy aesthetic, and they take very little time to play, promising potentially big rewards for little financial or time investment.

The things that make a lottery ticket good or bad vary from person to person. The woman running that lottery ticket TikTok account had her preferences – she likes crossword-style games, even though they take longer to scratch, and she refuses to play any game with a 7 in the title.

This kind of thinking is common among lottery fans.

What factors go into a person’s labeling of a ticket as good or bad?

A ticket’s cost may put it out of reach for some players. These days, $50 tickets are common, though once upon a time, a $10 ticket would have been outrageously expensive. The opposite is true for some lottery ticket fans – they won’t go near a $1 or $2 scratch-off, assuming it doesn’t offer a very good return on investment.

In some players’ eyes, a game’s top prize is what makes it good. Some modern instant win tickets offer prizes in the millions; others offer more modest prizes in the low thousands. Some players look for games with big jackpots; others prefer to chase smaller (but more likely) payouts.

A ticket’s odds can be a big consideration. I’ll cover the unique nature of lottery ticket odds in greater detail below, but basically, these tickets have ever-shifting odds thanks to a finite number of available tickets and differences in sales numbers. An entire industry sprang up to track lottery ticket sales and prize claims, posting updates of ROI and overall odds figures as time passes.

There’s a problem with personal preference when it comes to lottery ticket purchases – not every ticket is available in every retail location.


A state like Texas has more than 150 tickets on offer at any given time; gas stations tend to offer no more than 30 or 40 tickets at the counter.

Players are sometimes forced to pick a ticket that’s not their ideal choice out of sheer necessity.

Hovering above all the above factors is the specter of personal preference. When a person chooses a lottery ticket, it comes down to some combination of the ticket’s looks, cost, odds and payouts, and availability.

Lottery Ticket Denominations, Odds, & Payouts

Before I get into discussions of how to find the best lottery tickets, I want to break down some of the basics.

Most state lotteries offer instant win lottery tickets in some combination of eight standard denominations:

  • $1
  • $2
  • $3
  • $5
  • $10
  • $20
  • $30
  • $50

The larger a state’s lottery program, the more instant win tickets they print, usually in a wider variety of denominations. Smaller state lotteries have a smaller variety of tickets and denominations. Look at Vermont, where the state lottery revenues typically come in under $100 million a year and where they only offer tickets in six denominations instead of the standard eight. Vermont also sells $25 instant win tickets, which is an oddity.

An instant win lottery game’s odds can usually be tied directly to its cost. Exceptions exist, but the more expensive a game, the better a player’s odds of winning any prize.

Look at Florida Lottery’s instant win tickets for a good example of this phenomenon. The average $1 ticket in The Sunshine State comes with overall odds of 1 in 4.7. The state currently hosts two $30 tickets, and the overall odds for these two games is about 1 in 2.68. In Florida, as in much of the country, players pay about 30x more for a 50% increase in odds of winning any prize.

But there’s a wrinkle in the laundry when it comes to lottery odds. Because a finite number of tickets are printed, a game’s odds shift as tickets are purchased and as prizes are claimed and come off the board. The odds printed on each ticket were only accurate at the time of printing – well before any prizes were claimed.

Further Info:

Consider the Florida game Struck by Luck, a $10 ticket with a $1 million top prize. Only four top prize-winning tickets were printed, so as each of those four prizes is claimed, a player’s overall odds drop dramatically.

A final complication when it comes to working out the odds of winning lottery prizes – the existence of second-chance drawings and bonus play giveaways. Most lottery states now have some form of second-chance drawing, rewarding small prizes to players who hold losing tickets. The mathematics involved in working out the effect on overall game odds from second-chance drawings are complicated – let’s just say participating in any additional drawing with a ticket you’ve already bought has a positive effect on your odds.

How to Find the Best Available Lottery Tickets

Because prize odds on instant win lottery tickets move every day, the average player can’t keep up with which tickets offer the best mathematical chance to win, especially in states with long lists of available games.

In some states, the lottery organization itself posts updated sales information. The California State Lottery is a good example – their Top Prizes Remaining page shows details about each game and how many of the top prizes are still available, though they don’t release updated odds information based on those sales figures.

No state that I’ve found updates their overall odds to reflect purchases and claimed prizes.

For details like that, you have to find a trusted source.

Sites like LottoEdge gather the nation’s updated prize claim information and recalculate game odds, listing the best tickets for each US state that reports such information. LottoEdge isn’t the only source for this kind of information, but it contains the largest collection under one roof, posting updated sales data about instant win tickets in every US state with an active lottery program.


You don’t have to pay for this information or even join a site or anything like that.

There are limitations to using these systems. For starters, there’s no guarantee that the tickets identified as the best for your state are available at your local retailer. You may have to drive around a while looking for a particular ticket. Another limitation – most of the games identified as the best for each state are of the $20 and up variety. Lots of lottery players can’t sink $20 or $30 or $50 into a single game.

An Example Comparison of Two Lottery Tickets

Here’s an example of how I would compare two lottery tickets available to me at my local gas station.

I live in Texas, so before I headed out to buy my ticket, I took a screenshot of the list of the top-10 games as of today’s date.

At the counter, I only saw two of the ten best-odds tickets – 777, a $10 ticket with overall odds of 1 in 3.23, and Diamond White 7s, a $20 ticket with overall odds of 1 in 3.25.

The price difference isn’t all that significant to me – I could drop either $10 or $20 on this ticket, so the fact that 777 is $10 cheaper didn’t bother me.

I did some quick calculations and worked out that I had a 12.2% chance of winning any prize on 777 and a 12.8% chance on Diamond White 7s. That’s about the same to me, so I couldn’t pick outright based on game odds alone.


The biggest difference between the two games is their top prizes. 777’s highest payout is $250,000, but the top prize on the pricier Diamond White 7s is $1 million.

Ultimately, I chose to play Diamond White 7s to chase the 4x larger top prize. Considering the ticket only costs twice as much, I figured the 4x increase in prize amount was worth it.


Most lottery ticket purchases are spur-of-the-moment informal buys that don’t give the purchaser any time to consider one game’s odds balanced against another’s.

The average lottery ticket purchaser couldn’t tell you the ROI of a particular lottery ticket if it was printed on the back. Let’s face it, most of us buy lottery tickets about like we pick drinks from the cold case. But there’s real monetary value in considering a lottery ticket as an investment, or at least as a more serious game of chance than an impulse purchase. Certain tickets are worth more, dollar for dollar, than others.

A little research, and some understanding of how lottery systems work, can turn an enjoyable side hobby into a more serious gambling pursuit.

Want to try your luck at scratch cards? Check out these trustworthy scratch card gambling sites.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.