The Colorado Lottery is a state-run lottery that launched in 1983 with scratch tickets. The state now offers 5 different lottery games in addition to scratch tickets. The Colorado Lottery also participates in the Multi-State Lottery Association and offers Mega Millions and Powerball.
As with other state-run lottery, the Colorado Lottery raises funds to be used for the public.
But most states earmark those funds toward education. In Colorado, some of the lottery funds pay for education, but a larger percentage also pays for outdoor recreation needs like parks and trails.
The Colorado Lottery offers the following games:
- Cash 5
- Colorado Lotto+
- Lucky for Life
- Pick 3
- MegaMillions and Powerball
This page features detailed tutorials for all the games available from the Colorado Lottery, including an analysis of the odds and payback percentages for those games.
Odds and Payback Percentages for Colorado Lottery Games
One feature available on this site that you won’t find on most lottery information sites is a detailed analysis of the odds of winning and the payback percentages for the games available via the Colorado Lottery.
A payback percentage is a theoretical analysis of the return presented by a gambling game – including the lottery games available in Colorado. That theoretical return is based on the difference between the payout odds and the odds of winning.
A game with a 100% payback percentage would be a break-even proposition. If played long enough, such a game would result in no winnings for the house or the gambler.
A game with a payback percentage of less than 100% eventually results in the house winning. How quickly they win is determined by how low that percentage is.
A related concept is the house edge. This is the difference between the payback percentage and 100%, and it represents the average percentage of each bet that the house wins.
Here’s an example:
A theoretical lottery game has a payback percentage of 75%. The house edge, then, is 25%. On average, over the long run, a lottery player will lose 25 cents for every dollar she wagers.
The higher the house edge, the worse the game is for the player. The higher the payback percentage, the better the game is for the player.
The lottery is unusual among gambling games because the size of the top payout increases until it’s won. Since the payback percentage is a function of the payout amounts and the odds of winning them, if you increase the top prize, the payback percentage increases, too.
It’s possible, if the jackpot gets big enough, for a lottery game to offer a payback percentage over 100%. This makes a bet on such a game profitable for the gambler in the long run.
Practically speaking, though, it’s all but impossible to gamble with an advantage in the Colorado Lottery.
How to Play Colorado Lottery Games (Including Drawing Schedules)
Below you’ll find details for how to play the various lottery games available in Colorado. The theoretical payback percentage for each game is also included.
Cash 5 is a standard draw game where you choose 5 numbers from between 1 and 32. Cash 5 tickets are $1 to play. For an extra dollar, you can play EZ Match, which is an instant-win option available as a bonus game.
A Cash 5 ticket played with EZ Match will have 2 sets of numbers. The Cash 5 numbers match with the numbers in the drawing to see if you win. The EZ Match numbers, on the other hand, determine if you win an instant prize.
It makes sense to think of Cash 5 and EZ Match as 2 separate games with 2 separate payout structures.
Here are the prizes available for EZ Match and the odds of winning each:
- $500, 1 in 42,000
- $250, 1 in 42,000
- $100, 1 in 21, 000
- $50, 1 in 2800
- $20, 1 in 1680
- $15, 1 in 840
- $10, 1 in 168
- $5, 1 in 105
- $4, 1 in 76
- $3, 1 in 17
- $2, 1 in 10
To calculate the payback percentage for the game, you calculate the return for each of the prizes. The return for each prize is the amount you win multiplied by the probability of winning that prize.
For example, the return for the $2 prize is $2 multiplied by 1/10, or 20 cents. That’s converted to a percentage of 20%.
Add all those returns up for the game, and you get the expected return for the game.
In this case, the payback percentage comes to 60.65%, which means that every time you play for $1, you should average 60.65 cents in winnings over the long run.
The pay table for the main game is even simpler, by the way:
- Get 5 numbers right, and you win $20,000
- Get 4 numbers right, and you win $200
- Get 3 numbers right, and you win $10
- Get 2 numbers right, and you win $1
The odds of winning these prizes look like this:
- The odds of getting 5 out of 5 numbers right are 1 in 6,710,886.
- The odds of getting 4 out of 5 numbers right are 1 in 209,715.
- The odds of getting 3 out of 5 numbers right are 1 in 204.
- And the odds of getting 1 number right are 1 in 6.
The payback percentage for the game is 21.96%, which is terrible when compared to the payback percentage for the EZ Match game.
But you can’t play EZ Match without playing Cash 5.
If you’re going to play Cash 5, you should always play both games. You might be able to find Colorado lottery games with better payback percentage figures, though.
Colorado Lotto+ is another traditional draw game, this time where you choose 6 numbers from between 1 and 40. The more numbers you choose that match the numbers in the drawing, the more you win.
Colorado Lotto+ costs $2 to play. The game comes with a multiplier of between 2 and 5, and the jackpot starts at $1 million. If it isn’t won during a drawing, it increases in size for the next drawing. The multiplier increases the size of your winnings for any of the prizes besides the jackpot.
You also have the option of spending another $1 for the eponymous “plus” option. This is basically a 2nd chance game where your 6 numbers get used for the purposes of a 2nd jackpot with a $250,000 jackpot. The multiplier also applies to any winnings on this “plus” drawing – again with the exception of the top prize.
Here’s what the pay table for the main game looks like:
- 6 out of 6 numbers wins the jackpot ($1 million+)
- 5 out of 6 numbers wins $250 times the multiplier, so between $500 and $1250
- 4 out of 6 numbers wins $25 times the multiplier, so between $50 and $125
- 3 out of 6 numbers wins $3 times the multiplier, so between $6 and $15
And here’s the pay table for the Plus game:
- 6 out of 6 numbers wins the jackpot ($250,000)
- 5 out of 6 numbers wins $300 times the multiplier, so between $600 and $1500
- 4 out of 6 numbers wins $30 times the multiplier, so between $60 and $150
- 3 out of 6 numbers wins $4 times the multiplier, so between $8 and $20
Without knowing the probability of getting which multiplier, it’s impossible to calculate the payback percentage for Colorado Lotto+.
Lucky for Life
Lucky for Life is a multi-state lottery game where one of the prizes is $1000 a day for the rest of your life.
It costs $2 to play Lucky for Life, and drawings are on Mondays and Thursdays at 9:39pm.
To play, you choose 5 numbers from between 1 and 38. You also choose a “Lucky Ball” number, which is between 1 and 18.
Here’s the pay table for Lucky for Life:
- Get all 5 numbers right along with the “Lucky Ball,” and you win $1000 a day for the rest of your life.
- Get 5 numbers right but miss the Lucky Ball, and you win $25,000 a year for the rest of your life.
- Get 4 numbers plus the Lucky Ball and win $5000.
- Get 4 numbers and win $200.
- Get 3 numbers plus the Lucky ball and win $150.
- Get 3 numbers and win $20.
- Get 2 numbers plus the Lucky Ball and win $25.
- Get 2 numbers and win $3.
- Get 1 number plus the Lucky Ball and win $6.
- Get the Lucky Ball and miss all the other numbers and win $4.
You can find more detailed information about Lucky for Life on its own page here.
Most states offer some variation of a Pick 3 game. In such a game, you have a daily drawing (or sometimes multiple daily drawings) for 3 numbers between 0 and 9. You have multiple ways you can bet, and these variations change slightly from state to state.
The basic bet is that you’ll get the numbers in the exact order. In Colorado, it costs 50 cents to play, although you can also play for $1, $2, or $5.
The payoff for getting the numbers right in the exact order is 500 for 1. Since you have 1000 possible combinations, the payback percentage for Pick 3 is easy to calculate. It’s 50%.
You can also bet on any order, which means if you get all 3 numbers right but in any order, you win. The payoff for an “any order” bet is lower. The odds of winning improve from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 167, but the payoff drops to 80 for 1. The payback percentage for an any order bet, then, is 47.9%.
You’ll win a lot more often, but the prizes will also be much lower.
You can also play both ways, buying a ticket for exact order and any order, and you can also bet on front pair and back pair. A front pair bet pays off if you get the first 2 numbers right in the 3, and a back pair bet pays off if you get the final 2 numbers right in the 3 numbers you pick.
The odds of winning either a back pair or a front pair are the same – 1 in 100. The payoff is 30 for 1, so the payback percentage for that bet is 30%.
The best bet in Colorado’s Pick 3 game is the exact order bet. You won’t win often, but you’ll lose less money in the long run if you stick with that option.
You should never place a front pair or back pair bet, no matter how lucky you’re feeling.
At any given time, the Colorado Lottery offers dozens of different kinds of scratch and win games (or “scratchers,” as they’re often called. In these games, instead of matching numbers on a drawing, you buy a lottery card where the numbers are hidden behind “scratch ink.” You scratch off the ink to reveal the numbers to see if you’ve won a prize.
Scratch tickets in Colorado offer a couple of advantages over the draw games. One of those is that you get your prize immediately without having to wait for a drawing. The other is that the payback percentage for the scratch games is usually higher than the payback percentage for the draw games.
Colorado offers scratch games at the following price points:
Like slot machine games, scratch tickets are often themed with some other kind of game. For example, when this page was written, one of the scratch tickets in Colorado had a crossword puzzle theme. Prizes for these games can be huge, too – multiple Colorado scratch tickets offer prizes of $3 million. These games have names like “$3 Million Jackpot” and “$3 Million Black/Titanium.”
Bonus Draws aren’t actually games in their own right. They’re just a bonus way to win when you have a losing lottery ticket. Bonus Draws are available on scratch tickets, but you can’t win a Bonus Draw on a winning scratch ticket.
To take advantage of the Bonus Draw on your losing scratch ticket, you just find the 22-digit number and enter it on the official lottery site to determine your winnings.
You can also get Jackpot Bonus Draws if you sign up for a MyLottery account. The uses an app on your phone, and you’re then able to scan the barcode on your lottery ticket. The perk to Jackpot Bonus Draws is that they’re available on both losing AND winning tickets.
Free Play Zone
You’ll find a section titled “Free Play Zone” on the Colorado Lottery official site. It’s just a collection of free video games that you can play in your Web browser. You can’t win any money at any of these games, but it doesn’t cost anything to play them, either.
Mega Millions and Powerball
Colorado participates in multi-state lottery games, too. Mega Millions and Powerball are the 2 biggest multi-state games. Tickets for either game cost $2 each, but you can place an optional side bet on either game for an extra $1.
Drawings for Mega Millions are on Tuesday and Friday, while drawings for Powerball are on Wednesday and Saturday. If you buy a ticket for every drawing, you can be in action 4 nights a week.
The jackpots on these games are the largest in the country. The starting Powerball jackpot is $20 million, and the starting Mega Millions jackpot is $40 million.
From a payback percentage perspective, these games aren’t competitive. The payback percentage with the starting jackpot for Mega Millions is 18.94%, and the payback percentage for Powerball is 19.48%.
The payback percentage improves as the jackpot grows larger, but the jackpot would need to be insanely high to get the payback percentage anywhere close to 100%.
Even then, the probability of winning that jackpot is so low that its effect on your personal return is effectively non-existent.
You can get the complete details about Mega Millions and Powerball on these pages:
How to Buy Lottery Tickets and Claim Lottery Prizes in Colorado
Colorado lottery tickets are available at over 3000 locations throughout the state. As with most states, you can usually find lottery tickets for sale at gas stations and liquor stores. 7-Eleven and Alta Convenience are the lottery retailers with the most locations throughout the state.
The official website for the Colorado Lottery also has a searchable database and map at this link.
The minimum age to buy a lottery ticket in Colorado is 18, but you’re also allowed to buy lottery tickets as gifts for minors.
For prizes of less than $600, you can cash your lottery ticket in at any participating retailer. To claim a prize of $600 or more, you’ll need to contact the Colorado Lottery office to make an appointment. You can schedule an appointment at 1-800-999-2959. You have 180 days to cash in your winning ticket; after that, it’s null and void.
You can also claim winnings by using the claim form available on the official site. It takes a week or 2 to process lottery winnings in Colorado.
Can I Buy Colorado Lottery Tickets Online?
The Colorado lottery is not offered online in any form. State laws strictly prohibit the sale of lottery tickets over the internet or by any means other than licensed retailers. The state took it even further in 2014 with the passage of HB 1142 to put it in writing:
THE COMMISSION SHALL NOT PROMULGATE ANY RULE, ISSUE ANY ORDER, OR ADOPT ANY POLICY OR INTERPRETATION BEFORE JULY 1, 2017, THAT AUTHORIZES OR PERMITS THE PURCHASE OF TICKETS, INCLUDING INSTANT SCRATCH TICKETS, OR SHARES BY MEANS OF THE INTERNET, TELEPHONE, COMPUTER, OR ANY OTHER ELECTRONIC DEVICE OR EQUIPMENT THAT THE PURCHASER CAN ACCESS OR USE TO PURCHASE LOTTERY TICKETS OTHER THAN BY DOING SO PERSONALLY AT A LICENSED LOTTERY SALES AGENT’S PHYSICAL PLACE OF BUSINESS.
That bit of legislation is out of date by now, but still it shows the level of opposition online lottery games face in Colorado. Nothing has changed since then and the state still does not offer online lottery sales or mail-in subscription services.
The only lottery subscription service available in Colorado is Advance Play, which is offered by authorized retailers. Through Advance Play, customers may enter up to 26 drawings in advance for Powerball, Mega Millions and Lotto and up to 91 drawings for Cash 5.
Colorado Lottery History
Colorado sold its first lottery ticket in January 1983. The state projected that the lottery would bring in $60 million in sales its first year, but the lottery raised $137 million in the first 5 months.
The only games available in Colorado from 1983 to 1989 were scratch tickets. The state started offering Lotto in 1989, keno in 1991, and Cash 5 in 1996.
Colorado joined Powerball in 2001 and Mega Millions in 2010.
Most of the funds from the Colorado Lottery go toward environmental funding, like conservation, parks, and wildlife.
How to Contact the Colorado Lottery
You can go into a Colorado Lottery office, but only if you have an appointment to claim your winnings of $600 or more. The easiest way to contact the Colorado Lottery is the toll-free number, 1-800-999-2959.
Claims offices are located in Denver, Fort Collins, Grand Junction, and Pueblo.
You can also contact the Colorado Lottery by filling out the contact form on the official site.
The Colorado Lottery offers relatively few games compared to other states, but that’s not the only distinguishing feature. Most state lotteries spend almost all the funds raised on education, but Colorado focuses largely on spending money on the outdoors.