By Randy Ray

The Nebraska Lottery launched in 1994, created by legislation designed to increase school funding without increasing taxes. Lottery games in Nebraska include the traditional draw games along with a small collection of scratch games.

Nebraska has a unique age limit for purchasing lottery games. You have to be 19 to buy lottery tickets in the Cornhusker State. Whereas most US states allow 18 year old’s to play the lottery, and a few others require players to be 21, Nebraska is the only lottery in America with an age requirement of 19 years.

Nebraska sends most of its lottery revenue to just four causes – the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund, the Nebraska Education Improvement Fund, the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund, and to a fund supporting the Nebraska State Fair. The state distributes $50-$60 million a year to these four organizations.

Here’s the complete list of lottery games available from Nebraska Lottery:

  • Pick 3
  • Pick 5
  • MyDaY
  • 2by2
  • Powerball
  • Mega Millions
  • Lucky for Life
  • Scratch Games

The state’s lottery sales figures are low, there’s no way to write around that. Nebraska Lottery reports average sales figures of around $200 million a year. Look at the Idaho Lottery for an example of what a small heartland state lottery program can be.

Idaho’s average annual lottery sales are nearing $400 million. Nebraska has a slightly larger population than Idaho, so it should be easy to match their numbers. Per capita lottery spending in Nebraska trails that in Iowa by about $35. How is Nebraska lacking? The state’s game library is too small.

Where Idaho runs 5 or 6 dozen scratch games at a time, spread across seven denominations, the Nebraska Lottery makes do with 30 or so, presented in just six denominations. Where the Idaho Lottery runs ten draw games, Nebraska runs just seven. The Nebraska Lottery is leaving money on the table by running a limited number of games.

Nebraska Lottery gets a lot of things right. Administrative costs are low, a little more than 1% of revenue. Their MVP Club and second-chance contests prove they’re willing to embrace new lottery trends. A recent post on their website makes it clear that they’re seeking out a new advertising and marketing partner, which could be the first rumbles of new game launches or some other major expansion.

Probability, Return to Player, and the Nebraska Lottery

In this post, frequent references are made to some basic aspects of probability math. Lottery play is a form of gambling, and probability is the field of mathematics that has the most to do with games of chance. You don’t need an advanced degree in math to understand this stuff – the basics of probability math as they apply to gambling are simple when you understand what they mean.

The two terms used most often in discussions of lottery probability are “return to player” and “overall odds of winning.” These two terms refer to two ways of looking at and comparing lottery games based on a player’s likelihood of winning.

Return to player is a measure of the percentage of your stake that a game will likely return to you in the form of a prize. RTP, as its sometimes called, is shown as a percentage. If a lottery game has an RTP of 30%, that means you’re mathematically likely to win back $0.30 for every dollar you play into the game.

A player’s overall odds of winning refers to their chances of winning a prize of any amount. This is the most common statistic when it comes to lottery games. Most lottery games post overall odds of winning on the ticket or somewhere on the display for the game. Imagine a lottery ticket that says your overall odds of winning are 1 in 3.5. That means, mathematically, one ticket out of every three or four that you buy will result in a payout.

An important caveat – RTP and overall odds of winning are based on mathematical possibilities. These aren’t hard and fast guarantees. If you buy 10 tickets for a game that has 1 in 10 overall odds of winning, you are likely to win on just one of those tickets. That doesn’t mean you won’t win on 2, 3, or all 10 tickets. You may also not win on any of them. That’s called variance – the natural back and forth swings that we human beings call luck.

How to Play the Nebraska Lottery (Drawing Schedules & Buying Tickets)

Nebraska Lottery currently offers seven traditional draw lottery games as well as 33 scratch games.

Below is a short guide to each game available from Nebraska Lottery:

Pick 3

Pick 3 is an in-state lottery game put on by the Nebraska Lottery. Tickets cost between $0.50 and $5 each, depending on the player’s betting preference.

To play Pick 3, bettors choose a set of three numbers between 0 and 9. Bettors can also let the computer generate their numbers randomly quick-pick style.

Next, bettors pick a play type. Below is a breakdown of each Pick 3 play type:

  • straight – match all numbers in exact order
  • box – match numbers in any order
  • straight/box – match either exact or in any order
  • front pair – match the first two numbers in exact order
  • back pair – match the last two numbers in exact order

Payouts and odds are complicated, due to the multiple betting styles and amounts allowed. For more details on game odds and payouts, check out Nebraska Lottery’s Pick 3 page.

All Pick 3 prizes must be claimed within 90 days.

Pick 3 is drawn twice a day every day of the week. The first drawing is at 12:20 PM; the second is at 10 PM. Cutoff times are noon for the midday drawing and 9:40 PM for the evening drawing.

Pick 5

Pick 5 is like Pick 3, but Pick 5 involves more numbers, a wider range of prizes, more betting types, and a more complicated set of game odds.

Like Pick 3, Pick 5 is drawn twice a day – at 12:20 and 10 PM. Cutoff times are noon for the day drawing and 9:40 PM for the evening drawing. Tickets cost between $0.50 and $5 depending on the player’s preference.

The betting types and paytable for Pick 5 are similar to Pick 3. For more detailed information on playing Nebraska’s Pick 5 game, check out the Nebraska Lottery’s Pick 5 page.

MyDaY

MyDay is an in-state draw lottery game that’s based on the calendar. Players select a two-digit month, date, and year, hoping to match all or part of their pick to the date drawn.

MyDaY tickets cost $1 and are available for purchase between 5 AM and 3 AM every day.

Here’s the pay table for Nebraska’s MyDay:

  • Match the day, month, and year to win $5,000 – odds of 1 in 36,525
  • Match two red and one white balls to win $365 – odds of 1 in 3,320
  • Match one red and two white balls to win $52 – odds of 1 in 1,240
  • Match two red or two white balls to win $12 – odds of 1 in 369
  • Match one red and one white ball to win $7 – odds of 1 in 113
  • Match one red ball to win $4 – odds of 1 in 34
  • Match one white ball to win $1 – odds of 1 in 13

Overall odds of winning any prize in MyDaY: 1 in 8.17. Theoretically, about 12% of all MyDaY tickets purchased will result in a payout.

MyDaY is drawn daily at 9 PM Central Time.

2by2

2by2 is a daily draw game in which players pick four numbers – two red numbers and two white numbers, each between 1 and 26. 2by2 tickets cost $1, and players can pick up to five sets of numbers on each ticket.

Here’s the 2by2 pay table:

  • Match all four balls to win $22,000 – odds of 1 in 105,625
  • Match two red and one white balls to win $100 – odds of 1 in 2,200.5
  • Match one red and two white balls to win $100 – odds of 1 in 2,200.5
  • Match two red or two white balls to win $3 – odds of 1 in 382.7
  • Match one red and one white ball to win $3 – odds of 1 in 382.7
  • Match one red ball to win a free ticket – odds of 1 in 8
  • Match one white ball to win a free ticket – odds of 1 in 8

The overall odds of winning any prize on a 2by2 ticket: 1 in 3.59. Theoretically, that means about 28% of 2by2 tickets result in a prize. Be aware that the game’s lowest-tier prize, a free ticket, is about 50 times more likely than even a $3 win.

Every Tuesday, 2by2 has an automatic win multiplier. Any prize you win on 2by2 Tuesdays is automatically doubled. You have to buy a Multidraw ticket to activate the win multiplier, meaning you have to buy a ticket for at least 7 consecutive draws in a row.

2by2 is drawn daily at 8:30 PM Mountain Time which is 9:30 PM in Nebraska. Ticket sales are cut off at 7:30 PM every night and begin again at 8:35 PM for the next day’s drawing.

Powerball & Mega Millions

Nebraska participated in Powerball from the first day of lottery sales, having joined the MUSL in 1994, before the state’s first tickets were even sold. Nebraska added Mega Millions to their library of games in 2010.

Powerball and Mega Millions are by far the largest and most popular draw lottery games in America. Most US lottery programs participate in one or both games. These two games consistently produce the biggest jackpots in the industry. They’re by far the best-known names in the American lottery.

Powerball and Mega Millions are also similar enough to be covered here in a single section.

Both Powerball and Mega Millions cost $2 to play. Both games offer a $1 multiplier option that increases the value of winning tickets. Both games ask players to pick six numbers, including one special number that’s called either the Powerball or the Mega Ball.

The biggest difference between the two games is the size of the number pool. On Mega Millions tickets, players pick between the numbers 1 and 70. Powerball players are asked to pick between 1 and 69. This is a tiny difference in the two games possible winning numbers, and it makes a very slight difference in the overall odds of the two games.

Because of some differences in their pay tables, the odds for both games tend to be about the same.

Look at the pay tables for each game to get a sense of how similar their overall odds are:

Mega Millions Pay Table

  • Match all six balls to win the jackpot (min. $20 million) – odds of 1 in 302.5 million
  • Match all five balls to win $1 million – odds of 1 in 12.6 million
  • Match four balls and the Mega Ball to win $10,000 – odds of 1 in 931,000
  • Match four balls to win $500 – odds of 1 in 38,792
  • Match three balls and the Mega Ball to win $200 – odds of 1 in 14,547
  • Match three balls to win $10 – odds of 1 in 606
  • Match two balls and the Mega Ball to win $10 – odds of 1 in 693
  • Match one ball and the Mega Ball to win $4 – odds of 1 in 89
  • Match the Mega Ball to win $2 – odds of 1 in 24

A player’s odds of winning a prize on a Mega Millions ticket: 1 in 24. Theoretically, that means about 4.2% of all Mega Millions tickets will pay out a prize.

Powerball Pay Table

  • Match all six balls to win the jackpot (min. $20 million) – odds of 1 in 292.2 million
  • Match five balls to win $1 million – odds of 1 in 11.68 million
  • Match four balls and the Powerball to win $50,000 – odds of 1 in 913,000
  • Match four balls to win $100 – odds of 1 in 36,525.17
  • Match three balls and the Powerball to win $100 – odds of 1 in 14,494.11
  • Match three balls to win $7 – odds of 1 in 579.76
  • Match two balls and the Powerball to win $7 – odds of 1 in 701.33
  • Match one ball and the Powerball to win $4 – odds of 1 in 91.98
  • Match the Powerball to win $4 – odds of 1 in 38.32

A player’s odds of winning any prize on a Powerball ticket: 1 in 24.87. Theoretically, that means about 4% of all Powerball tickets purchased will pay out a prize.

Remember that all the odds and other figures presented above are mathematical representations of what might happen, not guarantees or promises of winnings or profit.

Powerball is drawn every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 10:59 PM Eastern Time, which is 9:59 PM in Nebraska. Mega Millions is drawn every Tuesday and Friday at 11 PM Eastern Time, which is 10 PM in Nebraska.

Lucky for Life

The Nebraska Lottery is one of 22 US state lottery programs that participate in the draw game Lucky for Life. What makes Lucky for Life stand out among other multi-state draw games is the unique two-tiered jackpot, paid out as a fixed annuity worth $1,000 a day “for life.”

Lucky for Life tickets cost $2. Players pick 5 numbers between 1 and 48 along with a Lucky Ball number between 1 and 18.

Payouts are determined by the number of matches according to the pay table below:

  • Match all six balls and win $1,000 a day for life – odds of 1 in 30.8 million
  • Match 5 balls and win $25,000 a year for life – odds of 1 in 1.8 million
  • Match 4 balls with the Lucky Ball and win $5,000 – odds of 1 in 143,355
  • Match 4 balls and win $200 – odds of 1 in 8,432
  • Match 3 balls with the Lucky Ball, win $150 – odds of 1 in 3,413
  • Match 3 balls and win $20 – odds of 1 in 200
  • Match 2 balls with the Lucky Ball, win $25 – odds of 1 in 249
  • Match 2 balls and win $3 – odds of 1 in 14
  • Match 1 ball with the Lucky Ball and win $6 – odds of 1 in 49
  • Match only the Lucky Ball and win $4 – odds of 1 in 32

Your overall odds of winning any prize on Lucky for Life are 1 out of every 8 tickets, or a win on about 12.5% of all tickets purchased. Those are decent odds for a multi-state draw game, and a big reason why Lucky for Life is the most popular draw game in Idaho besides the big two Mega Millions and Powerball.

Lucky for Life is drawn nightly at 10:38 PM Eastern Time, which is 9:38 PM in Nebraska. Tickets are cut off precisely at 10:30 PM Eastern Time, which is 9:30 PM in Nebraska.

Scratch Games

Nebraska’s scratch game revenue makes up a big chunk of the state’s total earnings, representing well over 50% of all sales. Here’s a breakdown of the 33 scratch games currently available from the Nebraska Lottery:

  • 7 $1 games – average odds of 1 in 4.21
  • 4 $2 games – average odds of 1 in 4.01
  • 4 $3 games – average odds of 1 in 3.48
  • 7 $5 games – average odds of 1 in 3.32
  • 6 $10 games – average odds of 1 in 3
  • 5 $20 games – average odds of 1 in 2.81

Here’s a real-world example of a game from the Nebraska Lottery’s scratch games collection – the $5 ticket called Lucky Break. The game’s top prize is $500, and the pay table is top-heavy, meaning there are more $500 prizes than the second- and third-tier prizes. That unusual structure is probably why Lucky Break has been one of the fastest-selling games in Nebraska Lottery history.

Here’s the Lucky Break pay table:

  • $500 – odds of 1 in 1,176.47
  • $100 – odds of 1 in 10,000
  • $50 – odds of 1 in 1,500
  • $20 – odds of 1 in 240
  • $10 – odds of 1 in 30
  • $5 – odds of 1 in 21.81

Overall odds of winning any prize on Lucky Break – 1 in 3.62. Theoretically, that means around 27% of Lucky Break tickets are winners.

Where to Buy Nebraska Lottery Tickets

More than 1,250 gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, and bars sell Nebraska Lottery products.

The easiest way to find a place to buy Nebraska Lottery tickets is to use the lottery’s Retailer Search tool.

How to Claim Nebraska Lottery Prizes

Nebraska Lottery suggests that the first thing winners should do is sign and complete the information on the back of the winning ticket to establish ownership. You can claim any Nebraska Lottery prize up to 180 days after the draw date, or after the closing date of a scratch game. 

Prizes of up to $500 can be claimed at a participating Nebraska Lottery retailer. Be aware that Nebraska Lottery retailers reserve the right to refuse prizes due to security or cashflow concerns.

Prizes worth between $501 and $19,999 must be claimed by mail or at a Regional Lottery Claim Center.

To claim prizes by mail, you need to send your signed ticket, a completed claim form, and a copy of your state-issued photo ID to:

Nebraska Lottery Prize Claim
P.O. Box 95145
Lincoln, NE 68509-5145

Here are the addresses for the Nebraska Lottery Regional Lottery Claim Centers:

Norfolk
304 North 5th, Suite D
402-370-3333
Hours: 8:00 AM – Noon

North Platte
Craft State Office Building
200 South Silber
308-535-8291
Hours: 8:00 AM – Noon

Omaha
1313 Farnam
Nebraska State Office Building
402-595-2065
Hours: 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM

Scottsbluff
505A Broadway, Suite 800
308-632-1201
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 9:00 AM – Noon (MT)

Prizes worth $20,000 or more must be claimed in person at lottery headquarters at:

137 NW 17th Street
Lincoln, NE
402-471-6100
Hours: 8 AM – 5 PM

Nebraska Lottery says winners should be “prepared to show a Driver’s License or another form of photo ID when claiming.”

Contact the Nebraska Lottery

General customer service questions and other queries can be sent to lottery@nelottery.com.

The headquarters of Nebraska Lottery are at the following address:

Nebraska Lottery
137 NW 17th Street
Lincoln, NE 68528-1204

You can reach a live person to assist you with questions by calling 402-471-6100 during normal business hours.

Conclusion

Nebraska is set to launch legal sports betting at the state’s racetracks and racinos. The fact that the state isn’t putting sports betting operations under the umbrella of the Nebraska Lottery is a bad sign. Not only could Nebraska’s lottery program use the infusion of cash that sports betting will bring, but it’s a sign that lawmakers don’t have a lot of confidence in the administration of the state’s existing lottery games.

That said, the Nebraska Lottery has added about $900 million to the state’s education and beautification efforts over the past three decades, and participation is increasing. Annual per capita spending on Nebraska Lottery games is up about 10% compared to a decade ago, and analysts have predicted continued growth.

As lottery games evolve and the industry expands to include things like slot machines and video terminals, you should expect Nebraska Lottery to keep up the pace. Pressure from the increasing success of lottery games in neighboring states like Colorado and Missouri will likely push Nebraska Lottery to expand their game offerings.