By Randy Ray

New Mexico has a relatively young lottery. New Mexico voters passed a public referendum in late 1994, and the state’s first sales were in the spring of 1996. It was the 38th state lottery to form in America, and the last of a spate of new lotteries popping up in the 80s and 90s.

New Mexico’s $127 million in annual lottery sales is a small number compared to the rest of the country. In fact, only four US states (Montana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Wyoming) have less lottery revenue than the Land of Enchantment. The New York Lottery earns New Mexico’s annual revenue every four days.

A big reason why New Mexico Lottery’s sales are low is relatively low interest among New Mexicans. The average citizen of New Mexico spends just under $65 a year on lottery games, less than 1/10th the spending of lottery players in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, and about 1/3 of the spending of lottery players in neighboring Texas.

Here’s the list of lottery games available in New Mexico:

  • Roadrunner Cash
  • Pick 3 Plus
  • Pick 4 Plus
  • Fast Play!
  • Scratchers
  • Powerball
  • Mega Millions
  • Lotto America

States with big legal gambling industries, like Nevada and New Mexico, tend to have small or even no lottery systems. The reasons for this are complicated, but basically, the owners of the casinos want as little competition as possible. In New Mexico, where casino gambling is a major industry, the lottery has always played second-fiddle to tribal gaming.

New Mexico’s lottery is a 100% education lottery, meaning all proceeds go directly to New Mexico’s tuition fund, which pays out scholarships to the state’s neediest students.

Only eight states operate lotteries like this, and New Mexico’s is one of the best of them, paying out millions of dollars to New Mexicans to help them cover college costs. If you’re a full-time college student in New Mexico and you maintain a 2.5 GPA, the lottery will pay for most of your education. No application is necessary, as the state will apply the funds automatically.

How successful has this education initiative been?

Since the lottery’s inception, New Mexico’s percentage of adults with college degrees has gone from around 20% up to 29%, an almost 50% boost in educational attainment, thanks in large part to lottery spending.

There’s been some talk of expanding New Mexico Lottery offerings to include a lottery-sponsored sports betting system similar to the sports betting system in Montana. This would be a huge revenue boost for a lottery program that’s traditionally hovered near the bottom of the pack. While some sports betting is available in New Mexico, it’s limited to a handful of tribal properties that require in-person betting. Giving New Mexicans access to at-home sports betting would be a real shot in the arm.

This page covers every aspect of the New Mexico Lottery system, including where and how to play, how to collect winnings, thoughts on game odds and probabilities, and contact information for lottery authorities.

Probability, Return to Player, and the New Mexico Lottery

This post contains some talk of things like game odds and returns to player. These are major concepts in probability, and we know that gambling on the lottery means going head to head with probability. You need to understand a couple of basic things about gambling math to get the most out of this post and other commentaries on the lottery.

A phrase you’ll hear often in the lottery community is RTP or return to player. This number is shown as a percentage – the percentage of bets you place that you’ll win back over time as payouts. Understand that these figures are theoretical, more like estimates of your potential return for every dollar you spend on a game. If you see a lottery game with a listed RTP of 50%, that will mean that, theoretically, you stand to lose about $0.50 of every dollar you play.

More often, you’ll read about a game’s odds. This is usually listed as a 1 in xxx proposition, meaning you’re likely to win a particular prize once out of every xxx times.

For a real-world example, look at the popular Quicks $250s scratcher from New Mexico Lottery. The card lists approximate overall odds of 1 in 3.44. That means theoretically you should get one winning card for every 3.44 cards you buy. But remember, this includes break-even prizes. Since this is a $10 card, your most-frequent result will be a break-even $10 prize. The odds of claiming the top prize – the $250 from the ticket’s name – are 1 in 1,215. The game’s lowest prize, $10, should show up about once every 7.5 tickets.

Does that mean players will win exactly $10 for every 7.5 tickets they buy? Of course not. For starters, you can’t buy half a lottery ticket. But odds don’t work like that, anyway. You may win that $250 top prize on your very first ticket; you could also buy 20 tickets and never win a single time. That’s called variance – it’s what we lottery players often see as hot and cold streaks, periods of frequent wins or losses. It’s part of the nature of the game.

All this mathematical stuff – RTP, game odds, etc. – are theoretical estimates that represent mathematically likely things, but they’re not set in stone. In this post on the New Mexico Lottery, when odds or RTP figures or other numbers like that are used, please remember that these are theoretical potentials, not absolute certainties, and play accordingly.

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

New Mexico Lottery has three in-state draw games and participates in three multi-state games.

Below is information on each game, including the drawing schedule (if applicable) and details on how to buy tickets, along with game odds and prize details.

Roadrunner Cash

This is New Mexico Lottery’s flagship game. Their logo includes a stylized roadrunner and everything.

It’s a simple standard five-ball draw game. Drawn daily at around 9:30 PM Mountain time, Roadrunner Cash is a humble game by US lottery standards, with a top prize that resets to $25,000 and has never climbed above $900,000.

Here’s the paytable for Roadrunner Cash:

  • Match five balls to win the jackpot – odds of 1 in 435,897
  • Match four of five balls to win $200 – odds of 1 in 2,724
  • Match three of five balls to win $5 – odds of 1 in 88
  • Match two of five balls to win $1 – odds of 1 in 8.7

Overall odds of winning any prize on Roadrunner Cash are 1 in 7.97 or a win on 12.55% of all plays.

Pick 3 Plus & Pick 4 Plus

New Mexico runs two pick’em games that offer multiple ways to bet and win. One game uses a pool of three winning numbers, the other uses a pool of four. Players choose either 3 or 4 numbers between 0 and 9, depending on which game they’re playing, and try to match the drawn numbers in winning combinations.

The paytables and odds are complex, and the New Mexico Lottery has done an excellent job explaining the ins and outs of each game in its How to Play section. Consult that resource for specifics.

Fast Play!

These games, once called Quicksters, are instant win games printed by the state’s draw lottery terminals. Think of them as like scratchers without the need for scratching. You purchase the game and find out if you’ve won when the ticket prints.

Right now, the state runs two of these games, Roadrunner Doubler and Tic Tac Toe.

Both games cost $1 to play. They’re simple matching games, where random numbers are printed, and your payout, if any, is based on combinations of those numbers.

Unfortunately, game odds aren’t available online. You have to buy a ticket to find odds and other information printed on it. That’s a terrible setup, since you have to play at least once without any idea of how the game works, and it also prevents me from giving you guys any solid information about the games themselves.

If you have questions about how New Mexico Lottery Fast Play! games work, call the customer service number listed in the Contact section at the bottom of this post.

Scratchers

New Mexico Lottery calls their instant win lottery tickets “scratchers,” which is probably the cutest name for instant win games in the entire country.

The state’s scratcher library changes monthly, but right now they have 42 games available in five denominations. Below is a guide to each denomination, its range of prizes, and average overall odds of winning:

  • $1 tickets – top prize is $25 – $500 – odds of 1 in 4.81
  • $2 tickets – top prize is $50 – $5,000 – odds of 1 in 3.76
  • $3 tickets – top prize is $500 – $30,000 – odds of 1 in 3.62
  • $5 tickets – top prize is $100 – $50,000 – odds of 1 in 3.83
  • $10 tickets – top prize is $100 – $100,000 – odds of 1 in 3.1

It’s a smallish library. Not very many US state lotteries have instant win collections that top out at $10 – $50 is the new standard top-end ticket, though, strangely, New Mexico doesn’t even offer a $20 game.

Having said that, compare the average odds for New Mexico’s scratchers to other similar-sized state lotteries, and you’ll usually find that instant win lottery tickets from the Land of Enchantment are better for the player. Montana’s $10 tickets have average odds up near 1 in 3.8, and New Mexico’s $2 tickets have the lowest average odds of any similar-priced ticket in the country.

The state has a robust Second Chance promotion for losing instant win tickets that hands out multiple prizes of $100,000 a year, as well as all-expenses-paid vacations and other prize packages.

Lotto America

Lotto America has an interesting history – born from the ashes of a failed lottery game, it’s a plucky newcomer with its eyes on the big behemoths Powerball and Mega Millions. Currently, 13 US states participate in Lotto America, with a dozen states toying with the idea of joining.

Lotto America is a draw game with a top prize that resets to $1 million. Tickets cost $1, which is half the price of most big multi-state games. As with other multi-state draw games, you can bet $1 extra to activate a multiplier option. Even with that added bonus bet, a Lotto America ticket costs just $2, the same as a base-level Powerball or Mega Millions play.

Here’s the paytable and odds information for Lotto America:

  • Match five balls and the Star Ball to win the jackpot – odds of 1 in 25.9 million
  • Match five balls to win $20,000 – odds of 1 in 2.8 million
  • Match four balls and the Star Ball to win $1,000 – odds of 1 in 110,000
  • Match four balls to win $100 – odds of 1 in 12,288
  • Match three balls and the Star Ball to win $20 – odds of 1 in 2,404
  • Match three balls to win $5 – odds of 1 in 267
  • Match two balls and the Star Ball to win $5 – odds of 1 in 160
  • Match one ball and the Star Ball to win $2 – odds of 1 in 29
  • Match just the Star Ball to win $1 – odds of 1 in 16.9

The odds of winning any prize on a Lotto America ticket are 1 in 9.63, meaning you should expect to win about 10% of the time.

Those odds are significantly better than what you get with the bigger multi-state games available in New Mexico, covered below.

Powerball & Mega Millions

New Mexico joined the MUSL and started participating in Powerball and Mega Millions in 2009. These two huge multi-state lottery draw games are similar enough that they can both be covered in a single section.

There’s no real benefit to choosing Powerball over Mega Millions or vice versa. The games have almost-identical odds and rules, and most people play both games, and whichever game has the highest jackpot at the time of their purchase.

Both games cost $2 to play, and both offer a $1 option that potentially multiplies your winnings. Playing either Powerball or Mega Millions in New Mexico means paying $2 to $3 per ticket.

In both games, players are trying to match their six numbers to the numbers randomly drawn. Mega Millions players choose six numbers between 1 and 70; Powerball players choose between 1 and 69.

How does the slight difference in number ranges affect these games’ odds?

Below are the basic pay tables for each game:

Mega Millions Pay Table

  • Match five balls plus the Mega Ball to win the jackpot – 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

The odds of winning any prize on a Mega Millions ticket are 1 in 24. That means you should win about 4.2% of the time.

Now compare that to Powerball.

Powerball Pay Table

  • Match five balls and the Powerball to win the jackpot – 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 – win $4 – odds of 1 in 38.32

The odds of winning any prize on a Powerball ticket are 1 in 24.87. That means you should win about 4% of the time.

Notice the slight difference in expectation between these two games? A Mega Millions player wins about 4.2% of the time, while a Powerball player wins about 4% of the time. This isn’t enough of a discrepancy for the average lottery player, betting a buck or two a week on a game here and there.

High-volume players may notice a slight variance in their outcomes, but thanks to the game’s natural variance, there’s no significant benefit to playing Powerball over Mega Millions. Besides, these odds change as the jackpots grow. Unless you work out the exact odds for yourself, based on whatever the jackpot is at the time you buy your ticket, you won’t really know your true odds of winning.

Where to Buy New Mexico Lottery Tickets

The New Mexico Lottery doesn’t provide a “find a retailer” tool or anything like that, but from my research online, it seems like you can find their games at all the typical places. Gas stations, small restaurants, grocery stores, and even big-box retailers sell New Mexico Lottery draw games and scratchers. They have thousands of locations across the state.

How to Claim New Mexico Lottery Prizes

New Mexico has one of the shortest claim times of any American lottery. Winners have just ninety days to claim draw game prizes, and only ninety days after the end of an instant win game to claim their prize. Their website says, “prizes in promotions may have shorter deadlines,” so be sure you understand when the game you’re playing ends.

Here’s information on claiming different prizes:

  • Prizes between $1 and $600 can be claimed at any New Mexico Lottery retailer, though these agents have the right to refuse to pay based on the cash in their till. If you’re having trouble cashing a prize under $600, you can claim it by mail, following the instructions provided below.
  • Prizes between $601 and $99,999 must be claimed at the state’s Lottery Headquarters, or by completing a claim form and mailed to the lottery’s physical address, found below in the Contact section.
  • Prizes of $100,000 or more must be claimed in person at Lottery Headquarters.

New Mexico Lottery is quick to point out that “prizes of $1 million or more may be delayed for periods of three weeks or more from the date of validation of the winning ticket.”

Contact the New Mexico Lottery

You can email New Mexico Lottery with customer service questions at custservice@nmlottery.com.

To send physical mail to the New Mexico Lottery, use the address below:

New Mexico Lottery
Communications Office
PO Box 93130
Albuquerque, NM 87199-3130

During normal business hours, you can reach someone at New Mexico Lottery by calling (505) 342-7600.

Conclusion

New Mexico’s tribal gaming revenue puts it squarely in the top-10 of casino gambling states. Tourism and gaming are the state’s largest source of income, providing the Land of Enchantment with more funds than even the US military or the oil and gas industry. New Mexico has a small lottery program, and that’s just fine.

The state participates in several multi-state drawings and runs its own small but vibrant draw and instant win gaming scene. While New Mexicans aren’t big lottery spenders, the game is well entrenched in the culture of the state, and the revenue provided to the Tuition Fund has made a huge difference in the lives of the state’s citizens. The New Mexico Lottery is a small but successful program that features a library of fun games – and what more could you ask for?