The South Carolina Education Lottery, as it styles itself, launched in 2002 after narrow approval by state voters in November 2000. At the time of its launch, South Carolina’s lottery was the nation’s first to dedicate 100% of program revenue to education funding. That practice, commonplace in today’s American lottery scene, adds hundreds of millions of dollars to funds that support scholarships, grants, tuition assistance, and loan repayment programs.

South Carolina is 23rd in terms of population, home to just over 5.3 million people. Somehow, this scrappy little lottery program produces annual sales numbers that regularly place it in the top-10 of American lottery programs. The $2.4 billion that the South Carolina Education Lottery reports in annual sales dwarfs other states with similar populations. The Louisiana Lottery is good for $600-$700 million in sales, and Minnesota adds another $800 million or so. Put those two states together, and you’re still about $1 billion short of the South Carolina Lottery.

How do they do it? It isn’t through offering VLTs, sports betting, or other modern lottery-style games of chance like you find in some states with big sales numbers. South Carolina gets it done the old-fashioned way, with a large library of draw and instant win games and a healthy promotional program that drives sales in new and emerging markets.

Here’s the complete collection of lottery games available through the South Carolina Lottery:

  • Palmetto Cash 5
  • Pick 3 Plus FIREBALL
  • Pick 4 Plus FIREBALL
  • CASH POP
  • Powerball
  • Mega Millions
  • Scratch Offs

One reason for the popularity of the state’s lottery games – people who play the games win a lot. That’s not just sales talk – South Carolina’s lottery program pays out a significant percentage of per capita spending in the form of prizes. In layman’s terms, South Carolina lottery players enjoy one of the ten best return rates in the country. The average lottery player in The Palmetto State spends about $388 a year on draw and instant win games. They win back about $277. That’s a 71.3% return overall, better than 85% of American lottery programs.

You can’t downplay the value of an active and creative marketing team, and South Carolina’s is among the best. Their website is easy to use and contains lots of details, from financial reports to news about games and one of the best “find a retailer” tools of any American lottery program. It’s a good thing that South Carolina paid out about $500,000 last year in commissions to retailers for lottery ticket sales – but I wouldn’t know about that if it weren’t for the user-friendly design of the website.

South Carolina Lottery’s launch in 2002 preceded a small burst of state lottery activity in the US. By 2005, five other states with similar populations launched or planned to launch their own programs. South Carolina’s education model did a lot of good in the lottery industry, reemphasizing the mission of US lottery games, which is to supplement existing funds to make life better for its citizens.

Probability, Return to Player, and the South Carolina Lottery

Most of good lottery strategy involves finding and playing the lottery tickets that are most likely to return winnings. To compare one game to another and approach your lottery play from a strategic perspective, you need to understand a couple of basic principles of probability math.

Mainly, lottery writing focuses on return to player and overall odds of winning. These are two ways of expressing the same basic thing: a ticket’s relative likelihood of being a winner. This is useful when considering how to spend the $30 burning a hole in your pocket, especially if you want to play for the best possible return for your lottery budget.

A game’s return to player (or RTP) estimates how much of every $1 spent on a lottery ticket will be returned in the form of winnings. A lottery ticket with an RTP of 50% would return about $0.50 for every $1 spent. A player’s overall odds of winning are based on a game’s pay table. A scratch off ticket may be listed as having overall odds of 1 in 4 – that means 25% of tickets will return some level of prize.

It’s important to remember that RTP and overall odds of winning are mathematical representations of the future, not guarantees of actual returns. Probability gives us the most likely result based on a game’s rules, not a perfect prediction of what is 100% going to occur.

The variance built into lottery games means some players will see better odds than others over the short-term. Naturally, over the long-term, every player’s odds will be the same. What players perceive as luck, particularly streaks of good or bad luck, is a direct result of the variations in the mathematics behind lottery games.

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

Here’s a guide to each of the draw and scratch off games available through the South Carolina Education Lottery:

Palmetto Cash 5

This is South Carolina’s flagship draw lottery game, a traditional 5 number draw lottery game that costs $1 and offers a $1 win multiplier. Palmetto Cash 5 is a rarity among flagship draw games in that it offers fixed jackpots.

Players pick 5 numbers between 1 and 38. If the multiplier option is chosen, all prizes are multiplied by a random multiplier, drawn with the winning numbers. The multiplier is either 2x, 3x, 5x, or 10x.

Here’s the pay table for Palmetto Cash 5:

  • Match five balls & win $100,000 – odds of 1 in 501,942
  • Match four balls & win $300 – odds of 1 in 3,042
  • Match three balls & win $5 – odds of 1 in 95
  • Match two balls & win $1 – odds of 1 in 9.2

The overall odds of winning any prize on Palmetto Cash 5 – 1 in 8.4. That means a little under 12% of all Palmetto Cash 5 tickets are winners. This is a mathematical likelihood, not a guarantee of results.

Palmetto Cash 5 is drawn at 7 PM Eastern Time every night, with ticket sales cut off at 6:45 PM until after the daily drawing.

Pick 3 Plus FIREBALL

Pick 3 is a three-digit number game from the South Carolina Education Lottery.

Players choose a style of bet (straight, box, or straight/box) and a number of drawings (up to 6 plays in a row), with the knowledge that each play is available at a $0.50 or $1 price point.

The pay table is complicated for these Pick style games – if you want more details on all the odds and potential payouts for this game, check out South Carolina Lottery’s excellent Pick 3 with FIREBALL page.

FIREBALL is a kind of wild symbol/win multiplier system that South Carolina has added to both of its Pick style games. Adding the FIREBALL option doubles the cost of your ticket but makes your ticket eligible for a different payout structure that’s in addition to any base pay table wins.

Evening Pick 3 drawings are held nightly at 6:59 PM Eastern Time and are aired live on local television stations. Midday Pick 3 drawings are not televised and are only held Monday through Saturday afternoons at 12:59 PM Eastern Time. No midday drawings are held on Sundays or on Christmas Day, December 25th.

Pick 4 Plus FIREBALL

Pick 4 Plus FIREBALL is similar to South Carolina’s Pick 3 game but with an additional number.

For more details on the pay table and odds for this game, check out South Carolina Lottery’s page on Pick 4 Plus FIREBALL.

Evening Pick 4 drawings are held nightly at 6:59 PM Eastern Time and are aired live on local television stations. Midday Pick 4 drawings are not televised and are only held Monday through Saturday afternoons at 12:59 PM Eastern Time. No midday drawings are held on Sundays or on Christmas Day, December 25th.

CASH POP

CASH POP is a single-digit daily draw game. A winning number is drawn twice a day.

Players pick between 1 and 15 numbers in a pool of numbers between 1 and 15. Each play is worth either $1, $2, $5, or $10, for a total wager range of between $1 and $150 per play.

Prize amounts are applied randomly to the numbers in each drawing, meaning you won’t know the top prize until the time of drawing. Your payout depends on how much you bet. This all leads to a complicated pay table.

Here’s the basic pay table for a $1 play on South Carolina’s CASH POP:

  • $250 – odds of 1 in 15,000
  • $100 – odds of 1 in 4,125
  • $50 – odds of 1 in 2,250
  • $25 – odds of 1 in 630
  • $20 – odds of 1 in 270
  • $15 – odds of 1 in 180
  • $10 – odds of 1 in 105
  • $7 – odds of 1 in 75
  • $5 – odds of 1 in 31

The overall odds of winning any prize in CASH POP – 1 in 15. That means about 6.6% of CASH POP tickets are winners. Remember, that’s a theoretical figure and you real results may vary over the short-term.

The daily CASH POP number is drawn once at 1 PM Eastern Time (sales are cut off at 12:45 PM) and once again at 7 PM Eastern Time (with sales cut off at 6:45 PM).

Powerball & Mega Millions

The South Carolina Education Lottery joined the MUSL in 2002, at the time of the lottery’s launch. At that time, South Carolina only sold Powerball as part of the MUSL. In 2010, South Carolina added Mega Millions, expanding their MUSL collection to two games.

Powerball and Mega Millions are the standard bearers of the US lottery system, producing the biggest jackpots and the largest sales figures of any US lottery game. You can count the US state lottery programs that don’t participate in these two games on one hand. Both Powerball and Mega Millions are covered in this category because the games are very nearly identical.

Both games cost $2 to play, and they both offer a $1 multiplier option. In both games, players pick from a pool of five common numbers plus a special number from a different pool.

The two games differ a little bit in terms of how those betting pools are constructed. For Mega Millions tickets, bettors pick between the numbers 1 and 70. For Powerball tickets, players pick between the numbers 1 and 69. That means Powerball has one fewer potential winning number, which increases player odds slightly. However, the difference is small in terms of statistics, and most casual players don’t have enough money in their Powerball or Mega Millions budget to change how they play based on just a few hundredths of a percent.

You can also see a difference in the games’ pay tables (which, incidentally, undoes any advantage granted to Powerball by having one fewer number):

Mega Millions Paytable

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

The overall odds of winning any prize on a Mega Millions ticket – 1 in 24. That means about 4% of all Mega Millions tickets are winners. Remember that’s a theoretical number; real-world results are likely to vary a little bit in either direction.

Here’s the paytable for Powerball:

Powerball Paytable

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

The overall odds of winning any prize on a Powerball ticket – 1 in 24.87. That means about 4% of all Powerball tickets are winners. Again, that’s a theoretical figure, and a player’s real results will likely vary over the short-term.

Notice how similar the overall odds on each game are? That can change a little depending on the sizes of the top prizes. The paytables above are for baseline jackpots, but most of the time there’s a discrepancy between the game’s two jackpot amounts. That means sometimes Powerball is a slightly better buy than Mega Millions, or the other way around.

Powerball numbers are drawn every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 10:59 PM Eastern Time. Sales cut off in South Carolina at 10:45 PM; sales after that time will be counted for the next drawing.

Mega Millions numbers are drawn every Tuesday and Friday at 11:12 PM Eastern Time. Sales cut off in South Carolina at 11 PM; sales after that time will be counted for the next drawing.

Scratch Offs

Scratch off sales make up most of the lottery revenue in South Carolina, good for about 75% of weekly sales. South Carolina Lottery currently hosts 50 games in five denominations. Though games come and go over time, 50 seems to be the average number of scratch off games available in the state at any given time.

Here’s a breakdown of those games by denomination and average overall odds of winning:

  • 9 $1 games, average odds of 1 in 4.8
  • 10 $2 games, average odds of 1 in 4.41
  • 6 $3 games, average odds of 1 in 3.9
  • 13 $5 games, average odds of 1 in 3.71
  • 10 $10 games, average odds of 1 in 3.6

Zoom in on one of South Carolina’s most popular scratch games (the $5 Giant Jumbo Bucks game) for a better idea of what the scratch off scene in The Palmetto State is like. It’s a typical scratch off matching game in which players hope to scratch and reveal prizes and multipliers that lead to big payouts. The game’s top prize is $150,000, and the lowest-tier prize is $5, the cost of the ticket.

Here’s the complete pay table for South Carolina’s Giant Jumbo Bucks scratch off game:

  • $250,000 – odds of 1 in 2.8 million
  • $1,000 – odds of 1 in 230,400
  • $500 – odds of 1 in 40,000
  • $250 – odds of 1 in 60,000
  • $100 – odds of 1 in 6,000
  • $50 – odds of 1 in 300
  • $25 – odds of 1 in 300
  • $10 – odds of 1 in 30
  • $5 – odds of 1 in 8.33

Overall odds of winning any prize on Giant Jumbo Bucks – 1 in 3.97. That’s about one win on every four tickets purchased.

Where to Buy South Carolina Lottery Tickets

Nearly 4,000 small businesses sell South Carolina Lottery tickets, from convenience stores and gas stations to restaurants and bars.

South Carolina deserves accolades for its highly-functional retailer search tool, which allows users to search by zip code, county, city, or business name. Going a step further, each scratch off and draw game profiled on the website includes a link to find that game at retailers statewide. That’s a function not found on any other state lottery website.

You can access the South Carolina Lottery Locate a Retailer app here, or on any of the individual game pages.

How to Claim South Carolina Lottery Prizes

South Carolina Lottery recommends that all winners first sign their ticket in the space provided on the back. Because winning lottery tickets are considered bearer instruments by South Carolina law, you lose ownership of the ticket if you lose it without signing it.

Prizes worth $500 or less can be claimed at any South Carolina Lottery retailer. These prizes can be paid in cash, store credit, paper check, or money order.

Prizes worth between $500 and $100,000 can be claimed through the mail or at the claims center in Columbia. To claim your South Carolina Lottery winnings by mail, fill out a claim form, include a copy of a picture ID card (state-issued, such as a driver’s license, state ID, military I.D., or passport), and mail everything via registered mail to the Columbia Claims Center.

Here’s their address, which can also be found in the Contact section below:

SC Education Lottery
P.O. Box 11039
Columbia, SC 29211-1039

Winnings greater than $100,000 must be redeemed in person at the Columbia Claims Center.

Contact the South Carolina Lottery

The easiest way to contact the South Carolina Lottery is to use their contact form.

You can also contact the SEL offices using the following numbers:

Local Phone: 803-737-2002
Fax: 803-737-2005
Toll-Free Phone: 1-866-736-9819

The street address for the lottery’s main offices is:

1333 Main Street, 4th Floor
Columbia, S.C. 29201

The mailing address for the main office is:

SCEL
PO Box 11949
Columbia, SC 29211-1949

Conclusion

The Palmetto State didn’t boost lottery income with VLTs or other fancy modern lottery-style games, they’ve done it by increasing customer loyalty with excellent promotions, keeping their ticket prices modest (scratch offs top out at just $10, for example), and by handing out a larger-than-average amount of sales in prizes to players and commissions to retailers.

A satisfying library of draw and instant win games plus a user-friendly and active website make for a successful lottery program. South Carolina’s administrative costs are among the lowest in the industry. That way, the state earns hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for education expenses while the state’s citizens enjoy among the highest pay rates in the nation.

South Carolina serves as a model for other small-to-medium states who want to increase their lottery sales.