By Randy Ray

South Dakota’s large and successful state lottery program makes little sense in context. The state is one of the five smallest in America in terms of population, having never been home to more than 880,000 souls. 13 US cities have more people than the state of South Dakota.

Small stature aside, what South Dakota has accomplished with its lottery program is noteworthy. The state boasts that it earns more than $350,000 a day in lottery revenue. Here’s another boast that’s worth reprinting – payments of around $80 million a year directly into the state’s education system.

The lottery games available in South Dakota are:

  • Lucky for Life
  • Powerball
  • Mega Millions
  • Lotto America
  • Dakota Cash
  • Scratch Games
  • Raffles
  • Video Lottery Games

The Mount Rushmore State is one of a handful of states that doesn’t tax lottery winnings beyond what the federal government requires.

South Dakota Lottery says it pays out more than $1 million every day in prizes on draw, instant, and video lottery games. The state’s top three winners of all-time came from Powerball, including a $232.1 million windfall claimed by a man from Mission. Since South Dakota doesn’t tax lottery winnings beyond federal taxes, that lucky 2009 winner took home a lump sum of just under $170 million.

The state’s top ten lottery prizes were all recorded on multi-state games, which isn’t a surprise considering the limited prize and player pools for South Dakota’s flagship draw game, Dakota Cash. The biggest payout on Dakota Cash to date was $614,181. The minimum jackpot for South Dakota’s only draw game is $20,000, so that $614,181 prize was a hefty sum relative to the state’s overall lottery sales.

The goal of this page is to act as an overall guide to South Dakota Lottery games. That includes an overview of the state’s 50 instant win scratch games, their slate of multi-state and in-state draw lotto games, and the many video lottery options available.

Included is data on return to player percentages and odds, collected in one place here rather than scattered all over the Web. There’s also a practical guide to buying and cashing in lottery tickets, as well as a brief guide to the history of the South Dakota Lottery.

Understanding the Return to Player Concept as it Applies to the South Dakota Lottery

Due to the saturation of the market with video lottery terminals in South Dakota, it’s probably not hard for citizens of the state to recognize that lottery play is gambling.

This is an important point to make in a state where citizens spend so much per capita on lottery games. Buying a lottery ticket at a gas station may not feel like playing a casino slot machine, but it’s effectively the same thing. In some cases, the old one-armed bandit may offer better odds.

Games of chance like slots, craps, and lotto are often compared in terms of probability. The study of probability is a complex field of mathematics that goes a lot deeper than coin flips. A person doesn’t need a PhD in Statistics to understand games like Mega Millions and Jacks or Better, but it helps.

So, what is return to player, and why does it matter? A game’s return to player is a theoretical estimate of how much a game pays back to its players. The return for each bet is based on its probability of winning relative to the prize amount it pays.

It’s important to note that a game’s return to player figure is based on an infinite amount of play. That means you shouldn’t literally expect to see the return posted for each bet you make. Lottery games are based on random chance, and you can’t use a game’s theoretical expectation to make predictions based on randomness.

In fact, your real-world results won’t look like a game’s theoretical return figure until you play so many times that you’re approaching an infinite amount of play.

Here’s what this looks like in the real world:

South Dakota’s $10 Blazing Hot 7’s scratch game theoretically pays out 27.8% of the time. That’s one winning ticket for every 3.5 tickets purchased. This theoretical return to player of 27.8% shouldn’t be mistaken for a literal prediction of player results. For starters, it’s impossible to buy half a lottery ticket. For another thing, that 27.8% figure only reflects reality after billions of ticket purchases.

This post on the South Dakota Lottery will frequently use figures like return to player and payback percentage to express the odds of various games. It’s important to understand that these numbers have a theoretical basis, and player’s real-world experiences will vary wildly.

How to Play the South Dakota Lottery (Drawing Schedules and Ticket Purchases)

The focus of this section is on South Dakota Lottery’s draw games.

Included is information on the Scratch Games, Video Lottery, and other options in this section, but the details on South Dakota draw lotto games is more robust, mostly because there’s more information available.

This section includes details like the cost of tickets for each game, game odds and payouts, and game features.

Lucky for Life

South Dakota is one 23 participants in Lucky for Life. This is a daily draw game that’s also a multi-state game. Unlike the other popular multi-state lotto offerings in America, Megabucks and Powerball, Lucky for Life’s top prizes are fixed annuitized “lifetime” prizes.

Lucky for Life tickets cost $2.

The game’s top prize is “$1,000 a day for life,” while the second prize is “25,000 a year for life.”

To play, bettors select five numbers between 1 and 48 along with an additional Lucky Ball number from 1-18.

This is the Lucky for Life pay table:

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

The overall odds of winning any prize on Lucky for Life are 1 in 7.8, about the same as South Dakota’s flagship draw lotto game Dakota Cash.

Powerball & Mega Millions

South Dakota is a long-time participant in the country’s two biggest multi-state games, Mega Millions and Powerball.

The two games are similar. Here’s a quick guide.

Mega Millions tickets cost $2 – the same as Powerball.

In both games, players are tasked with picking five numbers, though the total pool of numbers is different. Mega Millions has a pool of the numbers 1 to 70, while Powerball stops at 69. Both games also have a special sixth number, numbered 1 to 25.

The main numbers in both games are represented by the traditional white balls of American lotto draw games. The sixth number in both Mega Millions and Powerball is a special colored ball with a special name. In Mega Millions, it’s called the “Mega Ball.” In Powerball, it’s called – surprise, surprise – the Powerball.

Both games also offer a multiplier options – Mega Millions has the Megaplier, while Powerball has the Power Play options. For an extra dollar, this feature will randomly multiply any non-jackpot prize you win, somewhere between 2 and 10x.

Look at the pay table and odds for Mega Millions:

  • Match all five balls and the Mega Ball – 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 only – win $2, odds of 1 in 24

The odds of winning any prize in Mega Millions – 1 in 24, or a win on 4.2% of tickets purchased.

Now look at the odds and pay table and for the Powerball base game:

  • Match all 5 balls and the Powerball – win the jackpot (min. $20 million), odds of 1 in 292.2 million
  • Match all 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 only – win $4, odds of 1 in 38.32

The odds of winning any prize in Powerball – 1 in 24.87, or a win on 4% of tickets purchased.

Lotto America

This is the oddball of the South Dakota Lottery fleet.

Lotto America exists as the reincarnation of Hot Lotto, a game that failed in spectacular (fraudulent) fashion in 2017. It’s a growing game with few big-name state members.

Lotto America a multi-state lottery drawing game that’s played in 13 US states. 

The top prize for Lotto America is a traditional pari-mutuel jackpot that resets to a value of $1 million. The biggest Lotto America prize paid out to date came in March of 2018. A family claimed a cash option on a $9 million prize. To date, no South Dakota citizen has claimed a major prize in Lotto America.

Each ticket for this game costs $1, though as with most multi-state games, you can wager an extra dollar to activate a multiplier chance that can increase your prize by 2, 3, 4, or 5 times.

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

The overall odds of winning any prize for the base game are 1 in 9.63, or a win on about 10% of all tickets purchased.

Dakota Cash

Dakota Cash is the only in-state draw game exclusive to South Dakota. It’s a typical draw lotto game where players pick 5 numbers out of a pool of 35 in order to win a payout.

The minimum jackpot for Dakota Cash is $20,000, and it grows until it’s claimed.

Tickets cost $1, but there’s an option called EZ Match that will double the cost to $2 per ticket.

Dakota Cash is drawn every Wednesday and Saturday night at just after 9 PM Central time. Ticket purchases for each drawing cut off at exactly 9 PM CST on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Tickets purchased after that time will count for the next drawing.

Here’s the pay table for the base game at a $1 ticket price:

  • Match 5 of 5 – win the jackpot, odds of 1 in 324,632
  • Match 4 of 5 – win $100, odds of 1 in 2,164
  • Match 3 of 5 – win $3, odds of 1 in 75
  • Match 2 of 5 – win $1, odds of 1 in 8

The overall odds of claiming any prize for the base game are 1 in 7.2, meaning players should theoretically win on about 14% of tickets purchased.

EZ Match is a bonus game that produces an instant result. When selected, at the cost of an additional $1, EZ Match will choose five random numbers and print them on a player’s Dakota Cash ticket. Each of these numbers will also list a prize amount. If any of the player’s Dakota Cash numbers match the EZ Match numbers, the player wins that prize amount.

Here’s the payout for the $1 EZ Match side bet:

  • $100 – 1 in 12,000 odds
  • $50 – 1 in 12,000 odds
  • $20 – 1 in 12,000 odds
  • $15 – 1 in 600 odds
  • $10 – 1 in 133.33 odds
  • $5 – 1 in 100 odds
  • $3 – 1 in 14.12 odds
  • $2 – 1 in 9 odds

The overall odds of winning any EZ match prize are 1 in 4.97, meaning the $1 EZ Match side bet pays off about 20% of the time.

Scratch Games

South Dakota Lottery calls their instant win scratch-off tickets “scratch games.” At the time of this post, the state’s collection includes 50 tickets in six denominations: $1, $2, $3, $5, $10, and $20.

Here’s a breakdown of the number of games available in each denomination, as well as the average odds for tickets in each:

  • $1 tickets – 7 games, average odds of 1 in 5.01
  • $2 tickets – 8 games, average odds of 1 in 4.8
  • $3 tickets – 7 games, average odds of 1 in 4.5
  • $5 tickets – 15 games, average odds of 1 in 4.1
  • $10 tickets – 7 games, average odds of 1 in 4.2
  • $20 tickets – 6 games, average odds of 1 in 4.8

Let’s take a deeper look at the pay table and odds for a specific South Dakota Scratch Game, 50X. This is a popular $10 game that gives players about a 28% chance of winning on each ticket.

Here’s the pay table with odds as posted on the South Dakota Lottery website:

  • $100,000 – 1 in 120,000
  • $15,000 – 1 in 120,000
  • $1,000 – 1 in 10,000
  • $500 – 1 in 3,750
  • $400 – 1 in 2,143
  • $100 – 1 in 79
  • $50 – 1 in 50
  • $20 – 1 in 15
  • $15 – 1 in 15
  • $10 – 1 in 9

South Dakota Lottery regularly updates their Scratch Game descriptions with details on how many prizes of each level are remaining This information can be used to get more accurate odds, and to inform purchases, since many lottery players abandon games once the high-value prizes are claimed.

Video Lottery Games

It’s hard to overstate the value of video lottery to the South Dakota Lottery. South Dakota Lottery gets 50% of all machine income.

How much is that? The 1,200 or so establishments hosting 9,000+ video lottery games take in more than $1 billion a year in bets, giving back $150 million or so to the state’s General Fund. Those numbers (and the huge numbers of games available all over the state) make South Dakota an unlikely but meaningful travel destination for American gamblers.

At the time of this post was published, South Dakota offers a collection of 336 authorized video lottery games. These are easily recognizable as slot, keno, and video poker games like you’d find in a Vegas casino. They’ve been modified to meet the technical definition of a lottery game, with the guts of the game replaced by numbers systems that meet the definition of a lotto game.

South Dakota video lottery games can be broadly classified in three categories: keno games, poker games, and line games.

The state’s only keno game is a ten-spot mini-keno machine with overall odds of 1 in 6.3, or about a 16% chance of winning.

Line games are the state’s answer to slot machines, the closest thing to slot action you’ll find in South Dakota outside of Deadwood. These come in as many varieties as you can imagine, similar to the slots they’re based on. The odds vary a lot here depending on the game’s rules, pay table, and denomination. No game offers odds better than 1 in 1.22 or longer than 1 in 16.94.

Poker Games are South Dakota’s version of video poker, and again there are dozens of variants available in a wide variety of odds. The best of these, in terms of odds, is Bonus Poker, which gives players overall odds of 1 in 2.18. That’s a (theoretical) win about 46% of the time. The worst-odds version of video poker in South Dakota is Dakota Double Up, with theoretical odds of winning of 1 in 8.07, or only about 12.4% of the time.

South Dakota Lottery Players Club

South Dakota Lottery offers a free membership to something they call the Players Club. It’s basically a VIP club similar to a casino loyalty program.

The main benefit to membership in the Players Club is the right to participate in second chance drawings for the state’s draw game. There’s also a scratch game version of this second chance drawing called Play It Again that rewards small prizes to holders of losing scratch tickets.

Other benefits include access to lotto number generators and number tracking tolls, though these are available elsewhere online for free. Occasional promotional offers are sent to Players Club members, such as the popular buy-one-get-one-free vending machine coupon sent out in 2020.

Using the Players Club for second chance drawings and the Play It Again scratch card second-chance game means scanning in or entering a code from your ticket. Players don’t need to keep track of or hold on to losing tickets after they’re entered into the system.

Where to Claim South Dakota Lottery Prizes

All draw lotto prizes are valid for 180 calendar days from the date of the winning draw. EZ Match and Scratch Game winners should claim their prizes as soon as they win.

Prizes of $100 or less can be claimed directly from a lottery retailer.

If your prize is worth $101 or more, you have to redeem your winning ticket in person at one of three state lottery offices. There’s an office in Pierre, one in Sioux Falls, and another in Rapid City. Here’s the address for each office, along with their phone number:

Main Lottery Office
711 E. Wells Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501
(605) 773-5770

Sioux Falls Regional Office
3605 S. Western Ave., Suite B
Sioux Falls, SD 57105
(605) 367-5840

Rapid City Regional Office
1000 Campbell Street, Suite 2
Rapid City, SD 57701
(605) 394-5106

You’ll need to appear in person between 8 AM and 5 PM Monday through Friday, except the Rapid City office, which is only open from noon to 4 PM (Mountain Time) Monday through Friday.

The state’s website says that any top or second-tier prizes from Dakota Cash, Powerball, Mega Millions, and Lucky For Life can only be claimed at the Main Office in Pierre.

Claim South Dakota Lottery Prizes in the Mail

Any winning ticket in South Dakota can be redeemed through the mail.

South Dakota Lottery requires winners to sign the back of the ticket and fill out a claim form (which is online here) available at any lottery retailer. Once this form is signed and dated, it should be mailed (along with the winning ticket) to the Main Lottery Office in Pierre.

The website advises it takes about 7-10 business days for a check to return in the mail.

South Dakota Lottery History

South Dakota Lottery came into existence in 1986, or as their website puts it, the year “Halley’s Comet flew by, Maverick and Goose played sand volleyball, [and] people were walking like Egyptians.” It took more than a year for the nascent program to launch, with Scratch Game ticket sales beginning September 30th, 1987.

South Dakota Lottery was a minor financial success from the beginning, paying off the $1.5 million start-up loan they’d taken from the state budget in just three months, about half the time allotted.

South Dakota added video lottery games in 1989, the first US state to authorize these games, making this small lottery program briefly a major trailblazer in the industry. It didn’t go well – a few lawsuits and a couple of statewide votes later, video lottery games remain legal (and a big part of the lottery industry) in the Mount Rushmore State.

A unique feature of the lottery in South Dakota is the upside-down ratio of statewide to multi-state games. South Dakota joined the MUSL in 1990 and currently hosts an impressive variety of multi-state games. In fact, there’s only one draw game in South Dakota that’s statewide – the other four draw lotto games are big multi-state ventures.

The ready availability of the state’s most popular lottery game – video lottery terminals – is driving the South Dakota Lottery to new revenue records on an annual basis. For fiscal year 2021, video lottery sales represented more than ten times the sales of instant and draw lottery games combined.

Today, this state’s lottery program is a model for how a state with a smaller population can operate a healthy and profitable lottery system that benefits players, small businesses, and local governments. The payout rate is 20%, so the state retains 80% of every $1 bet into the games. 45% of that money goes straight to the typical improvement projects – school improvements, road repairs, and the like.

Look for South Dakota’s video lottery options to expand, now that the question of their legality has been settled and re-settled in court and the court of public opinion.

Contact the South Dakota Lottery

Here’s the generic mailing address from their website:

South Dakota Lottery
711 E. Wells Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501

The general contact email address is LOTTERY@state.sd.us

You can reach someone on the phone during normal business hours at (605) 773-5770

Their website also offers a fax machine number: (605) 773-5786.

South Dakota Lottery operates a useful website that helps you find their lottery vending machines which are sprinkled all across the state.

Conclusion

South Dakota’s small lottery program is outsized in terms of the state’s sparse population. Put it another way, though the state’s lottery sales numbers pale in comparison to those of New York or Florida, the state’s 600,000 or so eligible lottery players in South Dakota play way more than citizens of other states.

The dense collections of video lottery games you’ll find when visiting the state make it a destination for slot machine fans, and the state is often honored on lists of “states with the best gambling laws.” The many times South Dakotans fought for their right to play video lottery games tells you all you need to know about lottery play in South Dakota.