By Randy Ray
Tennessee is a relative late-arriver to the state lottery scene. The Tennessee General Assembly created the lottery system in 2003 response to a constitutional amendment approved by the state’s voters in 2002. The state’s a model of success on a few different fronts, not the least of which is financial. Tennessee is one of 23 US state lotteries in the billion-dollar club – these are the country’s most successful state lotteries, all taking in at least a billion dollars in ticket sales annually.
Unique among American lottery programs, Tennessee’s lottery was created to address a specific need – helping young people pay for college, vocational training, and certification courses. The group that runs the lottery is even called the Tennessee education Lottery Corporation. The state’s handed out more than 1.6 million individual scholarship and grant awards thanks to lottery sales.
Here’s the complete list of lottery games currently available through the Tennessee Lottery:
- Tennessee Cash
- Keno to Go
- Cash 3
- Cash 4
- Mega Millions
- Lotto America
- Instant Games
Annual sales in Tennessee have been flirting with $2 billion a year for the past five years or so. The most recent sales figures put the figure at an average of $1.84 billion each year. That puts the Tennessee Lottery on par with Missouri and Oregon, two states that launched their programs in the 1980s.
Tennessee’s citizens support their state lottery program more than the national average. The average adult in Tennessee spends about $260 a year on lottery games, taking in about $182 in prizes. You can tell a lot about the health and success of a lottery program based on the gap between average spending and average winnings. Tennessee’s $78 gap is among the largest in the country, a testament to the lottery’s salesmanship and the strong culture of lottery gaming in The Volunteer State.
It’s important to highlight the revenue-sharing system in place since the Tennessee Lottery’s inception. The Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation is right to brag about the more than $6 billion awarded in scholarships and other financial aid to students in the state. Tennessee’s system of using lottery revenue to make a college education affordable for every high school graduate has become a national model for appropriate use of lottery income.
Most of the Tennessee Lottery’s financial success comes from their massive instant games library – at the time of this post, they sell 100 instant games in eight different denominations. That’s among the biggest and most varied in the country. It’s unusual to see $3 and $25 lottery ticket denominations, but even more unusual to see both of them. This post goes into more detail on Tennessee Lottery’s instant win games in the How to Play section below.
Probability, Return to Player, and the Tennessee Lottery
When you’re ready to take your lottery purchases beyond the “buy a ticket and hope” level, you’ll want to start reading about strategy and game odds. Lottery play is gambling, after all, and gambling is the domain of probability math. Every state lottery program in the country posts game odds and other statistics, and you can use these to make smarter choices and add a little strategy to your lottery play.
In this post, games will be discussed in terms of their overall odds and return to player. Game odds for the lottery are expressed in decimal format, as in “1 in 10.” That means that, on average, 1 in 10 tickets purchased will result in a win. Another way to express this same information is “return to player,” sometimes shortened to RTP. A ticket’s return to player is expressed as a percentage – the percent of each dollar bet on a game that you’re likely to win back.
Here’s a real-world example from the Tennessee Lottery. The $10 instant win game Blazing Hot 7’s has a top prize of $500,000. The ticket’s posted overall odds are 1 in 3.45, implying that you’re likely to win once every 3 or 4 tickets you buy. The return to player on this ticket is 28.99%, which means that you’ll win back about $2.89 on every $10 ticket you buy.
Keep in mind that those numbers are mathematical estimates, not guarantees of returns. You aren’t guaranteed to win once on every 3-4 tickets you buy, you’re just mathematically likely to win that way. A player could win the $500,000 top prize on her first ticket purchase, or she could buy ten tickets and lose on all of them. That’s called variance, and it’s part of what keeps lottery play (and other forms of gambling) entertaining.
In this post, when game odds and other return figures are offered, remember that these are theoretical numbers based on what’s possible and not predictions of your real-world results.
How to Play the Tennessee Lottery (Drawing Schedules & Buying Tickets)
Tennessee Lottery runs four in-state draw games, participates in another four multi-state games, and maintains a collection of scratcher-style instant tickets.
Below is a brief guide to each game available:
Tennessee Cash is the flagship in-state draw lottery game for the Tennessee Lottery. It uses five numbers between 1 and 35 and a Cash Ball number between 1 and 5 to award prizes between $1 and a jackpot with a minimum value of $100,000.
Tennessee Cash is drawn three times a week – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays – at 10:30 PM Central Time.
The paytable for Tennessee Cash isn’t fixed, since every prize in the table is parimutuel and depends on the number of winners. I’ll share a pay table from a recent prize drawing as an example:
- Match 5 numbers and the Cash Ball to win the jackpot (min. $100,000) – odds of 1 in 1.6 million
- Match 5 numbers to win $14,639 – odds of 1 in 405,790
- Match 4 numbers and the Cash Ball to win $75 – odds of 1 in 10,821
- Match 4 numbers to win $24 – odds of 1 in 2,705
- Match 3 numbers and the Cash Ball to win $9 – odds of 1 in 373
- Match 3 numbers to win $5 – odds of 1 in 93
- Match 2 numbers and the Cash Ball to win $1 – odds of 1 in 40
- Match 2 numbers to win a free ticket – odds of 1 in 10
Overall odds of winning any prize on a Tennessee Cash ticket hover around 1 in 7, or a win on about 14% of all the tickets you buy. The return to player is about $0.14 for every dollar bet.
Keno to Go
Keno to Go is drawn every 5 minutes between 5:05 AM and 12:55 AM Central Time. It’s by far the most-drawn game the Tennessee Lottery offers. It’s based on the rules of casino-style keno.
Tickets cost between $1 and $10. Bettors playing keno are hoping to match as many “spots” (the game’s slang for numbers) to the ones drawn as possible. The number pool is larger than a typical lottery draw game – 1 through 80. Keno to Go makes up for this by letting bettors select their own conditions for winning. You can attempt to match between one and ten spots.
For all of the various bet combinations and payouts, check out Tennessee Lottery’s Keno to Go page.
Cash 3 & Cash 4
These games are similar enough to combine under one heading. Both cost $0.50 or $1 to play, depending on your preference. Cash 3 is based on a three number draw and Cash 4 is based on a four number draw.
The ways to bet and payouts are complicated – to get a sense of how to play the game, and what your winnings could be based on your style of bet, check out Tennessee Lottery’s Cash 3 page.
Cash 4 and Cash 4 are each drawn 19 times a week – at 6:30 PM Central Time every evening, and at 9:30 AM Central Time and 12:30 PM Central Time every Monday through Saturday.
Quick Cash is an instant win game available on all in-state Tennessee Lottery draw games. Playing Quick Cash adds $1 to the cost of your draw ticket game. To win, match your Quick Pick numbers to the numbers printed on your ticket.
Here’s the paytable for Tennessee Quick Cash:
- $500 – odds of 1 in 350,400
- $250 – odds of 1 in 6,153
- $100 – odds of 1 in 1,500
- $50 – odds of 1 in 712
- $20 – odds of 1 in 150
- $10 – odds of 1 in 150
- $5 – odds of 1 in 50
- $4 – odds of 1 in 75
- $3 – odds of 1 in 16.67
- $2 – odds of 1 in 10.71
Overall odds of winning on Tennessee Quick Cash are 1 in 5.24. That means you will on one in every 5 tickets you buy or so. The return to player is 19.08%.
Powerball & Mega Millions
The Tennessee Lottery is a member of the MUSL and hosts both Powerball and Mega Millions draw games. These are the giants of the US lottery industry, as germane to American lottery play as a scratch card or Quick Pick.
Powerball and Mega Millions similar enough that they’re both covered under the same heading. For strategic purposes, the games are usually about even. They share a few other features in common.
Both games cost $2 for a base play. You can spend an extra buck to activate a multiplier option on both games. They’re both traditional draw lottery games, using a pool of six drawn numbers to determine winners at different payout levels.
When you play Mega Millions, you pick between the numbers 1 and 70. For a Powerball ticket, you pick between the numbers 1 and 69. Powerball has a smaller pool of potential winning numbers, but since it’s just a single number, it doesn’t make a big difference in terms of game odds. Besides that, the Powerball paytable is different from Mega Millions in such a way that the slight advantage from having one fewer number in the game is all but wiped out. That means the game have almost identical overall odds.
Start by looking at the paytable for Mega Millions:
Mega Millions Paytable
- 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
The overall odds of winning any prize on a Mega Millions ticket – 1 in 24. That means you should win a prize of some amount between $2 and the jackpot on 4% of all the Mega Millions tickets you buy.
Now look at Powerball’s paytable:
- 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
The overall odds of winning any prize on a Powerball ticket: 1 in 24.87. Theoretically, you should see a win of between $4 and the jackpot on just about 4% of all the Powerball tickets you buy.
Notice how similar the overall odds on each game are? Obviously, as the top prize grows, overall game odds change, and since Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots aren’t linked in any way, there’s sometimes a slight discrepancy between overall odds.
Take note that the paytables and odds outlined above are based on the games’ baseline jackpots. When Powerball’s jackpot is large relative to Mega Millions’, your overall odds on a Powerball ticket will be slightly better than Mega Millions. It works in both directions.
However, the difference isn’t meaningful for most casual lottery players. Your choice between these games comes down to personal preference. Plenty of lottery players play both games.
Powerball is drawn three times a week – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays at 10:59 PM Eastern Time. Mega Millions is drawn twice a week – Tuesdays and Fridays at 10:59 PM Eastern Time.
Lotto America is typically the domain of small to mid-range state lotteries. Tennessee is by far the most successful program that participates in the game, which is like the smaller cousin of Mega Millions or Powerball.
Lotto America operates like a typical multi-state draw game, but the top prize resets to just $1 million, about 5% of the size of the base jackpots for Mega Millions and Powerball.
Lotto America ticket cost $1, and you can add another $1 to the cost to activate a win multiplier option. Lotto America winning numbers are drawn on Wednesdays and Sundays at 10 PM Central time. The cutoff time for ticket purchases is 8:59 PM on the night of each drawing.
Here’s the current paytable and odds information for Lotto America:
- Match all six balls 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 overall odds of winning any prize on a Lotto America ticket: 1 in 9.63. That means a win on about 10% of all the tickets you buy, and a return of $0.10 for every $1 you bet on the game.
Cash4Life is another multi-state game available through the Tennessee Lottery. The game’s top prizes are issued as “for life” annuities, which is the big gimmick and draw of the game.
Cash4Life tickets cost $2. To play, bettors choose five numbers between 1 and 60 as well as a sixth number (the “cash ball”) between 1 and 4.
The game’s top prize – $1,000 a day for life – is also available as a $7 million lump sum payout. The second prize – “$1,000 a week for life” – is also available as a lump-sum payment of $1 million.
Cash4Life is drawn every night at 9PM Eastern Time.
Here’s the paytable for Cash4Life:
- Match 5 numbers plus the Cash Ball, win $1,000 a day for life –odds of 1 in 21.8 million
- Match 5 numbers, win $1,000 a week for life –odds of 1 in 7.28 million
- Match 4 numbers plus the Cash Ball, win $2,500 –odds of 1 in 79,440
- Match 4 numbers, win $500 –odds of 1 in 26,480
- Match 3 numbers plus the Cash Ball, win $100 –odds of 1 in 1471
- Match 3 numbers, win $25 –odds of 1 in 490
- Match 2 numbers plus the Cash Ball, win $10 –odds of 1 in 83
- Match 2 numbers, win $4 –odds of 1 in 28
- Match 1 number plus the Cash Ball, win $2 — of 1 in 13
Overall odds of winning any prize on Cash4Life: 1 in 7.75. That means you’ll win a prize of some kind about 13% of the time.
Currently, Tennessee Lottery offers 100 instant win games across eight denominations. Below is a breakdown of their instant game collection by number of tickets and average overall odds:
- 18 $1 tickets – average odds of 1 in 4.2
- 15 $2 tickets – average odds of 1 in 4.08
- 6 $3 tickets – average odds of 1 in 3.81
- 16 $5 tickets – average odds of 1 in 4
- 23 $10 tickets – average odds of 1 in 3.41
- 13 $20 tickets – average odds of 1 in 3.11
- 3 $25 tickets – average odds of 1 in 3.3
- 6 $30 tickets – average odds of 1 in 2.9
For a better look at the instant win game market in Tennessee, look at the pay table and other game details of one of the state’s most popular tickets.
Triple Sapphire 777 is a $20 ticket with a top prize of $1 million. Below is the full paytable:
- $1 million – odds of 1 in 2.52 million
- $10,000 – odds of 1 in 504,000
- $5,000 – odds of 1 in 38,000
- $1,000 – odds of 1 in 12,000
- $100 – odds of 1 in 106.67
- $50 – odds of 1 in 25
- $20 – odds of 1 in 10
Overall odds of winning any prize on Jumbo Bucks Bonus: 1 in 3.12. That means you’ll win on about 1 in every 3 tickets you buy. That also means the ticket has a return to player of 32.05%, meaning each $20 ticket you buy will return you an average of $6.40.
It’s worth spending some time digging through Tennessee Lottery’s instant game library – it’s impressively large and the tickets are beautiful. This is also by far the most profitable sector of the lottery’s current offerings, so to understand the Tennessee Lottery you really need to understand the instant games.
Where to Buy Tennessee Lottery Tickets
At the time of this post, there are more than 3,200 retailers in Tennessee selling Tennessee Lottery tickets. These are the usual American lottery ticket sales spots – gas stations, restaurants, bars, and small retail stores.
Use the Tennessee Lottery’s Where to Play tool to find lottery retailers by zip code.
How to Claim Tennessee Lottery Prizes
Prizes of $599 or less can be claimed at any Tennessee Lottery retailer.
Prizes of $600 or more can be claimed in the mail. Send the winning ticket bearing your signature with a completed claim form to:
PO Box 290636
Nashville, TX 37229-0636
Walk-in claims are available at any of the state’s four lottery offices (Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Memphis) on Monday through Friday between 9 AM and 4 PM. Prizes of $200,000 or more must be claimed at the Nashville headquarters. When you claim a prize in person, you need to bring a few things with you:
- the winning ticket bearing your signature
- a completed claim form (if your prize is worth $600 or more)
- state-issued photo ID
- proof of Social Security (on a computer-generated document)
Take note that all claims for draw-style games must be made or postmarked within 180 days of the winning draw date. Claims for instant win games must be made within 90 days of the announced end date of the ticket.
Contact the Tennessee Lottery
Use this online contact form to ask basic customer service question.
For general inquiries, you can call 1-615-324-6500 between 9 AM and 4 PM CT, Monday through Friday.
The mailing address for the Tennessee Lottery is:
Tennessee Education Lottery
P. O. Box 291869
Nashville, TN 37229-1869
According to the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation’s 2020 Annual Report (the most recent report that’s been released), “the TEL is responsible for the licensing and regulation of online sports wagering in Tennessee.” Though the specifics of this program have yet to be ironed out, it seems like sports betting will soon fall under the umbrella of the Tennessee Lottery. This should only serve to bolster an already successful program with a rising stock.
Tennessee impresses with its large library of draw and instant win games, its commitment to a specific charitable cause that provides a tangible benefit to the state’s citizens, and the obvious way in which the people of The Volunteer State have been supporting the program. Look forward to new game options – and that all-important addition of sports betting to the TEL roster soon.