By Randy Ray

Washington Lottery, which stylizes itself as “Washington’s Lottery,” launched in 1982, at the very beginning of the second wave of US lottery program expansions. The Washington Lottery sells scratch card games and runs six in-state draw games. Since the early 2000s, the state has also participated in two multi-state draw games.

Washington’s Lottery sends all revenue contributions directly to the state’s Student Achievement Fund and Education Construction Fund. This wasn’t always the way it worked; until the year 2000, lottery revenue went into the state’s General Fund. These days, most revenue contributions from the state go toward maintaining, repairing, and building the state’s K-12 schools. A small portion go toward a scholarship fund used mainly to support work-study and early learning programs.

Here’s the complete list of games currently available from the Washington Lottery:

  • Lotto
  • Hit 5
  • Match 4
  • Pick 3
  • Daily Keno
  • Powerball
  • Mega Millions
  • Scratch Games

Washington’s Lottery posts annual sales figures hovering around an average of $820 million. That puts them at the same sales levels as the lottery programs in Wisconsin and West Virginia, two states with much smaller populations and player pools relative to Washington. At issue is per capita spending on lottery games – just $116.92 per eligible citizen against per capita winnings of $86.70. A margin of around $30 per capita puts Washington’s Lottery on the wrong end of the revenue race.

I would put the relatively anemic performance of Washington’s lottery program down to two factors – the state has a high median household income, and rigid state lottery rules that prevent modern draw game styles which would increase revenue.

We know that the higher a state’s median income, the less they tend to spend on lottery games. This isn’t to say that people with upper middle class incomes don’t play the lottery, just that a significant part of a lottery’s typical audience is absent in the state. As an example of how the state’s lottery rules dampen revenue, Washington’s Lottery is the only program in America that does a single-draw keno game; most modern keno lottery games draw every few minutes pretty much around the clock.

Washington has a lot of the elements necessary to become a huge lottery state. For one thing, there’s no state tax on lottery winnings, making it one of just seven states that won’t take more than the federal government’s cut from you’re the biggest lottery prizes. Another important element – a spitfire social media and advertising team that produces tons of fun and memorable commercials. Throw in the fact that Washington’s just legalized sports betting, and there’s every reason to believe that the lottery in Washington could grow into one of the country’s biggest.

Probability, Return to Player, and the Washington Lottery

Considering the lottery from a strategic standpoint means having a basic understanding of probability math. This post will talk quite a bit about game odds. Other lottery writers focus on something called “return to player.” These are concepts that it’s important to understand before you make decisions about which tickets to buy, which games to play, and how to spend your lottery budget.

Odds of winning and return to player are both ways to look at how likely it is for you to scratch a winning scratch card or match a winning combination of numbers in a draw game. When you read about return to player, it’s expressed as a percentage. That percentage tells you how much you will theoretically win back for every $1 you spend on a game.

Let’s look at a real-world example of game odds and RTP using a popular Washington Lottery scratch game. Monster Money is a $5 ticket with a top prize of $50,000. The ticket’s posted overall odds of winning any prize are 1 in 3.32. That’s a theoretical representation of how many tickets you need to buy before you scratch a winning ticket. The return to player for this ticket is 30.12%. That implies you’ll win on about 30% of all Monster Money tickets you buy.

Here’s an important point – those numbers from the preceding paragraph are all theoretical. You aren’t guaranteed to win on 30% of all the Monster Money tickets you buy. The mathematics of the game imply that you’ll win at that rate. You could win on your very first ticket or you could buy a dozen tickets and lose on all of them. It’s not likely for either event to occur, but it is possible.

Take all the odds and other mathematical figures you see in this post with a grain of salt. Game odds are mathematical representations of a possible reality. Your real-world results will only look like the game’s odds over a very long period of buying and scratching lots of tickets. This is called variance, and it’s what makes lottery games so fun, and sometimes so frustrating.

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

Washington’s Lottery runs a big library of in-state draw games but participates in just two big multi-state games. The program also sells a big collection of scratch games – 72 different tickets at the time of this post.

Below is a brief guide to each game currently available:

Lotto

Lotto is Washington Lottery’s flagship draw game. It’s a $1 game that gives players two plays on each ticket. Players pick between the numbers 1 and 49 or use Quick Pick to let the computer pick for them.

Lotto’s top prize resets to $1 million. Winning numbers are drawn three times a week – Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 8PM Pacific Time. Cutoff time is 7:45 PM ET on the day of each drawing.

Here’s the Lotto paytable:

  • Match all 6 balls and win the jackpot (min. $1,000,000) – odds of 1 in 6.99 million
  • Match 5 balls and win $1,000 – odds of 1 in 27,100
  • Match 4 balls and win $30 – odds of 1 in 516
  • Match 3 balls and win $3 – odds of 1 in 28.3

Overall odds of winning any prize on Lotto – 1 in 27.1, or one win on every 3.69% of tickets you buy.

Hit 5

Hit 5 is a smaller-scale version of Lotto, a draw game based on five balls instead of six, with a smaller jackpot minimum and smaller fixed prizes.

Each ticket costs $1. Winning numbers are drawn daily at 8 PM Pacific Time. Cutoff time is 7:45 PM PT every day.

Here’s the Hit 5 paytable:

  • Match five balls and win the jackpot (min. $100,000) – odds of 1 in 851,000
  • Match four balls and win $150 – odds of 1 in 4,600
  • Match three balls and win $15 – odds of 1 in 128
  • Match two balls and win a free ticket – odds of 1 in 11

Overall odds of winning any prize on Hit 5 – 1 in 10.1, or a win on about 10% of all tickets you buy.

Match 4

Match 4 is a daily draw lottery game that uses a pool of just 24 numbers. The top prize is a fixed $10,000. Tickets cost $2 per play. The game is drawn daily at 8 PM Pacific Time. Cutoff time for tickets is 7:45 PM every night.

Here’s the Match 4 paytable:

  • Match four balls and win $10,000 – odds of 1 in 10,600
  • Match three balls and win $20 – odds of 1 in 133
  • Match two balls and win $2 – odds of 1 in 9.32

Overall odds of winning any prize on Match 4 – 1 in 8.7, or a win on about 11.5% of all the tickets you buy.

Pick 3

Pick 3 is a daily draw game based on just three drawn numbers. Players have multiple ways to bet in Pick 3, more than a typical state lottery draw game.

Pick 3 tickets cost between $0.50 and $6 each depending on the type of bet you place. Pick 3 is drawn once a day at 8 PM Pacific Time. Cutoff time for tickets is 7:45 PM PT every day.

To play Pick 3, bettors choose a set of three numbers between 0 and 9. Players can also let the computer Quick Pick system generate their numbers.

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

All Pick 3 prizes must be claimed within 90 days.

For a guide to the relatively complex paytable of this game, check out Washington’s Lottery’s Pick 3 page.

Daily Keno

The Washington Lottery’s Daily Keno game is unusual because it’s only drawn once a day. Keno is all about rapid-fire results, especially in typical state lottery format.

Start with the basics – tickets cost between $1 and $20. 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. Daily Keno makes up for this by letting bettors select their own conditions for winning. You can attempt to match between one and ten spots.

Daily Keno is drawn at 8 PM Pacific Time. Cutoff for ticket sales is 7:45 PM PT every day.

Check out the full paytable and other game details at Washington Lottery’s Daily Keno page.

Powerball & Mega Millions

Washington’s Lottery has offered both Powerball and Mega Millions since 2009. These are by far the two biggest names in the multi-state lottery game, and most American lottery programs participate. It’s not unusual that Washington sells these two games; it’s unusual that these are the only two multi-state games on offer.

Powerball and Mega Millions are very similar, down to the way they’re played and the games’ odds figures. We’ll cover both Powerball and Mega Millions under a single heading because they’re practically identical.

A ticket for Powerball or Mega Millions costs $2. On both games, you can spend an extra buck to trigger a multiplier option. Both are traditional draw games where bettors pick a set of numbers and hope they match with a winning combination of balls drawn.

The two games have different drawing schedules. Powerball is drawn three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Mega Millions is drawn twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Another difference is the pool of potential winning numbers – Mega Millions players pick between the numbers 1 and 70, while Powerball players pick between 1 and 69.

Yes, that means Powerball uses one fewer potential winning number, and that means your odds are slightly better playing Powerball over Mega Millions. The difference is small, statistically, and because of some features in Powerball’s paytable, the two games are practically identical odds-wise.

Look at the Mega Millions paytable:

Mega Millions Paytable

  • Match all six balls and win the jackpot (min. $20 million) – odds of 1 in 302.5 million
  • Match all five balls and win $1 million – odds of 1 in 12.6 million
  • Match four balls and the Mega Ball and win $10,000 – odds of 1 in 931,000
  • Match four balls and win $500 – odds of 1 in 38,792
  • Match three balls and the Mega Ball and win $200 – odds of 1 in 14,547
  • Match three balls and win $10 – odds of 1 in 606
  • Match two balls and the Mega Ball and win $10 – odds of 1 in 693
  • Match one ball and the Mega Ball and win $4 – odds of 1 in 89
  • Match the Mega Ball and 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 theoretically win some level of prize (between $2 and the jackpot) on 4% of all the Mega Millions tickets that you buy. Keep in mind that this is a theoretical number. Your real-world results from just a few purchases will likely vary a little from that theoretical figure.

Compare that paytable to the one for Powerball:

Powerball Paytable

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

The overall odds of winning any prize on a Powerball ticket – 1 in 24.87. Theoretically, that means some level of prize on just about 4% of all the Powerball tickets you buy.

Both games give you a theoretical 4% chance of winning on every ticket even though they use a slightly different pool of numbers. Remember also that game odds change a little when the jackpot goes up and down. The paytables described above are for minimum jackpots. When a discrepancy exists between the two games’ jackpot amounts, there can be a slightly more significant difference in game odds.

Scratch Games

The 72 scratch games currently in the Washington Lottery library are broken up into seven denominations. Below is a breakdown of each denomination by number of tickets and average overall odds of winning:

  • 16 $1 tickets – average odds of 1 in 4.1
  • 8 $2 tickets – average odds of 1 in 4.48
  • 6 $3 tickets – average odds of 1 in 4.2
  • 22 $5 tickets – average odds of 1 in 3.41
  • 13 $10 tickets – average odds of 1 in 3.48
  • 6 $20 tickets – average odds of 1 in 3.1
  • 3 $30 tickets – average odds of 1 in 2.99

Scratch card sales make up about 65% of all lottery revenue for Washington’s Lottery. They can be purchased at every lottery retailer in the state and at vending machines at select retailers. All scratch card wins must be redeemed within 90 days of the official posted end of the game.

To give you a better sense of the Washington scratch game market, look at the pay table and other details for a popular scratch card game – WA Winnings, a $10 scratch card ticket.

Here’s the paytable:

  • $250,000 – odds of 1 in 700,016
  • $500 – odds of 1 in 8,536
  • $200 – odds of 1 in 3,977
  • $100 – odds of 1 in 63.24
  • $50 – odds of 1 in 33
  • $25 – odds of 1 in 34
  • $20 – odds of 1 in 12
  • $10 – odds of 1 in 7

Overall odds of winning any prize on WA Winnings are 1 in 3.38, which means you should theoretically win on about 30% of all the tickets you buy. Those are slightly better than average odds compared to other $10 tickets from other state programs.

Where to Buy Washington Lottery Tickets

Washington’s Lottery advertises that you can find their products at “grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, bars, and coffee stands.”

The lottery program operates a Find a Retailer tool where you can search by zip code or address.

How to Claim Washington Lottery Prizes

You can claim your Washington Lottery prize by mail, at lottery offices, or at lottery retailers. Your ability to use these different methods, and the requirements for using them, depend on the size of the prize.

Prizes of $600 or less can be claimed at lottery retailers, subject to validation and available funds.

You can also claim prizes of $600 or less through the mail. You have to complete the information on the back of your winning ticket, sign the ticket, and send it in the mail to:

Washington Lottery Headquarters
PO Box 43050
Olympia, WA 98504-3050

You can also claim prizes greater than $600 through the mail using the same address, but you’ll need to fill out this Winner Claim form/Substitute W-9 form along with your ticket.

You can claim prizes of any size at one of Washington’s Lottery six offices around the state. To do so, you’ll need to locate your regional office and bring along a few things: the winning ticket, your picture ID, your Social Security card, and a voided check.

Note that if your prize is worth $100,000 or more, you’ll need to call ahead and make an appointment. If your prize is worth $100 million or more, it must be claimed at Washington’s Lottery HQ in Olympia.

Contact the Washington Lottery

Washington’s Lottery operates a 24-hour recorded winning numbers line at:

1-800-545-7510

If you need customer service, Washington’s Lottery offers the following details:

Phone: (360) 810-2888
Fax: (360) 515-0416
Email: director@walottery.com

Customer service is available from 8 AM to 5 PM every Monday through Friday.

The Lottery’s headquarters are at the following physical address:

PO Box 43000
Olympia, WA 98504-3000

However, you shouldn’t try to claim prizes use that address. To claim a prize, check out the How to Claim Washington Lottery Prizes section from above.

Conclusion

The only knock on Washington’s Lottery is that sales numbers are anemic compared to the state’s large population and other lottery-positive factors. Their scratch game library is among the biggest in the nation, and they also host more in-state draw games than most other modern programs. A few legislative issues stand in the way of Washington running one of the best programs in the country.

What’s great about Washington’s Lottery? Variety, in both draw and scratch games. Their revenue sharing with the state’s education funds is noble. Their social media and advertising campaigns deserve every award and accolade they’ve earned. There’s a lot to love.

Washington’s Lottery would benefit from a direct relationship with the state’s new sports betting options as well as a loosening of state regulations to allow new types of games that can raise average sales figures.