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Can You Buy Lottery Tickets Online?

Is It Legal (and Safe) to Buy Lottery Tickets Through the Net?

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Every so often, lottery fever sweeps the nation and everyone wants to get their hands on a potentially record-breaking lottery ticket. If buying a ticket is not easy for you for whatever reason, perhaps because you are homebound or not in the country at the moment, buying lottery tickets over the internet seems like a simple solution. Is it possible to buy lottery tickets online? Is it legal? Is it safe?

The Dangers of Buying Tickets Over the Internet

The United States government, like most other governments around the world, heavily regulates how lottery tickets can be bought and sold because the potential for fraud is so high. U.S. citizens alone spend billions of dollars on lottery tickets every year, so it’s important to be sure that the tickets are valid and that the promised prizes are really awarded.

Without these protections, we’d have many more cases where tickets are sold but, when the winning numbers come up, the buyer is out of luck because the ticket was forged and the seller simply pocketed the money. Or where retailers ensure that they are only selling losing tickets to customers.

To counteract these scams, lottery retailers need to be licensed. What they need to do to get a license varies by state, but it’s common that retailers need to have a criminal background check to get a license to ensure that they haven’t been involved in any felonies or illegal gambling schemes, and that they have to post a hefty bond to ensure that their tickets are awarded fairly.

Now, if people can buy lottery tickets online, it opens doors to fly-by-night organizations who can take advantage of customers on a large scale and then disappear overnight when they are caught.

Because of this high risk to consumers, there are laws in the United States and many other jurisdictions that restrict or prohibit online lottery sales. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s totally illegal or impossible within the United States.

What Does U.S. Law Say About Buying and Selling Lottery Tickets Online?

There are two kinds of lottery laws in the United States: federal and state laws.

Federal law is pretty clear that buying or selling lottery tickets by mail is illegal and punishable by fines or jail time. 18 U.S. Code § 1302 states:

“Whoever knowingly deposits in the mail, or sends or delivers by mail. any lottery ticket. any check, draft, bill, money, postal note, or money order, for the purchase of any ticket. shall be fined. or imprisoned not more than two years.”

But the internet has opened up new ways for people to buy tickets remotely. The internet is not covered by the postal code, so can we just move on to state laws?

Not quite. For many years, a federal law that prevented online lottery sales for many years is the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, which states:

“Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both”

However, in December of 2011, the Department of Justice released an opinion that the Federal Wire Act applies specifically to sports betting,

“In a 13-page opinion, dated September 20, 2011, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) concluded that the federal Wire Act’s anti-gambling provisions do not bar states from selling lottery tickets over the Internet because the act’s prohibitions apply only to Internet transmissions that relate to ‘sporting events or contests.'”

This opened the doors to let states consider whether they should offer online sales for their lottery tickets.

States Which Allow Online Lottery Sales

Even with federal law allowing online lottery sales, many states have been reluctant to actually do so. Aside from the risks of fraud, there are also other problems. For example, it’s much harder to ensure that tickets aren’t being sold to people under the legal age to buy tickets. Plus, the states risk sales tax losses from people who go to a convenience store or gas station to buy a lottery ticket and end up making a few other purchases while they are there.

Currently, six states offer legal online lottery purchases:

  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania

In 2014, Minnesota became the very first state to offer lottery games online; however, a year later, they pulled all of the games and stopped selling lottery tickets online.

Many of the participating states have tight restrictions about ticket sales; for example, only allowing residents to buy tickets online. With offline sales, you need to by physically present, but you don’t have to live in the state or even be a U.S. resident.

Furthermore, most states offer only a few games. Powerball, for example, can only be bought online from Illinois or Georgia, whereas California residents can use a lottery app to have someone buy Powerball tickets for them.

How to Stay Safe While Buying Lottery Tickets Online

If you decide to try your hand at playing the lottery over the internet, make sure you do your due diligence before buying tickets.

Keep in mind that residents of most United States cannot legally buy lottery tickets online. Watch out for websites that seem to let you buy tickets, but which are actually giving you the “opportunity” to bet on the outcome of the lottery draw.

Don’t fall for hype or for promises made by lottery apps and websites. Your safest option is to go through an official state lottery website if one is available to you. Make sure that you know which company you are handing your money over to, and research any website thoroughly before you commit.

Buying lottery tickets online would be convenient, but is it safe and legal? Find out where and how you can buy lottery tickets on the internet.

Can Non-US Residents Play to Win the Lottery?

Are you eligible to win the lottery if you don’t live in the US?

Have you ever wondered who’s eligible to play the lottery in the United States?

Here are some common questions about buying lottery tickets:

  • Can you buy tickets if you aren’t a US resident, but want to win one of those huge lottery jackpots?
  • Can you buy US lottery tickets if you’re a citizen or a resident of a foreign country?
  • Can you cross state lines to buy lottery tickets?
  • What if you don’t have legal permission to be in the United States? Will you be able to claim the prize money if you win?

Here’s everything you need to know about who can and can’t play the lottery in the United States.

Who Can Play Mega Millions, Powerball, and Other US Lotteries?

You can buy US lottery tickets, win the Powerball and the Mega Millions lotteries, and collect your jackpot no matter what your US residence status is.

While there is an age restriction (you have to be at least 18 to play), adults can buy tickets in any state which offers the lottery even if you’re not a United States citizen, if you don’t live in the state selling the ticket, or even if you don’t live in the country at all.

Of course, since non-US residents are eligible to buy the tickets, they’re also eligible to claim the prize money should they win.

However, be aware that where you live will affect what happens when you win. For example, different states have different rules about whether lottery winners can remain anonymous.

Countries outside of the United States have different laws about how lottery prizes are taxed and how much money must be withheld from your winnings. If you do win, be sure to consult with a tax professional for more information.

If you’re trying to enter a lottery other than the Powerball or Mega-Millions games, check the rules before you enter for eligibility information.

Can you Buy US Lottery Tickets from Outside of the United States?

While non-US residents can enter and win the lottery, there’s a caveat: You have to actually be in the country to legally buy US lottery tickets. It’s illegal to buy lottery tickets over the internet or by mail — with some rare exceptions, such as a lottery app run by a company that sends an employee to physically buy tickets for its customers.

This’s important to keep in mind because many lottery scams trick people into believing that they’ve won lotteries from foreign countries. You can only win a foreign lottery if you bought a ticket while you were in that country. If you didn’t, you can throw those scam win notices away.

There are also scam websites that will take your money and promise to buy lottery tickets for you. Approach these sites with caution and be sure to check the company out carefully before handing over any money. Doing an internet search for the company’s name together with the word “scam” is a good first step.

Can an Undocumented Alien Win a US Lottery?

Because there are no residency restrictions about who can enter US lotteries, illegal immigrants can buy tickets and can claim their winnings. However, claiming the lottery winnings might make an illegal immigrant feel vulnerable to deportation.

For example, in 2011 Jose Antonio Cua-Toc won a $750,000 lottery and was afraid to claim it because he didn’t have a legal residency status. When he asked his boss to claim it for him, the boss took the money for himself.

However, winning the lottery might smooth the road to a green card. If you’re an undocumented immigrant and you have a winning lottery ticket, you should consult a legal professional before claiming your prize.

Can Felons Win Lottery Jackpots in the United States?

Rules vary from state to state, but in most cases, felons can legally buy lottery tickets and win jackpots.

In December of 2014, a story broke about Timothy Poole, a sex offender who won over $2 million in the Florida Super Millions scratch-off lottery.

Poole was convicted in 1999 of sexually battering a nine-year-old boy who was a friend of his family. Poole pleaded innocent but took a plea bargain, which included over a year in jail and registration as a sex offender.

The Florida lottery doesn’t have any restrictions regarding the criminal background of the entrants, which means that Poole received a lump sum of $2,219,807.90.

Many people were horrified to think that a sex offender could receive such an enormous prize. On the article linked above, Toni Tommas commented that it “Almost makes me question the existence of God.”  

While some people think it’s wrong that murderers and sex offenders can win millions from the state, others find it would be unfair to prevent someone from playing the lottery after they’ve paid for their crime and served their time.

There is a bright side to a felon winning a lottery jackpot, however; It might give the victims a way to be compensated for damages or restitution in a civil trial. It’s hard for a felon to claim he or she can’t pay when they have publicly won a lottery jackpot.

Who is eligible to buy US lottery tickets? Can a non-US resident claim a Powerball or MegaMillions lottery? What about illegal immigrants?