I didn’t start playing lottery tickets until I started working at gas stations. Even then, I was 20 years old and likely the first person of those my age to really play them often.
When a lottery machine is sitting in front of you for hours, you’re tempted to play.
I could never quite hit on the Lotto, Little Lotto, and Mega Millions (at the time I was at BP, Powerball had not been introduced in Illinois). While plays for those games were $1, a single play for Pick 3 and Pick 4 was a mere 50 cents. I could scrap enough change to play a single 50-cent set of numbers.
However, I really didn’t start playing Pick 3 and Pick 4 until I started working at Shell, where an elderly couple always came in at night and played a bunch of these tickets. Bill and Dorothy Schrader got my hooked on playing them, and soon I knew everything there was to know about Pick 3 and 4. I became Shell’s lottery expert, and I think I hold the same thing at Casey’s now.
Dorothy has since passed, and Bill doesn’t get out much anymore. Another “super-regular” from Shell, Joe Roberts, was big into playing the big jackpot games. He passed away about a year ago.
If Joe were still around to know what it’s like playing the Illinois Lottery right now, he’d be really angry at the world right now.
Because of Illinois’s budget crisis, the Lottery is not paying out any prizes of more than $600 per ticket. Typically, any winnings more than that are taxable, and thus the transactions are regulated by the State. If you win $750 on a single scratch-off ticket, you won’t know when you’ll get paid.
The only way you are guaranteed to pocket more than $600 in a single gas station visit is if you have a number of tickets which total to more than $600. Lottery retailers themselves may have limits as to what they can pay out at that moment, but there’s nothing that says they can’t pay out $1,000 if you have five tickets that are $200 winners.
I don’t play as much as I used to since I started living on my own. However, I’ll buy a ticket sometimes. I don’t like the odds on the scratch-off tickets these days, so that has made me come back to playing Pick 3 and Pick 4.
Playing the Pick 3 and Pick 4 are the only ways you can be certain of avoiding the $601 tax threshold, and have a chance at pocketing the most money.
Technically, you can still play the popular Holiday Cash $1 scratcher, which pays no more than $200, but the likelihood of scratching off $200 winners back-to-back just doesn’t exist. The same goes for the rotation of $1 tickets which pays no more than $500.
The base prizes for Pick 3 at 50 cents (without the Fireball option) are as follows:
Straight (all 3 numbers in exact order: $250
Double-number Box (all 3 numbers in any order, with two numbers alike): $80
Box (all 3 numbers, all different, in any order): $40
Front- or Back-Pair (first 2 numbers in exact order or last 2 numbers exact): $25
The next-highest wager amount is $1. In this case, the aforementioned prizes are double. The wager increments are by the dollar up to $5.
Thus, the payouts for high-wagers are as follows, under the tax threshold:
Playing – $1 – $2 – $3 – $4 – $5
Straight – $500
2x# Box – $160 – $320
Box – $80 – $160 – $240 – $320
F-B Pair – $50 – $100 – $150 – $200 – $250
Rather than wagering $2 on a single straight ticket, buying two $1 tickets with the same number will enable you to get your $1,000 – if you win, and if the retailer has the money to pay you.
Pick 3 Straight-Box has a minimum wager of $1. This is when you can win either when numbers come in straight away, or in any order. Playing this ticket gives you the either-or chance, as opposed to a simple straight or a simple box ticket.
Playing – $1 – $2 – $3 – $4 – $5
w/o a 2x # – $290 or $40 – $580 or $80
w/ a 2x # – $330 or $80 – $660 or $160
In this case, I do not recommend playing a $2 straight box with a double number. If that ticket is a winner by virtue of the numbers coming in straight away, you are above the tax threshold.
Below are the same tables for playing Pick 4 (note there can be 3 numbers alike):
Playing – $0.50 – $1 – $2 – $3 – $4
Straight – $2,500
2x# Box – $200 – $400
2 sets of 2x# – $400
3x# Box – $600
Box – $100 – $200 – $400 – $600
Since the 50-cent straight prize is already $2,500, I’d hold off playing any straight box tickets for Pick 4.