The lottery game that's bigger than Powerball

2015 lottery breakdown

Powerball and MegaMillions get all the attention, but it's the instant scratch-off games that bring in most of the money.

About 60% to 70% of the $70 billion spent on state lotteries last year went to instant games, not Powerball or MegaMillions.

And these smaller-stakes games actually pay out more in total, even though the top prize can be as little as $5,000. The jackpot for this week's Powerball drawing has hit nearly a half-billion dollars.

The odds of winning an instant game are actually better than they are for Powerball and MegaMillions. Scratch-off games typically pay out about 70% of the money spent on tickets. Only about half the money spent on Powerball is distributed to winners.

By comparison, a casino slot machine pays out between 90% and 99% of the amount wagered, according to John Spry, a finance professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, who studies lotteries

Related: How to win the lottery ... and lose it all

The odds aren't the only difference between these games -- the people who play instant games are typically poorer.

According to a study by Spry, about three out of four instant game tickets are purchased by people with below-average incomes. Wealthier players tend to enter the big multi-million drawings.

"People buy lottery tickets because they want a life-changing event," said Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross. "Winning $5,000 on an instant game is a huge amount of money if you're struggling to get by. If you're making $150,000 a year, you wouldn't turn down $5,000, but it's not life changing."

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Lottery officials say they don't have any breakdown incomes and lottery spending.

"I think it's just a different type of gambler, one who wants instant gratification versus on who dreams of big jackpot," said Terry Rich, president of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

Related: Odds of winning the Powerball jackpot - One in 175,000,000

But Rich saypeople who play the instant games tend to do so on a regular basis, while the Powerball and MegaMillions players flood in when the jackpots get big. Last Saturday, nearly 10 times as many people bought Powerball tickets compared to when the prize was at $40 million.

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