With huge amounts of money dished out each week, it is easy to be tempted by playing the lottery. Sure, your odds of winning a big prize are, putting it generously, slim, but there is no element of skill required and the upfront stake is quite small. Available to almost everyone (above the minimum age) as a result, the lottery truly is entertainment for the masses.
Now, the most common and traditional way to take part in a lottery is to buy a ticket straight from the operator. This can be done online via an app or website, or via certain shops like supermarkets and newsagents. You do have another option at your disposal though and this is betting on the lottery via the bookies. Although you can still collect some very large prizes this way, you are not directly taking part in the lottery itself. This often excludes you from the big jackpot prizes but betting with the bookmakers does have certain advantages over buying a ticket.
What Is ‘the Lottery’?
Many bookmakers will allow you to bet on a wide range of lotteries from across the globe. Although some may offer slightly different types of bets, how the bet works is always the same at a fundamental level. When talking about ‘the lottery’ we are not talking about any lottery in particular, rather more generally.
Why Is Bookmaker Lottery Betting Different?
If you were to purchase a winning lottery ticket, you would end up receiving a proportion of the total funds or a fixed amount, depending on the type of lottery it was. With the UK National Lottery, in a normal draw most winners receive a fixed prize but anyone matching all six balls will take the jackpot amount, or a share of it in the case of multiple winners. If the rollover is not won on five successive occasions, it becomes a ‘must be won’ prize, in which everyone matching two or more mains balls receives a proportional boost based on a share of the unwon jackpot.
Betting via the bookies is partly different because you will almost always be getting a fixed prize, no matter what. This is because you will be placing a bet with certain odds attached to it. The bookmaker below is giving odds of 7500/1 to pick four matching main numbers on the Irish National Lottery. So, if you were to bet £2 (see example above), you would know that you stand to win £15,000, regardless of how anyone else fares, if your four chosen numbers come up in the draw.
By betting in such a way, there is no middle ground. You either win the full amount by getting four balls, or you receive nothing. Although matching two main numbers in the UK National Lottery would see you rewarded with a Free Lucky Dip ticket, when you bet on lotteries with the bookmakers there are no such rewards for near misses.
Advantages to Lotto Betting with Bookies
There are a few reasons why some players prefer betting on lotteries with a bookie rather than taking part in the actual draw itself.
More Flexible Stake
A traditional lottery experience means paying a fixed amount for a single ticket, whether that be £1 or £2.50. If you wish to increase your chance of winning something, multiple tickets can be purchased at the same price. There are some slight variations on this, for example, the Irish Lotto in which a line (set of numbers) costs £2 but punters must purchase a minimum of two, meaning the minimum stake is £4. Additional lines can be added one at a time though for £2 each.
Sticking with the Irish Lotto main game, let us say you wanted to take part regularly but £4 each time was too steep. In this case, you may want to turn to a bookmaker as they will be happy to accept much lower stakes. Some require a minimum stake of £0.50 but other bookmakers provide even more freedom, going as low as £0.10 or even £0.01. By accepting lower stakes than the actual lottery, small-spending players can take part without risking more than they are comfortable with.
Bet on Several Lotteries in One Place
Some (but not all) bookmakers supply a wide range of different lotteries to bet on. All accessible within just a few clicks, it is the most time-effective way of placing bets on multiple lottos. The alternative would be to create an account on each official lottery website and purchase your tickets through there. You would then potentially need to supply verification documents, if indeed foreign customers are eligible to take part at all. Additionally, you would have currency conversion charges to worry about.
No such issues exist at the bookies though as once you have an approved betting account you can simply place your bets across any lotto listed on the website, all in your usual currency.
Bookmakers are more than happy to accept bets on lotteries because in the long run they will benefit as a whole. All they need to do is calculate the actual probability of you picking 3/4/5 numbers (and so on), take a margin for themselves, then provide the relevant odds to the customers. As there is absolutely no skill involved in choosing the numbers, repeated enough times and the bookie would be practically nailed on for whatever margin they choose.
They just need to make sure their odds compare well with their competitors and because of this, the odds on the Irish Lottery, for instance, tend to be the same (or similar) across most of the top bookies. By bookmaker standards, the margin they take on lottery bets is certainly healthy and they do operate with smaller ones across many casino games and sports. This is because the margin taken by lottery firms is even greater, so the odds offered by bookies on selecting, for instance, three numbers correctly are relatively generous.
The reason that playing the lottery provides much worse value is a sizeable chunk of lotto revenue goes towards good causes and to the government. On top of this, retailers take a small cut so any store-bought tickets do end up helping the local economy.
You can increase your value for money even further when betting at the bookies by taking advantage of their special offers. Some run lotto specific bets whereas others will provide more general incentives, such as bet £25 and get £5. Providing lottery bets qualify (check the terms and conditions), offers can provide an extra way of getting even more bang for your buck. Throw in any kind of bookmaker loyalty program and you will find there are more incentives on offer than a lottery can provide.
Opportunity to Place Lower Odds Bets
With many lotteries, the chances of you winning any sort of cash prize are low. The smallest cash prize in the Canadian lottery requires two correct main numbers and the bonus, of which there is a 1 in 81.2 chance. Similarly, to get cash in a standard UK lottery you need three numbers which has a 1 in 97 chance of happening (£30 reward). With a bookmaker though, you can stack the odds more heavily in your favour should you wish. Here are the typical odds offered by a UK bookie on the Irish Lottery:
|Correct Numbers||Odds Offered||Winnings from a £2 Bet
In this case, if you want to play it ‘safe’ you could simply bet on matching one number. The price of 6/1 does not represent the actual probability of being a winner but it is not too far off. The above odds are taken from the Irish Lotto which has balls numbered from 1 to 47 so the chance of the number you select being drawn is 13.5%.
The ‘true’ likelihood, in odds format would therefore be 6.41/1, the reason for the slight difference is the house edge involved. Even with the bookmaker advantage though, a one-ball bet is something you can win on a fairly regular basis. Though, obviously, in the long term, the bookie will always be the true winner.
Disadvantages to Lotto Betting with Bookies
Although there are several perks, as we have mentioned, to betting on lotteries at bookmakers, there is a reason why most people do not play this way.
No Chance of Big Prize
No matter which bookmaker you use, you will not be able to turn £1 / £2 into several million, like you can with the normal lottery. This is often the big allure of many lotteries – the (albeit extremely slim) chance to win a truly phenomenal amount of money. Such wins are simply not possible at the bookmakers, however. You can win hundreds of thousands but that is usually the limit as they only pay out to five numbers on the Irish Lottery and never the full number.
There is also the situation that bookies will not let you bet too much when chasing the biggest win. For example, we could not bet more than £3.85 on a five ball Irish lotto bet with one bookie as this took the payout to the maximum limit of £500,000. While still a huge amount of money and one that would open up so many possibilities, it does not compare to the multiple millions you could win by actually playing the lottery.
Some Money Goes to Charity, Not Rich Bookies
As we mentioned previously, from a purely financial perspective playing the lottery is not a wise investment. A typical lottery will have tickets that have an expected value worth around 50% of their cost. With very average luck, if you were to spend £1,000 on the lottery over your lifetime, you should expect to get in the region of £500 back. At the bookmaker, this average luck figure might be much closer to £900 but you have to consider where the lost money is going.
If you do choose to bet directly with a bookmaker, the lottery operator (and, more pertinently, all the good causes they fund) receive nothing. Instead, your stake will go into the pockets of an already wealthy bookie. By purchasing a ticket for a draw though, you can almost consider it a charity donation but one that might see you win money. For the year ending March 2021, the UK lottery raised £8.4bn in ticket sales and of this, £1.9bn went to National Lottery projects. Health, education and charities claimed 40% of this amount, while sports, arts and heritage projects each took 20%. This is not specific to the UK either, national lotteries across the world donate a sizeable portion of their revenue to good causes, usually around the 25 to 30% mark.
Your Luck Is Capped
Now, when betting at the bookies you will not pick a full set of numbers (usually six), instead you will choose between 1 and 5 numbers depending on your bet selection. Say, for example, you choose three balls and those three balls are drawn first. While you will no doubt be delighted with the win, part of you might be thinking ‘how much more could I have won?’. This is especially true for anyone that has a “lucky” set of numbers they typically stand by. If another two of your go-to numbers appeared, you end up failing to make the most of the opportunity.
Which Bookies Take Lottery Bets
There are several different bookies that accept bets on lotteries although it is typically restricted to the biggest names in the industry. What they offer can differ drastically with some just covering a small number of lottos while the likes of BoyleSports boasts an extensive collection.
|Lottery||Coral / Ladbrokes||Paddy Power||Betfred||BoyleSports||William Hill|
|Irish Daily Millions||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|New York Lottery||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
NB: Lottery data correct as of 26th April 2022
Do All Bookies Offer the Same Payout?
Payout amounts do vary, especially when selecting a larger number of balls, so it can be worth shopping around. For a useful comparison took a look at the Irish Lotto as this is one all bookmakers listed above provide.
|Lottery||Coral / Ladbrokes||Paddy Power||Betfred||BoyleSports||William Hill|
NB: Lottery data correct as of 26th April 2022
We excluded BetVictor because rather than provide fixed odds, they hand out prizes as they are in the official draw. They also require players to choose all six numbers so it is the closest thing to a ‘real’ lotto experience and does not fit the usual bookmaker model. All other bookies tended to provide the same odds up to three balls (if one and two are offered) but there are some significant differences when betting on 4 balls or 5 balls. These discrepancies are not limited to the Irish lotto either so have a look around before you bet.
Additional Lottery Markets
Although this is uncommon, there are a couple of bookies that do not require punters simply to pick numbers for a lottery. Instead, they offer their customers the opportunity to bet on a range of other markets. Examples include the total value of the draw, if the first ball is odd/even, if a certain ball will be higher/lower than a certain value, which ball will be drawn first and the bonus ball number. The range of additional markets is not much more extensive than this but it still gives players numerous different ways of betting on lotteries.