How Do You Play the Lottery at the Bookies?

Lottery ballsThere are so many different ways of betting today as bookmakers have long been very adept at responding to the desires and needs of their customers. For many larger brands, included as part of their broad offering is lottery betting.

Although not able to attract the same level of attention as let’s say football or horse racing, the lottery market still manages to entice a large number of regular punters. In this article, we will explore exactly how it works, including how it differs from buying lottery tickets directly.

Playing Lotteries Versus Betting on Lotteries

PaddyPower bookmaker

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How lotteries usually work is that you purchase one, or several, tickets for a particular draw. Each ticket will include a specific set of numbers, either selected by you or chosen completely at random (also known as a lucky dip). This ticket entitles you to a cut of the overall prize pot should you manage to correctly predict some, or all, of the chosen numbers. The more numbers you match, the bigger the portion of the overall prize pool you will scoop, with all numbers needed to claim the jackpot. Pretty simple right?

Well, while this is definitely the traditional way to take part in a lottery, it is not your only option. As an alternative, you can actually bet on the outcome rather than actively taking a part in the draw itself. So, rather than purchasing a ticket, you are making a fixed-odds bet with the bookmaker based on what numbers are drawn.

How Does Lottery Betting with a Bookmaker Work?

On a fundamental level, placing a lotto bet with a bookmaker is similar to actually buying a ticket for a draw. The shared element is that you will choose numbers that you hope will be selected during the lottery. You can either pick these numbers yourself or you can let the bookmaker randomly assign you some.


Things begin to diverge after this point though as at the bookmaker you would then add the lottery ticket to your betslip, like when placing a bet on football, rugby or anything else. At this point, you would enter your bet type and your stake. You will also have the option to select if your bet includes the bonus ball. Doing so will lower the odds of your bet as there is an extra ball you can potentially match with.

Picking Numbers & Fixed Odds

On top of this there are a couple of more substantial differences that separates lottery betting with direct lottery participation. One is that you do not need to pick a full set of numbers (usually it is not even possible). With a bookmaker, players will choose for instance, three or four numbers, even if a normal ticket would require you to pick six. Another major discrepancy is that you are placing your bet at fixed odds.

So, when putting your three matching numbers bet, the bookmaker might state odds of 700/1. A £2 would guarantee a return of £1,400, regardless of the jackpot size or how many other winners there are. You are also not subject to the standard lotto stake size, meaning that you could bet £0.50 or £20 if you wished.

The Public Generally Does Not Understand the Distinction

It is important to be aware of this distinction between playing a lottery at a bookmaker and actually buying a ticket for the lottery itself. Research carried out by the Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport in 2017 found that many people did not know the difference.

They drew on a survey carried out by betting operator Lottoland that found that 28% of their own customers did not believe “there was a difference between betting on EuroMillions and playing the EuroMillions lottery”. Given that you would imagine these are people that would know more about lotteries than the general population, there is plenty room for confusion and certainly plenty of room for more information and understanding.

Which Lotteries Can I Bet on with a Bookmaker?

There are a lot of different lotteries that bookies will willingly take bets on, although there are a couple of notable exceptions. Under section 95 of the Gambling Act 2005, betting on the outcome of the UK National Lottery, including the UK EuroMillions game, is strictly prohibited. There was a loophole to this though because the EuroMillions includes draws taking place in different countries. This led to some bookies allowing bets on the Spanish EuroMillions draw for instance, which is essentially the same thing by a different name. Following a detailed consultation, this loophole was closed in 2017 in a move expected to cost UK bookmakers between £4.5m and £5.8m per year.

Bear in mind this is UK law, however, so there is nothing stopping non-UK bookmakers such as Irish brand BoyleSport from accepting such bets. You will find on their website that you can indeed place bets on the EuroMillions and UK National Lottery. Across British bookmakers, the most common options to see are the Irish Lotto, Irish Daily Million, 49s (UK), Spanish Lotto (Primitiva), New York Lotto, French Lotto and German Lotto. You may see certain other options available from time to time and depending which site you bet with but these are certainly the most common ones. In addition, normally you can specify for which draw your bet relates to, even if it is not the next one scheduled.

Why Place Lotto Bets with a Bookmaker Rather Than Buying a Ticket?

Ladbrokes Bookmaker

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There are a few reasons why a consumer might want to get their lottery fix courtesy of a bookmaker.

Stakes Are More Flexible

For one, the stakes are much more flexible, meaning you can bet whatever you like. Rather than having to pay a fixed £2 per ticket, for example, you might just want to bet £0.20. This is perfectly fine and in fact most bookmakers will accept bets at £0.10 or even lower in some cases. This makes this type of lotto action perfect for smaller stakes players who may not want to risk £2 on something that, realistically, has very little chance of winning.

Wide Range of Lotteries

With a bookmaker you also have access to such a wide range of lotteries in one place. Whether you want big international draws or smaller ones where you have a higher chance of success, it is all there with just a few clicks. You are in no danger of losing your ticket when placing these bets either. With the transaction recorded on your account once you have placed the bet, you do not need to worry about if you accidentally dropped the ticket in the bin or lost it down the back of the sofa.

Promotional Offers & Loyalty Points

One final benefit for playing with the bookies instead is the range of promotional offers and loyalty points you can accumulate. Lotteries themselves are very standard in the sense you buy your tickets and that is that. With a bookmaker though you might be awarded some free bets, loyalty bonuses or you might benefit from some special enhanced odds.

Why Buy Lotto Tickets Directly & Avoid the Bookies?

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One obvious and considerable advantage of buying an actual ticket for a lottery draw is that in most cases, a portion of the ticket money will go toward a good cause.

The Money Goes to Charitable Causes

Take the Irish Lotto for instance – a typical week sees around €5m go towards good causes. This is because for every €1 spent on the lotto, nearly 30c is ring fenced for community projects, spent across the whole of the Republic of Ireland. Money raised from lotteries has done an awful lot of good over the years. Playing is a nice way to simultaneously have some fun, dream of that yacht and exactly what you will call your boss when you quit and giving cash to charity.

This is a fundamental principle of most lotteries and it is why the ticket revenue never equals the jackpot amount (or even close to it). For the EuroMillions, the Good Causes fund receives 28% of ticket sales. These funds help to support a wide range of projects but obviously as a ticket buyer, you do not really have much of a say where you portion goes. You might argue that you want to be more in-control with where your charitable donations go. Betting with the bookies is hardly much of a solution to this mind you.

The Prospect of a Life Changing Amount of Money

Back to the benefits of directly buying a lottery ticket and one big point is that it is the only way of hitting the truly life changing amount of money. You will find that bookmakers have a limit on what they will pay out for lottery bets. This depends on the lotto itself and the bookmaker but very rarely will it exceed £500,000. Obviously, this is still a huge sum of cash but it is not the millions or tens of millions that you might win if playing the lottery normally. Of course, the chances of you scooping the big lottery prize are microscopically small but isn’t it nice to daydream about what you would do with all that money?

Ease of Purchasing Online

Finally, we would say that most lotto operators, certainly the UK National Lottery, are fully in-tune with modern consumer needs. You no longer have to walk down to your local newsagent to collect your paper ticket (which you may end up losing) but you can buy your tickets online. They even have a recurring billing system so that you can have your lucky numbers entered every week. From this perspective, the actual process of buying tickets need not be any harder than placing a bet with a bookmaker.

Am I More Likely to Win Buying a Ticket or Betting with the Bookie?

Excited couple

Many of us play the lottery for the thrill it provides and that moment of belief that now might just be our moment to scoop the big jackpot. It could be you! While there is often much superstition and gut feeling involved, we have decided to take a more mathematical approach to things.

We did this by examining if you are more likely to score a profit playing the lottery, or betting with the bookmaker. To show this, let us take the example of the Irish lotto where the standard bookie payout for one ball is 6/1. The entire draw includes six balls (excluding the bonus) numbered between 1 and 47.

The odds of successfully predicting a one ball bet is 13.5% and the implied probability of 6/1 is 14.3%. Implied probability is simply a percentage of how likely something is to occur, based solely on the betting odds. So, for example, a bet of evens (1/1) suggests there is a 50% chance of something happening. So, in this instance, the bet is only 0.8% less likely to happen than the odds suggest. As you can see, the bookies’ cut is not especially large which means the odds are not heavily stacked against you getting a profit (although they are still against you).

Now, we cannot do a direct payout comparison with buying a ticket as when taking part in the draw itself you will need to pick a full set of six numbers. For this reason, only matching one or two balls will not yield you a return of any sort. Three correct picks (excluding the bonus ball) will however return you around €10 (note this can fluctuate depending on number of winners and the overall prize pot), something that has around a 1 in 54 chance. Not great odds!

As you can see, you do get much better value with the bookies but this makes perfect sense given the lottery covers all the overheads and puts a significant chunk aside to good causes. Additionally, you have a tiny minority of players that claim the lion’s share of the prize money, meaning there is much less to hand out for ‘common’ wins i.e., 3 balls, 2 balls + bonus.

This follows on to another point in that when buying a ticket you might actually end up getting more than three correct numbers. The odds of winning any prize in the Irish lotto is 1 in 29 but that includes the lowest prize of usually €3/4 right up to the entire jackpot. When betting with the bookmakers, the full range of potential outcomes are not available to you, because you are simply selecting one of them.

What Might I Win?

The odds vary according to which lottery you are playing but as an example let us look once again at the Irish Lotto. As we have said, matching one number yields a payout of 6/1, with two numbers priced at 60/1, three numbers at 700/1, four numbers at 7,200/1 and five numbers at a fairly staggering 130,000/1!

It should be remembered that with each of these options you will only pick the same quantity of numbers as your bet. By that we mean that if you opt for three numbers, you will choose three numbers, rather than the normal six, and need to match three out of three from the six balls that are drawn in the main draw.

Even so, with a bet on three balls paying a very tidy 700/1, a £2 bet would yield a return of £1,400, compared to just £8 from the same investment on the lotto itself! Given these stats, it is easy to see why betting on the lottery is so popular.

How Popular Is Bookmaker Betting on Lotteries?

Getting precise figures for this is not easy as the UK Gambling Commission only looks at lottery revenues directly from the provider. We have been able to unearth some figures relating to the Irish Lotto however, unquestionably one of the most popular lotto games to feature across bookmakers.

A letter sent on behalf of the Irish National Lottery in 2020 estimated that “bookmakers generated in the order of €400 million of turnover” on ‘lottery-like’ products in 2018. In addition to this, H2 Gambling Capital research, commissioned by Svenska Spel (operators of Swedish lotteries) believed that betting operators account for nearly 40% of the continent’s online lottery revenue, generating a total of €1.25-€1.5bn in 2019.

We hope that after reading this you have a much better idea of how you can partake in a lottery via a bookmaker as well as the pros and cons of doing so. For someone solely in pursuit of profit, you have a better chance sticking with the bookies. You will however forfeit all chances of claiming the absolute top prizes as these are not something the bookies can, or are willing, to match. Ultimately, it boils down to a matter of preference and how much you care about your lottery stake going to good causes.