Lotteries have captured the human imagination for centuries, offering the promise of life-changing wealth with the purchase of a simple ticket.

Personally, I play the EuroMillions on the app and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve received an email from The National Lottery that says “You’ve won a prize!”

For a brief moment, I imagine that I’ve actually won the jackpot. Unsurprisingly, that has never happened. Nope, I have to be content with my dreams being dashed in favour of winning £2.40!

But it just goes to show that the allure of winning a massive jackpot is felt the world over.

So while I may have never won anything close to a life changing lottery jackpot, I decided to find out about the winners who have.

Top FIVE Biggest Lottery Jackpots Ever Won

1st Place – $2.04 billion

The sole winner of the $2.04 billion Powerball drawing on November 7, 2022, was Edwin Castro of Altadena, California.

He won the largest-ever lottery jackpot and opted for a lump sum of $997.6 million. After taxes, Castro walked away with $628.5 million.

His remarkable win came from a draw that had built anticipation due to numerous rollovers, increasing the jackpot to become the largest in the history of the lottery.

The winning numbers for this historic draw were 10, 33, 41, 47, 56, and the Powerball number was 10.

Second Place – $1.586 billion

The second largest jackpot ever won also belongs to the Powerball lottery, with a staggering $1.586 billion prize split by three tickets in January 2016.

The jackpot for this particular draw had been growing for weeks, as draw after draw passed without a winner, leading to a frenzy of ticket purchases across the United States.

On January 13, 2016, the Powerball numbers were drawn, (4, 8, 19, 27, 34, and Powerball 10).

It was soon announced that three tickets had matched all six numbers with the inners located in California, Florida, and Tennessee.

The winners from California were Marvin and Mae Acosta, who purchased their ticket in Chino Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles.

The Acostas remained anonymous for months before coming forward to claim their prize before issuing a statement expressing their gratitude and intention to use their winnings responsibly, including a significant amount dedicated to a trust for their children and charities.

In Florida, the winning ticket was claimed by Maureen Smith and David Kaltschmidt of Melbourne Beach.

The couple had played the lottery for years using the same numbers before they finally hit the jackpot.

In a press conference, they shared their shock and disbelief at winning such a massive amount and said that they planned to take the lump sum option, retire, and look after their family’s financial future.

The third winning ticket was purchased by John and Lisa Robinson in Munford, a small town in Tennessee.

The Robinsons appeared on the Today Show before even claiming their prize and expressed their desire to continue living a “normal life” despite the windfall.

Each of the three winning tickets was entitled to an equal share of the jackpot, with the option to take a lump sum payment or an annuity spread out over 30 years.

All three sets of winners chose the lump sum option, which amounted to $327.8 million before taxes.

3rd Place – $1.537 billion

Following closely is the Mega Millions jackpot of $1.537 billion won by a single ticket in South Carolina in October 2018.

It stands as one of the biggest lottery jackpots in history and holds a unique place due to the anonymity of the winner.

That’s right, nobody knows who won it! The very smart winner decided to remain anonymous though I’m fairly certain that keeping a $1.5 billion win secret is more difficult that it sounds.

4th Place – $768.4 million

On the night of March 27, 2019, the Powerball numbers drawn were 16, 20, 37, 44, 62, and the Powerball number 12.

$768.4 million was up for grabs and it was won by a single ticket in Wisconsin.

Of course, speculation about the identity of the winner soon followed and it turned out to be Manuel Franco, a 24-year-old from West Allis.

One of the youngest individuals ever to win a Powerball jackpot of this magnitude, he decided to take the lump sum payment, amounting to approximately $477 million before taxes.

5th Place – $758.7 million

The $758.7 million Powerball jackpot from August 23, 2017, was one of the largest jackpots at the time.

The winning numbers for the draw were 6, 7, 16, 23, 26, and Powerball 4.

Mavis Wanczyk, a 53-year-old hospital worker from Massachusetts, became the sole winner of the massive jackpot.

Unlike many winners who take their time to get financial advice, Wanczyk chose to come forward quickly, claiming her prize the day after the draw.

During a press conference organised by the Massachusetts State Lottery, Wanczyk shared that she had picked her numbers based on family birthdays and that winning the jackpot was a “dream come true.”

She opted for the lump sum payment, received approximately $480 million before taxes, and announced her immediate retirement from Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, where she had worked for 32 years.

Do The Winners Actually Get All Of The Money?

As you can see from the list of jackpots and winners above, the Powerball Lottery in the US is, by far, the biggest in the world.

In a lot of countries, lottery winnings are exempt form tax. No so in America. So let me break down how it works with the Powerball.

When someone wins the Powerball jackpot, they don’t receive the entire advertised amount due to several factors: the choice between an annuity and a lump sum payment, and taxes.

Annuity vs. Lump Sum

Annuity: The advertised jackpot amount, such as the $758.7 million won by Mavis Wanczyk, is based on the winner choosing the annuity option.

This means the winner would receive the jackpot in annual payments over 29 years, with each payment increasing by 5% annually.

This option is designed to protect against inflation and provides a steady income over almost three decades, ensuring long-term financial stability.

Lump Sum: Most winners, however, opt for the lump sum payment, which is less than the advertised jackpot.

This amount is the cash value of the jackpot at the time of the drawing and is given as a one-time, upfront payment.

The lump sum is typically about half of the advertised annuity amount, depending on the current interest rates used to calculate the annuity payments.

For example, Mavis Wanczyk’s lump sum payment was about $480 million before taxes, from an advertised $758.7 million jackpot.

Taxes

Regardless of the payment option chosen, lottery winnings, in the US, are subject to federal and possibly state taxes, which can significantly reduce the final amount received.

Federal Taxes: Lottery winnings are considered taxable income at the federal level.

The federal government takes a substantial portion of the winnings and usually 24% is withheld immediately.

More may be due when filing the winner’s taxes, depending on their total income and tax bracket for the year.

State Taxes: Winners also have to consider state taxes, which vary by state.

Some states, like California and Pennsylvania, exempt lottery winnings from state income taxes, while others, such as New York, have high taxation rates.

The amount of state tax can significantly impact the final take-home amount.

So even if you won $1 billion, you would only take home half as a lump sum. So now you have $500 million which is amazing. Then you have to hand over around 24% to the IRS leaving you with $380 million.

And that’s only if your State tax department doesn’t look for it’s cut as well!

What Happens To An Annuity Payment If You Die?

The good news, should you ever win a Powerball lottery and decide to take an annuity payment as opposed ot a lump sum, is that it does not die with you.

The remaining portion of the annuity becomes part of their estate and future payments are handled in one of the following ways:

Transfer to Heirs

The right to receive the future annuity payments can be transferred to the winner’s heirs or beneficiaries as specified in their will or according to the state’s laws of intestacy if there is no will.

This means the annual payments would continue to be made to the designated beneficiaries until the annuity contract is fulfilled.

Lump Sum to the Estate

In some cases, depending on the lottery’s rules and the terms of the annuity, the remaining value of the annuity might be paid out as a lump sum to the winner’s estate.

The estate’s executor would then distribute the funds according to the will or state law.

Continuation of Payments

More commonly, the annuity payments simply continue according to the original schedule and are paid to the winner’s estate or directly to the beneficiaries.

These payments are still subject to federal and possibly state taxes, which would need to be managed by the estate or the recipients.

Statistical Odds of Winning a Jackpot

The odds of winning a lottery jackpot are astronomically low, often compared to being struck by lightning.

To win you have to match all five white balls in any order and the red Powerball.

The odds of actually doing that are 1 in 292,201,338.

These long odds reflect the difficulty of winning the top prize in this lottery game, making it such a rare event.

With slightly better odds, is the EuroMillions jackpot which has a 1 in 139,838,160 chance of winning.

These odds are based on correctly matching all five main numbers from a pool of 1 to 50, plus two additional “Lucky Star” numbers from a separate pool of 1 to 12.

And lastly and with the best odds, though still not great, the chances of winning the UK National Lottery are 1 in 45,057,474.