Why Do Lottery Ticket Sales Close Before A Draw?

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Have you ever wondered why Powerball and MegaMillions have a sales cut-off time before a drawing? Some players would like to be able to purchase tickets right up until the draw time.

The "draw break" is when sales are stopped for a game so that plays can be balanced and the draw can be held. The sales cut-off is actually in place for a good reason - security. It's a paramount concern in lottery draws where huge sums of money are involved, and the sales cut-off is one way of ensuring that the systems are 100 percent ready to go before the draw takes place. Think of it like the pre-flight checklist that is completed before a plane can take off.

Specifically, the pre-draw process involves all participating lotteries verifying that their sales numbers are in order, all tickets are noted in the system, and transmitting their data. For multi-state games like Powerball, which is played in 48 jurisdictions, and MegaMillions, which is available in 47 jurisdictions, this process naturally takes a little time.

Improved technology has speeded up the work considerably, reducing the time needed for the sales cut-off to an hour or less before the draw is held for these games. In the past, that time was as much as two hours. For smaller games only played in one state, the time required could be as little as 10-15 minutes.

Why do the cut-off times vary by location? The requirements depend on the local lottery's rules and requirements. MegaMillions and Powerball don't have central offices, and all their tasks are shared by US lotteries that are members of the Multi-State Lottery Association that oversees the games. Members include state lotteries as well as the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands; Powerball is also played in Puerto Rico.

Powerball Sales Cut-Off Time

How late can you buy Powerball tickets? Depending on the location, sales generally stop around one hour before the draw takes place every Wednesday and Saturday evening at 10:59 pm ET.

Mega Millions Sales Cut-Off Time

How late can you buy Mega Millions tickets? The draw break varies by local lottery, but generally the deadline to purchase tickets is one to two hours before the draw is held on Tuesday and Friday nights at 11:00 pm ET.

High Security in Place for Lottery Draws

So what happens behind the scenes before the draw show broadcast starts? The drawings happen under tight security, with many processes involved to ensure integrity.

There are four numbered dispensing machines and ball sets stored in a vault that's code-protected and sealed with double locks. The equipment is only removed when three people are present: the drawing manager and security officer plus an independent auditor. Once the door is opened, a randomization process occurs to select which will be used in that night's draw. No one knows beforehand which equipment will be chosen. Meanwhile, everything is continuously recorded on audio and video to ensure the entire process of preparing for and conducting the draw is transparent.

Everyone touching the equipment must wear gloves. Once the machine and balls have been moved to the studio, testing processes take place, overseen by the auditor and security personnel. Before the draw, each ball is weighed before being loaded into the machine by hand; after the machine is activated, the procedure is entirely automated and there is no human input.

There are also a full range of backup plans in the unlikely event that there is an issue during the draw. If, for example, a ball gets stuck, one of the backup machines would be activated and the show would go on. The security recording would also be made available to the public to ensure transparency.

There are even contingency plans in place for the entire drawing - several state lotteries have the latest equipment and can hold and broadcast the draw if necessary. Hurricanes in Florida have caused the backup studios to be used at least three times since Powerball launched in 1992.

The Powerball draw is held at Florida Lottery headquarters in Tallahassee, and the Mega Millions draw takes place at WSB-TV in Atlanta, GA. The draws are broadcast live on local TV stations and online. Players can also check the Powerball payouts and MegaMillions payouts minutes later.

Members of the public can even go and watch the draws live. However, no one except authorized lottery staff are allowed into the draw studio once the equipment is inside; anyone else can watch from behind glass in a viewing room.

In September 2020, the Powerball draw got some updates, including a newer version of the gravity-driven drawing machines plus a change from rubber to solid foam balls, bringing the game in line with new industry standards.