Updated Updated: September 27, 2019

National Lottery Games and How to Play Them

national lottery banner

The National Lottery is the name of the government-approved organisation which provides a variety of lottery games to players in the United Kingdom. The range of games currently offered includes draw-based lotteries, such as the twice-weekly Lotto, as well as instant scratchcard games. All draw-based games that are offered by the National Lottery can be played online, and a substantial number of scratchcard-style Instant Win games are also available for online players.

A Brief History of the National Lottery 

national lottery 1994

The Camelot Group was awarded the licence to operate the National Lottery in 1994. The aim of the National Lottery was to raise money for a variety of ‘Good Causes’ by selling lottery tickets to members of the public, and the first draw took place in November 1994. That first game was originally the only one available in the UK, and it was therefore known simply as the National Lottery, but additional games were introduced in the years that followed, and the original game was rebranded as Lotto in 2002.

lotto

In the more than three decades, which have passed since that first draw in 1994, the National Lottery has become something of a national institution, and UK players now have a number of different draw-based games to choose from. Indeed, lottery draws for one game or another take place six nights every week, with only Sundays having no draw-based game.

The Camelot group continues to operate the National Lottery, having successfully bid for its license to be renewed in 2001 and 2009. The third license period granted was for ten years, but also included an option for it to be extended by a further five years.

Who Can Play the National Lottery?

National-Lottery 16+

National Lottery games can be played by anyone who is aged 16 years or over and is physically located in the United Kingdom or the Isle of Man. It should be noted that this allows visitors to the UK to play National Lottery games during their stay, but it prevents anyone from playing games when they are not physically located in the UK. Even British citizens must therefore buy tickets in advance if they want to participate in games when they are out of the country, as they would not be able to play online when overseas.

Which Games Can You Play Online?

There are currently six draw-based National Lottery games that can be played online, as well as a broad range of Instant Win games. Each draw-based game has its own rules and procedures, so let’s take a closer look at each one in more detail.

Lotto

This is the National Lottery game which started it all in November 1994, and it is still going strong as the Lotto, with draws taking place twice each week. The first draw of the week takes place on Wednesdays at 8pm, and the second on Saturdays at 7:45pm.

lotto draws

One Lotto entry costs £2 and requires you to select six numbers from 1 to 59, or to choose a Lucky Dip entry, which will give you a randomly generated selection of numbers. When the draw takes place, a total of seven numbers are drawn. The first six are the ‘main numbers’ and the seventh is referred to as the ‘bonus ball’. Prizes are awarded according to how many of these numbers you match on your ticket, as follows:

  • Match 6 main numbers to win the jackpot
  • Match 5 main numbers plus the bonus ball to win £1,000,000
  • Match 5 main numbers to win £1,750
  • Match 4 main numbers to win £140
  • Match 3 main numbers to win £30
  • Match 2 main numbers to win a free Lucky Dip entry for the next Lotto draw

The odds of winning the jackpot outright in the Lotto game are 1 in 45,057,474, and the odds of winning any Lotto prize at all are 1 in 9.3. If no player wins the jackpot then it is ‘rolled over’ to the next draw, and rollovers continue until there is a winner or until there have been five rollovers. In the latter case, if no players wins in the sixth draw, the jackpot prize fund is ‘rolled down’ and distributed to winners across the lower prize tiers.

Lotto Hotpicks

This game is based on the numbers that are drawn in the main Lotto game, and so draw times are exactly the same. The big difference here is that you can choose anything from 1 to 5 numbers for your entry, and you win prizes by matching all of your selections to the main numbers drawn. The more selections you make and match, the bigger the prize you will win. Entries cost £1 each and the prizes that are won at each tier are as follows:

  • Pick 1 number and match it to win £6
  • Pick 2 numbers and match both to win £60
  • Pick 3 numbers and match all to win £800
  • Pick 4 numbers and match all to win £13,000
  • Pick 5 numbers and match all to win £350,000

The odds of winning the top prize of £350,000 in this game are 1 in 834,398.

Thunderball

First introduced in 1999, the Thunderball game is currently played four times a week, with draws taking place every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8:15pm. Entries cost £1 each and players must select five main numbers from 1 to 39 plus one Thunderball number from 1 to 14. As with the Lotto, you also have the option of taking a Lucky Dip entry so that your numbers can be assigned to you randomly.

thunder ball

When the draw takes place, the lottery numbers are drawn from two different machines. The first machine draws five main numbers from 1 to 39 and the second draws one Thunderball number from 1 to 14. The more numbers you match, the bigger you prize, as illustrated below:

  • Match 5 main numbers plus the Thunderball to win £500,000
  • Match 5 main numbers only to win £5,000
  • Match 4 main numbers plus the Thunderball to win £250
  • Match 4 main numbers only to win £100Match 3 main numbers plus the Thunderball to win £20
  • Match 3 main numbers only to win £10
  • Match 2 main numbers plus the Thunderball to win £10
  • Match 1 main number plus the Thunderball to win £5
  • Match 0 main numbers plus the Thunderball to win £3.

The odds of winning the top prize of £500,000 are 1 in 8,060,598, and the odds of winning any Thunderball prize are 1 in 13. All prize amounts in this game are fixed, and so they remain the same from draw to draw, regardless of whether or not anyone wins the top prize.

Set For Life

set for life

Set For Life is the most recent draw-based game to be launched by the National Lottery, with the first draw having taken place in March 2019. Draws are held twice a week, every Monday and Thursday, at 8pm. The name of the game is derived from the fact that the top prize is a payment to the winner of 10,000 each and every month for a total of 30 years, whilst the second prize is a payment of £10,000 per month for twelve months.
Players pay £1.50 per entry, and must select five main numbers from 1 to 47, as well as one Life Ball number from 1 to 10. Two machines are used to draw the winning numbers, and prizes are won according to the following schedule:

set for life draw
  • Match 5 main numbers plus the Life Ball to win £10,000 per month for 30 years
  • Match 5 main numbers only to win £10,000 per month for 12 months
  • Match 4 main numbers plus the Life Ball to win £250
  • Match 4 main numbers only to win £50
  • Match 3 main numbers plus the Life Ball to win £30
  • Match 3 main numbers only to win £20
  • Match 2 main numbers plus the Life Ball to win £10
  • Match 2 main number only to win £5

The odds of winning the top prize are 1 in 15,339,390, and the odds of winning any Set For Life prize are 1 in 12.4.

EuroMillions

EuroMillions is a lottery game which was launched in 2004 by the national lottery organisations of France, Spain and the United Kingdom. The number of countries which participate in this game has grown over the years, and now totals nine, with the others being Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Switzerland.

EuroMillions draws take place twice each week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Players are required to select five main numbers from 1 to 50, as well as two Lucky Star numbers from 1 to 12, and there is also the option to receive a randomly generated entry by taking a Lucky Dip.

Two separate machines are used to pick the five winning main numbers and the two Lucky Stars when the draw takes place. The more numbers a player matches correctly, the more they win. Prizes are determined by the size of the total prize pool and the number of winners, and so there are no fixed sums for any of the prize tiers. The various ways to win are as follows:

euromillions
  • Match 5 main numbers plus 2 Lucky Stars to win the jackpot
  • Match 5 main numbers plus 1 Lucky Star
  • Match 5 main numbers onlyMatch 4 main numbers plus 2 Lucky Stars
  • Match 4 main numbers plus 1 Lucky Star
  • Match 3 main numbers plus 2 Lucky Stars
  • Match 4 main numbers only
  • Match 2 main numbers plus 2 Lucky Stars
  • Match 3 main numbers plus 1 Lucky Star
  • Match 3 main numbers only
  • Match 1 main number plus 2 Lucky Stars
  • Match 2 main numbers plus 1 Lucky Star
  • Match 2 main numbers

The odds of winning the EuroMillions jackpot are 1 in 139,838,160, and the odds of winning any prize in this lottery are 1 in 13. Entries cost £2.50 each in the UK, but also include a free entry into a Millionaire Raffle draw. This creates one guaranteed winner of £1 million per EuroMillions draw, with the player with the same automatically-generated number on their entry being eligible to claim the prize.

EuroMillions Hotpicks

Euromillions Hotpicks

This game relies on the main numbers that are drawn in the EuroMillions game, and so draw times are the same. A EuroMillions Hotpicks entry costs £1.50 and players can select anything from 1 to 5 numbers from 1 to 50. Matching all of the numbers selected wins a fixed prize, as follows:

  • Pick 1 number and match it to win £10
  • Pick 2 numbers and match both to win £100
  • Pick 3 numbers and match all to win £1,500
  • Pick 4 numbers and match all to win £30,000
  • Pick 5 numbers and match all to win £1,000,000

The odds of winning the top prize in this game are 1 in 2,118,760.

Instant Win Games

In addition to the draw-based games that have been discussed, the National Lottery also offers a wide range of Instant Win games which can be played online. These cost from 25p to £10 to play, and give players the chance to win big at any time of the day or night.

Good Causes and Player Returns

The National Lottery was created to raise fund for a variety of Good Causes, and only 1%  of money raised from ticket sales is retained as profit. The rest is used to pay prizes and help society, with over 25% of money raised being used to fund charitable, health, educational and environmental causes, as well as projects relating to sport, the arts and heritage. 

Claiming Prizes

All National Lottery prizes must be claimed within 180 days of the draw taking place. Online players are notified if any of their entries win so that they can make their formal claims without delay. Prize money which is unclaimed after 180 days is added to the fund for Good Causes.

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