Is it legal to play the lottery over the Internet?
The state lotteries and MUSL (the organization that runs Powerball) are all very firm in their assertion that playing the lottery in any manner over the Internet is illegal. We are not lawyers and can’t provide legal advice, but we are not so sure about their position. Their absolute certainty that it is illegal may have more to do with not wanting to lose control of the player interaction, and less to do with a firm legal footing.
When we assess the legality, we look at what has actually happened in court cases. There have been people in the past who purchased a lottery ticket from an Internet Web site, subsequently won the jackpot, and the lottery attempted to block them from receiving the jackpot. In each case, the winners took the lottery to court and won. They received their jackpot as if they walked into a store and purchased a ticket.
You must keep in mind that any type of Internet-based lottery service is not risk-free. From a legal standpoint, the services are dealing in loopholes in the current law, and the US Congress has taken steps to make those loopholes tighter, particularly in trying to prevent banks and credit cards from allowing Internet payments for lottery services. But there is a much bigger threat when you use an Internet lottery service: getting ripped off.
By not making a purchase in a store, you may be doing something worse than throwing your money away: you may be helping to keep a scam operation running. Stay away from anything referring to a «syndicate». We are not aware of any site using that terminology that is not a scam. Also beware of sites that state «Insured by ___» at the bottom. It is like saying «We don’t really buy lottery tickets, but trust us, you’ll get paid if you win.» Have you ever heard of an insurance company paying out a $200 million Powerball jackpot? We haven’t.
We do allow some advertising on USA Mega for lottery services. We recommend that USA residents stay away from such services, and make your purchases in a store. The ads are directed at non-USA residents, who may not have the online lottery restrictions that exist in the USA.
Can non-US citizens play? What if a non-US citizen wins?
Yes, non-US citizens can legally play, and non-US citizens are eligible to win any prize offered in the game.
If a non-US citizen wins, they would claim their prize in the same manner that a US citizen would, but the taxes withheld would be different. For example, federal withholding for non-US citizens is a flat 30%. Also, individual states may have different tax structures for non-US citizens than they do for US citizens. Depending on which country the person is a legal resident of, there also may be tax treaties between the US and that other country which could be helpful in offsetting whatever the US tax liabilities are.
In short, non-US citizens can play and win Powerball. If a non-US citizen wins a large prize, they will be responsible for some amount of tax, which in the end will probably be an amount similar to what a US citizen would pay, but there are so many possible variations with international tax codes that you’ll need to consult with a local tax attorney if you need to know a precise amount of tax liability.