Lotteries are not new in the United States. As many as 392 lotteries were held in America between 1721 and 1783, according to “Lotteries in Colonial America” by Neal Millikan. By the early 19th century, lotteries were used to fund public works, much as they are today.
Today, almost every state runs a lottery, and the prize amounts can be very high. The largest lottery jackpot of all time is Powerball’s nearly $1.6 billion 2016 payout, which was won by three tickets in three states.
Like Powerball, various lotteries are played in several states. As of late 2019, lotteries existed in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Tickets are sold in tens of thousands of places, and people can even play lotteries on their phones. (Here’s how much the average person spends on the lottery in every state.)
Two forms of lotteries have driven prize amounts higher. The first is Mega Millions. It is played across 45 states, which means the number of people who can participate can be huge. Winners are drawn each week, although often there is no winning ticket. In this case, the entire jackpot is rolled into the next week.
The second large type of lottery is Powerball – also played in almost every state. It is run by the Multi-State Lottery Association, a nonprofit that says it “assists its member lotteries in multi-jurisdictional game development.” While members can offer MUSL games, each member “retains its independent statutory duties regarding ticket sales, retailer authorization, prize payments, income offsets, and other responsibilities.” The association also holds lottery patents, trademarks and copyrights.
These large lottery payouts are attractive to many Americans. But how did the jackpots get so big? According to the Washington Post, “The lottery officials who run Mega Millions tweaked the rules and odds of the game last October  to make jackpots pay out less frequently, spurring their monster growth.”
The plan worked. Eleven of the 25 largest payouts of all time were Mega Million lotteries, eight of them in the years since the rules and odds were tweaked. (You don’t have to win the lottery to be rich — here are the richest Americans of all time.)
To find the 25 largest lottery jackpots, 24/7 Tempo perused Wikipedia data on lottery records in the United States.