Can a Convicted Felon Win the State Lottery in California?

By Teo Spengler
A felony conviction will not prevent you from claiming a lottery prize in California.

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Since a felony is the most serious class of crime, a felony conviction can restrict your conduct even after you have served your prison sentence, but not to the extent many people think. It is often said that if you are convicted of a felony, you cannot vote in presidential elections, own a firearm or collect lottery winnings. In fact, many felons regain the right to vote and bear arms, and in California, a felon winning the state lottery has every right to collect her prize.

History of the Lottery

In November of 1984, a majority of California voters voted in favor of Proposition 37, a ballot measure that created the California Lottery. The stated intention of the proposition was to make money from a statewide lottery and use those funds to provide extra funding to the public school system. Proposition 37 capped lottery expenses at 16 percent of sales and required that 34 percent of sales go to education. The legislature amended the funding system in 2010 to limit administrative expenses to 13 percent of sales revenue and mandate that 87 percent return to the public, either as prizes or educational funding.


Anyone 18 years of age or older can legally buy California lottery tickets and collect winnings. However, the Lottery Commission recommends that you abstain from playing if you are a compulsive or pathological gambler, in recovery for compulsive gambling, an alcoholic or in recovery from chemical dependency. Some employers specifically prohibit employees from gambling; if you are in that situation, playing the lottery may result in losing your job.


California law recognizes three types of crimes: felonies, misdemeanors and infractions. Felonies are the most serious offenses, including crimes like murder, rape and robbery. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, while infractions are the least serious, such as driving over the legal speed limit. Most convicted felons are sentenced to state prison, but California sentencing laws are complex and the actual sentence depends on many factors including past criminal history and mitigating factors.

Felony Convictions and the Lottery

Nothing in the California lottery rules prevents a convicted felon from playing the lottery and collecting any winnings. This reflects the view currently taken in many states that once a felon has served her time, further restricting her civil rights is not justified. For example, while a few states still prohibit convicted felons from voting, California is among the majority that allows a felon to vote in both state and federal elections once her prison sentence and parole are completed. In California, the felon regains voting rights even if she remains on probation.

About the Author

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.

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