Can a Convicted Felon Win the State Lottery in California?

By Teo Spengler - Updated July 17, 2018
Woman with lottery ticket

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Everybody knows that felony convictions can impact the person's rights long after the prison sentence is over. In some states, those convicted of felonies cannot own guns, vote in elections or hold some types of jobs, even after they have paid their debt to society. Can a felon win the lottery? In some states the answer is no, but that's not a restriction included in the California lottery laws. In California, any adult who holds a winning ticket gets the prize, regardless of criminal record.

California Lottery Info

The state lottery came to California by means of a ballot measure, Proposition 37, introduced as a way to pump up public school funding. In 1984, California voters approved the ballot measure and the California Lottery was born. Today, 87 percent of the money gained from lottery sales goes to prizes or school funding.

Who can play the lottery in California? Any adult can play, whether or not a state resident. Anyone at least 18 years old has the right to buy lottery tickets and, if exceptionally lucky, collect the winnings. This includes people who have been convicted of felonies.

Felons' Rights in California

Under California law, felonies are the most serious types of crimes. You may think of murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery when you think of felony crimes, but all felonies aren't violent. Selling drugs can be a felony, and so can vandalism. Felonies are defined as crimes carrying a minimum punishment of more than a year in jail or prison. These can be contrasted with misdemeanors, defined as crimes carrying a sentence of less than a year in jail.

California is among the states taking the position that once a felon has served the imposed sentence, it is not appropriate to continue to restrict the person's rights. The state allows felons to vote in both state and national elections, and they are permitted to do so even while on probation. In line with this position, nothing in California lottery law prohibits felons from playing the lottery. Likewise, nothing prevents a felon from collecting a lottery prize with a winning ticket.

Many other states also allow felons to play the lottery and collect any winnings. And more than one winner of million-dollar lottery jackpots have had criminal histories. For example, in Florida, convicted felons are permitted to play the state lottery. In 2014, a convicted sex offender won nearly $3 million dollars, and in 2007, another Florida resident collected some $14 million despite an arrest for lewd and lascivious or indecent assault on a child. Several convicted felons have also won lottery prizes in Massachusetts.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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