What Happens To Unclaimed Lotteries?

What would you do with a million dollars? What about $23 million? How about a whopping $300 million? Surprisingly, there are people who win mega lottery jackpots each year but never step up to claim their prizes.

The Biggest Unclaimed Lottery Prizes

Huge Lottery Winnings

Each year, millions of dollars are forfeited by lottery winners around the country. In 2007, $600 million went unclaimed! Many of these prizes are for small prize amounts, but some are incredible fortunes that anyone would gladly accept. The biggest unclaimed jackpot on record was a $77 million prize that was won in Georgia in 2011.

An Indiana lottery ticket worth $51 million went unclaimed in 2002. A year later, someone won a $28 million jackpot in California but never showed up with the winning ticket. Just days after Christmas in 2011, a ticket worth $16.5 million was turned in just two hours before the Iowa Lottery deadline. Similar instances happen regularly across the nation.

Why Do People Miss Out on Big Money?

Lottery Tickets

It’s not quite clear why people buy lottery tickets, win jackpots, and then fail to claim their prizes. In some cases, the winning ticket holders are never located. Did they just forget? Did it go through the wash cycle in their favorite pair of jeans? In most of these instances, the unlucky winner probably never even realized they were almost millionaires.

There have been several occasions where the winner did show up to claim their prize, but after their ticket expired. Clarence Jackson Jr. won the Connecticut Lotto in 1996. Because he waited until three days after the deadline, he was never given a single cent of the $5.8 million he won. Mr. Jackson had a year to claim his winnings, but was busy taking care of his sick father for most of that time and just didn’t have time to pick up his millions.

How Long Is Too Long?

Winning Numbers

Like many last minute lottery claims, Mr. Jackson began searching through his old lottery tickets after hearing an announcement on television about the nearing expiration date. State lottery organizations use newspapers, television, and other media outlets to spread the word about unclaimed lottery winnings. But how long do winners have?

That depends on the state. Mr. Jackson had a full year before his ticket expired in Connecticut, but players in California will need to stake their claim within 180 days of the draw date. In some states, a lottery ticket is only good for three months. Regardless of where you live, don’t forget to check your numbers when you decide to play the lottery!

Where Do Unclaimed Prizes Go?

Lottery Money

The good news is, if you do happen to forego your opportunity to live a millionaire lifestyle, the unclaimed winnings may be put to good use. What exactly happens to all those millions of untouched prizes all depends on the state and the type of lottery. Multistate lotteries like Mega Millions and the Powerball first divide the prize money between the participating states.

Every state has its own policy regarding the use of lottery profits and unclaimed winnings. In many states, including Virginia and California, any prize money that isn’t paid before the game’s expiration is put into the state’s educational fund. Other states, such as Iowa, will add the unclaimed money back into the game’s prize fund. The money may be used to cover marketing and advertising costs to promote the state lottery as well.

While many people play the lottery for fun, the hope of cashing in on millions is usually a big attraction. But individuals still continue to let their lucky day pass them by when they fail to claim their winnings in time.

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Speak Your Mind



  1. Debra Broderick says:

    I like playing the Powerball.

  2. I love any kind of scratch off and even enter losing ones in a second chance drawing when one is offered,

  3. Anonymous says:

    I love any scratch off! I get so excited when I hit 2 out of 3 things and I'm rooting for the 3rd to come through!

  4. Kellie Rose Wilson says:

    Love Powerball! Even though I've never won! :(

  5. Amy Richard says:

    I like buying Lotto Max here once in awhile (usually when the prize is higher) and always add the Encore for a chance at winning there. Also a fan of scratch tickets, especially Bingo :)

  6. I love the Monopoly scratch off.

  7. monopoly