$800 million in lottery prizes go unclaimed

Posted at 4:43 PM, Dec 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-16 16:43:21-05

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — There may or may not be a winner for Tuesday night’s $586 million Mega Millions jackpot, but there will probably be dozens of players who win $1 million or more. And many of those winnings may actually go unclaimed.

Each year, about $800 million worth of lottery prizes are not collected, according to gaming officials. That represents about 2% of total prize money awarded.

New York State alone had $65 million in prizes go unclaimed in its most recent fiscal year, while California had another $22 million in unclaimed prizes.

Many of these winning tickets are worth only a few dollars each. But there are also people who buy tickets worth $1 million or more who never collect their prize money. Ticket holders hear that there is there is no jackpot winner, or that the jackpot winner was in another state, and then don’t bother to check to see if their ticket won a lesser prize. And those prizes can be considerable.

Lottery tickets aren’t good forever — they must be cashed in by a deadline, which is generally between three 3 and 12 months after a ticket is purchased, depending on the state.

“You just hope for their sake that they never know they missed out,” said Connie Barnes, communication director for the Florida lottery.

New York has two $1 million winning tickets set to expire in the next six weeks. One was purchased Jan. 4 at Star Wines and Liquors in upstate Monroe, and the other was bought Feb. 2 at C&C Discount store in the Bronx. But while there is still time for those winners to come forward before the state’s 12-month deadline, other states have had potential millionaires fail to cash in their winning tickets in the last two months.

In New Jersey, two million-dollar Powerball tickets that were purchased when the jackpot hit $587.5 million last year expired unclaimed in November.

Another $1 million Powerball ticket purchased last March in Florida expired in October.

Perhaps the biggest uncollected prize this year was a Powerball ticket worth $10.4 purchased in Tampa last May. The ticket expired in November.

Unclaimed prize money either goes back to the state where the lottery ticket was purchased, or goes into a pool of money for special jackpot winners.