Millions in lottery prizes go unclaimed every year


If you’re looking for last-minute holiday shopping money, skip looking in the couch cushions and jars in your home and focus on your dresser, purse, or glove compartment.

While coins can be found in couches, millions go to waste every year in unclaimed winning lottery tickets.

According to Ohio Lottery records, more than $269.2 million in winning lottery prizes have gone unclaimed in the past decade. Last year alone, tickets for $38 million in prizes went uncashed.

Lottery winners have 180 days to claim their prizes. For instant winners, the clock starts when the instant game “closes,” according to Danielle Frizzi-Babb, communications director for the Ohio Lottery.

The closing dates are available at locations where the tickets are sold and on the lottery’s Web site.

Records show that $40 million in prizes went unclaimed in the Mega Millions game, which involves picking six numbers out of 75 in one pool and one out of 15 in another.

Another $22 million in unclaimed prizes are from the daily Pick 3 game, while $19 million was unclaimed from the Pick 4 daily game.

Lottery industry experts say there are many reasons why tickets go unclaimed.

Some tickets get lost.

Some people win a small amount and decide it’s either not worth the hassle or that they’ll cash it in later — and then forget.

Some people forget to check their numbers.

And some who check “don’t know they won,” said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association.

For example, he said many people don’t realize the second prize in the Powerball game is $1 million.

They check to see if they matched all the numbers and don’t understand the many smaller prizes that are part of those games.

Instant games can be complicated as well.

No organization tracks the unclaimed prizes for all of the 43 states that have lotteries, said David Gale, head of the National Association of State and Provincial lotteries, based in Geneva, Ohio.

Not all of the unclaimed tickets are of the $1 or $2 variety, either. Records show two tickets worth $1 million went unclaimed in the past year.

Since 2004, 28 tickets worth $250,000 were not cashed, and neither were a dozen worth $175,000 or 36 worth $100,000.

With so many winners going unclaimed, the question should be asked:

What’s worse, spending $1 on a lottery ticket and losing, or buying a winning ticket and not claiming your prize?

“That’s a tough one,” said Ms. Frizzi-Babb of the Ohio Lottery. “I would feel devastated.”

She said she once heard from a woman who found an old winning ticket and tried to cash it. While she doesn’t recall the specifics, she knows “it was well after the 180-day deadline. I felt terrible.”

What happens to prize money that goes unclaimed? It varies by state, but in Ohio, it “goes to the unclaimed prize fund, which goes into our profits and helps fund education,” Ms. Frizzi-Babb said.