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Published: 4/24/2001

Delphos dreams of finding $9 million slip of paper

BY KIM BATES AND ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

DELPHOS, Ohio - All over town, people are rummaging through their cluttered glove compartments, pockets, and trashcans in search of a discarded piece of paper worth $9 million.

A Super Lotto Plus ticket sold Nov. 8 at a local party store still hasn't been claimed, and the days are dwindling until the prize money will be lost forever. If no one comes forward by May 7 with the winning ticket, the state will roll the money into its unclaimed prize fund.

And the unlucky winner will have 1 in 13,983,816 odds of winning again.

“Our theory around here is that the person will realize they have the ticket the day after it expires,” said Heather Gengler, 22, an employee of Bellmann's Party Store, where the ticket was sold. “We still get calls every day about it.”

The winner must have the ticket bearing the numbers 14-18-21-25-31-39 and bonus ball 36 to claim the prize.

“It's not expired yet, but boy it's getting close,” said Sandy Lesko Mounts, Ohio Lottery spokeswoman.

Ms. Mounts said it's unusual for a major lottery prize to go unclaimed. The Ohio Lottery has an average of $20 million to $30 million in its unclaimed prize fund every year, but most of it is from instant win tickets with much smaller winnings.

Rumors are rampant in Delphos about who the winner could be. But so far, nobody is admitting to being the town's new millionaire.

“There's a lot of rumors, but everybody's saying, `It's not me.'” This town is big on rumors. If someone is seen spending money or they seem excited, people jump to conclusions,” said Jason Stevenson, owner of D & R Carry Out.

The winner might not even know he or she has the winning ticket. Or could have lost it. Mr. Stevenson bets the winner is just waiting until the very end to claim the prize.

“I think the person wanted to stay anonymous, and the rumor is they're waiting until the last minute,” he said.

Others believe the winner may be from out of town, or even out of state, and hasn't yet realized his good fortune.

“It was just somebody passing through, that's what I think,” said Paul Merschman, owner of Jim's Restaurant downtown. “If someone locally would have won, they would have figured it out by now.”

Delphos, which is in Allen and Van Wert counties about 85 miles southwest of Toledo, has produced lottery winners in recent years, and Mr. Merschman said the news usually gets around town.

Being known as the winning ticket dealer has kept Bellmann's Party Store on East Fifth Street busy fielding calls from hopeful players. Ms. Gengler said the store does its best business in the hours before the Wednesday and Saturday Super Lotto Plus drawings, an Ohio lottery game that made its debut in July.

And even if no one calls dibs on the $9 million, Bellmann's will receive its $10,000 bonus for selling the winning ticket.

As for those unclaimed millions, the state can use them to increase prizes, promote the lottery, or support education.

The last time a major prize went unclaimed was about four years ago, when a $9 million ticket was sold in Hamilton, Ms. Mounts said. A man who said his winning ticket blew from his car window sued the Ohio Lottery, but he was never awarded the cash.

“Ultimately, he had no evidence. And no one else came forward,” Ms. Mounts said.

She said lottery officials so far have fielded few calls about the Delphos ticket, nor do they know the winner's identity.



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