On Wednesday night, one lucky person may have hit the lottery and won $550 million dollars in the Powerball drawing, but what is much more likely is that some lucky or unfortunate lottery players, depending on your viewpoint, will leave anywhere from $250,000 to $1,000,000 unclaimed. Every year the Lottery awards almost $40 billion dollars in prize money, and every year about $800 million dollars in lottery prizes is lost, because disparaged lottery players fail to realize that they qualify for secondary prizes even though they did not win the big prize.
According to Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, about 2% of the secondary prize winners (those who get the right numbers in the wrong sequence) will fail to claim their rightful winnings within the allotted grace period of six to twelve months in most states. That means that after each lottery, one to two people will leave up to one million dollars on the table because they did not check their ticket winnings. Illinois still has a $1 million prize that has not been claimed. Strutt says, “There are significant number of people buying tickets who don’t know there are secondary prizes. And when we get a big prize like $550 million, many people buy tickets who haven’t bought before.” Then there are players who have bought lottery tickets for years and have never known that there are other prizes.
“It’s important that everyone check their numbers, even if they know they didn’t win the jackpot,” says Strutt. Though there was a 77.1 million dollar jackpot prize that was not collected in Georgia, he says that most jackpot winners do collect their winnings. It is very rare that a jackpot is not picked up, however, each year there are dozens of winnings that are usurped by the government because they are unclaimed. So, always check your ticket and read the rules carefully. You may be a winner even if you lose the jackpot.