Recently two very lucky people shared a record Powerball jackpot. There were also several second and third tier winners. In some cases players may not realize that they have won. Winning lottery jackpots often go unclaimed. Last year lotteries in the United States paid out $40 billion in prizes. Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, told reporters that about $800 million went unclaimed in 2011. The two lucky Powerball winners will each receive $293.8 million over the next 29 years. 58 players matched five numbers and will receive $1 million. Eight tickets are worth $2 million because the players used the Power play option.
The 66 winning tickets were spread across 27 states. If statistics are any indication about 2% of the second tier winners will not claim their prizes. Strutt stated “It’s important that everyone check their numbers, even if they know they didn’t win the jackpot.” Most lottery jackpots, big and small, are collected but dozens of winning tickets will not be redeemed over the course of a year. In Illinois there is a $1 million ticket that has not been redeemed. Many players who have won the $250,000 second tier Mega Millions prize will not come forward to claim their money.
The record drawing produced 8.9 million winning tickets. 8.8 million of the tickets are only worth $8 dollars or less. Excluding the two big winners total prizes were $131.5 million. Strutt told reporters “It doesn’t shock me. There are significant numbers 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.” Some players lose interest when they find out that the winning ticket was sold in another state. Rules vary from state to state but lottery winners usually have 6 to 12 months to claim their prize. Unclaimed lottery prizes go back to state governments and may be used to fund future prizes. Strutt said that the last time a large jackpot went unclaimed was a $77.1 million winner sold at a gas station in Georgia. Strutt said it is very rare for multimillion jackpots to go unclaimed.
What happens unclaimed tickets? Lottery officials say that in most cases the tickets were simply misplaced or lost. In a few cases winning tickets have been thrown away. Some state lotteries have set up web pages listing missing tickets and when and where they were purchased. Some state lotteries actively search for winners whose tickets may expire.