Reminder: Winning the lottery only works if, y’know, you actually claim the money

Why $2B in lottery prizes goes unclaimed in the US every year — and what happens next.

Olivia Heller

It’s not unusual for lottery winners to take some time to claim their prizes.

After all, conventional wisdom suggests strategizing with financial planners and lawyers before collecting a life-altering fortune.

But there is a deadline for redeeming a winning ticket, and it’s truly wild how regularly those dates pass without anyone turning up.

  • An estimated $2B/yr in winnings go uncollected in the US.
  • Lucrative unclaimed tickets this century include $77m, $68m, $51.7m, and $46m jackpots.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. And ouch.

What gives?

Lottery execs told Parade how most winnings go un-won:

  • Tickets are lost.
  • Results are misread.
  • Winners forget to check results — or that they bought a ticket.

A Missouri man advanced the “not realizing they’ve won” narrative last month, sitting on a $1m Powerball ticket three whole months after his numbers were drawn.

(Don’t even get us started on the Michigan man who forgot to check his ticket, eventually found out he won — then forgot to check how much before pocketing the $390k he left on the shelf for nine months.)

What happens to all that unclaimed money?

If you’re asking, “So, can I have it?” the answer is… kind of, yeah? At least in a broad, civic sense.

  • Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots are returned to state lottery funds relative to tickets sold.
  • Every state handles things differently, but most have public causes earmarked for surplus lottery funds, ranging from school aid to environmental projects.
  • Ten states use funds to support compulsive gambling programs.

Note: None of the info about winning lottery tickets comes from personal experience, despite very much wanting that to be the case.

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