It’s hard for most cash-strapped consumers to imagine, but lottery officials say it happens each year --millions of dollars in lottery winnings go unclaimed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“It’s very surprising. We are always asking folks to check their tickets, but there are a million reasons why they don’t,” said Judith Drucker of the New Jersey State Lottery.
New Jersey Lottery spokeswoman Judith Drucker says out of the $2.7 billion in winnings in 2012, $37.7 million went unclaimed. While winners have up to a year to cash in their prize, when they actually do runs the gamut, according to Drucker.
“We had one man that won $1 million and he did not claim his money until eight months later. I asked him ‘what took you so long?’ He told me that he buys the tickets and dumps them in a drawer (at home), lets them pile up, and checks them when he’s ready," Drucker said.
"Then I get the winners that watch the drawing the night before and the next morning they’re at our doorstep. But some of the winners we never meet.”
Right now in New Jersey, a $250,000 Mega Millions ticket purchased in March of 2012 is set to expire on March 23. The ticket was sold at VR Supermarket, 113 Main Avenue in Passaic County. The winning numbers are 06, 17, 19, 20, 21 and the Gold Mega Ball number is 20 and Megaplier Multiplier number is 4.
“I tell people, 'Check your wallet, clean out the drawers, dig in your pockets…you never know,'” Drucker said. “You can always check our website to see if you won.”
People have up to a year to claim their winnings in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania State Lottery spokesperson Gary Miller says lottery tickets big and small often go unclaimed. A $330,000 Cash 5 ticket sold in Pottstown expired on January 27. Miller says they always keep track of a jackpot when it’s about to expire and often have to send reminders for winners to come in and claim their money.
“It happens and it makes us sad, Miller said.
In 2012 about $18.3 million in Pa. lottery prizes expired. The largest Pennsylvania lottery prize to go unclaimed in recent years was a $1 million Millionaire Raffle ticket from the July 10, 2010 drawing. It was sold at a grocery store in western Pennsylvania, according to Miller.
So where does all that unclaimed money go?
By law, unclaimed lottery money in Pennsylvania goes to programs that support seniors, including public transportation, prescriptions, rent rebates, and other area agencies. It’s the only state that dedicates money specifically to senior programs, according to Miller. In New Jersey, the money benefits disabled veterans, school nutrition programs, psychiatric hospitals, and education.
So if you think you've won and aren't sure, results are always posted online. You can also go back to your retailer to check your numbers too -- something lottery officials hope more lottery players will become diligent about doing.
"We would much rather see the winner come in and claim their money, that’s the whole point.”