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It seems unthinkable: Someone buys a lottery ticket, it ends up being worth a ton of money and yet they never claim the windfall.
Right now, there’s a $1 million Mega Millions prize whose winner must come forward by March 17 or the winning ticket, purchased in Rhode Island a year ago, will expire. The amount is a second-tier prize for matching five out of the six numbers drawn on St. Patrick’s Day 2020.
“Even if you don’t win the jackpot, many games have numerous other prize levels,” said Gordon Medenica, Mega Millions lead director and director of Maryland Lottery and Gaming. “While most unclaimed prizes tend to be for much smaller amounts, we still encourage our players to always check their tickets.”
Although $1 million is nothing to sneeze at, the as-yet-unclaimed prize pales in comparison to some Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots that have not been claimed by winners.
They range from a ticket sold in Florida in 2013 that was worth $16.5 million (representing one-third of a $50 million jackpot split three ways) to a $77.1 million prize in 2011, with the winning ticket purchased in Georgia. And beyond those top prizes, there are lesser amounts that also can end up unclaimed, whether due to loss of a ticket, forgetting to review the winning numbers or other mishaps.
On top of the multi-state games, there are state-specific lotteries with prizes that also never get claimed. In North Carolina, for instance, more than $59 million in prizes went unclaimed in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, in total, according to the state lottery’s most recent annual report. In California in 2016, no one came forward with a winning ticket for a single lottery prize worth $63 million, published reports show.
Each state that participates in Powerball and Mega Millions has its own rules for how long winners get to claim their prizes. Some allow three or six months, while others, like Rhode Island, provide a full year from the date of the drawing.
So what happens to those unclaimed winnings? Generally speaking, the money goes back to the states selling the tickets.
And from there, it depends on the state’s rules for unclaimed lottery prizes. In some jurisdictions, the funds must go back to players in the form of bonus prizes or second-chance contests. In other places, the unclaimed amount also may go toward specific purposes such as education funding.
Meanwhile, a four-person group — whose members chose to remain anonymous — recently claimed the $1.05 billion Mega Millions jackpot that was won in Michigan in the game’s Jan. 22 drawing. The amount marks the third-largest jackpot in lottery history. The group chose to take the windfall as a one-time lump sum payment of about $776 million.
The other big jackpot that was hit in January — $731.3 million in Powerball and the sixth-largest in lottery history — remains unclaimed.
In Maryland, where the ticket was purchased, winners generally get 182 days (six months) to claim a Powerball prize. If the Covid-related state of emergency is still in effect in Maryland when that deadline hits, however, the winner would get until 30 days after the emergency has ended to claim their prize.
And, like in Michigan, the winner (or winners) can remain anonymous.
The Mega Millions jackpot is $93 million for Tuesday night’s drawing and Powerball’s top prize is $184 million, with the next drawing set for Wednesday night.
The chance of winning Powerball is 1 in about 302 million. For Powerball, it’s 1 in 292 million.