Every now and again we see a story on the news about an unclaimed lottery ticket. The prizes can vary from the thousands to even millions, but what are the biggest unclaimed lottery prizes? The white whales that swam away into the depths of surpassed deadlines?
With the news that a ‘Set For Life’ from the 6th May draw is due to expire, we thought we would take a look at the biggest unclaimed lotto prizes in history. The biggest lottery jackpot to go unclaimed was in the US at a hefty $77.1M dollar ticket out of Tallapoosa, Georgia, near the Alabama line. The winning ticket was purchased at a travel centre but the ticket expired before its owner could come forward. The ticket was purchased in June but 180 days later apparently wasn’t enough time as the clock chimed 12 on a cold December night in 2011. Perhaps the ticket was lost, perhaps it was inadvertently shoved into the washing machine or ended up in the kitchen bin. I just hope the (un)lucky winner never finds out, sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.
The biggest British ticket destined for the lost and found was from June 2012, when a Euromillions prize worth £63.8 million was never claimed. The ticket was bought in the Stevenage area of Hertfordshire but, after the allowed time period to claim expired, the money was distributed among the UK’s Lottery’s Good Causes charity program. The jackpot didn’t disappear entirely though, as the jackpot had been split between the UK player and another player in Belgium, who collected their share of the top prize.
In 2002 a Mega Millions ticket worth $68M dollars went unclaimed in New York city. The draw was held on Christmas eve but no one claimed that Christmas present. However, in an interesting twist, someone did try claiming the prize. A man in Brooklyn attempted to sue the New York Lottery the following December, claiming that he was the rightful winner of the jackpot, he had just lost his ticket. He lost the suit, of course, but you can’t blame a man for trying.
The “reward” for the largest Californian jackpot to go unclaimed goes to the $63 million SuperLotto Plus draw in August 2015. With the odds of winning in this particular game numbering one in 42 million. This story doesn’t end there though and as you’ve probably guessed, it has a similar storyline to the misplaced ticket case in the Big Apple we mentioned earlier. A Mr Milliner sued the California lottery, saying he sent in the ticket, but was sent back a letter stating his ticket was too damaged to be considered valid. California lottery quickly debunked his claim saying they had received no such ticket, and each ticket claim is logged and processed. If the ticket is denied according to a spokesman for the lottery operator “there would be a letter sent by our professional law enforcement investigators who investigate every claim.”
So if nobody has a valid winning ticket, where does all that money go? The lucky winner will be public schools in California who get the lottery prizes nobody claims once the ticket has expired. The owner of the convenience store that sold the winning ticket received a $315,000 cheque for selling the ticket.
Roughly $2 billion of lottery prizes go unclaimed every year in the US alone. Roughly 100 prizes worth $1 million or more were never collected last year. In the UK the situation is similar. About £100M to £150M in prizes goes unclaimed on an annual basis.
Usually, prizes aren’t claimed for two reasons. Either the ticket is lost or the person checks the ticket, see’s they haven’t won the jackpot and throws the ticket away. But there are many more prizes to be won than just the jackpot on a lottery, with many prizes of £10 to £500 often being forgotten. Luckily with today’s technology, it’s easy to go online and check your paper tickets using a lotto checker. Better still, if you play through an online service, you don’t even need to check yourself, instead, you’ll get an email announcing what you won and how much! What a lovely notification to receive on a rainy day.
Online gaming stats have revealed the biggest lottery days to play around the world are in July and December, although many also play on International Lottery Day, which falls on 27th August. Apart from that records show that most people only play when the jackpot has either increased to its maximum allowed limit or that it’s at the biggest size for that time of year. In-store advertising and billboards showcasing the upcoming big draw often also draw crowds, so it’s no wonder that big jackpots mean big business.
The biggest lottery jackpot win in history came in January 2016, when three couples in the USA shared a total prize pot of $1.586 billion in the American Powerball game.
The largest-ever single-ticket jackpot winner also was also in the States. An unnamed South Carolina resident took home the $1.537 billion Mega Millions jackpot in 2018.
Spain’s El Gordo Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad (Spanish Christmas Lottery) is generally considered to be the world’s biggest lottery game, with the biggest sized prize pot. Held every year on 22nd December, millions of Spaniards take part, often buying tickets for the family as Christmas presents. Although about 34% of tickets are bought by non-Spaniards every year. This year’s El Gordo jackpot is €2,408 billion euros, with a total of 15,304 prizes to be had.
In Italy’s SuperEnalotto, the biggest ever winner took home €209 million in August 2019. This Italian lotto does have the potential to build up into a massive jackpot if given the chance. However, there are 3 chances to win every week and the pot builds pretty slowly compared to the average lottery out there, so I think it is unlikely we’ll ever see this lotto make it to €300 million.
As for that ‘Set For Life’ from the 6th May, all that is known so far is that the ticket was purchased in the Three Rivers district of Hertfordshire. The winning numbers in the draw were 2, 7, 25, 40 and 46, and the Life Ball was 4. If claimed before the deadline the winner will walk away with £10,000 per month for the next 30 years. Players who entered that particular draw are now being urged to check their tickets to see if they have won. If the prize money is not claimed by 2nd November, then it will go towards funding projects supported by the National Lottery.
Have you ever missed out on a lottery ticket prize? Let us know on our social media page!