Unclaimed Lottery Winnings: Have You Checked Your Tickets?

At the feet of the big winners in the past are the countless and nameless would-be victors, forgotten in the rushing tide of history. The enemies of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan’s countless conquests, and the unclaimed ticket holder of the $77 million Powerball jackpot in Georgia in 2011. If that last example shocks you, just wait - that’s just the tip of the iceberg. State lotteries across the United States, and indeed lotteries across the world, are littered with unclaimed lottery winnings. There are millions of unclaimed dollars out there that the mystery winners have simply just missed out on. We’ll take you through some of the biggest and the most infamous.
A man filling out a lottery ticket.
Published on: 19 April 2021

How Tickets Go Unclaimed

There are some winnings that go unclaimed that are just so staggeringly huge that it’s a wondrous feat that the winning ticket has gone undiscovered. There are many reasons as to why some winnings go unclaimed, take good note of them so you don’t repeat these notorious mistakes:

  • Death – You’ll probably already be avoiding this one for obvious reasons, but tickets have gone unclaimed due to the fact that ticket holders have met their untimely demise at the most inopportune time. Then again it’s never a good time, right?
  • Forgetfulness – You’ll want to staple your ticket to your forehead once you’re finished reading this article. Many ticket holders have simply just forgotten to check their tickets, and the winnings have gone unclaimed due to forgetfulness.
  • Misplacing the ticket – Little bits of paper can be pretty hard to track down, and if you’re not careful the ticket can get lost amongst the trappings of society and the junk that humans amass in their everyday lives. Make sure you employ some kind of system of routine when you purchase your ticket, so you always know where it is.
  • Thrown in the Trash – Akin to misplacing the ticket, throwing a ticket out accidentally is one of the most common ways that lottery winnings go unclaimed. Keep your little bit of paper away from the trash, and make sure you do your own cleaning so as to keep things under control.
  • Leaving it Too Late – All lottery tickets have an expiry, the conditions just depend on what state you’re in. Many players don’t hand in their tickets within the established period and oh boy wouldn’t they be disappointed. Make sure you check your jurisdiction for their claim periods.

Of course, no-one really knows how unclaimed lottery tickets end up unclaimed. That’s, unfortunately, part of the mystery, and we can only assume through human behavior that these are the most common ways that tickets disappear. We all make mistakes, and we can’t kick ourselves for them all!

If you choose to play at the top online lottery sites, then you shouldn’t have these worries, since your account will tell you when you have won.

Another option, if you are looking for games that have huge top prizes, is to play jackpot slots. Some of the top wins have been well into the millions on games like Mega Moolah and Mega Fortune.

Incredible Unclaimed Lottery Winnings

Unbelievably, billions of dollars go unclaimed in lottery tickets each year. In the United States alone, $2.89 billion went unclaimed in the 2017 fiscal year alone, with over 167 of those prizes being above $1 million. Could you believe that over 160 people let a life-changing amount slip through their fingers?

The more substantial proportion of those billion-dollar figures can be found not in the big unclaimed winnings, but all the small secondary and consolation prizes. These (relative to the big kahuna) small prizes stack up to an immense sum. You should always cash it in, even if you don’t win the big prize. The small winnings add up on your end too.

While the small stuff is hugely important, that’s likely not what you came here for. You want to be stunned into disbelief by anecdotes of staggering jackpots that have gone uncollected. Let’s get started with some of the biggest jackpots in history to have escaped collection.

The Biggest Unclaimed Jackpots Ever

For a jackpot to go unclaimed is an unbelievable occurrence. Huge jackpots are the talk of the town, and when a winning ticket has been sold, the news is plastered everywhere – it becomes very hard to miss. But it still does happen and people still miss the news.

In the UK, an insane £64 million jackpot went unclaimed, and a town crier even shouted the news from the streets in the area the winning ticket was sold, but to no avail. Would you let these huge jackpots slip through your fingers?

  • £64 million – Hertfordshire, UK: This aforementioned and massive unclaimed lottery prize is the biggest in history to go without a claimant. The 2012 EuroMillions jackpot went to various charities throughout the UK after the 180 days claim period had expired.
  • $77.1 million – Georgia, USA: This 2011 jackpot unsurprisingly set a state record for the biggest unclaimed jackpot. We know that the ticket was purchased at a truck stop in Tallapoosa, so maybe it’s still blowing around in the wind out there? Regardless, the 180 days are up, and it’ll simply be a scrap of paper.
  • $68 million – New York, USA: Here we go again, the same old story. A winning ticket is sold in Queens in 2002 and no-one comes forward. Until a year later, when a man by the name of Fritzner Bechette claims to have the ticket and proceeds to sue the New York State Lottery. The unsuccessful outcome and shady circumstances for Bechette leads us to think that he wasn’t so genuine.
  • $63 million – California, USA: A $63 million SuperLotto Plus ticket went unclaimed, until California Resident Brandy Milliner came forward with a ticket. The jackpot would have been his, if the ticket was the correct one, bought in the right 7-11 at the right time! He maintains his legitimacy and claims the jackpot at his to this day.
  • $51.7 million – Indiana, USA: This half of a huge jackpot went unclaimed, while the other half went to a lucky Pennsylvania winner. The Indiana Lottery went as far as to air commercials and publicize the unclaimed ticket as much as they could, but to no avail.
  • $46 & $31 million – New York, USA: New York seems to have a lot of shy, forgetful, or just plain unlucky residents. These two jackpots – in 2003 and 2007 respectively – combined with the $68 million in 2002 give the state a bad rap.

Close Calls and Heartwarmers

All these stories of unclaimed lottery tickets can really send you on a trip! Are these unsatisfied claimants genuine? Will you ever trust the system again? Is it just luck or something more corrupt at play, with the lottery channeling taxpayers’ hard-earned into public funds? Here’s an antidote for your malaise, as we take you through some anecdotes of almost-unclaimed tickets.

A family smiling in front of a house.

$343.9 Million – Iowa, USA

Lucky Lerynne West was one of two winning tickets in a 2018 $687 million Powerball mega jackpot, but she didn’t get there without a hiccup. After purchasing the ticket, she went to claim the winnings but couldn’t find the ticket in her purse! After a frantic search, the ticket was located on the floor of her sister’s truck that she’d ridden in the day earlier.

$273 Million – New Jersey, USA

Michael Weirsky lucked out twice in 2019, first when he selected the jackpot-winning numbers, and second when, after leaving his ticket on the counter, a good samaritan handed the winning ticket back to the clerk, noticing it in the store after Weirsky had left it.

$24.1 Million – New York, USA

Another New York resident, this time with a bit more luck to his name, Jimmie Smith purchased a ticket in the 2016 New York Lottery, and won! Though he didn’t actually discover he held the winning ticket until the claim period was almost expired. Jimmie saw a local news story, checked an old shirt pocket and found the multi-million dollar ticket!

Frequently Asked Questions

When multi-million dollar jackpots are on the line, there’s bound to be a few questions. We get many, so we’ve collated the most commonly asked questions about unclaimed lottery winnings for your perusement below. When you’re done with them, why not check out another handy guide to the gambling world?

Are there any unclaimed lottery tickets?

Yes, there are unclaimed lottery tickets all the time. Only very occasionally are there unclaimed tickets for the jackpot prizes, but there are countless unclaimed tickets for lesser secondary prizes, as some punters out there only have their eyes on the big prize. It’s worthwhile keeping close tabs on all winning numbers, and mobile apps can help with that.

What happens to unclaimed lottery money?

The destination of lottery money that has gone unclaimed depends on the lottery jurisdiction. Often, there is regulation to keep the funds in the lottery system, either in another jackpot or in smaller prizes. Sometimes the money can go towards the general fund that the lottery is intended to raise money towards. Lottos are often government endorsed, unlike online casinos, which are private enterprises.

How far back can you claim lottery winnings?

Again, that depends on the jurisdiction of the lottery. Mostly in the United States, the claim period is 180 days, but there are some jurisdictions and games that have longer deadlines, up to a year. You should never wait too long to claim it. For a tougher waiting game, check out the most rewarding and challenging gambling of recent times with bitcoin.

Latest Guides

View All Guides