What Happens to Unclaimed Lottery Prizes?

Different lotteries have different plans for prize money that doesn't get claimed.
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  • Author:
    William Monroe
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Most lotteries have a time limit in which you can claim your winning ticket once the draw has taken place. The majority of time limits vary between six months up to one year. After that, the ticket prize is declared "unclaimed." But what happens to unclaimed tickets? What happens to all that money that people just seemingly don't want to claim?

You may be surprised to learn that millions to billions of dollars a year in large, medium, and small lottery winnings go unclaimed.

But why would anyone spend their hard-earned dollars to buy the ticket in the first place and then not claim the prize when they win? There are many reasons for this.

Reasons People Don't Claim Their Prize

One of the most common reasons is that the ticket holder simply forgot about the ticket. It may be sat in a wallet hidden from view or placed somewhere in the home. The old "out of sight, out of mind" scenario.

Some players may simply misplace their ticket, unable to find it and eventually giving up on ever locating it, assuming that it was not a winner anyway, or may have been only a small, insignificant win.

Still others don't even realize that they have won a secondary prize. Since they didn't win the jackpot, they assume they didn't win anything and throw their ticket away, effectively throwing money in the garbage.

Unfortunately, all these prizes go unclaimed. And there are many stories of people finding winning lottery tickets years after the draw. Unfortunately, they are unable to collect the prize due to the claim period limitation.

Where Does the Money Go?

So, what happens to all these unclaimed winnings? Where does that money go? It all depends on the jurisdiction that regulates the lottery. For instance, in some jurisdictions, the money is reintroduced into the lottery system and returned to players via guaranteed jackpots or bonus draws.

Every cent that was initially intended to be given out to players is available to be won again without being used for any other purpose.

With other regulators and operators, all unclaimed prizes may immediately or within a timeframe be returned to the province or state as lottery revenue, with the government gaining extra revenue from players' forfeiture.

Others may use any unclaimed winnings as special benefits that are parceled out to various government or private social programs or services, such as food banks, welfare systems, or health agencies.

Some operators choose to dedicate unclaimed lottery winnings to the educational system for books, supplies, training, and other products and services that directly benefit students.

How to Avoid Losing (And Forgetting About) Your Tickets

Now, how do you ensure that you are not the person who ends up missing out on your lottery win? One good method is to always place your tickets in a safe and regular spot in your home that you will never forget. Grandma's cookie jar is not going to cut it. It must be a spot where only lottery tickets are kept, and nothing else.

One drawer of a filing cabinet or plastic storage tower; a slot in your wallet would suffice, or how about the best place: on your fridge? The fridge works best as every time you walk into and out of the kitchen, you will see your tickets. It must be a place you will never forget to look for your tickets. Ever!

Playing online offers a solution to the problem of potentially forgetting about your lottery tickets: every lottery ticket purchased online gets stored electronically, in a sort of wallet.

Not only are your tickets stored in a safe place online, you tend to receive email notifications if any tickets are winners, too.

Make a Habit of Checking Your Tickets

Remember to check your tickets fully and carefully after every draw. Don't just look for the main numbers. Check all the secondary and bonus numbers and draws to make sure that your ticket does not have a winning combination before you discard it.

Although there will still be players who will miss out on wins, make sure that whether it's one dollar, or millions of dollars, you are not one of them.

If you're in a rush but need to check your Powerball numbers, try our Have I Won? tool. Just input the numbers you've played and it'll quickly let you know whether you have a winning ticket or not!

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