Lost or forgotten
Winning in a lottery is usually a joyous occasion. It is the pay-off for buying a lottery ticket, although some people never earn more than small cash prizes despite buying tickets for many years.
You would think that anyone who is a winner will make sure that they immediately claim their winnings. However, for a variety of reasons, there are always some winners who end up not collecting their prize. Perhaps they misplaced the ticket, forgot to check it, or even forgot they bought the winning ticket.
Most lottery tickets have an expiration date, after which you can no longer collect the winnings. In Ontario, Canada, it looks as if millions of dollars worth of prizes will not be claimed before they expire in 2019.
One of the most significant of these cash prizes is worth CAD$1m (US$750,000). The draw for this prize was on October 31, 2018. The ticket was bought in Guelph, but nobody has made a claim for the prize.
Another CAD$1m (US$750,000) prize has yet to be claimed, this time in Toronto for the Lotto MAX jackpot. This draw took place on December 21, 2018.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has yet to have any contact from the winner. This lottery regularly has top quality cash prizes. Only another three months remain for this player to be able to collect their prize.
A lot of lotteries have a 52 week window in which to claim a prize, but many have shorter claim periods. If nobody comes forward to claim a prize, the money goes back to the lottery and towards future draws.
1% of prize money unclaimed
The non-collection of lottery cash prizes is something that happens all year round. According to figures from the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, CAD$46m (US$34.5m) in lottery cash prizes went unclaimed in Canada during 2017. That sum represents about 1% of the total prize money that was up for grabs in Canada during 2017 through the various lotteries but went uncollected.
Ontario was the province with the highest level of unclaimed funds in 2017, at almost CAD$22m (US$16.5m). This was followed by British Columbia with CAD$7.4m (US$5.5m) and Quebec with CAD$7m (US$5.25m).
A large portion of the unclaimed winnings each year is in smaller denominations, but added together make large sums. However, sometimes larger cash prizes have no claimant. The largest sum for a single prize that was never claimed was in 2006 for the Lotto 6/49. This was for a whopping CAD$14.9m (US$11.2m).
The OLG does its best to track down winners who have yet to collect their cash prizes for lotteries when the sum is greater than CAD$10,000 (US$7,500). They usually do so by issuing reminder through local media in the area where the ticket purchase took place. They will urge people to recheck their tickets and remind people of what the winning combination was.
According to figures from Loto-Quebec, 95% of winners will collect their prizes within two or three weeks of the draw. About 38% of people check their ticket straight away when the draw takes place, while 45% of people check it when they remember. The remaining 17% do not check them often.
The hype surrounding the biggest prizes generally means that people will check their tickets almost immediately following the draw.
There are stories of winners cutting it close. A CAD$100,000 (US$75,000) prize was claimed only one day before its expiration – the winner had forgotten about the ticket after leaving it in a jacket for nearly the entire 12 months.
Other people have found a winning ticket in their car among their rubbish or hidden it in a safe place only to forget where that was.