Somebody lost millions of dollars Monday evening that they probably never knew was theirs.
Six months after beating astronomical odds to win the Lotto Texas jackpot, the simultaneously lucky and cursed person failed to materialize before a deadline to redeem the winning ticket — officially worth $12 million, and $7.5 million in immediate cash.
It was biggest unclaimed Lotto prize since 2001 and the third largest since the game started in 1992, according to the Texas Lottery Commission.
"It's very unfortunate," commission spokeswoman Kelly Cripe said in a remark worthy of consideration for understatement of the year.
The purchaser got the golden ticket at a South Shore Shell gas station on FM 518 in League City, but likely lost it or otherwise never knew it was a winner, said lottery officials, who held their Houston and Austin offices open an extra hour in a fruitless attempt to help on the 180th and final day the prize could be claimed.
Instead, the unclaimed money, like most lottery revenue, will go to the state's Foundation School Program. That fund is the main vehicle for distributing roughly $16.7 billion annually to public schools, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Lauren Callahan said.
More than $837 million in unclaimed lottery prizes have reverted to the state budget since 1995, although much of that has come in much smaller amounts from scratch-off games.
The state lottery system, formed in 1992 with the six-number Lotto Texas as its original jackpot game, now also includes the multi-state Powerball and Mega Millions games. The system brought in $4.4 billion in the last fiscal year, distributing $2.8 billion to winners and $1.2 billion to the state budget, including $1.1 billion to the Foundation School Fund.
"At least the schools will get the (unclaimed) money. That's a good thing," said Shawn Mohammed, 32, manager of the Shell station that sold the winning ticket.
The station got $121,000 from the state in March as a prize for selling the ticket, and Mohammed said business has picked up since.
On Monday evening, it bustled with customers.
"This is a very lucky store," said Rashad Harris, 28, of League City, who said he buys a ticket there almost every day. "This store stays open 24 hours, so you've got a chance of getting a lucky streak anytime here."
Still, the manager recognized that the luck turned cruel for whoever bought the ticket that officially became a winner on Jan. 1.
"I just feel very bad for this person, because whoever it might be, they lost out on opportunity of a lifetime," Mohammed said. "Twelve million dollars doesn't just come easily to anybody."
Gail Howard, a lottery expert and head of a Florida-based company that promises to "turn a game of luck into a game of skill," said unclaimed tickets have been a long-running problem in lotteries across the country.
Often, Howard said, winners misplace their tickets or forget to see if they won. She recommended lottery players establish a routine of putting all tickets in one place and regularly checking them.
"Every ticket should be treated as if it is a jackpot-winning ticket," she said.
In Texas, state records show that it is common for lottery winners to wait to claim prizes. The record wait for Lotto Texas was 159 days for a $3.5 million ticket sold in 2008.
Unclaimed jackpots are relatively rare; Monday's was only the eighth in Lotto Texas history. The record for the biggest unclaimed prize is a $40 million jackpot sold at Stone Creek Mini Mart in Flower Mound in 1994.
Jackpots wins are relatively rare, as well. There only have been two so far in 2014 - the Jan. 1 one that officially went unclaimed Monday, and a $36.25 million ticket sold at a Stripes Convenience Store in Cuero on May 31.
One month later, state officials noted, that prize has not yet been claimed.