Imagine the luck: You beat the odds and hit the lottery. Now imagine this kind of luck: You don't even know it.
Of all of life's weird twists of fate, this is pretty high up there. You could be living in fat city, if only you had checked your ticket or saved it from your jeans pocket before doing laundry.
Last year, more than $600 million in lottery fortunes went unclaimed in the United States. That could build, like, half of a football stadium.
In California, $29 million went unclaimed during the 2006-07 fiscal year. And it could soon go up an additional $166,599.
Right now, the clock is ticking for someone who bought a California Lottery Fantasy 5 ticket in Pittsburg. A month has gone by without anyone claiming it. The winner has five more months to come forward or the money goes to education spending instead of a new Porsche or a trip to Las Vegas.
Sadly, it's not me.
I've never been to Pittsburg. I don't even know where Pittsburg is. (Steelers play there?) But I feel for that person.
He's got a windfall waiting.
If the ticket goes unclaimed, though, we'll never know just who the unfortunate soul was. Nor will the unfortunate soul likely ever know that he's such an unfortunate soul.
So at least he's fortunate in that.
According to lottery sources, almost $2 million in prizes will expire in California in the next two months.
The largest jackpot believed to have gone unclaimed was in Indiana in 2002 — a whopping $51 million.
That's about the expected payroll for the Padres next year. It'll probably earn them last place, but it's something.
The scale of the unclaimed prizes runs the gamut. Many people buy tickets hoping for the big score, only to watch the jackpot go to someone else.
But a number of smaller prizes — sometimes worth hundreds of thousand of dollars — go unclaimed because people don't bother to check their tickets after learning they didn't win the ultimate prize.
Most states don't break their backs to let people know of unclaimed prizes, other than jackpot prizes, which bring much positive attention to the lottery.
The California Lottery tries its best to notify the public that unclaimed tickets are out there, said spokesman Eric Alborg. It sends out news releases whenever a ticket is set to expire and adds the information to its Web site.
For whatever reason, sometimes no one comes forward.
"A lot of times people lose their tickets," Alborg said.
That can be remedied at times, he said. The state lottery's security system may be able to determine if someone purchased a ticket. He declined to give specifics, noting the system is a guarded one.
In all, 2 percent of the prizes go unclaimed, Alborg said.
In very rare cases, somebody comes forward after his or her ticket has expired.
Clarence Jackson Jr. had the winning ticket for a Connecticut lottery prize worth $5.8 million in 1996. Jackson had a year to claim it, but was three days late in turning it in. He appealed to the state legislature to get the cash — saying he had been busy caring for his ill father — but was turned down.
Then again, in June of 2001, a New Jersey winner of a $46 million Big Game lottery jackpot was able to collect his prize after the deadline because — get this — he stuck the winning ticket in an envelope addressed to the lottery and dropped it in a mailbox a day before the deadline. It arrived three days after the deadline, but since the postmark was before the deadline, he was paid the big bucks.
The N.J. winner's ticket was in a drawer full of junk for nearly a year before he found it.
When he told his wife about sending the ticket via regular mail (not even certified mail), her response was, "Are you crazy?"
The largest jackpot in California not to be claimed? That was for a Super Lotto prize of $28 million in 2003.
Don't bother checking your tickets if you happen to find a few from way back then. If the numbers match up, it would only make you cry.