Nearly $11 million in lottery winnings in Louisiana went unclaimed in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to Louisiana lottery officials. The year before, unclaimed prize money totaled $8.5 million.
Bo Bernhard, executive director of the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, assumes some of the unclaimed prizes involve people who throw out their Mega Millions or Power Ball tickets after doing a quick check and realizing they didn't match the first few numbers. People either don't realize or don't care, given that they were hoping to win big money, that matching even a single number generates prize money of $2 to $4.
Bernhard also has a theory that Americans in the cyber age are getting less efficient at holding on to physical things, like small lottery tickets. "In a world where we no longer collect as much 'stuff' in the form of paper records — as our address book moves into our phone, as does virtually every other record we keep — I suspect some people simply misplace them and forget about it," Bernhard said.
Not all the unclaimed prizes are small. In 2011, a $77 million Powerball Jackpot in Georgia went unclaimed. As a result, states that sell Powerball lottery tickets got money back. For Louisiana it was $1.38 million.
Losing a ticket is a real downer for the big prizes, given the excruciatingly long odds against matching all six Powerball or Mega Millions numbers. For both games, the odds are slightly more than 1 in 175 million.
According to Mike Orkin, author of "What are the Odds? Chances in Everyday Life," a person who drives 10 miles to buy a Powerball ticket is 16 times more likely to die in a car crash than to win the big jackpot.
Some Louisiana purchasers of winning tickets with pretty big prizes are close to the deadline for cashing in. According to the Louisiana Lottery Corp., a person who bought a $30,000 winning ticket at Swifty's in Mandeville has until Sept. 26 to claim the prize. And the holder of a $3 million winning Mega Millions ticket, purchased at Murphy Express in Denham Springs, must claim the prize by Oct. 7.
People have six months to claim prizes for draw-style games like Mega Millions and Powerball, and 90 days to collect winnings from rub-off tickets.
Prize money not claimed by Louisiana winners goes to the state lottery, which uses it to increase payouts on scratch-off tickets, second chance drawings and other lottery promotions, according to Kimberly Chopin, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Lottery Corporation.
Louisiana paid out $226.2 million in winnings in the past fiscal year, though that number hasn't been audited.