Winner doesn't have much hope of claiming her prize after messy debacle
By Kate Northrop
RIDGE MANOR, Fla. — It's every lottery winner's worst nightmare in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — your winning ticket getting lost in the mail. Sadly, that's exactly what happened to a Florida woman whose certified mail containing a ticket worth $1,000 was lost by the U.S. Postal Service. Worse, the Florida Lottery said her prize was forfeited and awarded to someone else.
Since claim offices have closed or limited their in-person visits at the start of the pandemic, lotteries have been encouraging players to trust and opt for the mail-in option for claiming a prize. It doesn't look hopeful for Sue Burgess, who is caught in the unfortunate and unlikely circumstance that many players fear.
Burgess was ecstatic after learning that she won a $1,000 prize in the Florida Lottery's Second Chance Lottery drawing last month, but her happiness and hopes were dashed away weeks later when the Lottery told her she would have to forfeit her prize despite having the ticket postmarked by the prize claim deadline. Instead, her winnings went to another player.
It's the reason why many players would rather hang on to their physical ticket over claiming their winnings sooner — the USPS did not deliver the ticket to Lottery headquarters in Tallahassee and lost track of the package even though it was sent through certified mail.
At the time Burgess was considering options for filing a prize claim, the Lottery told her she could either send the ticket through the mail or hand-deliver it to a drop box. All claim centers were closed after she won the Second Chance drawing on July 29.
She opted to send the ticket through U.S. Postal Service certified mail thinking that it would be safer than leaving it at a drop box. According to the tracking information on the package, the ticket only got so far before stopping at the Tallahassee post office for good. The most recent activity on the package shows that it arrived there at 7:12 am on Aug. 12. It never made it to Lottery headquarters.
Although it is required for a legitimate winning ticket to be delivered to the office in order for a player to claim a prize, the Lottery said the situation is unusual and that they have limited flexibility since they are not responsible for mistakes made by the postal service.
"Because the Lottery did not receive Ms. Burgess' ticket within the seven-day claim period, an alternate winner was selected and paid," the Lottery stated. "However, if Ms. Burgess' package arrives at Florida Lottery Headquarters with a date stamp prior to the original expiration date, our Claims Processing department will process and pay her claim."
"They said, 'No ticket, no prize,'" Burgess said the Lottery told her after she asked about her missing ticket.
The Lottery requires that Second Chance players must register their tickets and contact information, unlike most other games. They also give Second Chance winners one week to submit their winning ticket — an incredibly short period of time compared to the more common 6-month submission deadline for other lottery games in the state.
Initially, the Lottery reached out to Burgess by phone, but she missed the call. They were able to contact her via email and notify her of her win, which, at that point, left Burgess mere days to submit the ticket. But since her only requirement was to get the ticket postmarked by the deadline, she decided to go with certified mail.
"That's why you choose certified mail," Burgess explained. "With COVID, I understand the mail is a little bit slow, but for safety sake, certified mail usually has priority."
After the closure of its claims offices, the Lottery encouraged players to mail winning tickets or leave them at the designated drop box while the ongoing pandemic increased the possibility of shipping and mailing delays. They also have records of all Second Chance winners and can therefore verify the identity of a legitimate winner, uncommon in other games but helpful in proving someone's win. These factors considered, it may seem odd to some that the Lottery does not offer a more realistic timeline for Second Chance prize claims.
On the other hand, should the valid winning ticket arrive at their office postmarked by the original deadline, they're out an extra $1,000 that they have to honor. It may be a drop in the bucket for the Lottery, but it's still fair for the player.
USPS admitted blame for losing the ticket but only provided a generic apology for their error in misplacing the high-value package.
"The Postal Service strives to always provide the best possible service to our customers," USPS said in the statement. "We apologize to this specific customer for any inconvenience they may have experienced. In this specific instance, we are continuing to work with the lottery office to confirm receipt of the mailpiece."
Seeing as how it has been six weeks since Burgess' package supposedly arrived at the Tallahassee post office, it's unlikely to be found, but one can only hope.
The USPS has not made any indication that they are willing to compensate Burgess for the value of the winning ticket. Instead, the postal service continues to investigate the package's mysterious disappearance.
Sadly, it doesn't look like Burgess will get her $1,000.