Montana Lottery officials announced last week that a $100,000 winning Powerball ticket, which was purchased in Kalispell in March, has yet to be cashed. If the holder of the ticket doesn't come forward by Sept. 26 - six months after the drawing - the money is forfeited to the state.
While unclaimed six-figure jackpots are rare, every year Montanans leave several hundred thousands of dollars on the table in lottery winnings they don't bother to collect.
For the year ending in July 2002, the state sold more than $11.5 million in winning tickets for the online games with twice-weekly drawings, like Powerball and Montana Cash. Of that sum, $779,000, or 6.7 percent, went unclaimed.
The percentage was similar for scratch tickets, where $348,000 of $5.6 million in winnings, or 6.2 percent, was left unclaimed.
"It's fairly consistent," said Montana Lottery spokesperson Jo Berg of the uncollected winnings. "We believe most of those unclaimed prizes are just $1 and $2 tickets that people just don't bother taking in."
Once in a while, though, a big one gets away. In just the past year, three Montana Cash jackpots totaling $90,000 went unclaimed - three $30,000 tickets purchased in Great Falls (July 13, 2002), Dillon (July 31, 2002) and Bozeman (Dec. 18, 2002).
In the online drawings, winners have six months from the date of the drawing to collect. Winning scratch tickets much be turned in for cash within six months of the announced end of the game.
The unclaimed money is essentially "found money" for the state, which deposits the cash in the general fund along with the rest of the lottery proceeds, but never plans on any unclaimed money.
"We budget as if everybody will claim everything they've won," Berg said. "We assume all prizes will be paid based on all the tickets we assume will be sold."
Berg said that of the 112 $100,000 Powerball winners sold in Montana since the state joined the multi-state game in 1992, only one has gone unclaimed, a ticket sold in 1994.
Her advice: "Check your tickets!" And if you have any doubts, take tickets to any lottery retailer, where a quick scan by the lotto machine can determine whether it's a winner.