Somewhere, someone who bought a lottery ticket in Papillion, NE in January is sitting on $100,000
The prize money - for a ticket matching all but one number in the Jan. 21 Powerball drawing - has yet to be claimed. And the late July deadline to cash in is nearing.
Every year, more than $2 million in winning lottery tickets are unclaimed, said Tom Harre, financial consultant to the Nebraska Lottery Division.
After 180 days, the money reverts to the lottery division - an inadvertent gift from the owner of the winning ticket.
Now, for the first time, the Nebraska Legislature will use about $5 million in unclaimed winnings to help balance the budget, much to the dismay of lottery officials.
Unclaimed winnings are typically converted to additional prize money, sweetening the ticket lottery pot, Harre said.
But the division had been stashing a little cash away for the lottery's annual payment into the environmental and educational innovation trust funds, the two programs that benefit from lottery profits.
The lottery division is required to provide at least $20.2 million each year to the trust funds and a compulsive gambler assistance fund, Harre said.
Ticket sales have always generated enough money, Harre said. So the unclaimed winnings were fall-back funds, in case ticket sales dropped, he said.
But lottery staff didn't know the Appropriations Committee had plundered their just-in-case account until the Legislature began debating budget bills Thursday morning, Harre said.
The agency won't try to get the money back, said Tom Norris, legislative policy director for the Department of Revenue, the lottery division's parent agency.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Wehrbein of Plattsmouth said he understands using the $5 million in unclaimed lottery winnings "is not a popular idea."
"No one likes to give up their pot of money," he said.
But the division can operate without it. And the unclaimed winnings pot won't stay empty for long. There's always another losing winner out there.
Someone lost $100,000 in January when a winning Powerball ticket sold in Gordon passed the 180-day mark, Harre said.
People sometimes wait to claim winners for tax reasons, Harre said.
"But most people come in and get their money right away. They want to make sure it's real. They want to deposit it and start earning interest."
The lottery division makes a special effort to find big winners. But those efforts - contacting the media and posting a notice at the store where the ticket was sold -have not been successful locating $100,000 winners, said Tom Johnson, with the lottery division.
Some winners have beat bad luck back inadvertently. One Omaha woman found a ticket in the lining of her purse months after the drawing. It turned it was still good -and worth $30,000, Johnson said.