Anyone who plays it dreams of winning the lottery. From conversations with friends or lovers around the idea of what you’d spend your winnings on through to just dreaming of being able to stop work and drift off into the sunset, winning the lottery would be life-changing if you won the right amount of money. Yet over the years, a number of remarkably large lottery wins have gone unclaimed, meaning that the organising company has had to find something else to do with the money.
The reasons that lottery tickets sometimes go unclaimed are numerous, from people having lost the ticket through to illness or accidents taking their effect on those that would otherwise be able to claim a big prize. The fact that they go unclaimed obviously means we can never know why they didn’t come forward and allow the lottery money to fill their coffers, but we can take a look at some of the biggest unclaimed prizes from over the years. If you ever decide to buy a ticket, make sure you put it somewhere safe so that you don’t find your own winnings on a similar list in the future.
What Happens to Unclaimed Lottery Tickets
First things first, we take a quick look at what exactly happens when someone fails to claim their lottery ticket. Obviously, there are different rules in different countries, so we’re going to limit ourselves to the United Kingdom and the Lotto. The company behind the lottery in the UK says that the vast majority of prizes, both big and small, get claimed straight away. There are still a few, however, that are not.
Players have 180 days from the time of the draw to claim their winning ticket. Let’s say that a draw was made on the tenth of October in 2015, a player would have until midnight on the seventh of April 2016 to claim. The National Lottery keeps the information about an unclaimed ticket private for the first two weeks after the draw has been made, giving those that think they might have lost their ticket ample time to write in to explain how and why they think as much.
Once that two-week period has passed, however, the National Lottery will begin the process of announcing it to the wider public in the hope that it might make someone check their ticket and realise that they haven’t claimed the prize that is rightfully theirs. They use celebrities, sports people and the media to create a buzz that will get people talking about the unclaimed ticket. They’ll keep the information vague, in case the winner wants to remain anonymous, but specific enough to mean that someone is likely to realise it might well be them.
Should nobody come forward within those 180 days, however, the National Lottery puts the unclaimed prize money towards projects that they fund throughout the UK. That includes the interest that the prize will have accrued during the half a year that it has sat in their account unclaimed. Given that National Lottery-funded projects receive about £34 million every week through the standard donation made by the company, it’s fair to say that the unclaimed prizes being added to that makes it even more interesting!
The UK’s Biggest Unclaimed Prizes
Now that we know what happens to those prizes that go unclaimed, let’s have a little look at the United Kingdom’s most impressive unclaimed lottery prizes to date. Obviously, we’re not talking about the likes of a £25 win that hasn’t been chased in by the purchaser but instead the huge amounts of money that the Lotto can sometimes generate. We’ll also look at a couple of stories from the US that are interesting for their own reasons.
That being said, every week those small prizes combine to mean that people fail to claim around £2 million in prizes, with more than £2.4 million being given to good causes after just one month’s worth of unclaimed tickets back in 2008. It’s why the Lotto encourage those purchasing tickets in real life rather than online to fill in the back of their ticket with their details, so that if they lose it they can be tracked down and given their prize.
The Two £1.6 Million Winners
Few stories are quite as unusual as this when it comes to unclaimed winning lottery tickets. Back in 2006, the draw one April week was for £5 million and three tickets were winners. One person came forward and was able to bank their £1,666,667, but the other two remained unclaimed.
Despite huge amounts of publicity, including a BBC news report, neither of the owners of the other two tickets with the numbers 4, 10, 23, 36, 37 and 49 ever came forward. The National Lottery advertised the fact in the two places the tickets were bought, Glasgow and Warwickshire, but they never found out the names of the winners that needed to be added to the cheques.
The £6.9 Million EuroMillions Ticket That Went Unclaimed
A EuroMillions rollover of £90 million saw six winners in the UK in September of 2007, but a winning ticket sold in Devon was never claimed. That meant that the £6.9 million that the ticket would have seen the holder claim was instead given to good causes supported by the National Lottery.
Perhaps the fact that Devon is the third-largest county in England and boasted more than 650 lottery retailers at the time had something to do with the person never coming forward, despite the National Lottery’s usual attempts to flush out the winner. Had they come forward, they would have joined the likes of a retired construction worker, a Cardiff-based family syndicate and a syndicate of trucking company workers in winning a share of the £90 million prize.
The ticket was worth not only the £6.9 million original prize but also the £200,000 that had been earned in interest since the draw was made. Had someone stepped up and claimed the prize, they would have been as rich as footballers, such as Robbie Keane and Phil Neville, but instead, the money went to help the lottery’s projects for those less fortunate.
£9.4 Million Missed in Doncaster
On the sixth of July in 2005 a lottery draw was made with winning numbers 3, 12, 17, 36, 44 and 49 for a jackpot amount of £9,476,995. The winning ticket was bought in Doncaster but the person who bought the ticket never came forward to collect their prize. They had until 5.30pm on the second of January 2006 to make their claim, but despite the National Lottery doing their best to publicise the missing ticket, no one ever came forward.
At the time, it was the largest amount to go unclaimed since the National Lottery had been started in the 1990s, with other amounts, such as £1 million and £4 million failing to find a home in the years that preceded the 2005 draw. The organisation even encouraged people to look down the sofa, also hoping that maybe someone might have bought the ticket in their summer clothing and would think on to look through their dresses and shorts for the ticket, but instead the good causes fund benefitted from the £9.4 million.
Winner Misses Out on £63.8 Million in 2012
A Ticket sold in Hertfordshire was worth just any of £64 million back in the December of 2012, only for the person that bought it to fail to come forward and collect their EuroMillions prize. It had been bought for the draw on the eighth of June with the main numbers being 5, 11, 22, 34 and 40 and the two Lucky Star picks being 9 and 11.
Once again, the National Lottery did everything it could to publicise the winnings that hadn’t been claimed, but it wasn’t enough to find the winner.
It was easily the largest amount unclaimed at the time and has barely been surpassed in the years since, with the only good news being that the person that had bought the ticket but not claimed their win unlikely to realise that they’d missed on on such a huge jackpot.
The $68 Million That Went Unclaimed in the United States
If you think that’s bad, then spare a thought for one unlucky soul in the United States who failed to come forward with the winning ticket that was worth $68 Million back in 2002. The winning ticket was sold in New York but went unclaimed, meaning that the money was re-distributed to the forty-four states that took part in the Mega Millions jackpot at the time because things work slightly differently in the US to over here.
What made that story slightly more bizarre was the fact that a man from Brooklyn filed a law suit against the New York Lottery in which he claimed that he was the winner of the prize and had been trying to claim it since Christmas Day the year the draw was made. The weirdest thing about it was that the prize was for $68 million and he was suing for $63 million, with no one able to explain where the $5 million difference came from. He was unable to provide any proof of his claim and his lawsuit was kicked out.
The Near Misses
Stories of lottery tickets that go unclaimed are heart-breaking, especially for people whose lives would be turned upside down if they were to have won the money themselves. With that in mind, here are two stories from years gone by in which in the winners eventually did come forward, but not until the deadline had loomed much larger than they would have liked.
The £76 Million Ticket in the Vizor of a Builder’s Van
It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to people failing to realise they’ve got the winning lottery ticket, as Andrew Clark found out for himself in December if 2018. The builder regularly bought tickets and put them under the visor of his work van, allowing them to build up but never bothering to check them. One such ticket was for a draw made on the second of November 2018, but it went unclaimed for six weeks.
The National Lottery began its usual process of telling people to check their tickets, even releasing the area that the EuroMillions ticket was bought in. It was that fact that encouraged Clark’s other half, Trisha Fairhurst, to encourage him to have a look through the tickets in his Peugeot van in the hope that one of them was worth a small fortune. It had become something of a running joke for the family that he might be sat on a winning ticket, only for it to turn out to be true once he’d checked the ticket six weeks after the draw was made.
The couple admitted that it was like a Christmas fairytale of the man who nearly lost £76,369,806. Indeed, in the past Clark had seen a stack of his tickets blow away out of his van when the window had been left down, so he’ll have been counting his lucky stars that that didn’t happen this time! He bought the ticket at a Post Office in Boston, taking numbers 5, 15, 17, 37, 44 and Lucky Stars 7 and 11.
$1.5 Billion Mega Millions Prize Winner Comes Forward
It’s fair to say that most of us can’t even begin to get our heads around the idea of winning $1.5 billion, but that’s what one ticket owner had in store for them after the Mega Millions jackpot in America hit that figure in 2018. The only problem was that nobody came forward with the ticket and the state of South Carolina, where it had been bought, was worried that it would miss out on the $61 million of income tax that it would have otherwise have been able to collect.
Things work slightly differently in the United States than they do in the UK when it comes to lottery wins, so those lucky enough to have a winning ticket can either claim the full amount that will be paid out over a period of time or else take a lump sum that’s worth slightly less than the headline figure. That’s why the owner of the ticket saw their bank account swell by $877,784,124 when they came forward four months after the draw and took the up front amount. Whilst their luck was in, spare a thought for the person that allowed them in front of them in the queue to buy a lottery ticket who missed out on a life-changing amount of money.