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Millions in lottery winnings going unclaimed

February 02, 2003|by ASHLEY GORDON

ashleyg@herald-mail.com

Ray Gustafson found a couple of discarded scratch-off lottery tickets on streets in his neighborhood. To the Hagerstown resident's surprise, they were winning tickets.

It made Gustafson wonder how many winning tickets are never turned in and where the unclaimed prize money ends up.

Jimmy White, spokesman for the Maryland lottery, said that as much as $10 million in prize money from all lottery tickets, including scratch-off tickets and Mega Millions tickets, goes unclaimed every year.

Richard Boutelle, 42, of Hagerstown plays Keno and other lottery games. Last week, he almost threw away a winning Hot Card worth $10 because he didn't see the fine print at the bottom of the ticket, he said.

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"Now I always check tickets twice," Boutelle said.

White said that, by law, excess winnings must go back into the game for players to win.

This is usually done through promotions such as the second-chance scratch-off game called Cash Encounters, White said. A second-chance game allows players to mail in losing tickets to an address printed on the back for another chance to win.

All prizes won in second-chance games or other promotions come from unclaimed winnings, White said.

Edward Hood, a manager at Market Lot Liquors, said Keno doublers and discounted lottery tickets are other promotions offered by the Maryland Lottery.

Joanne Hood, also a manager at Market Lot Liquors, described Keno parties that are held every six months. At the promotional parties, players are given double the amount of tickets they purchase, Joanne Hood said.

The Maryland Lottery Web site shows that winners have 182 days from the date of sale to claim the prize from a Mega Millions ticket and 182 days after the announced closing of a scratch-off game to claim a prize. Retailers are required to post the closing dates in their stores.

Nancy Bulla, public relations representative for the West Virginia Lottery, said more than $2 million in prize money is unclaimed in that state every year.

Bulla said state law requires that all but 1.25 percent of money in the unclaimed prize fund be retained for players in second-chance drawings. The 1.25 percent goes to retailers as commissions.

In West Virginia, winners have 180 days after announced end of scratch-off games to claim winnings, Bulla said. A Powerball or other jackpot prize must be claimed 180 days after the winning numbers are drawn.

In Pennsylvania, no big jackpot prizes are unclaimed now, but some have been in the past, said Sally Danyluk, public relations director for the Pennsylvania Lottery. Instant ticket games are sold until all the top prizes have been won, Danyluk said, but there is no way to calculate how much goes unclaimed in the smaller prizes.

Danyluk said any unclaimed money is put back into the lottery fund, which is used for future games, advertisement, promotions and other purposes.

Powerball winners must claim their winnings within one year after the date of the drawing, Danyluk said. On-line or instant prizes can be claimed within one year of when the game ends, but the player must file a claim form at a retailer location after 180 days in order to collect their winners.

Boutelle said he uses a machine at a local retailer that scans Keno and online tickets and shows if they are winners.

Joanne Hood said some people go through discarded tickets at the store and check them on the scanning machine, and some have been found to be worth $5 or $10.

Hagerstown resident Ron Horn, 54, said he probably has thrown away at least one $2 Keno ticket without knowing it. Horn said people throw away winning scratch-off tickets because sometimes it's hard to distinguish a winning ticket.

Horn said that because there are so many types of games, it's hard to figure out how to play all of them.

Brandie King, 26, of Hagerstown, plays tip jars and the Pick 3 game. King said she doesn't check her tickets more than once.

King prefers tip jars to Maryland Lottery scratch-off games because they are easier to read, so there is less of a chance a winning ticket will be thrown away, she said.

Horn also said he is careful if he plays a scratch-off game because they are "tricky." Horn said he plays Pick 3 and Pick 4 regularly and he verifies the numbers online.

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