Millions in lottery winnings go unclaimed


SPRINGFIELD -- Someone bought a $150,000 winning lottery ticket at the Shop N Save on Wabash Avenue in Springfield, but has yet to claim it.  

The ticketholder has until Feb. 27 — one year after the ticket was purchased — to claim the prize.

Loyal lottery players who have purchased tickets at the store probably have stopped reading at this point to recheck jeans pockets, car floorboards and beneath couches.

“Most people lose them, accidentally throw them out or don’t realize they had a winner,” said Illinois Lottery spokesman Mike Lang.

About $40.5 million in lottery tickets were sold in Sangamon County during fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30. Roughly $365,000 of that went unclaimed, according to data provided by the Illinois Lottery.

Statewide, about $2 million goes unclaimed each month.

In 1986, the Illinois Lottery introduced a subscription service that allows people to buy tickets in advance. The service also gave the agency a way to record who bought which ticket. This, along with the March 2012 introduction of online lottery sales, has led to a reduction in the number of unclaimed tickets, Lang said.

Now, when someone wins big, he or she gets a phone call from the Illinois Lottery.

“That’s a fun call to make,” Lang said.

Whoever bought the $150,000 winning lottery ticket in Springfield last February didn’t use either of these options, so there’s no record.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint how many smaller-prized, scratch-off lottery tickets go uncashed each year, Lang said, it’s uncommon for big-money prizes to remain unclaimed.

But it does happen. The largest-ever unclaimed prize, purchased in 2004 in Frankfort, was valued at $14 million.

Unclaimed prize money typically remains in the state’s lottery fund, one-third of which is used to support public schools.

The lottery generated about $2.6 billion during fiscal 2012. About $640 million went to schools, while another $65 million went to the state’s Capital Projects Fund.

About $3.4 million was generated through “specialty causes” scratch-off ticket sale, and those profits went to such causes in Illinois as HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer research, as well as the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Winners ultimately receive about 60 percent of the overall lottery fund.

The remainder pays retailer and vendor commissions and sales bonuses and to pay operating expenses.

Regardless of whether a ticket is claimed, the lottery agent who made the sale still gets 1 percent of the prize total.

The Illinois Lottery’s website each week updates a list of unclaimed prize money. In addition to the unclaimed ticket in Springfield, it lists a $100,000 ticket that was purchased at the 5th Street Food Mart in Lincoln.

Lauren Leone-Cross can be reached at (217) 782-6292.