Unclaimed lottery cash sounds unlikely. How could anything be more thrilling than winning it big? Yet so many ticket holders forget to check that the official California Lottery website has posted a dozen pages of reminders for unclaimed millions covering just the past five months. The next time you buy a lottery ticket, sign the back and put it somewhere obvious while waiting for the winning number draw. Set an alert on your cell phone to check the number.
Millions at Stake
When the winning SuperLotto Plus $23 million prize ticket was purchased in May 2012 at Michael's Market & Liquor in Palmdale in Los Angeles County, it went unclaimed for nearly six months. As the deadline approached, an image of a woman taken by a store security camera was circulated. It worked. Her daughter saw the photo, Mom's car was searched, the lucky ticket was found with just days to spare. In April, an unsuspecting MEGA Millions $52 million winner from Fremont was located one month after his win, as a friend watching the evening news saw Kwik Stop's surveillance image of him buying that ticket.
Are Liquor Stores Lucky?
Liquor stores may be lucky places for Lotto ticket purchases, or perhaps they simply sell more tickets. They are likely to have surveillance cameras at the cash register, a major plus for forgetful winners. When they do serve a winner, store traffic explodes. The place of purchase receives a bonus of half a percent on the winnings and a steady stream of hopefuls.
Lightning StrikesIn MEGA Millions, the odds for hitting all five numbers and the mega number run 175,711,536 to 1. The odds of being struck by lightning in the U.S. over a lifetime are 3,000 to 1. Those who believe lightning strikes twice -- or even more than twice -- in the same place should check the list of retailers with a history of multiple million dollar-plus sales. Of the 20,000 California locations, top of the list is Kavanagh Liquors in San Lorenzo, Alameda County, with four big winners so far.
Bags of Unclaimed Cash
Some winners never even find out how much they've missed. Ever since Clarence Jackson was three days late turning in his $5 million ticket in Connecticut in 1996, any unclaimed ticket has since been known in the business as a "Clarence Jackson." Across the nation, approximately 2 percent of lottery prizes in the U.S. go unclaimed, according to Alex Traverso, spokesman for the California lottery. The unclaimed cash in California averages $26 million a year, amounting to a grand total of $750 million since the first year of operation in 1985. The good news is that unclaimed prize money supports the California public school system.
Numbers Grow Bigger Still
Some people, like a California man who won an astonishing $120 million in September 2012, play the same numbers year in and year out. The $52 million winner purchased his tickets regularly. Others are motivated when huge jackpots build up. Perhaps, like me, you've never even purchased a lottery ticket? This may make us the odd ones out, as California ticket sales increased by 27 percent in fiscal year 2011-2012 to a massive $4.37 billion.
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