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Millions in lottery jackpots expire every year

Jul 29, 2011, 9:31 am

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If you are the ticket holder for the winning Massachusetts Mega Millions consolation prize with the numbers: 2, 7, 10, 16 and 29, we have some bad news for you. You have just missed your chance to claim $250,000. The jackpot expired Wednesday.

In six more days, on Aug. 3, a $900,000 jackpot is in danger of becoming little more than wishful thinking for some unlucky "winner" in Florida.

ABC News have found at least six other jackpots ranging from $10,000 (two in Arizona expiring Aug. 8 and Aug. 22) to $16.5 million (in Iowa expiring in December) that are about to evaporate over the next four months.

Other prizes at risk of vanishing are $55,404 in Florida on Aug. 23, and $297,525 in California next month and a California treasure of $226,991 on Sept. 22.

In a sampling of just four states, ABC News found $17.5 million of unclaimed prizes in danger of expiration, leaving would-be winners with not even a penny of their prize money.

Tops in the annals of the biggest losers is Clarence Jackson, a Connecticut man who turned in his winning ticket three days too late in 1996, missing out on a $5 million bonanza. Any unclaimed ticket has since been known in the business as a "Clarence Jackson."

Some poor — or poorer — lottery player is blissfully unaware of missing out on a $51.7 million Powerball ticket sold in Indiana in 2002.

Less heartbreaking, but still lucrative tickets expire every month throughout the country. In fact, approximately 2 percent of lottery prizes in the U.S. go unclaimed each year, according to Alex Traverso, the spokesman for the California lottery.

Millions in Lottery Prizes Due to Expire

That percentage may seem miniscule but in California alone that was $17.25 million of unclaimed prize money last year.

Lottery officials attribute most unclaimed tickets to human forgetfulness, but some believe machines may be part of the problem.

Many players rely upon computer scanners located at lottery retailer to check their tickets. In 2006, one such machine in Ohio failed to recognize the $267 million winning ticket. The computer system has been fixed since and the ticket was validated in a different way, according to USA Today.

The machines that print the tickets can also make costly mistakes. Jeanne Consola of New York had the winning numbers, but never received her $5 million prize in 2009 because the winning number '6' had a misprinted type of 26 underneath it. Instead of winning $5 million, she was refunded $20 which she paid for her ticket.

Traverso said that incidents of mechanical screw ups are extremely rare and that machines are regularly inspected by retailers, vendors and sales staff to ensure that they are operating as they should.

New Jersey Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman is introducing a bill that she hopes would provide more people with other means of checking their numbers.

While many states are no longer broadcasting drawing results on television, Watson Coleman, a Democrat, hopes to bring it back in New Jersey. New Jersey recently stopped television broadcasts, and switched to live drawings on the state lottery website and its Facebook page.

The intent behind the new bill that would require the public channel New Jersey Television to broadcast the lottery drawing is "to continue greater access for people," said Nikki Graham, assemblywoman's chief of staff.

The Massachusetts Lottery recently announced it too will stop television broadcasts and rely upon Internet videos of its lottery drawings.

Lottery players can check their lottery ticket numbers at Lottery Post's Lottery Results page, and links to all the state lottery Web sites can be found on Lottery Post's Lottery Links page.

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