Lotto players missing out on unclaimed winnings - WNEM TV 5

I-Team Report

Lotto players missing out on unclaimed winnings

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FLINT, MI (WNEM) -

Imagine what it would be like to win the lottery. But what if you had won the lottery and didn't even know it? What if the lucky day you should've had was gone?

"I'd cry," lottery retailer Jim Jones said.

That's what Jones said he would do if he forfeited $250,000. He works at South End Market in Flint, at the corner of 12th and Saginaw - a place where regulars say no one ever wins in the lottery. That all changed in March 2013, when someone played the right numbers - a winning ticket worth a quarter of a million dollars.

"I've never known us to have a big winner," Jones said.

Unfortunately, that winner didn't see a dime of the money. The lucky player never claimed the ticket and after a year, the ticket expired. A player's dream payday denied.

"It was a shock really," Jones said.

And as the I-team discovered, what happened at the South End Market isn't unusual. Each year millions of dollars in winnings goes unclaimed. Last year lotto players missed out on $32 million. Can anything compare to what happened in 1998 when one poor soul really missed out?

"Somebody had a winning ticket for $34 million in the Michigan Lotto and it went unclaimed," Jeff Holyfield of the Michigan State Lottery said. 

That's right, $34 million unclaimed. So how does this happen? How can so many people default on so much dough?

"People stick them in a wallet. They stick them in a glove compartment of a car. They stick them on a dash or in a coat pocket and they forget about them," Holyfield said.

So start checking your drawers, the pockets of your clothes and the compartments in your cars. Right now there are six big unclaimed winning tickets out there. If you bought a ticket near Detroit you may be sitting on thousands of dollars.

Another $250,000 ticket was purchased in the Livingston County community of Pickney. In Wayne County, Garden City is home to two winners. One for $218,000 and another for $113,000. There's also a $100,000 ticket in Livonia. If you've been in St. Clair Shores or Novi over the past year, start looking. Each city has a six-figure winning ticket floating around.

"That's a lot of money that could make a lot of difference in a lot of lives so that's why we work with our retailers, we work with the media, we work on our website to get the word out to players because we want them to check those tickets and come in and claim those prizes," Holyfield said.

But what about surveillance video? Could the South End Market have utilized a tool used to fight crime to help a lucky player find prosperity?

"Well surveillance video only goes back so far," Jones said.

Jones says by the time they found out about the winning ticket, it was too late. The video was gone. If given the chance, he says he would have no problem sifting through video if it would make one of his customers rich.

"We would've helped some poor joker. Somebody out there," Jones said.

Of course that money just doesn't disappear. The unclaimed winnings go to the School Aid Fund. Last year the lottery generated $735 million for that fund - $32 million of that total came from unclaimed tickets. Even though that money went to education, Holyfield would still like to see winning people and lucky lottery retailers get what they deserve.

"Playing is fun but, you know, coming into Lansing and collecting a check - that's even more fun. And so that's the kind of fun we want more of our players to have," Holyfield said.

For now, Jones says he's hoping lady luck finds her way to his shop again. Only this time, he wants that fortunate lottery player to see their cash.

"We'd like to see somebody in this community especially, you know, come out ahead and win big," Jones said.

Until then, Jones urges everyone to check their tickets, so that someday some lucky player will see their big prize.

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