Three lottery winners who could become as wealthy as Mitt Romney or even Beyoncé if they would just show up and cash in their tickets are still out there somewhere, missing.
Two of the lucky lottery winners will split a $414 million Mega Millions jackpot that they won on March 18. The third has been waiting since February 19 — more than five weeks — to pick up a Powerball jackpot that would be $425 million if taken in 30 annual payments.
More realistically, assuming the payouts are made in a single sum as most lottery payments are, the two Mega Millions lottery winners would each pocket $112 million before taxes, while the single holder of a winning Powerball ticket bought in Milpitas, California would walk out with a cool $242.2 million check — if that person would just say, "here I am!"
It seems unbelievable that lottery winners would just leave those vast sums sitting on the table, but the fact is, every year, $800 million in lottery winnings simply remain unclaimed. That total is only about two percent of the total lottery prize money given away in the United States every year, and a large chunk of its would be or small prizes, as low as $1.
But not all of it. In 2012, two lottery winners in New Jersey holding second-prize Powerball tickets worth $1 million each from a single drawing never showed up to claim their cash. In another Powerball drawing that year, a Florida $1 million winner also left the money on the table.
Deadlines vary by state, but there is a always a time limit on how long lottery winners can wait before picking up their prizes, and the deadline is missed surprisingly often.
"You just hope for their sake that they never know they missed out," Connie Barnes, Florida lottery communication director, said.
Letting $1 million just sit there is inconceivable enough. But $425 million?
That lottery winner could simply be "getting their affairs in order," according to California State Lottery official Russell Lopez.
"What we've found is that the larger the prize, the longer people are going to take to claim the money," said Lopez. "It really depends on the person and how freaked out they are when they find out they are a multimillionaire."
Officials strongly suggest that lottery winners hire reliable accountants and attorneys before claiming life-altering sums from their jackpots. But there is also the unsettling possibility that the winners may have simply forgotten that they bought tickets.
When jackpots hit $300 million, lottery traffic is 400 percent higher than for a $40 million jackpot, the Powerball minimum.
When prizes reach $400 million, traffic skyrockets by 600 percent. That means many ticket buyers are not regular lottery players and may not remember to check tickets, or that they even bought tickets.
A delivery truck driver in northern California won half of the December 17 $648 million jackpot, but it took him almost three weeks to remember that he'd spent five bucks on Mega Millions tickets on a stopover in San Jose.
In other words, lottery players cannot become lottery winners without checking their tickets.