How long would you — could you — wait to claim a prize worth millions and millions of dollars?
If you're the holder of the winning ticket in a $425 million Powerball jackpot, the answer is six weeks and counting.
That lucky lottery player and two others set to split a $414 million Mega Millions pot from March 18 have shown remarkable restraint — assuming they know they're winners — in coming forward to claim their riches.
So, why are these lucky lotto winners stalling to become multimillionaires?
“What we’ve found is that the larger the prize, the longer people are going to take to claim the money,” said Russell Lopez, deputy director of communications for the California State Lottery.
“It really depends on the person and how freaked out they are when they find out they are a multimillionaire,” Lopez said.
Jackpot winners have as much as a year to come forward, depending on the state in which the winning ticket was purchased. Lopez said the winner of February’s $425 million jackpot is most likely “getting their affairs in order." Winners in California cannot lawfully remain anonymous, so some choose to wait until they are ready for the onslaught of attention.
Lopez said winners of multimillions are encouraged to hire an accountant, financial adviser and lawyer, but he doesn’t think the winner of the February California jackpot will wait much longer.
“You don’t win this type of money and just let it sit there for long,” he said — unless of course they forgot they bought the ticket or don’t realize they have won.
In that case, the California lottery will start publicizing the month before the one-year deadline for expiration by posting surveillance video and prompting people to double-check their old tickets.
While the largest unclaimed lottery sum, at $16 million, was a far cry from the three tickets on the line in Florida, Maryland and California, there is a possibility these winners have no idea that they’re loaded, said Brad Duea, president of Shoutz, Inc., provider of LotteryHUB, the official mobile app of Mega Millions and Powerball.
Over $800 million in lottery winnings goes unclaimed every year, Duea said. The main culprit for these unclaimed fortunes is that when the jackpot soars, so does the amount of players, meaning many people playing aren’t familiar with the game.
When the jackpot swells over $300 million, there is a 400 percent increase in traffic in comparison with a typical $40 million jackpot, Duea said. When jackpots are over $400 million, as they were in February and March, there is a 600 percent increase in traffic, Duea said. Many of those extra players are lottery novices who Duea called “casual players,” and they’re the people who are not accustomed to checking their tickets after a drawing.
The other possibility is that the tickets were misplaced or destroyed, and “if you lose your Mega Millions ticket, you are not eligible to claim, period. We cannot help you,” Lopez said.
Still, “there are no worries here,” Lopez added. In most states, unclaimed money goes to the public school system, meaning whether the record-breaking winnings are claimed or not, “it’s a win-win situation,” Lopez said.