Check your tickets: millions go unclaimed in Pa. lottery

With the jackpot in Saturday’s Powerball drawing climbing to $550 million, hopeful players are lining up for their chance to strike it rich.

But, some players who fall just short of hitting the jackpot are letting millions of dollars go unclaimed.

Officials with the Pennsylvania Lottery say in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, about $18.3 million was unclaimed.

“It’s real money,” said Todd Rucci, the lottery’s executive director. “And, we do a very proactive, offensive blitz to get out to the retailers where the ticket was sold.”

Most of the unclaimed prizes are small, under $10.

But, in April a winning Mega Millions ticket worth $250,000 expired. The ticket was sold in Pittsburgh. The would-be winner matched the five white balls but not the yellow Mega Ball.

In 2011, a $1 million winning ticket sold as part of the Millionaire Raffle expired after it was purchased the year before in Westmoreland County.

Winners have one year to claim their prizes.

There are scanners in stores where tickets are sold to allow players to check their tickets. The numbers are online as well. When a big prize is about to expire, lottery officials also reach out to the media and the store where the winning ticket was purchased.

“Unfortunately, you can only do so much. And, we do. We proactively just try and get out there. At the end of the day, if it’s not claimed, it does go right back to older Pennsylvanians,” said Rucci.

The unclaimed money goes to the state, which directs lottery proceeds to a variety of programs aimed at serving senior citizens.

Rucci said the unclaimed prizes amount to about one-half of one percent of total lottery sales in one year.

In some other states, unclaimed prize money goes toward future drawings.

According to a CNN report,  the Multi-State Lottery Association found in 2011 about $800 million in lottery prizes went unclaimed. The association said, though it’s rare, the last time a jackpot went unclaimed was when a $77.1 million winner in Georgia did not come forward after a June 2011 drawing.