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Check your pockets! Millions of dollars in lottery winnings go unclaimed every year | Radio-Canada

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Cost of life5:17 p.m.Lost earnings

A lottery ticket worth millions may be sitting on someone’s dresser or in their jacket pocket – and that person doesn’t even know it.

The unclaimed $64 million ticket was purchased in Gloucester County, New Brunswick, in April and will expire soon, according to the Atlantic Lottery. If no one takes advantage, it will become the largest unclaimed prize in Atlantic Canada.

“At first it was crazy. We talked about it almost every day,” said Marlene Legacy, owner of the Last Stop convenience store outside Bathurst, New Brunswick, who may have sold the lottery ticket winner.

This ticket is just one of many that go unclaimed every year, according to lottery companies across Canada. Atlantic Lottery says about one percent of prizes go unclaimed each year. According to Lotto Quebec, approximately $10 million goes unclaimed each year in the province, and the figures are similar in Ontario.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) says even if it’s just one percent that goes unclaimed each year, it adds up.

A convenience store with a car parked outside.
Marlene Legacy owns the Last Stop convenience store outside Bathurst, New Brunswick, which may have sold the winning lottery ticket. (Submitted by Marlene Legacy)

How often does this happen?

When word got out that the winning ticket was purchased in Gloucester County, speculation swirled, Legacy says. Some said it was a group of people who worked at Walmart, while another said someone lost the winning ticket while hunting in the woods.

“Everyone was wondering who had the lucky ticket. There were all sorts of rumors.”

To date, no one has come forward to claim the mega prize. Atlantic Lottery says the ticket will expire on April 15 and if that happens, the prize money will go into an unclaimed prize fund and be added to future winnings.

“Ensuring players receive the prizes they are entitled to is the most important thing we do here at Atlantic Lottery,” said Lindsay Meekins, public relations strategist for Atlantic Lottery, in an emailed statement.

WATCH | Could you be a millionaire without knowing it?

Could you be a millionaire without knowing it?

Time is running out on a $64 million lottery ticket sold in northeastern New Brunswick last April. The ticket expires one year after purchase and remains unclaimed.

“We are using both social and traditional media to raise awareness that a prize is great and to remind players to look out for any tickets they may not have checked out yet, in the hopes that a winner will emerge.”

Tony Bitonti, director of media relations for OLG, says most of the time it’s the smaller prizes in Ontario that go unclaimed, and cases like the one that happened in New Brunswick are rare .

“If they see that ‘I just won a free game or a $2 or $5 prize,’ they will delay claiming that money, and that ticket will disappear,” Bitonti said.

He says there can be many reasons why people don’t get their winnings back immediately, especially if it’s a large sum. People who make a lot of money have to go public in order to accept the money. So they often want to talk to their lawyer or financial advisor first.

A sign saying Have you won.
Tony Bitonti suggests always checking your tickets, signing them and not putting a ticket in your pocket, especially a seasonal jacket. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Find the winner

After a while, Bitonti says OLG works to match winners with their winnings, through press releases and social media.

In the past, the lottery and gaming company has gone to great lengths to reunite a winner with their money.

In 2012, a $50 million Lotto Max prize went unclaimed for eight months.. OLG knew that the winning ticket was sold at a Shoppers Drug Mart in Cambridge, Ontario, and knew what time the ticket was sold. So she was able to watch the security video of the person who bought the winning ticket.

“On this video, we saw that the person had actually purchased their ticket with a credit card and used the Shoppers Drug Mart loyalty card,” Bitonti said.

The company launched a media campaign to encourage people to come forward. He said they had a good idea who it was, but they usually don’t approach him. They eventually decided to contact the woman to see if she had the ticket.

After knocking on her door and explaining the situation, they found that she no longer had the winning ticket. But because they were able to confirm that she had purchased the ticket and that it had likely been thrown away, they were still able to give her the $50 million.

“It’s a rare thing that we know exactly who the person is who purchased this ticket. And because she was able to give us more information about purchasing tickets at this store, we actually paid her ” Bitonti said.

The exterior of the Atlantic Lottery building.
Atlantic Lottery says about one percent of prizes go unclaimed each year. (Robert Short/CBC)

Still unclaimed

Bitonti says they don’t always manage to find the winner. Last year, a $70 million jackpot went unclaimed in Ontario. In British Columbia, the largest unclaimed ticket was a $15 million Lotto Max prize, which expired on August 13, 2022.

And such could be the fate of the winning $64 million ticket from New Brunswick. Legacy thinks whoever got it probably lost it.

“I would be sad for whoever has this ticket. Can you imagine finding the ticket after the date? Like you only have a year to claim it, so imagine if someone put it in their drawer, in his jacket pocket and didn’t do it. I won’t realize it until after the meeting,” Legacy said.

“I don’t know what I would do with myself. I would be so angry with myself if it was me.”

To avoid such a fate, Bitonti gives some advice to lottery players. He suggests always checking your tickets, signing them and not putting a ticket in your pocket, especially a seasonal jacket.

According to him, the best way not to lose a ticket is to buy it online. Then you receive an email letting you know you’ve won and you don’t have to worry about missing out on your millions.

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