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Rhode Islanders missing out on millions in unclaimed lottery prizes

Target 12

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Check your purse, your glove box, and your top dresser drawer. You may be sitting on thousands of dollars without realizing it.

Unless a mystery winner comes forward and claims it, a Powerball prize worth $50,000 will expire on Nov. 7, exactly one year after the lucky ticket was sold at the Harbor Shell station on Narragansett Boulevard in Providence.

The ticket is one of eight unclaimed lottery prizes worth $10,000 or more that will expire in the next several months. Already in October, a $50,000 Powerball prize and a $10,000 Mega Millions ticket expired before anyone claimed them.

“When you get those huge jackpot amounts, there are so many people that will play and people that don’t typically play,” Juhnowski said. “So they hear the jackpot was rolled or was hit in another state and they don’t bother checking the tickets to see if they won anything else.”

[Click on the icons below to see where unclaimed prizes were purchased (as of 10/3/2019)]

Over the past five years, unclaimed lottery prizes totaled $13.6 million dollars, according to a Target 12 review of data from the Rhode Island Lottery. If no winner comes forward, state lawmakers get to decide how the money is spent.

“Any prize that goes unclaimed goes into the state’s general fund,” Juhnowski explained.

The big prizes get the big headlines but most of the unclaimed winnings are smaller tickets and more than half are from instant games. About $6.2 million worth of instant game wins went unclaimed from 2015 through 2019.

“We just encourage people: check their tickets,” Juhnowski said.

The unclaimed prizes add up to millions but still only represent a small portion of the total number of prizes paid out each year. In fiscal year 2019, the Rhode Island Lottery paid out almost $161 million for instant and online games such as Powerball and Keno. About $3.3 million of those winnings went unclaimed.

Even if lottery prizes are never claimed, retailers in Rhode Island do not lose out on any payments. Retailers receive commission from the sale of lottery tickets, regardless of whether there are winners, according to Juhnowski.

Juhnowski said the lottery makes several attempts to find the winners. The lottery uses social media and posts signs in stores where winning tickets were sold – stores like Payamps Liquors in Central Falls, where a Powerball ticket worth $150,000 was sold in June.

“I talk to everybody who plays Powerball,” store owner Jose Payamps said. “Check the number, check the ticket, and maybe you are the winner!”

“It’s a lot of money,” he added, with a grin.

Several miles away in Cranston, the staff at Wines & More is also hoping to learn the identity of a lottery winner who has not claimed a Lucky for Life prize.

“My staff said, ‘Wow! We sold the big one!’ store manager Bill Rizzini recalled.

The ticket, worth $25,000 a year for life, was sold in June.

“They could have misplaced the ticket,” Rizzini guessed. “They could be from not this area and they completely forgot about the ticket.”

“Maybe they’re seeking financial advice,” he added. “You’d think that if you won a ticket like that, you’re going to get in there quick and claim it.”

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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