Chances are good that when the clock strikes midnight on Wednesday of next week, there will suddenly be a worthless $111,467 lottery ticket in Florida.
This happens, not often, but often enough. It turns out, the odds of winning a Florida lottery jackpot are much worse than the odds of failing to cash in a winning ticket.
Winners are given 180 days to claim their prizes. If they don’t, the money is forfeited. The Fantasy 5 ticket in question was bought for $1 on April 13. There are 36 possible numbers in the game, and the odds of picking all five of them correctly is one chance in 376,992.
That day, there were two winners — both “quick picks” selected by the computer, and both in Broward County — one in a Publix in Pompano Beach, the other in a Publix in Miramar. Because it’s a parimutuel game, the total jackpot is evenly split among a varying number of winners.
If there is only one winning ticket for that day, that lone winner gets a pre-tax payout of about $200,000. But some days there are multiple winners. There were 14 winners on May 21, which meant that even though the odds of picking all five correct numbers remained the same that day, the individual payout to the lucky unlucky winners was a relatively meager $13,573.
But on April 13, there were just two tickets with the winning numbers, 2-15-16-27-34. That made each ticket worth $111,467. The winner from the Pompano Beach Publix claimed her prize. The winner from the Miramar store still hasn’t shown up, and that 180-day window is in its final countdown.
The clock is also nearing its last month on another Fantasy 5 winner, that one from Tampa, with an unclaimed $66,162 prize as one of the three winners from the May 10 drawing.
It’s too early to say how many other winners of Fantasy 5 won’t claim their tickets this year, because the window is still open for many unclaimed tickets. If history is a guide, nearly all of them will eventually be claimed.
Last year, there were nine Fantasy 5 winners who never claimed their jackpot prizes, forfeiting a total of $898,721, with the biggest unclaimed ticket being a lone winning quick pick from an Inverness convenience store. It had been worth $234,492.
The one I keep looking at, though, is the $92,691 unclaimed winning ticket from the Circle A convenience store in Belle Glade. It was bought one week before Christmas. That’s a potentially life-altering amount of money in a town where the median household income is less than $30,000 a year and the unemployment rate is nearly double the state average.
Somebody there has no idea how close he or she was to a very merrier Christmas.
You can’t blame the Florida Lottery for making it hard to claim winning tickets.
Players can check for winning tickets at any lottery retailer, and the lottery’s website has an option to view “expiring tickets,” so anybody can see the specifics on the winning tickets that are about to become worthless.
The higher the jackpots, the fewer the unclaimed tickets. But there are some big jackpots that have also gone unclaimed.
The granddaddy of them all was a Powerball ticket bought in a Tampa convenience store in May of 2013. That now-worthless ticket had once been redeemable for $50 million.
There have been two, six-number Florida Lotto jackpot winners that were never claimed during the past four years — a $12 million one in Miami in June of 2014, and a $15 million ticket sold at the Beer & Liquor Store in suburban Lake Worth one year later.
In Lucky Money, a Florida Lottery game with a 1-in-3-million odds of winning the jackpot, there were three unclaimed jackpots during that same time frame, totaling $2.15 million.
I can see how these tickets become lost or forgotten.
I watch people buy lottery tickets in convenience stores. It’s usually an afterthought. Something you do while you’re paying for the gas or buying a drink or a bag of ice.
The ticket goes in the bag, or in a pocket, eventually becoming just another slip of paper to be misplaced or lost. People frequently make jokes about winning.
But most don’t imagine it. Even some of the rare few who actually win.
Frank Cerabino (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a columnist for the Palm Beach Post.