It’s never fun to lose playing the West Virginia Lottery. It’s much worse, though, to win a big lottery jackpot and not know it. But how could that ever happen? How could someone fail to check their lottery tickets to see if they have a winner, especially a jackpot winner?
Believe it or not, it happens all the time. Powerball even keeps a list on its website of unclaimed jackpots, which currently include not one, not two, not three, but four unclaimed $1 million prizes. Let that sink in. There’s not just one person out there with a winning $1 million lottery ticket that they don’t know about, there are four.
So, what happens to the unclaimed lottery prizes in West Virginia?
Unclaimed prizes fund second-chance drawings and retail commissions
Sales of West Virginia Lottery tickets surpass $1 billion a year. Lottery proceeds fund education, senior, and tourism services in the state. More than $9 billion has gone to those three areas since the West Virginia Lottery began in 1984.
In West Virginia, unclaimed winnings go into the pot that pays out second-chance drawings. These drawings give players who mail in losing scratch-off tickets another chance to win.
The Unclaimed Prize Fund also pays a small portion of the 7% retail commissions. The West Virginia Lottery has not disclosed how much it keeps in this fund, but it has to be a significant amount.
West Virginia winners have 180 days from the drawing date to collect draw game cash prizes. They have 180 days from the end of instant game tickets being sold to collect prizes.
The West Virginia Lottery is not responsible for lost tickets and encourages players to sign the back of their ticket if it’s a winner. If you lose the ticket, well, that’s on you.
West Virginia’s biggest loser
In September 2013, West Virginia Lottery officials went on a public blitz trying to find the owner of a $1 million Powerball ticket sold at a Little General Store in Beckley. The ticket was purchased in March of that year, and almost six months later, it was still not claimed.
Imagine owning a $1 million Powerball ticket and never cashing it in.
Speculation was rampant about what could have happened. Did the ticket get lost in a wallet? Fly out the window on the way to a Lottery office? Get thrown away by accident?
At the time, West Virginia Lottery spokesperson Randy Burnside said it was “very rare” for a $1 million prize to go unclaimed. He theorized that some players get confused. Once they see they didn’t hit every number to win the jackpot, they discard the ticket even though they won a lesser prize.
It is not clear if the West Virginia Lottery ever found the winner. Owners of the Little General Store in Beckley still pocketed $10,000 for selling the ticket, regardless of whether the jackpot was ever claimed.
More tales of lost money
At the start of 2023, the Powerball jackpot hit $2.04 billion. One winning ticket was sold in California. It took six weeks before Edwin Castro came forward to collect his prize. Perhaps he was setting up his estate.
In Virginia, lottery officials are looking for a winner to step forward with a winning $162.2 million Powerball ticket. The ticket was bought in the town of Dublin in Pulaski County. It’s the fourth-biggest jackpot ever won in Virginia.
But it’s still unclaimed. Do you have any friends in Virginia? Tell them to look around.
In Virginia, unclaimed winnings go into the state’s Literary Fund. Powerball rules dictate that unclaimed prizes from its game must be divided and returned back to the Powerball states. Mega Millions has the same process, returning unclaimed money to the states.
Each state uses the money however it sees fit.