Millions in Lottery Jackpots Expiring Before Being Claimed

VIDEO: A record number of people are playing the lottery in tough economic times.
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If you are the ticket holder for the winning Massachusetts Mega Millions consolation prize with the numbers: 2, 7, 10, 16 and 29, we have some bad news for you. You have just missed your chance to claim $250,000. The jackpot expired Wednesday.

In six more days, on Aug. 3, a $900,000 jackpot is in danger of becoming little more than wishful thinking for some unlucky "winner" in Florida.

ABC News have found at least six other jackpots ranging from $10,000 (two in Arizona expiring Aug. 8 and Aug. 22) to $16.5 million (in Iowa expiring in December) that are about to evaporate over the next four months.

Other prizes at risk of vanishing are $55,404 in Florida on Aug. 23, and $297,525 in California next month and a California treasure of $226,991 on Sept. 22.

In a sampling of just four states, ABC News found $17.5 million of unclaimed prizes in danger of expiration, leaving would-be winners with not even a penny of their prize money.

Tops in the annals of the biggest losers is Clarence Jackson, a Connecticut man who turned in his winning ticket three days too late in 1996, missing out on a $5 million bonanza. Any unclaimed ticket has since been known in the business as a "Clarence Jackson."

Some poor -- or poorer -- lottery player is blissfully unaware of missing out on a $51.7 million Powerball ticket sold in Indiana in 2002.

Less heartbreaking, but still lucrative tickets expire every month throughout the country. In fact, approximately 2 percent of lottery prizes in the U.S. go unclaimed each year, according to Alex Traverso, the spokesman for the California lottery.

Millions in Lottery Prizes Due to Expire

That percentage may seem miniscule but in California alone that was $17.25 million of unclaimed prize money last year.

Lottery officials attribute most unclaimed tickets to human forgetfulness, but Dawn Nettles, publisher of The Lotto Report, a publication that provides statistical information for lottery players, believes machines are part of the problem.

Nettles said major culprits are the computer scanners that players rely on to check their tickets. Nettles cited a computer scan that failed to recognize the $267 million winning ticket in Ohio 2006. The computer system has been fixed since and the ticket was validated in a different way, according to USA Today.

The machines that print the tickets can also make costly mistakes, Nettles said. Jeanne Consola of New York had the winning numbers, but never received her $5 million prize in 2009 because the winning number '6' had a misprinted type of 26 underneath it. Instead of winning $5 million, she was refunded $20 which she paid for her ticket.

Traverso said that incidents of mechanical screw ups are extremely rare and that machines are regularly inspected by retailers, vendors and sales staff to ensure that they are operating as they should.

New Jersey Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman is introducing a bill that she hopes would provide more people with other means of checking their numbers.

While many states are no longer broadcasting drawing results on television, Watson Coleman, a Democrat, hopes to bring it back in New Jersey. New Jersey has live drawings on the state lottery website and its Facebook page.

The intent behind the new bill that would require the public channel New Jersey Television to broadcast the lottery drawing is "to continue greater access for people," said Nikki Graham, assemblywoman's chief of staff.

"The people that really play the lottery are poor folks and many poor folks don't have computers," said Nettles.

The bill is not intended to address the cases of unclaimed lottery tickets but Nettles believes it will help. "Oh definitely. It would definitely help." said Nettles.

To check for unclaimed lottery jackpots and the winner numbers, call your state lottery office listed here.

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