$16.5 Million Lottery Ticket Remains Unclaimed

The Iowa Lottery searches for the $16.5 million winner as deadline approaches.

Sept. 21, 2011— -- Wanted: The man or woman that purchased a winning lottery ticket in Iowa. Before the clock runs out, the Iowa Lottery is searching for the winner holding the $16.5 Million Hot Lotto ticket purchased on December 29, 2010.

What's known about the winner? Four days after Christmas, a lottery player walked into a Quik Trip in Des Moines and purchased a winning ticket with these numbers: 3-12-16-26-33 and Hot Ball 11. As weeks turned into months, no one has made a claim.

"It's just so sad to just continue to see this sit there and sit there," Mary Neubauer, a spokesperson for the Iowa Lottery. "It's sad because someone legitimately won this huge prize. It would make so much of a difference in someone's life."

Unclaimed lottery tickets are a multi-million dollar business. In 2009, the most recent year that data is available, the total amount of reported unclaimed prizes across the United States stood at $496 million, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. The number would be higher because some states did not report figures.

Some big prizes do indeed go begging.

In Indiana, a lottery ticket winner missed the opportunity to add $51.7 million to their coffers by failing to claim a Powerball ticket in 2002. An unlucky Florida Lotto jackpot winner missed an opportunity to cash in on a $53.7 million ticket in 2003 when a winning lottery ticket expired 180 days after its purchase.

Nearly nine months later, lottery officials in Iowa are still wondering why the winner of the multi-million dollar prize hasn't come forward.

Typically, winners collect their prize winnings within the first few weeks. "Usually it's a few days to maybe a few weeks because we always encourage our winners to take their time and talk to a financial planner or an attorney to assist with the big decisions when you're about to become an instant millionaire," Mary Neubauer, a spokesperson for the Iowa Lottery told ABC News.

The $16.5 million ticket is currently the second-highest unclaimed lottery ticket in the country. In Oregon, lottery officials are still waiting for a winner to claim a $21.8 million prize. The Oregon lottery player purchased the winning Megabucks ticket in Portland on July 30.

"The previous largest unclaimed ticket [in Iowa] was for around $600,000, a significant amount of money, but it was nowhere near this amount of money," says Neubauer. "We've never had a jackpot winner take this long to come in and claim the prize."

If a winner fails to claim in three months, the $16.5 million prize will be the largest unclaimed ticket for the Iowa Lottery. And, instead of going into the hands of the player, the money will return to the 14 states and the District of Columbia based on the portion of tickets sold. How the money is spent is determined on a state-by-state basis. In Iowa, the money will go towards future games.

But, before that happens, the lottery association is hoping the winner claims the prize. What's clear is the owner may be unaware of their ownership of the winning ticket. The Iowa Lottery is able to track tickets and the winning ticket has not been scanned at any terminals in Iowa.

While the clock ticks lottery officials are urging folks to search sock drawers and glove compartments for the ticket.

"It could be somebody from anywhere," says Neubauer.