Everyone has thrown away something they didn’t intend to at one point or another. Maybe you lost a receipt you needed or ended up throwing out an old paper from college that you wanted to keep; maybe you dumped some computer files by accident or even tossed out an old album that still had some pictures in it toward the back. The sudden “drop” you experience in your gut when you realize what you’ve done is never comfortable.
As bad as those examples can be, though, they can’t compare to finding out you threw out a winning lottery ticket. The thought that tens, hundreds, thousands, and even hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars that could have been yours are now sitting in a landfill in the form of a small piece of paper is stunning.
This happens more often than you think. Sometimes a good samaritan steps in and stops the trashing of the ticket, but other times, it’s too late. And it keeps happening!
The Unclaimed Lottery Ticket
The state of Arizona had an unclaimed lottery ticket on its hands in December 2019. Someone in Goodyear, just outside of Phoenix, bought a ticket worth $14.6 million but never claimed the prize. State officials will divide the winnings between various state programs and future prizes, but it’s still curious that no one ever stepped forward.
One possibility is that they forgot they had the ticket, which itself isn’t unusual; in 2018, a man in Virginia found out a scratcher he’d left in a drawer for a month was a $4 million winner. However, it’s more likely that they either lost it or threw it out. (There is also the morbid possibility that the ticket’s owner passed away and their family accidentally threw out the ticket.) $14.6 million is not a small amount, and while the publicity surrounding claiming the ticket would be nerve-wracking, there are ways to handle it (a trip to an attorney is all the winner would have needed to see that).
This was not the first ticket to go unclaimed; sometimes people decide the prize is so small that it’s not worth the trouble to fill out the form, or the prize requires them to contact the lottery office instead of redeeming the ticket at a store, and they don’t feel like going through the trouble for $650 or whatever the amount is.
But for $14.6 million to go unclaimed is unusual. Let’s hope that the numbers weren’t that winner’s regular picks because this is one case where it might be best to never know you had the winning ticket.
The Almost-Gone Ticket
In April 2018, a Missouri man almost made the same mistake with a $50,000 winner for the Powerball drawing. He had asked a store clerk to check the ticket and almost threw away the winning Powerball ticket when the clerk said he couldn’t cash it. Luckily, the clerk told the man that the problem wasn’t that the ticket wasn’t a winner. It was a winner, but it was a big enough winner that it couldn’t be cashed at the store. (That good deed worked out for the clerk; the winner planned to share part of the $50,000 with him as a way to say thank you.)
The Lawsuit Over a Ticket
Sometimes those thrown-away tickets are found, and they’re generally treated as the property of the person who signs them and turns them in. But sometimes the person who threw it out doesn’t want to give up, and the results can be a time-consuming case and unhappy parties. Take this case from the ’00s, when a man who cashed a winning ticket he had found in the trash was sued by the man who had thrown it away. Initially the man who found it was found to be the owner, but the man who threw it away appealed, and his children kept up the appeal after his death. The man who found the ticket agreed to a settlement as he was in his 80s and feared he could die before the case was over.
If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that you need to keep track of your lottery tickets. Place them in a special envelope by your computer, for example, if you check results online, or by the TV if you watch televised drawings. And never throw anything in the trash without inspecting it carefully — you never know what might be hiding in those items.