All good things must come to an end, so they say, and that includes winning lottery tickets. The state agencies that regulate lotteries and other forms of gambling will set expiration dates on when the ticket can be redeemed. Keep the ticket safe, and whatever you do, turn it in on time.
If you win a smaller amount in a lottery drawing, you can claim your prize at the store or outlet where you bought the ticket. If the winnings are more than $600, in most cases you must redeem the ticket through the state lottery agency. Most convenience stores do not carry a large amount of cash, and any win over $600 needs to be documented on a Form W-2G for federal tax purposes. There's also a deadline involved, set by state law.
Lottery tickets expire, and state law sets the time frame. This can range from 90 days to a year. Some lottery tickets will carry this information in the fine print on the back. Others don't, but you can always access this information through the lottery agency website. In Minnesota, for example, the expiration date is one year from the date of the drawing. For scratch-off tickets, the deadline is one year from the official end of the game. Minnesota's lottery website posts a list of the current lottery games and the number of unclaimed prizes in each.
The Fate of the Unclaimed
If you buy a lottery ticket, sign it immediately and keep it safe. If the ticket is lost or stolen without a signature, then anyone who finds it can turn it in. If a prize goes unclaimed, then state law sets down the next step. Either the lottery agency returns the money to the cash pool for another game, or turns the money over to the attorney general of the state. A multi-state lottery will return the money to each state lottery agency in proportion to their ticket sales.
Strange as it may seem, a healthy number of winning lottery tickets do expire. According to a CNN report, $800 million in lottery money never found its legitimate owner in 2011, out of nearly $40 billion in total prize money. A common reason is that many lottery players don't realize they're holding "secondary" winners, which matched some, not all, of the numbers. Another reason may be that the news of a jackpot winner in another state discourages people from even checking their tickets for the smaller prize. Unclaimed jackpots, understandably, are rarer.
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