What Happens if the $1.5 Billion Mega Millions Jackpot is Never Claimed?

Tuesday November 27th 2018

More than a month after the October 23 drawing, the winner of a spectacular $1.537 billion Mega Millions jackpot has still not come forward to claim their prize.

The ticket that matched the winning numbers of 5, 28, 62, 65 and 70, with a Mega Ball of 5, was sold in Simpsonville, South Carolina. The winner has 180 days to come forward, giving them until April 21, 2019 to claim.

But the question everyone is asking is … what happens if the winner does not claim their prize within this time?

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"Everyone's talking about it," says Jee Patel, the owner of the KC Mart where the ticket was purchased. "It's a mystery."

Forty-six jurisdictions take part in Mega Millions (44 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands). The winning ticket was sold in South Carolina, so the other 45 jurisdictions each contribute money (depending on the amount of their ticket sales) to a shared fund that the SC Education Lottery uses to pay out the jackpot.

If the winner doesn’t come forward by April 21, then the money will simply be returned to the jurisdictions, and they can spend it as they choose. Generally, state law sets out how unclaimed prize money is used.

In South Carolina, it’s typically contributed to education. Other states may spend it on infrastructure or law enforcement. Many put the money towards lottery bonus prizes and promotions, like second-chance games.

At this point, the winner may well be consulting with a lawyer and financial advisor and generally preparing for the big changes in their life that their surprise new fortune will create.

"We don't speculate why they haven't come forward,” said Holli Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Education Lottery. “The winner should know how they will handle the money accordingly, so is not uncommon they take their time to claim it." She added, "We encourage the winner, whoever they are, to sign the back of their ticket, put it in a safe place and speak to someone they trust for guidance before claiming the money."

If the South Carolina winner opts for a lump sum single payment, they will receive $878 million before taxes. If they choose annuity payments over 29 years, they will eventually receive about $1.5 billion before taxes.

The winner can rest assured that if they wish to remain anonymous, South Carolina is one of only nine states that allow lottery winners to do this. The others are Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming.

While many will wonder why the winner hasn’t yet come forward, other winners have had a much closer shave claiming before the deadline. Take the case of grandfather Jimmie Smith of East Orange, New Jersey. Smith was totally unaware that he had won $24.1 million in the New York lottery on May 25, 2016.

In New York, the deadline to claim is one year. As the cutoff date approached, local news was reporting that no one had claimed the prize. That sparked 68-year-old Mr. Smith to check a shirt pocket where he kept old lottery tickets. Amazingly, he found the winning ticket, but still couldn’t quite believe his luck. "I had to stick my head out the window and breathe in some fresh air,” he said. “I was in serious doubt. I really had to convince myself this was real."

Unfortunately, not all winners are lucky enough to claim by the deadline. In 2015, Hung Nguyen of South El Monte, California, also had no idea he had won a $1,098,624 million Powerball prize by matching all the numbers except the Powerball.

After no one came forward to claim the prize, the California Lottery released surveillance video of the purchase of the winning ticket. Nguyen’s boss recognized him and told him that he had won. Mr. Nguyen, a mechanic and dad of a five-month-old baby, thought it was a joke.

It wasn't - but sadly, he had lost the ticket he bought six months earlier and was unable to claim his prize. Lottery rules require the winner to have their ticket to claim. Instead, the money was given to public schools in California. Nguyen says he's sad about his missed opportunity, but he's hoping he’ll get another chance one day – and if he does, he’s definitely keeping his ticket.

In fact, this situation is not as uncommon as you might think. Billions of dollars in lottery prizes go unclaimed every year, although the big winners almost always come forward eventually. In California last year, players left $36 million on the table. In North Carolina, $10.36 million went uncollected. In South Dakota, players walked away from $541,000. In Arizona, one winner did not claim a $100,000 Powerball prize.

New Mega Millions and Powerball players often don’t realize that even if you don’t win the jackpot, you can still win a prize (sometimes millions) if you match some numbers. There are typically about 500,000 winners in each drawing, so now is a great time to check your Mega Millions tickets and Powerball tickets to see if you’re one of them!

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