Check your lottery ticket! $4.4M in unclaimed winnings set to expire

There are currently 26 unclaimed Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) prizes worth more than $4.4 million that are set to expire, according to the lottery retailer's website. 

A winning $1M ticket was sold last year in Toronto but nobody has collected, OLG says

Maurizio Campolucci, a.k.a. 'The Lottery Guy,' says none of the unclaimed winning lottery tickets are his, because he checks his numbers religiously. (Chris Glover/CBC)

There are currently 26 unclaimed Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) prizes worth more than $4.4 million ($4,422,629.90 to be exact) that are set to expire, according to the lottery retailer's website.

OLG consistently pays out 99 per cent of its prize money each year, according to the lottery retailer. In 2018-19, $2.38 billion was paid out in prizes, but roughly per cent — or $24 million — went unclaimed, OLG says. 

"The prizes that really constitute that one per cent of unclaimed prizes are the smaller prizes," said Tony Bitonti, OLG spokesperson.

"We put the larger prizes, $10,000 or more, on our website because again those are the major ones that we really want people to claim because they are significant prizes." 

Tony Bitonti, a spokesperson for OLG, says unclaimed winnings go back to the province if the game is solely operated in Ontario. If it's part of a national draw, such as Lotto 6/49, unclaimed money goes to sweeten future prizes. (Chris Mulligan/CBC)

Try as they may, sometimes even those "significant" prices go unclaimed, and currently the largest value on the list of unclaimed tickets is a $1-million Lotto Max prize that was sold in downtown Toronto on Dec. 21, 2018. Most OLG winning tickets expire one year after the draw, so whoever hit the jackpot on this one had better claim it by this coming December, or they're out of luck.

"We do as much as we possibly can do to remind people that that money is outstanding," said Bitonti. 

One of those people is Brampton resident Donald Wilton. OLG says Wilton recently came forward to collect his quarter-million-dollar prize, which had gone unclaimed for nearly a year. It was not immediately clear why Wilton waited this long to claim his $250,000 winnings from a Sept. 30, 2018 DAILY KENO ticket. 

'I don't want to leave anything on the table,' player says 

Self-anointed "Lottery Guy" Maurizio Campolucci has been playing the lottery since 1975, but he says none of those unclaimed prizes are his. 

The most Campolucci ever won was $850 two years ago, and he says he is vigilant about checking his own tickets and the tickets of his friends. 

"I check myself and then I go to the machine and check," he said. "I'm pretty good at checking, I don't want to leave anything on the table." 

Someone just lost out on $500K from a ticket bought in Durham 

Most OLG unclaimed prizes are "for small amounts" and it's "rare for major prizes, $10,000 or more, to be unclaimed", OLG said.

Last month, there was one of those rare let-downs. A winning Lotto Max Maxmillions ticket worth half a million dollars expired July 15. 

It had been purchased in Durham on July 13, 2018, and now that $500,000 is gone for that player forever, even though they probably will never know it. 

OLG says it now has an app so players can check their tickets right on their mobile devices. (Katherine Holland/CBC)

If the game is operated solely by OLG, such as Lottario, then the unclaimed winnings are returned to the provincial government under the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation Act. 

"In the end, the money does come back to the people of Ontario," said the OLG's Tony Bitonti.

If the game is part of a national draw, such as Lotto 6/49, then the money is paid out to players in future bonus games or promotions, he said. 

$5M biggest winning ticket never claimed

The biggest let-down in OLG's history was 15 years ago when a $5-million win from a Lotto 6/49 draw sold in northeastern Ontario expired. 

Larissa Orlando plays the lottery rarely and $10 is the most she's ever won. Still, every time she buys a ticket, she checks it and she can't understand how so many people are losing out on winnings. 

"If I'm buying something to win I would double check every day to see maybe I can be a millionaire," she said. "That's kind of crazy. People don't care about their money?!" 

A recent phone survey done by the OLG found 38 per cent of players will check their ticket immediately after the draw, while another 45 per cent will check when they remember. 

That leaves only 17 per cent of players who say they don't check tickets regularly. 

OLG now has a lottery app so players can check their tickets right on their mobile device. 

"You don't have to  run to the retailer every time, you can do it from the comfort of your own home,"  said Bitonti. 

You can still claim a lottery prize, even if you no longer have a winning ticket. OLG has a digital catalogue of the billions of tickets sold. 

The unique historical profile for each ticket, along with personal information provided by the customer, may be enough to prove a claim for a winning ticket, OLG said.