Millions unclaimed in lottery every year

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Millions of Californians play the lottery, but the latest numbers show $25 million in prize money went unclaimed this past fiscal year. It was $29 million the year before that.

"We've got a lot of security measures built into the ticket, but it doesn't come down to actually finding the player," said Cathy Doyle Johnston from the California State Lottery.

So it is up to winners to come forward within six months or a year - depending on the game - or else the ticket expires.

It's heartbreaking to hear some of the jackpots people missed out on. The largest was back in 2003 -- $28.5 million went unclaimed in the Bay Area, $25 million in Los Angeles, and $20 million in Riverside County.

Mark La Voy of in Arizona lost out on big prizes after his wife cleaned out her purse and gave him a year's worth of expired tickets. He's surveyed would-be winners and found people aren't interested in the smaller prizes, even though they could be in the six-figures.

"They want to win the big $20 million, $200 million, and once they hear somebody else won that ticket - or there was no winner - they don't check any further," said La Voy.

The state thinks people just can't remember where they put their tickets. While only two percent of lottery prizes go unclaimed, frequent players like Chris Dreesman don't understand why someone wouldn't look.

"That doesn't make sense at all," said Dreesman. "In fact, maybe we should start a second drawing for those of us who do check and don't win."

While people may not win, public schools do. In the 23 years since the California lottery began, nearly $700 million in unclaimed money went to classrooms.

- Get more L.A. breaking news, weather, traffic and sports
- Have a news tip? Send your tips, video, or pictures

Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.