CHICAGO - The hard part is over for dozens of Illinois Lottery players, who have defied the odds to win tens - and in some cases hundreds - of thousands of dollars.
Now all they have to do is redeem the winning tickets. Some players have failed to step forward, and the clock is ticking for more than $6 million in unclaimed prize money.
The winning-but-still-unclaimed tickets include a $900,000 Little Lotto jackpot from a ticket purchased at a gas station in Skokie in suburban Chicago.
"It surprises us when the money is unclaimed," Illinois Lottery spokesman Courtney Hill said Tuesday. "You never can tell just why. Someone might have been here on vacation and bought a ticket. Sometimes people just forget to check and then forget they have it."
Twenty-two people have not redeemed winning Little Lotto tickets, including the $900,000 jackpot drawn Oct. 2, with the winning numbers 3, 14, 22, 24 and 34. Additionally, nine second-place Mega Millions winners of $250,000 each have not stepped up to claim prizes.
"That's still a significant amount of money," Hill said. "People will look for the jackpot and then they see they don't win and think it's the only option."
Tickets are valid for a year from the date of the drawing. Having time run out on a winning ticket is rare, but not unprecedented, Hill said.
Earlier this year, a $14 million Lotto ticket sold at a gas station in Frankfort expired - the largest unclaimed jackpot in Illinois Lottery history. Before that, the largest unclaimed prizes had been $6 million and $3 million.
"We tried, we worked hard to get the word out," Hill said. "We did interviews, we did CNN, we went everywhere, but we didn't have any luck."
When a prize expires, the money goes to the state's Common School Fund, which the Illinois General Assembly distributes to school districts.
"It always amazes me how many of our players never check their tickets to see if they've won," Illinois Lottery Superintendent Carolyn Adams said in a statement. "Although we love being able to use the unclaimed prize money to increase our contribution to the Common School Fund, we also want to see our players having fun winning the lottery."
Store and gas station owners get bonuses for selling winning tickets regardless of whether ticket holders identify themselves, Hill said. The bonus is 1 percent of the jackpot for all games over $1,000, except the Mega Millions bonus, which is capped at $500,000.
The lottery posts information about unclaimed prizes on its Web site, which also lists winning numbers dating back to 1980.
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