Iowa Lottery Gives You A Million (Dollar) Reasons To Check Your Ticket

Written By Russ Mitchell on June 3, 2021
iowa lottery unclaimed

In the grand scheme of things, the number of unclaimed Iowa Lottery scratch ticket wins won’t leave people scratching their heads at lottery headquarters.

But it does add up.

Among Iowa scratch tickets, InstaPlay, pull tabs and lotto games, Mary Neubauer estimates that about $1.5 million goes unclaimed each year.

The Iowa Lottery vice president for external relations said:

“Many of those prizes are small — $3, $5 — but obviously they add up over time. For those really small prizes. I think maybe folks set them aside and mean to come in to claim them. Then — for whatever reason — they don’t get around to it. But it’s always interesting to me to see that number at the end of the year.”

When a bigger prize goes unclaimed, Iowa Lottery officials start to get a little nervous. That’s the case in Spencer, IA.

Someone bought a $20 Extreme Green Progressive InstaPlay ticket on April 8 at the Car-Go Express convenience store. The winner has a July 7 deadline.

Iowa Lottery officials will often put out reminders. Neubauer said:

“We do want these prizes to be claimed, if at all possible. And there have been a couple situations recently where somebody did find a ticket after a period of time. They were able to get in and claim the prize before it expired. That’s always a good feeling.”

Iowa Lottery officials encourages players to double-check tickets and winning numbers. They also maintain an unclaimed prize page, which recently added a $100,000 Powerball prize out of Cedar Rapids to the list of unknown recipients.

A big one that got away

Nevada, IA, is pronounced Nah-VAY-da but what happened in 2018 is terrible no matter how you say it.

Someone walked into a Casey’s General Store, bought a Powerball ticket at the central Iowa convenience store on April 11, 2018. The ticket matched five of the six numbers — excluding the Powerball.

The jackpot was $89.7 million for that drawing, but 5-for-5 white balls are still good for $1 million — that is, if you come forward.

The customer didn’t.

Lottery officials even traveled to the Casey’s store and held a press conference to call attention to the unclaimed prize.

“I’ve worked at the lottery for 20 years now and, in all the years that I’ve worked here, that’s the biggest prize that I can recall,” Neubauer said.

“Every year here in Iowa we’ll see prizes at the $10,000 level, $50,000 level — maybe even something as high as $200,000 will expire without being claimed.”

The state offers Powerball, Mega Millions, Lotto America, Pick 3 and Pick 4 to customers.

Those games of chance seem to be the biggest nest for unclaimed winnings, according to the Iowa Lottery VP:

“Perhaps they only check the ticket to see if they won the jackpot and they don’t check further — not knowing that there are really significant prizes in those games that aren’t the jackpot — but you also can win. In a scratch ticket maybe they play the ticket, didn’t check it closely enough and didn’t realize they had won. Maybe the ticket gets lost. I think there could be as many reasons as there are people in this world.”

For the Iowa Lottery, it isn’t ‘finders keepers’

When our Nevada winner didn’t meet the Powerball deadline, the money didn’t go into the state’s road repair fund or to a big bonus for Neubauer in Clive. State law earmarks unclaimed wins for future games and promotions.

Neubauer said:

“We have always considered that a really important component of trust with our players. It was prize money, it will go back out as prize money.”

The Iowa Lottery immediately held a “Woo Hoo A Million For You Giveaway” when the Casey’s lotto prize wasn’t being claimed in April 2019. A Collins Aerospace employee from Anamosa, IA, ultimately claimed the Nevada bounce-back million on behalf of her Cedar Rapids office pool.

Neubauer said big jackpots can encourage less-experienced players to enter the fray:

“It’s those folks who maybe don’t play as often, maybe aren’t checking their tickets as closely as regular players might. So that’s why we do our best to keep all of our price lists on our website so that folks can go check to see what they’ve won. We spend a lot of time issuing reminders about: ‘Please double check your tickets.'”

Thirteen days after the Spencer InstaPlay prize expires, a Des Moines Cash Saver customer who played a Pick 4 (midday) ticket stands to miss out on $15,000 in July. Those are the only five-figure wins still out in the wild.

Neubauer said:

“Here in Iowa, we’re kind of at a lull — which isn’t a bad thing — as far as as far as big prizes go.”

Anton Garrett, of Waterloo, wasted no time claiming a Powerball prize earlier this year. The 48-year-old food factory employee won a $2 million prize on a Saturday. He was at the lottery headquarters the following Monday.

Photo by Gerry Broome / AP
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

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