Unclaimed Fate: Why Do Some Lottery Players Not Check To See If They Won?

Evan Lambert

bag over head

The lottery offers the potential for wealth, status, security, and glory. That’s what keeps people coming back.

So why do so many jackpots go unclaimed? Why would anyone let a multi-million dollar payout pass them by?

In November, the National Lottery of England practically begged EuroMillions players to check their tickets for winning numbers. “Look everywhere,” they pleaded, suggesting that players check in “wallets and purses and in that sideboard or drawer where we all tend to put bits and pieces” in the hopes that someone would pick up an unclaimed £220,000 prize.

Eyes not on the prize

One reason a win goes unclaimed is simple forgetfulness. For many casual players, the distractions of work and family push out of mind the lottery tickets they purchased. “For casual players who use their change to pick up a quick pick on their lunch break or on the way home, the thought of winning doesn’t cross our mind constantly like the hardcore players,” one player told Lottery Geeks.

A similar mentality sometimes leads players to lose their tickets. One famous example was Englishman Martyn Tott, who lost his winning ticket and thus missed out on $3 million in 2001. He went on to launch a nationwide smear campaign against the lottery organizer Camelot and even won the support of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, but he was not ultimately awarded the money.

It’s OK not to check your tickets immediately after a drawing — as long as you do remember to check before the deadline to claim the win. In the case of one Kentucky man, he decided on a whim one day in 2022 to check 40 lottery tickets that he’d bought over the course of four months. Sure enough, one of the tickets was worth $1 million. “I kept looking at the ticket, making sure it was correct,” he told Kentucky Lottery officials at the time. “I leaned back on my couch and started yelling for my family to come to check it out.”

Living in a fantasy world

Sometimes, unclaimed lottery tickets aren’t a matter of mere apathy or forgetfulness. Rather, there are some players who never intend to check their tickets in the first place.

“I mostly purchase when it’s a crazy large pot … not with the dream of winning — although, wouldn’t that be something? — but with the intention of using the fantasy of winning as the fuel for ‘coffee talk’ with my husband,” Virginia Beach, Virginia resident Allison Graves admitted to Lottery Geeks. “Where would we travel, with whom, and how? What good would we do with it? The talk is the reason for the purchase.”

It’s true that, for many, a lottery ticket purchase is worth the price for the fantasy it buys. Just like a monthly Netflix subscription or admission tickets to Disneyland, it’s a form of entertainment.

In the case of Redditor JackNimrod12009, it can even be a cheap antidepressant. In r/britishproblems, he wrote this timeless ode to casual players: “Deliberately not checking your lottery ticket for weeks because the thought that it might possibly be a winner is the only thing keeping you going in this never-ending cycle of grimness and woe.” Keats couldn’t have said it better.

In fact, quite a few players indicated to Lottery Geeks that they didn’t check their tickets for fear of disappointment — a feeling that those who dread opening their email inboxes in the morning can understand. With a sliver of hope, though, most players check their tickets eventually — perhaps while shielding their eyes with their hands.

And finally, as in every study, there’s an outlier. A customer who goes by the name “Brock Lee” told us that he doesn’t check his tickets because he doesn’t need to. “I only play 1-2-3-4-5-6,” he said. “I don’t need to check my tickets because if my numbers ever hit it would be all over the news.”

Brilliant! That probably saves him at least 30 seconds each time he plays.

But as for the rest of you … can you hurry up and check your tickets, please?