Missing millions: Top-dollar prizes left unclaimed

Thousands of lucky Lotto punters are failing to check their tickets and are missing out on big money, with two prizes totalling over $500,000 unclaimed from a year ago.

There was $10,599,557 in unclaimed prizes left on the Lotto books in the past year, including two first division-winning tickets sold in Christchurch. One was for $666,667, sold in Templeton on December 17, and the other worth $500,000, sold in Rangiora on December 22.

The next largest unclaimed Lotto prizes were Winning Wheel rewards, with a minimum value of $100,000 and a maximum of $1 million.

There four second division prizes, ranging from $39,000 to $75,000 also unclaimed.

Anyone hoarding unchecked tickets had better hurry - Lotto tickets come with an expiry date, warns the Lotteries Commission's Karen Jones.

"Customers have 12 months from the date of the draw in which their ticket wins to claim their prize. After 12 months, all unclaimed prizes are returned to the prize reserve fund."

The prize reserve fund is Lotto's back-up pool for funding special prizes from "time to time", such as Christmas.

Lotto figures show Kiwis claimed $540 million in prizes - from Lotto, Strike, Powerball, Big Wednesday, Keno, Bullseye and Instant Kiwis - in the 2011-12 year.

Total sales amounted to $946 million.

In the past five years, New Zealanders have pumped $4.3 billion into Lotteries - the equivalent of every man, woman and child having spent $1000 each in that period, or $200 each per year.

Graeme Ramsey, chief executive of the Problem Gambling Foundation, said while Lotto and its affiliated games were not as bad as pokies for addiction, they could be problematic.

"What we do know is that lots of people that do have problem gambling will chase their losses on Lotto, especially when there's big jackpots.

"When you get those large ones, people will often exceed what they can afford and that's when problems develop."

According to Department Internal Affairs figures, in the past five years pokies expenditure has trended down, while lotteries has trended up.

Ramsey said the large jackpots were to blame.

"It's the large jackpots that drive the sales. We have an issue with jackpots because they change people's behaviour, once they reach a certain size."

There is a $30 million threshold on jackpots. Once they reach $30m, the draw must be won in that week. It was raised in 2005 from $15 million.

Sunday Star Times