Why exactly did the California Lottery need to track down a negligent winner?

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew

A California woman is $23 million richer after the lottery corporation put out an all points bulletin, releasing a security image of the person they believed to have purchased the winning ticket.

California Lottery took the unusual step earlier this week of releasing an image captured by a security camera at Michael's Market & Liquor — five months after the ticket was purchased and one month before the deadline to collect.

The missing persons search reached as far north as Canada, with news organizations from coast to coast posting the image of a woman who may have bought a lotto ticket ... or may have just gone to pick up a box of wine for dinner.

ABC News reports the woman's daughter saw the image in a local newspaper and contacted her. She found the winning ticket sitting in her car, where she had left it for five months. A lottery spokesman says she just never bothered to check the numbers.

[ Background: Who bought a winning California lottery ticket? ]

Never bothered to check the numbers? Good thing California Lottery had a snooze alarm.

This time it worked, and there's a happy ending for a woman who buys lottery tickets and doesn't bother with the bureaucratic nightmare of checking whether or not she won.

But releasing security footage to track down potential lottery winners? The photo is the same one police would have used had she robbed the joint. Is it a crime to buy a lotto ticket and not claim the winnings?

And if she's not going to check the ticket without the prompting of an international manhunt, does she even deserve the loot?

Lottery groups regularly hold press conferences to publicize big wins. They create huge buzz that, not so secretly, convinces others to test their luck.

Winning the lottery means your life is going to change. The publicity is part of the deal. But buying a ticket? Should this get your face plastered across the country like some sort of fugitive?

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Every time a lottery winner is publicized, one recalls the tale of Raymond Sobeski who won $30 million in 2004, the largest Canadian lottery of its time.

Sobeski waited nearly one year before claiming the prize and divorced his wife in the process, seemingly so he wouldn't have to share. Not surprisingly, lawsuits followed.

For all California Lottery knew, this woman had a very good reason for not wanting publicity. What if she was on the run from an abusive husband, or in the witness protection program? Or perhaps just lost the ticket and was trying to avoid an international shaming?

The kicker to the whole affair is that, had the jackpot gone unclaimed, the entire $23 million prize would have been donated to the California school system, which I'm guessing could have found a use for it.

There's likely a principal punching a hole in the office wall at this very moment.