B.C. Lottery winners have lost more than $20M in expired prizes over last 10 years

When a winning lottery ticket worth $1 million was set to expire last January, the BCLC went on a media blitz in an attempt to warn the public that a potential millionaire was unknowingly passing up a lucrative windfall.

The ticket had been purchased in the Victoria, B.C., area, and its expiration date — one full year from the day of the draw printed on the ticket — was imminent.

Unfortunately, the prize was never claimed — a small fortune that was just a fraction of the more than $20 million in lottery winnings that have gone unclaimed over the past 10 years in British Columbia through national and provincial lotteries.

"It's extremely rare for major prizes of $10,000 or more to go unclaimed," said Matt Lee, communications officer with the BCLC.

But it does happen.

While most winners are quick to collect their winnings, Lee says a small number go unclaimed. And while it's mostly prizes worth a few dollars, he says sometimes the big ones slip through the cracks too.

Right now, two large prizes remain unclaimed in B.C.

A winning Lotto Max ticket was purchased in Richmond on July 26 and is valued at more than $100,000, while a Lotto 6/49 ticket from Oct. 2 — also purchased in Richmond — is worth more than $250,000.

Maggie MacPherson/CBC

Finding a winner

When a large prize, like a jackpot, is won, Lee says, BCLC will send out a statement to announce a winning ticket has been purchased and to identify the region where it was sold.

That usually does the trick.

"When a prize is set to expire, we also do some media outreach to try and get the word out," he said.

But there's a strict cut off period, he says. Once that year-long period is up, ticket holders can no longer claim their prize.

So where does the money go?

Unclaimed winnings end up in different places depending on whether it's a national lottery game, like Lotto Max or a regional, like BC/49.

Expired prize money from national games is deposited back into the prize pool and also supports future promotions. Regional winnings, however, go back to the provincial government.

CBC News has requested information from the government on exactly how those funds are divvied up.