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What happens if nobody claims the Powerball?

The Powerball lottery is one of the most popular lottery games in the United States, with jackpots that can grow to over $1 billion. But what happens when nobody claims that massive jackpot? There are several possibilities that can occur.

The jackpot rolls over to the next drawing

If no ticket matches all 6 numbers in a drawing, the jackpot simply rolls over to the next drawing. This means the jackpot amount will continue to grow for future drawings, until someone finally wins it. The rollover process can lead to extraordinarily large jackpots, sometimes exceeding $1 billion.

In January 2016, the Powerball jackpot reached a record $1.6 billion after rolling over 25 times without a winner. When 3 tickets finally matched all 6 numbers, the cash value split among them was over $983 million – the largest lottery jackpot ever won.

So if no one claims a giant jackpot, the prize money doesn’t disappear – it just carries over to swell the size of the next jackpot even further. This cycle will repeat until a ticket successfully matches all 6 numbers.

The winnings are redistributed to lower-tier prize winners

Another possibility if no ticket matches all 6 Powerball numbers is that the jackpot money gets redistributed to the lower-tier prize winners.

For example, let’s imagine a $100 million jackpot where no one wins the full prize. In this scenario, the lottery organizers may choose to give portions of that jackpot to tickets that matched some of the numbers. Say $50 million gets split among the tickets that matched 5 numbers but missed the Powerball. The remaining $50 million could go to tickets that matched 4 numbers plus the Powerball, and so on.

This outcome ensures that even if no one takes home the advertised huge jackpot, the prize money doesn’t simply vanish. It gets distributed to other lottery participants according to the game’s prize structure rules.

The winnings are split among future prizes

Rather than redistribute jackpot money to lower prizes in the current drawing, some lotteries opt to roll the funds over into future prize pools.

For example, if a $200 million Powerball jackpot expires with no winner, that $200 million could get split across multiple future jackpot amounts. The lottery organizers might take $100 million and add it to the next jackpot, making the starting amount higher than usual. The remaining $100 million could boost jackpots further down the road.

Splitting up an unclaimed jackpot to seed bigger future prizes helps maintain player interest and engagement over a longer period. And it still ensures the prize money is eventually paid out to winners.

The funds revert to the lottery jurisdiction

If a Powerball jackpot goes unclaimed long enough, the prize money reverts to the lottery jurisdiction offering the game.

Powerball is currently run jointly by 45 state lotteries, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each jurisdiction has its own rule on how long a player has to claim winnings. It may range from 3 or 6 months to over a year in some cases.

If the claim period expires, the unclaimed jackpot simply gets transferred back to the lottery jurisdiction(s) running that particular drawing. At that point, the lottery organizers can use the money for any purpose authorized under state law. Unclaimed prizes often help fund education, senior citizen programs, conservation projects, and more.

So while an unclaimed jackpot seems unfortunate, the prize money ultimately benefits public causes and services if no player comes forward in time.

The entire process repeats

It’s important to note that if a jackpot expires unclaimed, it doesn’t mark the end of Powerball. The lottery starts fresh with a new jackpot, usually set at the $40 million minimum.

The next scheduled drawing proceeds as normal, with players buying tickets attempting to match all 6 numbers. If no winner emerges again, the rollover process repeats, with the jackpot increasing for subsequent drawings until someone finally matches the winning combination.

Powerball continues indefinitely in this manner, with new drawings held a couple times a week offering players a chance to win massive jackpot prizes. Unclaimed jackpots are rare, but they’re simply a temporary circumstance until a ticket matches the lucky numbers once again.

Key factors that determine unclaimed jackpots

Several key factors can influence whether a Powerball jackpot goes unclaimed:

Winning ticket lost or destroyed

It’s possible the holder of a winning Powerball ticket may lose it or accidentally destroy it. Without the physical ticket as proof, they have no way to claim the jackpot. This situation has happened a few times in various lotteries over the years.

Winner doesn’t check numbers

Some people keep lottery tickets for months or years without checking if they’ve won anything. If they hold the sole winning Powerball ticket but neglect to check the numbers after a drawing, the jackpot can end up expiring unclaimed.

Error in number selection

There have also been cases where a player mistakes which numbers they requested when filling out a lottery playslip. If the ticket numbers differ from what the player actually intended to play, they may not realize they hold the winning jackpot ticket.

Winner remains anonymous

In a small number of jurisdictions, lottery winners can claim prizes anonymously and avoid publicity. This option is rarely used for jackpots over $200,000, but it could theoretically lead to a situation where a winner stays anonymous and doesn’t claim the official jackpot.

Winner doesn’t realize they’ve won

Some people don’t closely follow the winning numbers and may not immediately realize they’ve won. A ticket bought weeks earlier and stuffed in a drawer could match a recent drawing that a player didn’t check. The claim expiration period may run out by the time the player discovers they won.

Ticket holder dies before claiming

Tragically, it’s possible for the sole holder of a winning jackpot ticket to pass away before redeeming the prize. If the winning ticket isn’t found by heirs or no beneficiary was named, the jackpot can end up expiring with no one able to claim.

Famous cases of unclaimed jackpots

While most massive Powerball jackpots are claimed shortly after the drawing, there have been some notable instances of prizes going unclaimed:

March 2003: Unclaimed $68 million jackpot

A jackpot of nearly $68 million went unclaimed after the March 7, 2003 Powerball drawing. It was speculated that the winner might have come from Oregon, which didn’t require lottery winners go public at the time. Without anyone stepping forward, the cash value expired and reverted to the states participating in Powerball.

December 2005: Unclaimed $102 million

On Christmas night in 2005, there was just 1 winning ticket for that drawing’s $102 million jackpot. But the prize ultimately went unclaimed. Reportedly, a dozen groups came forward looking to claim the ticket but had invalid proof. Without the actual winning ticket being presented, the money flowed back to the state lotteries.

November 2011: Unclaimed $77 million

In this case, there was surveillance camera evidence that a woman purchased the sole winning ticket in Georgia. But despite extensive news coverage showing her photo, no one ever stepped forward to claim the $77 million before the deadline. The prize ended up getting returned to state educational programs.

June 2012: Unclaimed $77 million

Amazingly, just a few months later in 2012, another $77 million jackpot went unclaimed in Georgia. The sole winning ticket was purchased at a highway rest stop, but no winner materialized. As with the previous year’s drawing, the state benefited from the unclaimed millions.

How often jackpots go unclaimed

The vast majority of the time – over 99% – huge jackpot-winning Powerball tickets are claimed within days or weeks, and the prizes get successfully awarded to ticket holders. But once in a great while, these situations do pop up where massive jackpots inexplicably go unclaimed.

Looking at the Powerball game history since 1992, the 10 largest jackpots that have gone unclaimed are:

Date Unclaimed Jackpot
March 2003 $68 million
December 2005 $102 million
November 2011 $77 million
June 2012 $77 million
January 2013 $50 million
August 2013 $50 million
November 2015 $94 million
January 2016 $63 million
January 2018 $50 million
October 2018 $50 million

Looking at the data, a few key takeaways emerge:

– There have been 10 unclaimed Powerball jackpots of $50 million or greater since 2003.

– The most frequent jackpot amount to go unclaimed is $50 million, occurring 4 times.

– The biggest unclaimed jackpot was $102 million in 2005.

– Multiple massive jackpots going unclaimed is extremely rare – besides two times in 2012, it has never happened in the same calendar year.

So while occasional unclaimed prizes do occur, they represent a tiny fraction of the hundreds of Powerball drawings held each year. Over 99% of jackpot winners successfully come forward to claim their lottery riches.

Ways to safeguard your Powerball ticket

To avoid the agony of letting a jackpot slip through your fingers unclaimed, experts recommend taking these measures to protect your Powerball ticket:

Sign the back of your ticket

Put your signature right on the back of a ticket as soon as you purchase it. This can help prove the ticket is yours if questions arise.

Store it in a safe place

Keep your ticket somewhere secure like a safe, safety deposit box, or even a Ziploc bag to prevent moisture damage. Don’t just throw loose tickets in your coat pocket or bottom of your purse.

Save ticket copies

Many lottery retail locations have self-serve scanners that let you scan and save copies of your ticket electronically in case the paper ticket is later lost or destroyed.

Take a photo or photocopy

Similarly, you can take pictures or photocopies of the front and back of your ticket to retain records of your numbers. Keep digital files in secure cloud storage.

Check numbers promptly

Be sure to check the latest winning numbers as soon as possible so you can start the claims process quickly if you have a winning jackpot ticket. Don’t leave tickets lying around unchecked.

Tell someone if you win

Let at least one close contact know that you won the jackpot. This gives you a second person who can remind you to claim the ticket on time.

Legal heir scenarios

What if a jackpot winner passes away shortly after winning the lottery? Or buys a ticket then dies before the drawing even takes place? In most cases, the deceased’s heirs or estate can submit a claim:

Winner dies after winning

If a jackpot winner passes away after the drawing but before redeeming the ticket, legal heirs can follow the claims process on their behalf. They’ll need to provide a death certificate and other documentation to collect the winnings.

Ticket holder dies before drawing

If someone holding a ticket for a future drawing dies before those numbers are selected, the ticket transfers to their estate. If it ends up winning, the jackpot can be paid to heirs according to local probate laws.

Winning ticket in deceased’s belongings

If a winning ticket is discovered among a deceased person’s effects and no beneficiary was named, it can still be claimed following the standard claims procedure. The jackpot will be distributed to heirs according to inheritance laws.

The key is that a valid winning ticket still has value and is a transferable asset even if its original buyer passes away before claiming the prize. Lotteries will work with attorneys and estates during the redemption process to ensure jackpot winnings reach the proper heirs.

Time limit for winners to come forward

How long do you actually have to claim a big lottery jackpot if you win? Powerball rules give players approximately 180 days to redeem prizes from the date of the drawing when the winning numbers were selected.

However, the exact claims period and expiration date vary slightly by jurisdiction:

Jurisdiction Days to Claim
District of Columbia 182 days
Florida 180 days
Indiana 180 days
Maryland 182 days
Missouri 180 days

Some participating lottery jurisdictions allow a bit longer. For example, Powerball winners in Texas get 180 days from the draw date or 90 days after the game end date on the ticket. In California, players have up to a full year from the draw date to claim.

The important takeaway is that jackpot winners should redeem prizes immediately. Waiting until the last minute risks missing the expiration date if you miscalculate or lose your ticket. Claim the very next day to avoid any chance of your millions going unclaimed.

Taxes on unclaimed jackpots

A big question surrounding unclaimed jackpots is what happens to the taxes if no one steps forward to collect the money. With massive Powerball prizes, federal taxes can immediately take up to 37% off the advertised amount.

If a jackpot goes unclaimed, there’s no winner to pass those income taxes onto. So it depends on what happens to the funds:

Rollover jackpots

If the funds roll over to the next drawing’s jackpot, the taxes are simply deferred until a future winner claims the prize and are then deducted at that time.

Expired jackpots

If the claim period expires and the jurisdiction receives the unclaimed money, lottery officials will usually pay the required federal withholding taxes themselves on the winner’s behalf. This ensures the IRS still gets their share.

The bottom line is taxes still get paid on unclaimed jackpots – just by the lottery operators if no winner steps up. This prevents unpaid taxes on big prizes that revert to state coffers.

Probability of an unclaimed jackpot

The odds of a Powerball jackpot going completely unclaimed depend on the probability of the initial win, combined with the odds no one steps forward during the redemption period:

Odds of winning jackpot

Hitting the jackpot currently stands at about 1 in 292 million. This means any single ticket has a miniscule chance of winning. But with millions of tickets sold, there is usually at least 1 winner.

Odds ticket owner doesn’t claim

History shows the chances a jackpot goes unclaimed is low – around 1-2% based on the number of expired prizes over 30 years of drawings. Most winners claim quickly.

Combined probability

Looking at both factors together, the probability a $1 billion Powerball jackpot goes completely unclaimed is approximately 1 in 30 billion. That’s very slim odds, making unclaimed prizes a rarity over the life of the game.

While unusual situations can lead to a jackpot going unclaimed on very rare occasions, the vast majority of the time, winners successfully redeem their Powerball riches. So if you beat the immense odds and hit the jackpot yourself one day, be sure to get your ticket validated ASAP!


While most massive Powerball jackpots are claimed shortly after the drawings by happy ticket holders, once in a great while, unusual circumstances lead to giant prizes going unclaimed. If a jackpot expires with no winner coming forward, the money is redistributed to future drawings or returned to the lottery jurisdiction. Unclaimed jackpots are extremely rare, but serve as reminders to players to safeguard tickets properly and redeem prizes promptly. With sound protection measures, any player lucky enough to win can ensure they actually get to enjoy their Powerball fortunes.