North Carolina Lottery Keeps $1.3 Million in Winnings

Have you ever dreamed of winning the lottery and becoming fabulously rich? Buying a mansion, expensive cars, and taking exotic vacations? How about quitting that job you have hated for years? Or maybe you would be happy just winning 100,000 dollars or so to pay off all of your bills and just make life a little easier? Well, if you live in North Carolina and win big on the lottery, it is actually possible to end up no better off than you are right now. The state of North Carolina has withheld 1.3 million dollars in prize money from winners since the lottery began in this state in March, 2006.North Carolina’s lottery consists of several different games. There is the PowerBall drawing on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and then there are daily drawings for the Pick 3, Cash 5, and the newest game, Pick 4. The Pick 3 drawing is held both in the afternoon and then another drawing at night. In addition to these games, there are numerous instant scratch off tickets available for sale.

When redeeming a winning ticket under the amount of five hundred dollars, you can simply take the ticket to the retailer you purchased it from or to any other participating retailer. Most stores have a limit as to how much cash they can pay out to winners but you receive anything above that amount in a store money order. When redeeming a winning ticket in an amount greater than five hundred dollars, there are two ways to collect your winnings. You can obtain a redemption form from a participating retailer and fill in the information on it and the back of the ticket and mail it in to the lottery commission. They will process the ticket and form and mail the winnings back to you. Or, if you don’t want to trust the USPS with your ticket, you can redeem it in person at the nearest lottery commission office. When redeeming a prize winning ticket of greater than five hundred dollars through the lottery commission, before they can pay you they must do a background check on you as to whether or not you owe any money to the government. If you do owe money, it is deducted from your winnings along with the taxes on the winnings, and then you receive what is left, if there is any left.

According to an article in Raleigh’s News and Observer, the state lottery commission has collected over 274,000 dollars from 204 different prize winners for delinquent child support payments. The remainder of the 1.3 million dollars has come from money collected for back taxes, student loans, debts owed to state run hospitals, and other debts owed to the state. While most prize winners lose a few hundred dollars of their money, the paper reports that one man who had a 35,000 dollar winning ticket basically walked out empty handed once the taxes and past due child support were deducted. The article generated an astounding amount of comments online. Most of these comments were from people who either paid or received child support. It always amazes me that many men feel like they have no obligation to any children they produce after they have moved on from the relationship they had with the child’s mother, and that is pretty much what these comments reflected.

I wanted a little more detail as to what was considered a debt to the state, as I had heard rumors about this policy since the lottery began. I called the lottery commission and told the lady on the phone that I was simply a game player and wanted to know the policy. She was not very forthcoming. Delinquent child support and back taxes were the obvious biggies on the list that the lady would acknowledge, along with the delinquent student loans. She did clarify that the only hospital bills affected were the ones that were owed to state run medical facilities. The News and Observer article had listed state and local hospitals, but she did say they were not in the business of being debt collectors for private hospitals and physicians. I also asked about recipients of social programs, such as AFDC, food stamps, Medicaid, and WIC. I could not get a clear answer on any of this, but I was told that if a resident of North Carolina filed their current state income tax return and received a refund if they were due one, then that would be a good indication that they did not owe a debt that could be deducted from any lottery winnings. A spokeswoman from the lottery commission was quoted in the article as saying that most people tell them they are going to use the money to pay off bills anyway, but I would think that in many cases, the bills the prize winner wants to pay and the bills the state wants paid may be two very different sets of bills.

There is an additional way that winning a prize in the North Carolina lottery can get you some unwanted attention. When claiming a prize, you agree that your name and photo can be used for publicity purposes. They are posted on the official website, used in television and print advertising and also in store posters. When the lottery first began here, there was a man who won 10,000 dollars on a scratch off ticket. The county he lived in was using the lottery website to look for winners who had outstanding warrants. They recognized his name and got his address from the lottery commission and served the warrant on him the next day. His bail amount? You guessed it, 10,000 dollars. Some sort of poetic justice, I would think.

The North Carolina lottery commission does not want this information to deter people from buying lottery tickets in this state. To date, lottery ticket sales in North Carolina have hit three billion dollars worth since the lottery began three years ago. The proceeds are supposed to go to our education system and they report they have given one billion dollars to it so far. Our current govenor campaigned on the promise that she would not touch any of the money for any reason, but she broke that campaign promise about a month after she was sworn in. It also makes you wonder where the money is when this week it was announced all state employees, including school teachers, were going to have their pay cut as a result of the economy, and several schools have announced that they will have to close after this school year ends from lack of funding.

So, if you feel lucky, you can take a chance on hitting it rich for as little as one dollar. If it looks as though you’ve won, you may want to put buying that mansion or quitting your job on hold until you actually cash that ticket in. You may find that you owe it all to the state for some long forgotten debt, or you just might need it for bail money.

As the lottery commission always reminds us, please play responsibly.

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