INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosier lottery players have been digging through their trash, scouring their cars and bringing fistfuls of old tickets, some in shoeboxes, to an Indianapolis store, hoping they would find the winning — but unclaimed — $2.5 million jackpot ticket.
But time ran out Friday as the 5 p.m. deadline for cashing in the winning Hoosier Lotto ticket came and went with no one coming forward.
"Pretty sad for somebody if they happen to have it out there," said Hoosier Lottery spokeswoman Lucia Anderson.
The winning ticket had been all the buzz among customers this week at the Meijer convenience store where it was sold.
"I looked around. I looked in every trash can for it," Mike Tinder, a 33-year-old life coach from Indianapolis, said Friday.
One woman asked a store clerk to check the surveillance video, saying she believed she had bought the winning ticket for the Aug. 19 drawing.
Another customer said a friend had spent part of the day rummaging through her truck because she remembered buying a ticket at the store last summer.
Indianapolis utility worker Tom Newton looked through old tickets Thursday but came up empty. He worried that he might have had the winner but lost the ticket somehow.
"I hope it wasn't me that forgot the damn ticket and lost $2.5 million," said Newton, 31.
Some wondered why anyone would leave a million-dollar bonanza untouched in a time of high unemployment and economic need. Had they forgotten? Had they lost it? Had they died?
"It's probably one of those things where they put it in a drawer and forgot they had it," said Meijer spokesman Frank Guglielmi.
Lottery players have left money on the table before. Hoosier Lottery spokesman Andrew Reed said a $5 million Hoosier Lotto jackpot went unclaimed in March 2004, and no winner stepped forward in September 2002 to claim their $50 million Powerball jackpot. In 2007, a $19 million New Jersey Lottery prize wasn't claimed. Florida's largest unclaimed payout was a $50 million Lotto ticket sold in 2003, and no one produced a winning $7 million Lotto Texas ticket last year.
Reed said no Indiana winner has ever stepped forward so late to claim a large prize.
Lottery officials had received a phone call earlier Friday from a man who thought he had the winning ticket and was concerned he might not be able to get to the downtown office in time to redeem it, said Anderson. But they couldn't stay open indefinitely, she said.
The remainder of the jackpot will go back to the unclaimed prize fund, which is used for future games and promotions, Reed said. Meijer will still get its 1 percent share of the jackpot, he said.
Back at the store, customers didn't stop dreaming about what they would do with the money — even though none had the winning ticket.
Tinder said he would help his parents pay off their mortgage and then hand out cash to the people he meets.
"I'd give it all away to everyone around me and we'd all go have a big party," he said after a moment's thought.