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Lifting lid on unclaimed lottery prizes


I am sure you are as surprised as I am when you read that a major prize in the National Lottery has not been claimed for months, especially if they also announce "and the winning ticket comes from Hertfordshire". But it is quite a common occurrence in all types of lottery. A club official runs a tote for the club benevolent fund. This supports pensioners, sick members and children. Recently there were indeed some unclaimed prizes. The money involved amounted to some £50, and the committee decided to put the surplus towards extra presents for children. There were complaints from some members and they want to know if the decision was legal. First of all, it seems likely that the tote is run as a lottery under the Lotteries and Amuse-ments Act 1976. If it was a private lottery, then the matter is dealt with in section 4 of the Act. If a ticket is issued to participants, it must contain a statement that "no prize won in the lottery shall be paid or delivered by the promoters to any person other than the person to whom the winning ticket was sold". The club must abide by that statement in its conduct of the lottery. The reason for that rule is to prevent secondary sales or agreements on tickets, so that only the person actually purchasing the ticket can collect the prize. There is no corresponding restriction for societies' lotteries registered under section 5, so that it would appear that no contravention of the lotteries laws would occur if a prize was not distributed. To avoid this situation, the Gaming Board urged lottery promoters some time ago to make sure that they kept a record of participants. Alternatively, the rules of the lottery should state that prizes must be claimed within a certain time, otherwise they will be devoted to the purposes of the lottery, for example, the benevolent fund. On buying a ticket or entering into the tote scheme, the participant is bound by the rules and therefore cannot protest in cases where there is a failure to make a claim. The subsequent decision ofthe committee was, in the circumstances, perfectly legal. It would have been more difficult to justify disposing of the money as additional prizes to other winners, which I consider would contravene section 4 above. However, in some types of lottery or tote, it may be a little soon to "cancel" winning tickets in this way, particularly if the tote scheme is confined to existing members.

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