For half a century, Jimmie Smith has tried his luck with lottery tickets. He would buy them in New York City and in his home state of New Jersey, but never hit the jackpot — not knowingly, anyway.
“A lucky New Yorker has a $24 million Lotto payday just waiting — but the winner has to act fast as time is running out,” Gweneth Dean, director of the New York Gaming Commission’s Division of the Lottery, said in May.
The winning ticket for the May 25, 2016, New York Lotto drawing was about to expire, and the gaming commission was making a final push to locate the lucky, unknown winner.
“We urge New York Lottery players: Check your pockets. Check your glove box. Look under the couch cushions. If you have this winning ticket, we look forward to meeting you.”
Smith, 68, heard about the search for the mystery New York Lottery winner on the evening news, and remembered he might have bought some tickets last year.
A retired security officer and grandfather of 12, he fished out a stack of old, unchecked tickets from the pocket of an old, favorite shirt. As he went through them, he found one with the numbers: 5, 12, 13, 22, 25, 35.
“I stood there for a minute thinking, ‘Do I see what I think I see?’” Smith told the gaming commission. “I had to stick my head out the window and breathe in some fresh air. I was in serious doubt. I really had to convince myself this was real.”
The New York Gaming Commission announced Smith’s identity on Wednesday.
On May 25 this year, the day that his winning ticket was to expire, Smith showed up at the Lower Manhattan customer service center of the gaming commission to claim his prize, barely a mile from the Renu Corp Grocery & Tobacco store where he had bought the ticket a year earlier.
“It was literally a last-minute thing,” a spokesman for the gaming commission told The Washington Post.
Smith left the office after taking care of some paperwork to certify that he was the rightful owner of the ticket. But when the commission tried to get in touch with him again, Smith was nowhere to be found.
“We could not find him. It was a long time before we heard from him again,” the commission spokesman said.
It was only this past week, almost five months later, that Smith again appeared at the office to finally collect his prize, the representative said. Smith completed some paperwork, then left again.
“It was a bit of an unusual situation where we couldn’t track” the winner, said the representative.
Smith chose to receive his $24 million in installments over 26 years, according to the commission. He could not be immediately reached for comment.
“I just hope they didn’t lose the ticket. I think it is probably lost,” Bobby Patel, the owner of the grocery store, told the New York Post in May, a week before the ticket’s expiry date. “It could even be a tourist. Sometimes tourists come in and buy lottery tickets. They go home. They forget.”
Patel added that he had been telling all his regular customers to check their tickets. “It would be a shame for all of that money to go to waste. Please,” he said. “There is only a week left.”
Massive jackpots have gone unclaimed in New York before. One ticket bought in 2002 was for $63 million and another, the following year, was for $46 million, according to the gaming commission. Both were sold in Brooklyn, according to the New York Post.
In 2015, the New York Lottery put out “Wanted” posters around Brooklyn in its search for the winner of a $7 million Cash4Life lottery ticket, which was about to expire. The search was unsuccessful, but it did nab the New York Lottery an industry award for its creative marketing campaign.
At least nine winning New York Lottery tickets went unclaimed between 2002 and 2014, totaling $191 million in lapsed prizes, according to the gaming commission.
And in the fiscal year 2016-2017, a total of $74 million in New York Lottery prizes went unclaimed, according to the New York Post.