NY Woman Says She Won Unclaimed $12 Million Lottery Prize 31 Years Ago

Written By Dan Holmes on October 30, 2023
Detective board connecting clues with logo of NY Lottery, which had an unclaimed jackpot in 1991 that one woman says she won

After more than three decades of suffering regret over tossing away a lottery ticket worth millions, a New York woman has finally come forward to reveal that she won the largest unclaimed prize in state history.

Janet Valenti, a 77-year-old Staten Island resident, informed the New York State Gaming Commission that she was the rightful winner of a $12 million jackpot from 1991.

Unfortunately, she is unable to claim her millions because she inadvertently threw the New York Lottery ticket into the trash after reviewing the tickets she had purchased that week in July 1991. Her neighbor then took the trash bag out, making it impossible for Valenti to retrieve the prized $1 Lotto ticket.

How did Valenti’s alleged jackpot-winning ticket go unclaimed?

As Valenti tells it, she and her family went upstate and returned to news of a Staten Island ticket winning the $12 million. She had already discarded her tickets after reviewing the results and believing she lost. But after hearing the news, she looked up the numbers and recognized them because it was the same numbers she always played.

When Valenti – a single mom of two who was 46 at the time she “won” the $12 million – realized the mistake, she contacted an attorney to help her in efforts to claim the lottery jackpot.

But, NY state law requires a physical ticket be presented to claim winnings. Even video tape of the purchase at the convenience store where Valenti bought the ticket would not suffice. Instead, the $12 million was returned to the NY State Treasury after it was unclaimed past the statutory date.

“I was a wreck,” Valenti admitted to Staten Island Advance. “I was sick for a long time over it.”

Many people would never recover from such a mistake. But Valenti eventually became philosophical about her misfortune with her possible fortune.

“Given that kind of money, things can go bad, that was a saving grace,” Valenti told the Advance.

“Who knows what would have happened if I’d had that money? You read these stories, a lot of people win Lotto, they drop dead. Maybe it was (Bruno) looking out for us to not have that kind of money.”

It’s physical NY lottery ticket or nothing for winners

Valenti even mollified herself by seeking out stories of people who were “cursed” after winning a lottery jackpot.

Valenti told the Advance that she still plays the lottery, but never more than a couple of dollars.

New York still requires lottery winners to present the actual ticket to show they are winners of a prize. Interestingly, earlier this year, Sen. James Sanders Jr. sponsored a bill that would allow individuals in Valenti’s position to still claim their winnings. Those individuals would just need to show the NY Lottery “documentary proof of purchase” of the winning ticket within five years of the winning date.

Though now the state does feature third-party couriers, such as Jackpocket NY, that sell online tickets that can be sent digitally. That was not available 31 years ago for Valenti when she lost out on what remains one of the biggest unclaimed lottery jackpots in U.S. history.

In 2011, someone won $77 million from the multistate Powerball game in Georgia, but failed to claim the prize within the 180-day window. That’s possibly the largest jackpot that went unrewarded, though the winner did come forward. As far as lottery claims in one single state, the $12 million prize that Valenti missed out on may be the the largest.

Photo by PlayNY
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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is a freelance writer for PlayNY. An author of three books about sports, he previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. Dan enjoys writing, running and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.

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