The New York Lottery poster is taped onto a pole next to the cash register, relatively fresh and uncrumpled compared to all the other posters announcing past winners. None like this.
“Expiring soon” the poster says, “last day to claim is May 25.”
The amount? $24 million.
Luck struck at Renu Corp Grocery & Tobacco on 158 Church Street in Tribeca a year ago. Well, the winning ticket was purchased, but that’s as far as the buyer’s fortune ran. No one has showed up to claim the big prize, which expires on Thursday. Then the money goes back into the pot.
Store owner Babuby Patel figures it must have been a tourist or other non-regular buyer, perhaps someone who put the ticket in their coat and then left town. Patel’s regulars, of whom he has many, wouldn’t have forgotten. They tend to be right back through his door for the small wins, sometimes to double down. For bigger wins, maybe they’d wait a month or so to lawyer up and get their tax plans together. But he’d certainly hear from them.
In search of the big win
The regulars came in one by one Friday afternoon to marvel about the unclaimed ticket and test their luck in a preferred game. Some come from down the block, others hustling from elsewhere — including a woman who took the subway from an uptown job on her lunch break.
Brenda White, 55, picked up three bags of Fritos before placing her real order: three scratch-offs — “Wonka Golden Ticket” — for $10 a pop. She continues.
“Do you have the Win for Life?” They do. “Five of those.” Reconsidering, she adds two more, $63 in search of that $1,000 a week.
Patel’s merchandise includes Skittles, Kind bars, workers’ gloves, cigarettes, and Arizonas, but it’s the huge display of scratch-off and lotto merchandise that drew most customers on Friday. On those, Patel said he gets a six percent commission of the cost. Trumpet fanfares sound when he uses a machine to scan a winning card. A garbage can in the corner is littered with losing lotto tickets and scratch-off stubs.
Fernando Vaz, 46, comes in mainly for the “Cashword” puzzle, a crossword game that you can do quickly or savor a little. He started buying scratch-offs four years ago when he quit smoking and needed a new addiction. “If I go to Vegas, I’d never come home,” he says.
The Jamaica, Queens, native recently hit a $1,500 winner but still ended up about $400 down for the year.
“I’m waiting for that $2,500 for life,” he says, referencing an elusive scratch-off type. What would he do? Finish a few more years until retirement in his city job investigating fraudulent benefits claims. “I’m not a heat person,” he says, sweating in the small convenience store. He’d stick to cruises. Maybe summer in Alaska. He’d be set.
But if he won big, like the missing ticket? “I’d try to get into the political circle,” he says. Skip over city council to Congress, with that kind of money.
He took a paperclip out of his pocket and scratched off a $10 Cashword. He got his money back and left it at that, but no big win. He shrugged.
He looked at the poster for the $24 million ticket. “I wonder if someone dropped it,” he mused before leaving, no richer than he was before.
‘There’s always losses’
In fiscal year 2016-17, $74 million in New York Lottery winnings went unclaimed.
There was no chance George Garcia was going to let that happen to him. He ran into 158 Church later in the afternoon. About a year ago, Garcia had dropped in to buy a car charger and, as was his custom, added some hundred dollars worth of lotto. He does this from time to time and throws the tickets into a plastic bag, safeguarded in a shoebox. He goes through them all in February when he takes time off from work at a used car business. But this year, he’d lost the bag.
When he heard about the unclaimed $24 million ticket he was frantic. He had come down in person to get some information. Patel told him the ticket had been sold in the morning on May 25, 2016. Garcia relaxed.
“I work in the mornings,” he said. Couldn’t have been him.
He handed over a crisp hundred dollar bill and pocketed a new set of tickets. Maybe one is a winner, though he acknowledged it was unlikely. “There’s always losses,” he said.