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Days away from losing a fortune: Where is Carrollwood's Powerball winner?

CALLER: Yes, hello. (Sniffle.) My grandpa Vincenzo just passed away. (Sob.) In his final moments, he told me he had been holding on to that unclaimed Powerball ticket for me, (weeping) but he didn't get a chance to tell me where he hid it.

LOTTERY OFFICIAL: According to the videotape, that ticket was bought by a woman.

CALLER: Yeah, so Grandpa Vincenzo liked to wear the occasional dress. Where can I pick up the money?

You can probably assume that conversation never happened. On the other hand, how can we be sure? It's not every day that $16.6 million is sitting on the shelf at the Florida Lottery's lost-and-found.

A Powerball ticket purchased about six months ago in Carrollwood is set to expire at midnight on Thursday. It is expected to be the largest unclaimed ticket in Florida in 10 years, and the largest ever in Tampa Bay.

It hasn't generated the hysteria — or the crackpot phone calls — that a $590 million winning ticket sold in Zephyrhills caused before it was claimed earlier this year, but the Lottery's Tampa office has gotten a handful of, um, wishful inquiries.

Most of the callers are dispatched pretty easily. Ruined in the laundry? Eaten by the dog? Stolen by ninjas? Doesn't matter. If you don't have the actual ticket, there is virtually no way you are going to collect the prize.

And at this point, it doesn't seem likely anyone is going to show up. If you haven't claimed it by now, you probably never realized you had it.

"You never know, but people typically don't wait until the last minute to come forward,'' said Mike Purcell, the Lottery's district manager in Tampa. "My worst nightmare is that someone walks in Friday (after it's expired) and says they just found it.''

The odds of that?

Probably similar to the 175-million-to-1 odds of getting the winning Powerball ticket in the first place.

This particular unclaimed ticket was purchased at the Carrollwood Market for the May 25 drawing with a $50 million prize. (In case you want to double check your junk drawer, the numbers were 02, 06, 19, 21, 27 and PB 25). The prize was split with winning tickets purchased at a supermarket in Rehoboth, Del., and a Shell gas station in New Orleans.

The Delaware and Louisiana winners turned in their tickets within a month and claimed single payments of $10.3 million. The lump-sum payment deadline in Florida has passed, so the Tampa winner would get roughly $550,000 a year for 30 years.

(Which is another clue the winner isn't coming forward; the last 45 Lotto Jackpot winners in Florida have opted for lump-sum payments.)

So what's the best guess on what happened to the Tampa winner?

There are too many possibilities to count. The ticket could have been given to someone as a gift and forgotten. It could have been bought with other tickets and gotten lost in the shuffle. It could have been a tourist passing by who hasn't seen the signs posted at the Carrollwood Market for the past few months.

If there is a silver lining, it is that Florida earmarks 80 percent of unclaimed prize money for education funds.

Of course, someone could always get lucky and come up with the one excuse that might work. Know anyone who has been in a coma for six months?

Days away from losing a fortune: Where is Carrollwood's Powerball winner? 11/16/13 [Last modified: Saturday, November 16, 2013 8:34pm]
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