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Illinois Lottery Prize Winners Frustrated With Claim Centers Closed, Questions About It Unanswered

DES PLAINES, Ill. (CBS) — What would you do if you won the Lotto?

Well first, you’d probably collect your money – but in Illinois, many players can’t even do that right now.

The CBS 2 Morning Insiders have discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid winnings from the past few months, and players tell Tim McNicholas the Illinois Lottery is not answering their questions.

“I’ve always played this number. It’s my dog’s birthday.” Said John Sandor.

Sandor said he won $2,700 playing a pick-four back in March from his local gas station in Crystal Lake.

When you win that much, you usually have to go to a claim or prize center, but those were closed due to the pandemic.

“I’d like to get my money, you know?” Sandor said.

Then, the Illinois Lottery announced it would be reopening claim centers on July 1. So Sandor drove to the Rockford location on July 6, only to be told they were already shut back down.

“I asked why and they just wouldn’t really give me a good answer,” Sandor said. “They just said they were closed.”

Other players took to Facebook to complain, with some saying they also showed up in early July but couldn’t get paid.

Nicki Misialek won $2,000 in mid-June, but when she heard about the issues, she decided it wasn’t worth the drive.

“Can they not handle the amount of people?” Misialek said.

Misialek and Sandor both say they have had a hard time getting clear answers. In 2015, Illinois gave IOU’s to some lottery winners to ease the state’s financial burdens, so Misialek started to worry.

“If they would just say were not set up because of COVID, it’s understandable,” she said. “But leaving you hanging makes you wonder about the state’s finances, COVID, any other reason possible.”

We showed up at a claims center in Des Plaines and found barricades with signs saying the lottery is not making any more claims for the day.

Another sign says the claim center is closed until further notice, and you can visit IllinoisLottery.com for more information.

The website does not give a reopening date, but it does say winners can claim their tickets by mail, at a time when people across the Chicago area are complaining their mail isn’t showing up.

“You don’t know if it’s going to get lost. You don’t know if you’re going to get it back. You don’t know how long it’s going to take,” Sandor said.

Lakeisha Hampton from South Holland said she found a huge line “wrapped all the way around the building” July 2 outside the Des Plaines location when she showed up around 8 a.m.

She said an employee turned her away, so she drove to Rockford – only to be told they were done for the day.

“It was a hot mess out here,” Hampton said. “There were elderly people standing outside in the hot sun.”

The Illinois Lottery website said you should make a copy of your ticket, but mail in the original.

But Hampton said given her winnings, she does not feel comfortable putting the original in the mail.

“It was for the jackpot,” Hampton said. “It was like $250,000.”

Illinois Lottery would not agree to an interview. But in a statement, they said the early July response was overwhelming and the long lines in the summer heat were unsafe, so they shut the centers down.

The Lottery acknowledged a better option is needed, and they plan to launch a new system where winners can set up appointments online to visit the claim centers.

On Monday afternoon the, Illinois Lottery announced that appointments will start July 27 at four of their claim centers. You can make an appointment at IllinoisLottery.com. No walk-ins are allowed.

A couple other states have set up similar systems.

A Lottery representative also recommended mailing in your claim. She said it typically takes about three to four weeks to get your prize that way.

What would you do if you won the Lotto? Well first, you’d probably collect your money – but in Illinois, many players can’t even do that right now.

Illinois Lottery To Reopen Claim Centers As Many Wait To Claim Prize Money

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in Illinois Lottery winnings have gone unpaid over the past few months, leaving many players to wonder when they’ll see their money.

Claim center closures have led to a significant backlog in unclaimed prizes. Centers initially closed in March amid COVID-19 concerns before reopening on July 1. But they closed again on July 4, confusing many winners.

John Sandor won $2,700 while playing Pick 4 at a Crystal Lake gas station in March. Sandor drove to the Illinois Lottery Claim Center in Rockford on July 6 only to see that it was closed.

“I asked why and they just wouldn’t really give me a good answer,” Sandor told CBS2. “They just said they were closed.”

Signs at the Des Plaines claim location said the center would be closed until further notice and to visit IllinoisLottery.com for more information. A statement from lottery officials cites “an overwhelming response from our players” amid extended wait times and unsafe conditions.

Illinois Lottery Acting Director Harold Mays said in the statement:

“We anticipated a high volume of players and long wait times, but in order to maintain proper social distancing in the centers, many of those players had to wait a long time outside or in their cars. We have decided to temporarily close our claim centers and reopen again soon with a process that will better control the volume and match it to the capacity of the location to minimize the risk to players.”

Four centers to reopen July 27

Illinois Lottery announced on Monday a plan to reopen four of the five claims centers next week:

  • Des Plaines: 9511 Harrison St.
  • Fairview Heights: 15 Executive Drive
  • Springfield (the lottery headquarters): Illinois Department of Revenue, Willard Ice Building, 101 West Jefferson St.
  • Rockford: 200 S. Wyman St.

Lottery players must visit the “When You Win” page of the Illinois Lottery website and click on the “Claim Center Appointments” button to set up a time and to claim their prizes. This route enables players to choose which facility they prefer.

Scheduling is now available, and players can block off 30 minutes for an appointment between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. They must wear a mask and follow social distancing protocols.

Usually, the James R. Thompson Center, at 100 W. Randolph St., in Chicago, is also an option. However, the lottery’s website states it has been closed since March 16 because of the pandemic.

The appointment system helps eliminate wait times and enhance the operation’s overall efficiency. The IL Lottery says that will be the only way to claim lottery prizes in person for the foreseeable future.

The lottery claims department processed over 1,300 claims between July 1-4.

Players hesitant to claim lottery prizes by mail

In the meantime, the lottery encourages winners to claim their prizes by mail. But during a time when Illinoisans are complaining about lost mail, the concept makes many uncomfortable.

Lakeisha Hampton, of South Holland, told CBS2 that she’s hesitant to put her original ticket in the mail given the size of her winnings.

“It was for the jackpot,” Hampton said. “It was like $250,000.”

The Illinois Lottery website asks people to sign the back of the winning ticket, make a copy of both sides and mail in the original and the claim form.

“We’ve seen our mail-in program double its throughput since April, with thousands of players choosing it over waiting for an in-person visit. Many players have gotten their prize within 3-4 weeks of their claim being received. We strongly encourage players to try it,” Mays said.

We at PlayIllinois will keep monitoring this situation as locations reopen next week.

Illinois Lottery responds to backlog of prize winners during pandemic and plans to reopen four out of five claim centers by appointment only next week. ]]>