CHICAGO (AP) -- The Illinois Lottery collected hundreds of millions of dollars in instant ticket sales during a roughly five-year period, but didn't hand out many of the cash grand prizes, according to a newspaper report.
Lottery officials didn't hand out 23 grand prizes for the largest scratch-off games starting from 2011 -- more than 40 percent of what was designed into the games, The Chicago Tribune reported (http://trib.in/2h6d1sa ) in its weekend editions. One of those games, called The Good Life, offered $46 million in installments to two winners. Tickets were $30 apiece and millions were sold, but the game ended before the top prize was awarded.
Longtime player Jim Jurewicz, a suburban Chicago retiree, was frustrated by the findings.
"A person's playing that game hoping to win a big one," he told the newspaper, "And maybe they played it for six months or longer. And then all of a sudden the game's gone with all these winners supposedly unclaimed."
Illinois lagged behind other states that have high instant-game ticket sales when it came to paying out grand prizes, both in the number of prizes and the percentage of revenue, according to the Tribune.
In its investigation, the newspaper cited public documents obtained through open record requests and interviews as it reviewed 138 instant games over five fiscal years. The newspaper zeroed in on 17 games with the largest payouts from 2011, when private lottery manager Northstar Lottery Group took over, until June 2015. Winners have a year to claim prizes.
Northstar boosted the number of printed tickets, allowing them to offer bigger prizes. Suppliers and the state received more profit. But as sales of big-payout tickets dipped, Northstar pushed to remove tickets from stores, often before grand prizes were awarded.
Lottery officials didn't offer an explanation on why they ended certain games without paying prizes. They didn't dispute the newspaper's findings, but they said they were misleading or insignificant.
"Northstar consistently and unwaveringly made decisions for the benefit of the players and the Illinois Lottery and not its suppliers," said a statement from International Game Technology, one of two companies that formed Northstar.
Northstar has been under scrutiny for other areas, including not meeting profit projections. Illinois officials have been looking for a replacement manager.
The Tribune found that players could have collected another $32 million for all 138 games run by Northstar.
One top elected leader says the findings are concerning. Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, said if players aren't treated fairly, they may stop playing. That could mean less revenue for the cash-strapped state.