Sue Burgess was overjoyed to learn last month that she won $1,000 in a Second Chance Lottery drawing. But that joy quickly disappeared when, weeks later, the Florida Lottery informed her she'll have to forfeit the prize, and her winnings will go to an alternate winner.
That's because the U.S. Postal Service did not deliver the ticket to lottery headquarters in Tallahassee, even though Burgess sent the package through certified mail.
A second chance lottery winner has a limited window of time in which to turn in a ticket to claim winnings. Burgess turned to Better Call Behnken for answers about where her ticket went.
Because of the pandemic, all local lottery offices were closed after Burgess won on July 29. So, in order to claim her prize, Burgess followed the Florida Lottery's instructions and sent in her ticket through certified mail through the U.S. Postal Service. (She could have also dropped the ticket in a dropbox at a local office, but she felt certified mail would be safer.)
Tracking information shows the ticket arrived at 7:12 a.m. on Aug. 12 at a Tallahassee post office, but the journey ended there. The online postal service tracking shows the ticket was never delivered to the lottery office, as required to claim a prize.
"They said, 'no ticket, not prize," Burgess recalls being told when she called to inquire about the missing ticket.
Unlike other lottery games, the Florida Lottery has records of all Second Chance winners because players register their tickets and contact information. Burgess was notified that she was winner when a lottery employee called her with the good news.
Typically, lotto winners of more than $600 can submit winning tickets in person at their local lottery office. But because of COVID-19, offices were closed to the public. Burgess says she was told she could send the ticket via certified mail or leave the ticket in a dropbox at a local lottery office.
Burgess said there was a one-week time frame to submit the ticket, but she missed an email about being a winner and by the time the office called her, she had days to get the ticket post marked, so she chose certified mail.
"That's why you chose certified mail," Burgess said. "With Covid, I understand the mail is a little bit slow. But for safety sake, certified mail usually has priority."
A spokesperson for the Florida Lottery emailed Investigative Reporter Shannon Behnken that the "Burgess' claim was never received by the Florida Lottery." The email cited the tracking information found on the postal service showing the package is still "in transit, so it was not delivered."
The claims processing department urged Burgess to contact USPS for more information on what happened to her package. A postal service spokesman says the post office is investigating but does not yet know what happened to the package.
The Postal Service sent this statement:
The Postal Service strives to always provide the best possible service to our customers. We apologize to this specific customer for any inconvenience they may have experienced.
In this specific instance, we are continuing to work with the lottery office to confirm receipt of the mailpiece.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Lottery said this is an unusual situation and agreed to bend – a little – saying the lottery is not responsible for mistakes made by the postal service but that if this package shows up postmarked by the original deadline, the lottery will pay Burgess her $1,000.
Burgess worries that will never happen since it has already been six weeks since the package arrived at the Tallahassee post office.
The Lottery sent a statement that said, in part:
Ms. Burgess' situation is an unusual circumstance and, to our knowledge, no other winner has experienced a similar issue.
Because the Lottery did not receive Ms. Burgess' ticket within the seven-day claim period, an alternate winner was selected and paid. However, if Ms. Burgess' package arrives at Florida Lottery Headquarters with a date stamp prior to the original expiration date, our Claims Processing department will process and pay her claim.
If you have a winning lottery ticket, you have more options to turn it now. Local offices are now open, but only by appointment.