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The Lost and Found of Missing Money

Gambling wins
You can't win if you don't play. You also can't collect if you lose your ticket.

The days of dingy coin cups are a thing of the past in most casinos. Whereas slot machines used to spit out a stream of clanging quarters, they now print out a paper receipt with your winnings or leftover balance. These can be redeemed with a cashier or at on-site redemption machine or ATM.

So what do you do when Lady Luck leaves you with only 17 cents on that ticket? Some hold onto them, hoping to cash in a pile of small amounts at once. Some keep the ticket in a wallet or purse to add slightly to future play. A recent approach is to seek good karma by giving a ticket to an active player or just leaving it leaning against your slot machine's bet buttons for the next person to come along.

A lot of folks, however, merely discard or lose the slips and, usually after 30 days, the money reverts back to the casino. A few cents here, a couple of bucks there -- it all adds up nicely for them.

Now states are looking to home in on the lost-money action. In March, Las Vegas Assemblyman William Horne pushed a bill that would declare bettors the "owner" of payout vouchers, not the casino. Lacking a way to track these tickets back to the player, their unclaimed value would be considered "unclaimed property" and surrendered to state coffers. The bill, which has failed to gain much traction, would net Nevada as much as $35 million, the estimated amount unclaimed at the state's casinos at the time of the proposal.

Lottery tickets are another arena where winners apparently lose track of their good fortune, with estimates of more than $600 million a year going unclaimed.

California's lottery amassed $30 million last year alone, a total that includes an unredeemed $12 million winning Superlotto ticket. In Wisconsin, a $1 million Powerball ticket is among the recent listing of uncashed tickets.

States have different ways to handle unclaimed lottery money. Michigan, for example, earmarks the money to a school aid fund. Others either parlay the funds back into their lotteries or gobble them up into the general fund.

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