As a $5.5m lotto ticket sat unnoticed in his car glovebox, its unwitting owner was stopped on a Morrinsville street by two strangers.
It was the end of a month-long hunt by the Lotto ‘spies’.
They had a very particular set of skills.
Skills that make them a dream come true for people like him.
They did look for him, and they did find him… and tell him.
All at a particular place and time where they knew he’d be alone to absorb the life-changing news.
The scene, like a happy version of a Liam Neeson film ending with showers of champaign instead of bullets, was an example of a little known capability Lotto has used only twice to make sure its winners get their loot ‘taken’ straight to them.
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The Morrinsville winner had struck it big with the $5.5m Lotto Powerball draw on October 17.
Family told him to check his ticket, but he never did. The prize went unclaimed for a month before Lotto got on the case and delivered the good news, in person.
But before then, Lotto had to do a bit of investigating.
In such cases staff go into the Lotto gaming system, retrieving when and how the ticket was bought.
If the information is unhelpful, they then look at CCTV footage, and in rare occasions hire private investigators.
Parents worry big lottery wins could end up turning their children lazy. (Video first published February 2020)
It’s only the second time a winner has been personally approached by Lotto NZ.
In 2013, staff knocked on the door of a Christchurch home telling a man he had won $22m. He had thought the prize had already been claimed.
Marie Winfield, Lotto NZ head of communications said in this case staff knew enough about the Morrinsville winner to know his movements throughout the day, so two staff members from Auckland jumped in the car and drove to where he was.
“They went to where they knew he would be and managed to catch him outside on the street at a time when he wasn’t surrounded by anyone and went up to him,” Winfield said.
“We got very lucky in this situation… we were able to track down the person relatively easily… fortunately in this day and age technology makes it a little bit easier.
“It’s not every day you get to approach someone on the street and tell them that we think they are a multi-millionaire.
“They said the best thing was seeing the look on the man’s face when he checked the ticket and he realised they weren’t joking, describing it as ‘absolutely priceless.’
“We were 100 per cent sure when we approached him he was the one who purchased the ticket.
“While he was standing there he went to his car, retrieved the ticket, and they were able to check it on the spot.
“There’s always that fear that someone’s lost it.”
The family visited Lotto’s head office in Auckland to claim their prize and are finally celebrating the big win.
They have not made any big decisions on what to do with the money but said they’d like to pay off their mortgage.
Then, the winner wants to make sure his kids are set up for the future.
“I never once thought I would be the lucky winner anyway – it’s unbelievable,” he said in a statement.
“It was such a shock when the Lotto people approached me and told me they thought I was the owner of a ticket worth $5.5 million.
“I just kept thinking, you’ve got to be kidding me … but they weren’t.
“They asked me if I had my ticket with me – which I did, so we checked off the numbers manually using the Lotto NZ App. All of them matched and the first thing the lady said was to write my name on the back.
“That’s when it hit me, and I thought to myself, oh my God, this is life-changing.
“Next time I’ll listen to my daughter when she tells me to check my ticket.”
After the news, the man went home and told his wife they were $5.5m richer.
“He came home and said, ‘we need to go up to Auckland this week love…. I’ve won Lotto’. It was unbelievable really, but I knew he was telling the truth.”
Next the man called his daughter.
“I just called her and said, guess what? Two Lotto people visited me today to tell me I was the $5.5 million Morrinsville winner,’” he said, laughing.
Powerball tickets are usually claimed within two to three days. Lotto NZ will wait a few weeks before it starts looking for someone.
“We just want people to have their prize, we’re not interested in holding on to it,” Winfield said.
And as far as Winfield’s aware, only one $1m ticket has gone unclaimed.
Tickets expire after 12 months and the longer Lotto NZ waits the harder people get to find.
In 2019, a $17.1m prize went unclaimed for three weeks while the South Island winner quietly came to terms with the win before claiming their prize.
In the same year, a $12.2m Powerball prize went unclaimed for over two weeks.
In 2017, a Gisborne couple took two weeks to claim their $6.5m Powerball and in 2014, a Hamilton couple sat on their win of $16.2m for 10 days.
The ticket in Morrinsville was sold at Paper Plus Morrinsville for the draw on Saturday, October 17, 2020.