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New York Woman Comes Forward to Claim $12 Million Prize From a 1991 Jackpot, Largest in State History

After 31 long years of waiting, a woman from New York has stepped forward to share with local lottery officials she was the person who never claimed $12 million from a 1991 Lotto jackpot.

Janet Valenti, age 77, revealed that she was the rightful owner of a $12 million New York Lotto jackpot that sat unclaimed for over 30 years. One small mistake led to the unfortunate fate of the ticket, and there was nothing she could do to retrieve it.

Valenti claimed she had the winning lottery ticket worth $12 million sitting on an end table next to her couch, among other lottery tickets, according to the Lottery Post. She believed she had previously checked all the tickets on the table, so as she was preparing to leave her home with her two teenage children and mother to spend the weekend at a friend’s house, she threw the tickets in the trash. That was back in July of 1991.

Over the weekend, she was unaware of her huge mistake. When she returned, a friend informed her of a winning $12 million Lotto ticket sold in Staten Island. Valenti discovered she had won after seeing the winning numbers in the paper.

Upon arriving home, she rushed to retrieve her ticket from the garbage, but could not find it. “My next-door neighbor, who has never in her life, the whole time I lived there, ever put my garbage out for collection, she did,” Valenti told the Lottery. She couldn’t go digging in the trash due to sanitation already picking up the garbage. It was over, Valenti was out that $12 million.

The woman from Staten Island attempted to contact lawyers but was informed that the only way to claim the prize was with a physical lottery ticket. Even obtaining surveillance footage from the retailer would be of no use.

“I was a wreck,” Valenti recalled to the Lottery. “I was sick for a long time over it.” On July 17, 1992, the $12 million Lotto jackpot went unclaimed and was returned to the state lottery fund. This unclaimed prize holds the record for being the largest in New York’s history.

Valenti was a single mother to her two teenage children, Kevin and Jennifer, at the time. Her husband, Bruno, had passed away in 1984. To cope with the incident, she turned to reading stories about “lottery curses”, infamous stories of people whose lives took a turn for the worse after winning the Lottery. This helped her from losing her mind over the situation.

“Given that kind of money, things can go bad,” Valenti told the Lottery. “That was a saving grace. Who knows what would have happened if I’d had that money? You read these stories, a lot of people win Lotto, they drop dead. Maybe it was [Bruno] looking out for us to not have that kind of money.”

Despite her tremendous loss over 30 years ago, Valenti remains steadfast in her pursuit of playing the Lottery. “The most I ever get is a free play or a couple of dollars,” she said. “That’s it.”

1991 Lotto Jackpot

Someone won $12 million in Lotto on July 17, 1991, with a ticket purchased for $1 at J.N.J. Delicatessen in Graniteville. Despite holding the winning numbers (2, 3, 6, 43, and 51) the winner never claimed the prize. Carolina Cutroneo, the store owner, asked customers if they had the ticket for a year following the win.

“I think somebody, when they saw they’d won, died or never found out in the first place,” she had said at the time. “In the beginning, we were putting up signs every day, but no one came forward. It’s probably somebody who really needs it.”

According to New York Lottery spokesperson Bill Knowlton, the big prize winner could have been a visitor to the state or someone unfamiliar with playing the Lottery in New York. Knowlton also explained that some winners may wait to claim their prize because they are in the process of assembling an advisory team or they forget to do so.

According to Knowlton, one lottery winner waited three months to claim her prize because she was studying for her finals.

Where can you buy lottery tickets?  

Tickets can be purchased in-person at gas stations, convenience stores and grocery stores. Some airport terminals may also sell lottery tickets.