DES PLAINES, Ill. (CBS) — What would you do if you won the Lotto?
Well first, you’d probably collect your money – but in Illinois, many players can’t even do that right now.READ MORE: Shots Fired By Police In Englewood
The CBS 2 Morning Insiders have discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid winnings from the past few months, and players tell Tim McNicholas the Illinois Lottery is not answering their questions.
“I’ve always played this number. It’s my dog’s birthday.” Said John Sandor.
Sandor said he won $2,700 playing a pick-four back in March from his local gas station in Crystal Lake.
When you win that much, you usually have to go to a claim or prize center, but those were closed due to the pandemic.
“I’d like to get my money, you know?” Sandor said.
Then, the Illinois Lottery announced it would be reopening claim centers on July 1. So Sandor drove to the Rockford location on July 6, only to be told they were already shut back down.
“I asked why and they just wouldn’t really give me a good answer,” Sandor said. “They just said they were closed.”
Other players took to Facebook to complain, with some saying they also showed up in early July but couldn’t get paid.
Nicki Misialek won $2,000 in mid-June, but when she heard about the issues, she decided it wasn’t worth the drive.
“Can they not handle the amount of people?” Misialek said.
Misialek and Sandor both say they have had a hard time getting clear answers. In 2015, Illinois gave IOU’s to some lottery winners to ease the state’s financial burdens, so Misialek started to worry.
“If they would just say were not set up because of COVID, it’s understandable,” she said. “But leaving you hanging makes you wonder about the state’s finances, COVID, any other reason possible.”
We showed up at a claims center in Des Plaines and found barricades with signs saying the lottery is not making any more claims for the day.READ MORE: 2 Men Shot, Critically Wounded In West Garfield Park
Another sign says the claim center is closed until further notice, and you can visit IllinoisLottery.com for more information.
The website does not give a reopening date, but it does say winners can claim their tickets by mail, at a time when people across the Chicago area are complaining their mail isn’t showing up.
“You don’t know if it’s going to get lost. You don’t know if you’re going to get it back. You don’t know how long it’s going to take,” Sandor said.
Lakeisha Hampton from South Holland said she found a huge line “wrapped all the way around the building” July 2 outside the Des Plaines location when she showed up around 8 a.m.
She said an employee turned her away, so she drove to Rockford – only to be told they were done for the day.
“It was a hot mess out here,” Hampton said. “There were elderly people standing outside in the hot sun.”
The Illinois Lottery website said you should make a copy of your ticket, but mail in the original.
But Hampton said given her winnings, she does not feel comfortable putting the original in the mail.
“It was for the jackpot,” Hampton said. “It was like $250,000.”
Illinois Lottery would not agree to an interview. But in a statement, they said the early July response was overwhelming and the long lines in the summer heat were unsafe, so they shut the centers down.
The Lottery acknowledged a better option is needed, and they plan to launch a new system where winners can set up appointments online to visit the claim centers.
On Monday afternoon the, Illinois Lottery announced that appointments will start July 27 at four of their claim centers. You can make an appointment at IllinoisLottery.com. No walk-ins are allowed.
A couple other states have set up similar systems.
A Lottery representative also recommended mailing in your claim. She said it typically takes about three to four weeks to get your prize that way.MORE NEWS: At Least 6 People Killed, 41 Wounded So Far In Chicago Weekend Gun Violence; 3-Year-Old Boy Among Survivors