$1.08 billion Powerball lottery winner Yanira Alvarez filed claim for jackpot over five months ago

Home » $1.08 billion Powerball lottery winner Yanira Alvarez filed claim for jackpot over five months ago

Lottery Post investigates lengthy delay in public announcement

By Kate Northrop

At the end of March, the California Lottery announced Yanira Alvarez as the sole winner of the $1.08 billion Powerball jackpot drawn on July 16, 2023, but it turns out the winner presented the winning ticket to lottery officials months earlier.

The California Lottery’s official announcement of Yanira Alvarez as the lone winner of the $1.08 billion Powerball jackpot came more than five months after she filed a claim for the eye-watering prize in October 2023.

The California Lottery processes over 10,000 claims a month through the Sacramento headquarters building, and it typically takes between six and eight weeks from the date the claim was submitted to process it.

Alvarez had officially submitted her claim on Oct. 16, 2023, the California Lottery told Lottery Post, but from the moment Alvarez filed the claim, five months had gone by before the Lottery made a public reveal.

In comparison, the $1.326 billion Powerball jackpot won by one ticket in Oregon on April 6, 2024, the Oregon Lottery stated on April 8 that they were already “working with a ticket holder who came forward … to claim the prize.” This was just two days after the drawing had taken place and one day after a claimant had even stepped forward.

While the Oregon Lottery is technically telling the truth in that they were merely in talks with a ticketholder to some degree, they were also not outright declaring a winner. Some state lotteries have different protocols for making official public announcements, Lottery Deputy Director of Public Affairs and Communications Carolyn Becker told Lottery Post in an interview, and it is standard for the California Lottery to wait to issue a press release about a big jackpot claimant until they are absolutely certain they are paying out the true winner.

One reason why the California Lottery does not make a public statement about a winner coming forward to make a claim before they verify the win is because they do not want the issuance of a press release to confuse the public in the chance that they are not the true winner.

“Somebody might read a headline that someone has come forward, and from a general public narrative standpoint, that leads [people] to believe there is a winner,” Becker theorized. “What if it’s a bad actor – a scammer?”

To be clear, Becker clarified, the Oregon Lottery only put out the facts – that someone has indeed come forward with a ticket – and that’s it. It is within the realm of possibility that the Oregon Lottery’s security review processes could reveal that this individual is a scammer, although we hope this is not the case.

“I think just from a general public ‘what does everybody know what’s going on in Oregon right now?’ [perspective], I think if you asked any random person they might go, ‘Oh yeah, there’s already a winner,'” Becker supposed.

Purely speculating, Becker also said that, since California has far more lottery players than any other jurisdiction, Oregon included, maybe the California Lottery does get more bad actors filing false claims than in other states. This is another reason why the California Lottery is hesitant to preemptively announce that a claim has been filed for the prize before the claimant is vetted, in case one such bad actor does come forward.

“Unfortunately, we do have people attempting to claim prize money that isn’t rightfully theirs from to time,” Becker said.

Filing a false claim for lottery winnings is a felony in the State of California, Becker affirmed, and the State Department of Justice may press charges against the claimant, especially if it seems there was deliberate intent to deceive Lottery officials.

So what takes place between the moment a ticketholder files a claim and when they get their payment, and why does it take so long to announce the winner?

There are several steps in the California Lottery’s verification process for validating a huge jackpot-winning ticket. The first part of the vetting process, and often the most rigorous, involves a law enforcement investigation of the winner from an “integrity” standpoint.

“I use this in jest sometimes, but I do think there’s some truth in this humor,” Becker related. “When you’re interviewed by our law enforcement, you’re a little bit like a suspect. The ‘joke’ part is that you’re only suspected of winning.”

Investigators will cross-examine the claimant and information about the winning ticket. For example, if the Lottery’s internal gaming system clocks the time of a ticket purchase at 5:30 pm, and the claimant tells investigators that they bought the ticket sometime on the way home from work, it might serve as supporting evidence that helps verify the winner’s claim.

The individual might be asked the date of their purchase, whether they picked their own numbers or bought a Quick Pick, or if they purchased multiple tickets at once. The Lottery can compare their own internal data about the point of sale with what the claimant is saying in an interview.

If details about the purchase don’t line up, this could be cause for further investigation and may further delay the vetting process.

“You have to answer the questions with a fair amount of confidence and truth, and if you don’t, maybe there’s a good answer for that, but it triggers a deeper layer of review,” Becker explained.

Perhaps there is more than one winning ticket for the same jackpot, or maybe the claimant forgot to sign a document in the correct place – without assigning any one of these particular scenarios to Alvarez’s case, these are all possible explanations for why the claims process might be extended.

“They’ve come, they’ve turned [the claim] in, the claim package has made its way to headquarters in Sacramento, only to discover, ‘Shoot, we’re missing the signature in the right place,’ and that’s a really key piece for our claim package,” Becker described, emphasizing how time might get eaten up by small errors.

However, these scenarios are purely hypothetical, and are only meant to illustrate possible reasons for the lengthy verification process, Becker clarified. While the Lottery can provide examples of different scenarios in the vetting procedure, they are unable to shed light on Alvarez’s process for privacy reasons and to protect the integrity of the claims process.

After the Lottery processes the claim and verifies the identity of the winner from an “integrity” standpoint, the claim is passed along to the State Controller’s office so they can examine the individual’s financial standing with the state.

During this step, another obstacle that can lengthen the claims procedure is offsets.

The State Controller’s office has personal identifying information at its disposal, such as social security numbers and names, to see if the winner owes the state any money. Offsets could include owed taxes, debts, or child support. In partnership with the Franchise Tax Board for the State of California, the State Controller’s office will catch those offsets before the Lottery issues any prize payments, Becker elaborated. Any owed money will come out of the winner’s total take-home, but this triggers an extra step before the individual is issued their check.

The final step is payment, which usually coincides with the approximate time the Lottery publicly announces the identity of the winner in a press release, Becker explained. This is the conclusion of the process that indicates the Lottery is one hundred percent sure that they have the correct winner.

“Once we say, ‘Yanira Alvarez is the winner,’ just like we said with Edwin Castro for the $2 billion prize, loudly, meaning in a press release or press conference, that is a signal that there is no question,” Becker affirmed. “We have turned over every stone. We have the utmost confidence in that win. Whether it’s Oregon, New Jersey, California, or any jurisdiction, the [lottery] industry takes all of these things very seriously, integrity in particular, very seriously.”

Alvarez’s win last July ended a 39-draw Powerball jackpot run. The winning ticket held her own pre-selected numbers, the Lottery told Lottery Post, which were 7, 10, 11, 13, and 24, with Powerball number 24. She chose the cash option of the prize and ended up taking home $558.1 million before federal taxes. Lottery winnings are not affected by a state tax in California.

The winning ticket was sold at Las Palmitas Mini Market on Wall Street in downtown Los Angeles.

According to the Lottery, last year’s back-to-back giant Powerball jackpot sequences resulted in an estimated $197.9 million in additional funding for schools.

If you would like to file a claim for a lottery prize in California, all claim forms are available on the California Lottery’s website.

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