'Year of the missing millionaires': Lotto says many Kiwis 'completely oblivious' to their wins

Lotto says 2020 was New Zealand's "year of the missing millionaires" with many winners "completely oblivious" they had struck a fortune.

Last year 62 Kiwis became millionaires and an incredible 28 New Zealanders won big with Powerball.

But while most people claimed their prizes straight away, seven winners waited at least a week to come forward - most completely oblivious they had become a multi-millionaire.

"Typically our big winners claim their millions within 24 hours," says Marie Winfield, head of communications at Lotto NZ.

"But what was really unique about 2020 is that we had to try and track a couple of winners down. Fortunately, we found them, or they eventually came forward on their own, and they now have a lot more zeros in their bank balance.

"Funnily enough most of them completely forgot they had even bought a ticket, or simply didn't entertain the fact that they could have won."

The hunt for missing millionaires started off with a bang when a Twizel-bought winning ticket to a $17.1m prize was left unclaimed for over three weeks. Lotto NZ announced that the winner had not come forward - and New Zealand waited, waited and waited. Many speculating that the ticket had been lost.

The South Island winner was in no rush to claim the life-changing prize, saying that once they realised they were the winner, they needed some time to let it sink in.

"I needed some time to process things. Once I heard about the big win, I checked my ticket and couldn't believe it when I saw I had all of the numbers," they say.

"I had to re-check the ticket multiple times before I was convinced that I had won - and even then, I kept going back and looking at the ticket to make sure I had got it right. I just couldn't believe it."

Then in June, an Auckland woman discovered she'd become New Zealand's newest multi-millionaire while going on her usual Sunday walk.

She'd bought her ticket earlier that week and completely forgotten all about it - unaware that there was a $10.3 million winning ticket on the loose.

And in August, one of the 10 Powerball winners of the $50 million Powerball Must Be Won draw was completely oblivious that she had been carrying around a ticket worth $5 million in her handbag for a week. When her daughter phoned and encouraged her to check the ticket, she didn't think she needed to bother.

"My daughter knows that I buy my tickets from the store that sold the winning one, but I just said 'dream on!'" the Napier woman laughed. "It never occurred to me to check the ticket."

Most recently, in November, the Morrinsville missing millionaire was found when two people from Lotto NZ approached him to say that they thought he'd won the $5.5 million.

The winner was completely oblivious that he had been driving around with a multi-million dollar winning ticket in his glove box for nearly a month.

"My daughter had been hounding me to check my ticket, but I just hadn't gotten around to it," said the man. "I never once thought I would be the lucky winner anyway - it's unbelievable!"

Lotto's advice is for the public to check their tickets -  you just be Lotto NZ's newest multi-millionaire

"Who knows, it could be you we're greeting in the winner's room!" Winfield says.