NEW JERSEY — Everyone has that spot in their house or car where they let the mail and receipts pile up.
For 68-year old Jimmie Smith, it was an old shirt hanging in his closet. Stuffed in its pockets was a stack of unchecked lottery tickets.
“I always told myself, ‘I’ll check them when I have the time,'” the New Jersey man said.
It’s a good thing he did. Because had he waited two days longer, he’d have lost out on $24.1 million.
‘Check your pockets. Check your glove box’
More than a year ago, Smith bought a ticket to the New York Lotto.
The winning numbers for the May 25, 2016 drawing were: 05 – 12 – 13 – 22 – 25 – 35.
The New York Gaming Commission knew the winning ticket, worth $24.1 million, was sold at a bodega in New York City — but it didn’t know who bought the ticket.
Winners have a year to claim the prize and that expiration day was quickly approaching.
So earlier this year, the New York Lottery started to get the word out.
“We urge New York Lottery players: Check your pockets. Check your glove box. Look under the couch cushions. If you have this winning ticket, we look forward to meeting you,” Gweneth Dean, director of the Commission’s Division of the Lottery, said at the time.
‘Do I see what I think I see?’
Smith, a retired security officer, caught a news story about the search for the mystery winner. That inspired him to check his old tickets.
He went up to the closet where the old shirt hung.
When the numbers matched up, he “stood there for a minute thinking, ‘Do I see what I think I see?'”
“I had to stick my head out the window and breathe in some fresh air,: he said. “I was in serious doubt. I really had to convince myself this was real.”
That was on May 23, 2017. He’d have been ineligible to collect after May 25, 2017.
On Wednesday, the New York Lottery released Smith’s name after completing a review.
“We are thrilled that this lucky winner was able to locate this life-changing ticket,” Dean, of the gaming commission, said.
Smith chose to receive his payments over the course of 26 years.
A father of two and grandfather of 12, he said he plans to have an “all-family discussion” once things settle down.