The state lottery has discontinued four instant-ticket scratch-off games that were nearly sold out, the first such cancellations since the lottery started earlier this year.
Sales ended late last week for the games, which include three of the lottery's original four offerings.
The step has some implications: Hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes from those games are expected to go unpaid. Half of that money will go to the education programs the lottery was started to support. The rest will be used to beef up prizes for future games.
Players must claim prizes from the games by March 8.
But judging by the numbers of unclaimed tickets and the experience of lotteries in other states, it's likely that some big winners either weren't sold or won't be collected:
* In the $1 Tic Tac Toe game, for example, six of the 20 jackpot prizes, worth $30,000 each, have not been claimed.
* Two of the 10 possible $100,000 prizes in the $5 Carolina Cash instant game are outstanding.
* A $5,000 top prize from the $1 N.C. Education Lottery game is unclaimed.
That game, informally called "Scenes," was the first introduced as the lottery launched the games on March 30. It featured four different designs, showing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, a cardinal, a dogwood tree or a mountain lake.
With more than 95 percent of tickets sold for the games, thousands of other winning tickets at smaller prize amounts are also outstanding, records show.
Because tickets are printed randomly, lottery officials do not know where those winning tickets might have been sold, or whether they were sold at all.
The tickets could be in a desk drawer of some player somewhere, or could have been bought and inadvertently thrown away.
Many winning tickets will be among the thousands that were never purchased and will be shredded as part of discontinuing the games.
Lotteries routinely discontinue their instant ticket offerings to keep sales fresh.
Occasionally games are ended for other reasons. In June, the lottery stopped selling a $2 instant game after players confused a security symbol on the ticket for a winning symbol.
Factors in the decision when to end a game include how much of a game's print run has been sold (lotteries aim to sell at least 90 percent of the tickets printed), how good sales have been and how many overall games are on store shelves.
"Players can have a tendency to get bored with games after a while and want to see new ones," lottery director Tom Shaheen said. "And, retailers can only handle so many games. They can't handle a hundred games on their counter."
The lottery is in the process of balancing the books from the canceled games and can't yet say what the financial implications are.
But Shaheen said it's probable that "hundreds of thousands" of dollars will be unclaimed.
As of 5 a.m. Friday, nearly $9 million in prizes from those games was uncollected, records show.
Staff writer J. Andrew Curliss can be reached at 829-4840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.