Here’s a wild fantasy: You stumble upon nearly $1 million lying on the ground.
Here’s the reality: Keeneland Race Course recently reported that there is a total of $994,967 in unclaimed winning pari-mutuel tickets a year old or older that were either tossed on the ground or stuffed into pockets and unforgotten.
The fall meet for Keeneland starts Friday. If you have any of those unclaimed tickets, you have until Nov. 1 to turn them in for cold, hard cash.
If you don’t cash those tickets, don’t feel too bad. You’re being charitable. That’s because the unclaimed amount pays for hospital and doctor bills, eyeglasses, hearing aids and other services for almost 800 backstretch employees, including hot walkers and exercise riders.
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Under Kentucky law, money from an uncashed winning ticket becomes the property of the state one year after the ticket is sold.
The money goes into the Kentucky Racing Health and Welfare Fund, a nonprofit charitable organization established by state law in 1978 to administer those dollars.
Last year, the fund provided more than $1 million in health benefits. Since 1978, it has paid out nearly $42 million in total health benefits.
“We’re not an insurance company,” said Richard Riedel, executive director for the fund. But the fund helps with co-pays and deductibles of certain people licensed with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
The fund operates a clinic in Louisville called the Kentucky Racing Health Services Center in partnership with the University of Louisville. Last year, the clinic provided free treatment or medical services for 1,247 patient visits. A similar clinic is at Turfway Park in Florence.
The Health and Welfare Fund also operates efficiency apartments for people 55 and older or the disabled on Central Avenue near Churchill Downs in Louisville. And it contributed $250,000 last year to a retirement plan, bringing its total contribution to $5.75 million in 16 years.
The number of people who use fund services varies from year to year.
“There’s no set trend,” Reidel said. “For a while, we were seeing a decrease when people were going to other states to race, when slots, casinos and purses were drawing Kentucky horsemen away. But that seems to have reversed itself. It’s pretty steady.”
Bettors at harness racing tracks also have uncashed tickets. The Red Mile reported recently that it has $25,000 in unclaimed winning tickets. That money finances the purses of harness races at certain county fairs in Kentucky.
But why are there so many uncashed tickets? Many people keep tickets as souvenirs. Many more leave them in pants or coat pockets, where they are destroyed during washing or cleaning.
Andrew Beyer, the now-retired turf writer for The Washington Post, probably spoke for many bettors when he wrote some years ago: “I can’t guess how many times I’ve neglected to cash a winner or accidentally thrown away a cash voucher mixed with my losing tickets or failed to hear that a horse was scratched in a race in which I assumed I’d bet on a loser.”
There are, of course, no uncashed tickets for those who wager on smartphones and tablets or on a home computer.
“So if you have a TwinSpires account (Churchill’s advanced deposit wagering program) and you’re sitting at home and betting on horses at your computer, and you win, your account is automatically credited with the amount that you’ve won,” Riedel said.
“As that becomes more and more popular, we can see that uncashed tickets are going to diminish,” he said. “If it gets to the point where there are not enough uncashed tickets to sustain our program, we would be forced to find alternative funding sources.”
In the meantime, Riedel said, he encourages bettors “to celebrate and leave those tickets on the ground.”
Unclaimed winning tickets from Keeneland may be redeemed at the office of the Keeneland Association, 4201 Versailles Road, Lexington. Phone: (859) 254-3412.
Unclaimed winning tickets from The Red Mile may be redeemed at Lexington Trots Breeders Association, 1101 Winbak Way, Lexington. Phone: (859) 225-7708.