Court rules on New Hampshire lottery winner's privacy request

Back in February, I wrote about the New Hampshire woman who had won a major lottery jackpot and was fighting to keep her anonymity. State law dictates that all jackpot winners must have their names published, but the anonymous woman claimed (correctly) that winners of major prizes have been subject to endless harassment, threats and a few have even been murdered. The state’s lottery commission was having none of it and insisted that if she wanted to collect the prize she would need to allow her name to be published.

In what may represent a complete shift in the way that New Hampshire handles these matters, a court has now disagreed. They’re allowing her to keep the money her attorney already collected for her and not reveal her name. (WaPo)

Judge Charles Temple on Monday granted the woman anonymity and ruled that revealing her name would be an invasion of privacy, in part because lottery winners in general are subject to “repeated solicitation, harassment, and even violence,” Temple wrote in his 16-page resolution. He cited how a past lottery winner received a bomb threat, how another had received nonstop phone calls and how several others had received requests from strangers who wanted handouts.

“The Court therefore has no difficulty finding that [the woman] would also be subject to similar solicitation and harassment if her identity were disclosed,” Temple wrote.

He did rule, however, that the woman’s home town can be publicly released, as it was “highly unlikely” that the woman could be identified as the winner solely based on her home town.

As I said when this story first broke, it’s not hard to see both sides of the debate going on in New Hampshire. The state definitely has a couple of vested interests in publishing the names of winners. On the more self-serving level, it’s great promotion for their games. But far more importantly, showing that real, verifiable people are winning the prizes and taking home the cash bolsters the confidence of the state’s residents that the lottery isn’t rigged and they aren’t just keeping all the money.

But at the same time, this woman’s concerns are not only valid but shared by most Americans. One poll we cited in February showed that if most people won a major jackpot the first thing they said they would do is, “keep it secret.” You would no doubt immediately have relatives you weren’t even aware of coming out of the woodwork, not to mention charities, politicians and scammers hounding your every step. And in several verified cases, winners have been robbed, assaulted or even killed.

The real question for New Hampshire now is what they’ll do going forward. This woman’s case wasn’t unique in any way. If she’s allowed to maintain her anonymity, why can’t every other winner in the future? Even more to the point, will past winners who have undergone harassment or attacks be able to sue the state for outing them forcibly as new millionaires? The latter seems unlikely, but you can always find a lawyer to take any case to court.

This sounds like the sort of question which should be handled on a case-by-case basis at the state level rather than dumping it on the federal government. But winners across the nation will likely be watching this case closely. Only Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina currently allow jackpot winners to keep their names out of the press. The rest will no doubt be asking the same question this woman did and probably going to court to see if they can obtain a similar ruling. This may spell the end of published lottery jackpot results.