NY Gov vetoes bill allowing lottery winners to remain anonymous

Back in February, I wrote about a woman in New Hampshire who had won a large lottery jackpot but did not wish to give permission for her name to be revealed, contrary to state law. This sparked considerable debate over the rights of lottery winners versus the state’s interests in offering transparency about the lottery process. The state agreed to turn the money over to the woman’s attorney to be held back until the matter was settled.

In August, a New Hampshire court delivered their verdict and ruled that the woman could collect the money and remain anonymous. This is such an overwhelmingly popular opinion around the country that it seemed obvious more states would be facing the same questions. In New York, the legislature took action almost immediately, passing a new law in August allowing lottery winners to keep their names out of the press. But now (obviously waiting until after the election to do so), Governor Andrew Cuomo has vetoed the bill. (NY Daily News)

A 500 million dollar jackpot can get you a lot of things, but anonymity isn’t one of them.

Gov. Cuomo on Saturday announced he vetoed a bill that would have allowed lottery winners in New York to remain anonymous if they so desired.

Under state law, jackpot winners in most cases must agree to be identified publicly.

A bill passed earlier this year by the state Legislature would have prohibited the state Lottery from identifying any holder of a winning lottery ticket if that person provided a written request.

The first question to address is whether or not Cuomo can actually stop this from happening. This was a bill driven by public outcry. It was introduced with bipartisan support and even in these sharply divided political times, the vote was 61-1 in the state Senate and 140-3 in the Assembly. You normally couldn’t get that level of consensus on a resolution declaring that puppies and kittens are cute.

So the votes are obviously there to override the veto, but it’s unclear if the legislature will have the gumption to pull the trigger. Cuomo remains an overshadowing force in New York politics and many legislators are unwilling to cross him.

But should they? Lottery winners have obvious reasons to support this. There are too many stories of winners being harassed, terrorized or, in at least one case, even killed after being exposed as new millionaires. But the concerns Cuomo voiced while vetoing the bill are the same ones we discussed here previously about maintaining public trust in the system and transparency in how the lottery operates.

Maybe there is a compromise available here. Perhaps the states could allow people to receive their winnings anonymously (and almost everyone would) but agree to regularly publish a list of winners and amounts. People who agreed to go public could have their names show up and the town/city of the winner could be published for those who don’t. (In the New Hampshire case, the judge ruled that the hometowns of winners would still be published.) Then the state could include those listings in their regular budget reports so watchdog groups could tally up the figures and assure the public the cash wasn’t just going down a bureaucratic black hole.

Would that satisfy everyone? Probably not. But it might not undermine confidence in the games to the point where participation would completely tank. And they’ve been publishing names for so long now that some level of trust should have been established. That’s just one possibility and I’m sure someone else could offer an even better solution.